While the publishing industry is not going to die anytime soon, the ability to self publish books is quickly becoming a disruptive force that is opening up a world of opportunity to people. However, it’s not as simple as slapping together a PDF, designing a cover in Microsoft paint and throwing something up on Amazon.
If you approach it that way, you’ll fail. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to act as if you’re working with a traditional publisher when you self publish a book. You wouldn’t be nonchalant about any aspect of your business and writing and self publishing a book is exactly the same. You must treat it like a project and hold yourself to excruciatingly high standards. Amongst the sea of millions of books on Amazon, best self published book rise to the top, and the rest get buried. You’re already having to overcome the stigma, of being self published so don’t give your potential reader any reason to doubt the quality of your work. Now, let’s look at what I consider the essential elements of a successful self published book.
Everything starts with your platform. You can’t write a book in a vacuum, throw it on Kindle, and hope that people who know nothing about your work will find out about your book. Seth Godin says we’re obsessed with interrupting strangers. However, a platform gives us the opportunity to build a relationship with an audience and to create a book specifically for them. That’s who a book needs to be written for. They’re going to be the ones who buy your book and tell other people about your book. Your platform is the foundation for a successful self published book.
Unless you’re a celebrity, if you don’t have a platform, start here. If you’ve spent the last 4 years writing a book, and you don’t have a platform, you’re facing an uphill battle to sell the book. Start a blog, podcast, web show, and build your small army. Give them the book for free if you have to.
2. Something to Say
When you write a book, intention and motive play a big role. If the only reason you’re writing it is to make money or inflate your ego, it will water down your work. Don’t write anything just because you think it will sell well. Don’t forget that just because it’s words on a screen or page, it doesn’t mean your reader can’t feel what you’re thinking. When I spoke with Guy Kawasaki about his latest book, he told me “write the book because you have something to say.” Even if there are books on similar subjects, don’t forget that nobody can say it the way you can. Why do you think there are so many books on social media? Don’t get caught up in the echo chamber. Have an opinion and your book will stand out.
Treating it As If You’re Working With a Publisher
This is where the highest quality self published books are separated from the ones that get buried.
There’s a reason that a publisher had multiple editors looking at your book before it hits the shelf. Despite that I’ve still seen print books with typos in them. Whatever you do, hire an editor. Even if you’re the best proofreader in the world, it’s hard to see your mistakes when you’re so closely tied to the work. The same person who won’t complain too much about a typo in a free blog post, will go nuts over typos in a 99 cent book. This is just one of the many areas where you can overcome the stigma of being self published.
4. Layout/ Cover Design
Amazon is a highly visual medium. When you’re browsing books. the first thing you see his the cover. If you’re a skilled graphic designer or artist, then you may be able to design your own cover. If not, hire a freelance designer. You wouldn’t show up in blue jeans and a t-shirt to your wedding. If your book matters to you, which I ‘m assuming it does, invest in the cover design.
5. Marketing Plan
“Book Promotion is a Marathon not a Sprint” – Carrie Wilkerson, The Barefoot Executive
You’ve built a platform. You’ve written the greatest book in the world and it’s as polished as a brand new BMW on the dealer’s lot. Your job is far from over and the real work is about to start. If you’ve done it right, the marketing started the day you started writing the book. While surprises are nice for birthday parties, they don’t work that well for book launches.
When the book launches you’ll need people to help you spread the word. These days that could be bloggers, friends of yours with big fan bases, or even college professors. A friend of mine wanted to write a book about getting into medical school. Given that he had no platform, I told him the best promoters would be the directors of admission at every medical school in the country. Promoters can be just about anybody who would benefit from the book. Recruit them before you need them. If you’ve built your platform, recruit 20 people. The key here is to find people who are truly engaged with you. You’re better off with 10 promoters who will go out of their way to help you, then 100 who are just looking for a free book.
On Amazon book reviews matter. The number of reviews on a book are an indicator of social proof. Who do you get to write you reviews? The people you recruited as promoters are a perfect start. As you get more reviews, the visibility of your book rises.
KDP FREE PROMOTION
There are many thoughts on this. Some people use it to discount their books and offer lower price points. Others give away their books for free. If you sign up for KDP, Amazon allows you to give away copies of your book for 5 days in any 90 day period. But during that time you’re also limited to only selling your book on Amazon. However, giving away your book during that free period can lead to thousands of people finding out about your work, and it is a great way to raise awareness of your book and generate lots of reviews. In my own experience, I used all 5 days at once, and found this to be the most effective approach.
Chances are you won’t be on Oprah with your self published book. Even many traditionally published authors are not finding the success with the mainstream media that they used to. For an in-depth look into this, I recommend reading The Tim Ferriss effect by Michael Ellsberg.
Blogs, podcasts, and other channels are the new media outlets.
- Write a guest post for a site like Search Engine Journal where thousands of people might see it. Keep in mind, that the content of the post must be relevant to the audience and if it’s just a pitch for your book, it will bomb.
- Search the iTunes store for podcasts that are relevant to your book. Reach out to the host of the show and ask if they’re looking for new guests.
All these online outlets have an unlimited inventory of content slots that need to be filled. If you can provide good content for them you’re doing them a favor. This post by Ryan Holiday goes into explicit detail about how to land media coverage for your book or project.
While traditional publishing still lends a layer of credibility to your work, self publishing is creating opportunities for people like never before. It probably won’t be too long before the stigma goes away. I loved Guy Kawasaki’s an analogy of comparing self published authors to artisan beer brewers. You’ll never hear somebody say Budweiser is better because it was made in a giant factory. You can stop waiting to be picked. You can share your message with the world. Just don’t assume it’s going to be easy.