2 Big Ideas for Self-Publishing Your Book

June 26, 2012

Much of my work is a big experiment around self-publishing informational ebooks. But I also follow self-publishing trends for the industry as a whole, partly in case one day I choose to self-publish my travel memoir.

What’s the difference between what I’m doing now and self-publishing a memoir? People buy info guides because they want to learn something; it helps them directly. Selling a memoir can be more difficult because you’re sharing a story, and one about your own life. I believe readers are more willing to shell out money for a product that will help them improve their life (and perhaps even make money), rather than a story that’s intended solely to inspire.

self-publish your book

Plus, most writers who self-publish memoir want to offer a physical copy of their book. I only sell digital copies — which has a much higher profit margin than selling physical books. Yes, you have to hire an editor and cover designer in both cases, but the costs of printing a physical book end up eating much of what would otherwise be your profits.

While self-publishing still has a stigma, I also see a HUGE opportunity for those of us who are entrepreneurial and knowledgeable about online marketing.

If I were to self-publish my memoir tomorrow, here are two big things I’d do to make it worth my while:

1. Sell directly through my website

Sure, you need a copy on Amazon because that will help you reach a wider audience. But don’t overlook the major benefits of selling directly through your own site, especially if you have even a small community who follows your work.

If you sell on your own site, you get to keep all the profits, as opposed to selling on, say, Amazon, where you have to handle over a percentage of what your book brings in. The point of Amazon is to reach new readers, many of whom find you through the site’s search function. Why should you pay Amazon for people who already know about you and your work? Setting up a process to sell to those people directly will help you make more money.

Check out this fabulous post by self-publisher Andrew Hyde about how Amazon’s markup for digital delivery is about 119,000 percent. (The post got picked up by the Domino Project and a few other big sites — that’s how I heard about it — which has no doubt helped Andrew’s sales.) What I find fascinating isn’t that he makes far more profit when he sells directly through his site, but that his readers bought through his site rather than Amazon when he asked them to.

I already do this for my informational guides. (And yes, if you buy directly through me, you can still read on your Kindle.) I sell on my own website using a third-party e-commerce tool called e-junkie, which only charges $5/month (TOTAL, not per book), far less than what I’d have to hand over if I sold through Amazon. That means once I cover the costs of cover design and editing, nearly every cent the buyer pays goes to my business. (I also pay a per-purchase fee to PayPal.)

I am working on getting my digital guides up on Amazon, simply to increase my reach. But if I can direct potential buyers — mainly through guest posts and SEO — to my website to buy, it’s far more lucrative. And since my whole goal is to make money through my own writing projects, those purchases go a long way toward helping my bottom line.

2. Run a Kickstarter campaign

Figure out exactly how much it would cost to self-publish, and then create a campaign on the crowd-funding website to cover those costs. Supporters would pledge enough to cover a digital or physical copy of the book (plus other high-end pledges for true fans).

When supporters pledged, however, I wouldn’t call it a donation. Instead, I’d frame it as a pre-order. They’d pay up front for the book, and I’d deliver it within a certain time frame. That would allow me to fund the project on the front end, rather than putting a ton of work and money into self-publishing without being sure people would actually buy what I’d created.

This is a smart strategy partly because, as Andy Drish said to me recently, what people say they’ll buy and what they actually buy don’t always match up. Solidifying pre-orders for your book takes the risk out of self-publishing, and it may even allow you to make a bit of money beyond that if you end up selling more copies than were pre-ordered.

Seth Godin is taking this approach with his new book, and lots of other authors are, too.

What other self-publishing strategies appeal to you? Would you create a Kickstarter campaign for your book?

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    16 Replies to “2 Big Ideas for Self-Publishing Your Book”

    • Emma says:

      Like you, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the self-publishing landscape for some time now. Also like you, I have a fully written memoir manuscript that’s been shopped around by an agent. I’ve been traditionally published in another genre and have also worked in the book business.

      I attended a Kickstarter info session in my area earlier this year and have a campaign all mapped out, but I’m struggling to launch. If you’re going to do it right, self-publishing is such a big decision! While it offers so much opportunity, I do feel like I’ll miss the team aspect that traditional publishing offers.

      I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a memoir collaborative where several indie authors would strategically launch together and cross-promote, possibly even under the same imprint. If you or any readers are interested in exploring that idea, contact me!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Emma — Very cool! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from studying Kickstarter. Seth Godin wrote in a recent post that you’ve got to ALREADY have an audience when you launch a campaign, and a lot of people make the mistake of thinking they can use Kickstarter to grow that audience. That was a good point, I thought!

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Lexi,
      I’ve got to ask – because you are clearly savvy at all this now! – do you have a deadline in mind re your travel memoir? I am still keen to read it. Are you putting a final date on when you’ll keep trying to get a publisher for it?
      Thanks, Joanna

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey J! I avoid addressing that topic flat-out on the blog because the book is with my literary agent, and it’s not smart to talk about exactly where we are with pitching it. But I can now promise you that it will be available at some point, whether a publisher buys it or I do it myself! I’m super excited about both options… Will keep you posted 🙂

    • Srinivas says:

      Hey Alexis,

      The other one I’d add to this is hire an editor. Self publishing has resulted in many bad books on Kindle in addition to the good ones. Every author that’s successuflly self published has told me to treat your self published book as though you’re working with a publisher.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks for chiming in with this! I assumed folks would know to hire an editor, but you’re right, not everyone does. And not everyone realizes how much a solid editor can cost for both content and copy edits — a few thousand dollars! I’d say that and the cover design are the biggest costs to self-publishing.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      A reader pointed out that this comedian is doing something similar — selling tickets directly on his site to keep the price low for buyers: https://buy.louisck.net/news/im-going-on-the-road Interesting!

    • hannah says:

      Great tips, Alexis! I’m a book publicist for a number of self-published authors, and there are so many great resources out there to look into.

      I really do suggest thinking heavily about strictly e-publishing instead of self-publishing print copies – especially for first-time authors. In addition to self-publishing, I also work with free DIY e-publisher Booktango, and they really offer some great deals (100% royalties when purchased through their bookstore, etc.). Some others out there do too, I’m sure – so I just encourage authors to do a lot of research and shopping around before making the decision!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks for this, Hannah! Do you think authors are neglecting potential buyers if they don’t offer a print copy?

        • hannah says:

          Initially, no. I think e-publishing is a good strategy for authors, especially ones who don’t have a solid following or name recognition. Speaking from my personal shopping habits, I’m so much more likely to try out an author I haven’t heard of through my Kindle than I am in a physical bookstore.

          I think that once an author starts getting reviews and becoming more recognized and then if there’s a demand for their book to be in hard copy version, it’s a step to consider.

    • Anne Belov says:

      Hi Alexis,
      I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and was inspired to add my voice to the conversation. I recently ran a (successful) Kickstarter campaign to help fund a painting trip to Italy. What Seth Godin says is true. Most of my support came from people I already knew, either in person or on Facebook. I did pick up a few people directly from Kickstarter, but not a significant number. I think that if you have a project that KS deems “sexy” and gives you more coverage you can pick up more supporters that are not already your “people.”
      I’m planning another KS campaign in the fall to self publish a book of my cartoons. I hope to take the things that I’ve learned from doing my first one as well as what I learned from helping another friend with her Kickstarter for her dairy farm to make this one very successful.
      Thanks for all you share on your blog!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hi Anne — Thanks so much for sharing this! It’s really helpful for those of us thinking about going this route. Painting in Italy sounds wonderful 🙂

    • Sandra Nicole Concepcion says:

      Great comments here! I am considering self publishing my 300 page book on my near death experience. I am having a hard time finding an editor that is requesting less than a few thousand dollars. Because of being ill, I also have to end my humanitarian position, so of course funds are tight. What would you recommend for editing? Thanks so much!

    • Thomas James says:

      Agree with this tips. Looking forward for more helpful ways to start on the bloggers or anyone who aspires to be a writer to follow these. Cheers!

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