7 Surprising Things I Learned Self-Publishing a Book

You want to self-publish a book. After all, it’s so much easier than sending proposals to agents and publishers, you get to control the process, and you’ll keep more of your earnings. And all you have to do is churn out 50,000 words or so, slap on a cover you created in Canva, and upload it to Amazon!

If only.

I’m in the process of self-publishing my newest book, How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie. I’ve self-published several books, and they sell okay, but this is the first time I’ve committed to doing it like I mean it.

Learning how much goes into writing, producing, and launching a self-published book that looks pro and gets attention has been an eye-opening experience. Here are the top 7 facts that shocked the heck out of me:

linda-formichelli-2016-featuredHow to Do It All - formichelliThis guest post is by Linda Formichelli

Formichelli is the author of How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie, which is available now at Amazon.

Here’s where you can learn more, get a free sample of the book, join the early notification lost, and score an invite to this secret Facebook Group.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Linda is giving away a copy of How to Do It All to one lucky Writer’s Digest reader. HOW TO WIN: Just leave a comment on this guest post with the hashtag #HowToDoItAll and we will pick one winner at random. DEADLINE: Two weeks from this article’s posting date.

1. It’s not cheap. (Really not cheap.)

I always thought I was pretty good at DIY when it comes to cover design, editing, and marketing. But if that’s the case, I realized, why are none of my books bestsellers? They sell fine, but you won’t be seeing any of them in the New York Times.

So this time, I decided to hire a launch team; get a cover designed from scratch; hire a professional proofreader; pay a designer to create the free downloadable worksheets; and spring for e-book and print layout pros.

My costs so far? Over $10,000. (No, there is not a missing decimal.) And of course, the writing, production, and marketing of this book has been so all-encompassing that I haven’t done any actual paying work, outside a couple small courses I teach, since the beginning of 2016. I’m just crossing my fingers that the professional help I hired will pay off in terms of readers, reviews, publicity…and enough cold, hard cash to earn back my expenses and help pay the bills.

2. You’re not as good a writer as you think.

We writers love to think our first drafts are sparkling and perfect. Not so.

I ran various versions of the manuscript by my business partner, writer husband, 20 beta readers, and proofreader. Through their feedback, I discovered I repeated myself, used too many em-dashes, told lame jokes, swore too much, and had the chapters in the wrong order. I revised the book from front to back several times over, and each time I printed the whole manuscript out again and went over it with a red pen.

I had thought my original draft was pretty awesome, but looking back on it now, I see that it was actually flabby and weak. Even the best writers need an outside perspective on their work to create the strongest book possible.

[6 Things to Consider After You Write Your First Draft]

3. Looks do matter.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Excuse me while I LOL.

For my previous books, I did hire a cover designer, but to save money I chose the option where I would send him a stock image and he would create a cover with it. They usually turn out pretty nice…but if you put my covers next to a book from, say, HarperCollins or Penguin, they wouldn’t even compare.

This time, I shelled out the $480 to have the e-book and print covers designed from scratch. My designer sent me a form to fill out about my preferences in color, fonts, style, and images. I researched the top-selling self-help books and passed along what I learned from them; for example, they tend to have bright but warm colors like yellow, orange, and red, and many of them are text-only. The result: A gorgeous, pro cover.

I now have an editor at a big, well-known women’s magazine interested in running an article about the book, and have been getting mentions in other print pubs as well. I’m sure the beautiful cover I’ve been sending editors has something to do with it. After all, my last book was just as good (if the reviews are any indication), but never got any interest from big media players with its stock-art cover.

4. Only a small percentage of the work involved is actually writing.

We’re writers, so we want to…well, write. The big shocker is that when you self-publish a book, writing is only a small part of the process.

It took me four weeks to write the first draft—and eight weeks to edit it. Not only that, but while I was writing the book I was also working with the cover designer, hiring the other pros, gathering and dealing with beta readers, and starting and managing the Facebook Group.

I’d say the actual writing of the book has accounted for only about a quarter of the work involved. Whoda thunk?

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5. You do need a platform. (Sorry.)

One reason so many writers want to self-publish books is that a traditional publisher won’t take you if you don’t have a platform—that is, a built-in base of fans who are ready to buy your book. The (misguided) idea self-publishers have is that if they do it themselves, they don’t need to bother with building a platform.

Well, that’s true—if you don’t want to sell any books. But I’ve discovered that having a platform is key even if you’re self-publishing. My beta readers, the fans on the early notification list, and most of the people on the book’s Facebook Group came from among the 8,000 subscribers on the Renegade Writer email list. Without that original platform, I would have…no one.

These wonderful fans have offered their advice and opinions on book cover design and more…offered to hand-sell the book to their local bookstores…promised to leave reviews…sent me leads…asked to write articles about the book…and are first in line to buy How to Do It All when it’s out.

The surprising lesson here: Build the audience, then write the book.

6. Mistakes are OK.

We need to be perfect in all ways if we want readers to think of us as experts and buy our books. At least, that’s what I thought at the beginning of the process.

So imagine my surprise when I accidentally sent the Advance Reading Copy to all 8,000 members of my email list instead of just my 20 beta readers…and got only the nicest responses to my snafu! Many readers wrote to say they would buy the book when it comes out even though they got a free copy, and I also received a ton of positive comments about the book.

Mistakes show you’re a real human being, and no one will not buy your book because you messed up. The only place you need to freak out about errors is in your copy; multiple typos will turn off readers!

[How Can the Average Writer Make Money Self-Publishing E-Books?]

7. It’s not all about you.

When we write books, the temptation is to pull everything out of our you-know-whats. After all, it’s our book and we are the expert.

So I was flabbergasted at how much research I ended up doing. I was tempted to simply rely on my own knowledge and ideas, but because I wanted How to Do It All to be an authoritative work, I ended up pulling in tons of research and studies that backed up my ideas.

After all, what’s more convincing: To tell readers that we watch too much TV and should do it less (Says who? Says me!)…or to find a stat revealing exactly how much TV the average American indulges in every week and how it affects our motivation? And when, in my research, I discovered a few articles about dying people’s top regrets, the facts presented there perfectly bolstered my argument that we should spend more time with our loved ones.

So that’s what I’ve learned through this journey so far: Self-publishing is not a quick, easy way to make a bundle, no matter how many books and newsletters from “gurus” you read promising instant riches to self-publishers. It’s work. It’s satisfying, fun work…but also expensive, time-consuming, and occasionally stressful.

But how much sweeter the rewards will be when we know we’ve put our all into making our book the best it can be.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter




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9 thoughts on “7 Surprising Things I Learned Self-Publishing a Book

  1. richarddocc

    Great tips I picked form your inspiring post. I like you tips to promote self publishing. In now days there are many ways for promoting self via social media. But these all activities need tips like you shared in above post. Thanks for sharing.. 🙂

  2. williamadams

    my approach is to it as cheaply as possible while still having a good product.

    if you are smart enough to write a book you are smart enough to dl a template and diy your own cover. the cover is meant to sell the book not win artistic awards. if you cant do it then someone on fiverr will do it just as good as some kilobucks priced cover artiste.

    editing is the one thing you need to buy. and if you have the money but not the skills then also hire out other production aspects. but spending $10k for a book boggles my mind.

    for sure the actual writing is the easy part. marketing and promotion are going to be where you need to do the most work.

    for most books the research and planning will take a lot of time.
    if you are an expert and have the info at hand then it can go much faster. in either case you absolutely must organise your material before you write word one. if you doubt that then try building a house without a blueprint.

  3. JoyPaul

    There is one saying I heard sometime ago. It goes thus; “The truth will make you better but it must first make you bitter”.
    That’s exactly what I learned from this post. So many bloggers have made us believe Self Publishing is super lucrative and 100% free. Your post is an eye opener.
    What interested me most was your point number 5. I should add that most of us won’t be able to part with $10,000 like you did buy we should prepare our minds that best selling books are not free.

  4. rdrines

    Linda Formichelli article “7 Surprising Things I Learned Self-Publishing a Book” gave us her understanding of the value she found using a professional firm for cover design. Her words added weight to what I was hoping would happen with a professional designer. I especially liked what she found here, “After all, my last book was just as good (if the reviews are any indication), but never got any interest from big media players with its stock-art cover.” Her statement hit home because I’ve wondered how I might work towards the goal of avoiding early onset rejection or the typical first impression ambivalence many authors experience.

  5. JoyRay

    Hello, it is very good and very needed advices! I think you are right, and your post is very truth and very needed for all writers! Most of all, I like this one “You’re not as good a writer as you think.”, and it is right! Be more modest and everything will be fine!
    Thank you very much for it)

  6. Jo Lightfoot


    Linda, I will share this article with friends.

    I’m a poet who has begun to self-publish and who joined a writers critique group for mutual feedback. Those writer friends contributed immensely to the quality of my books. Online writing and publishing groups have been similarly helpful.

    Some of the self-publishing guides I researched advocated: do it to make money, do it quick, and hire contractors as much as you can. I preferred to do most of the work myself and discovered two things that might help other writers, especially poets. 1) Some of the do-it-quick advocates provide very simple guidance and even offer templates; but to depart in the least from their step-by-step formulas can land you in the bushes with quandaries that are very hard to solve; and 2) The formatting of poetry is greatly more complicated that prose because of unusual line-breaks, spacings, etc. (you can have a book that looks great in hard copy but horrendous when converted to an ebook… and you often need to develop your own templates or have them done).

    I’m glad, in one respect, that I started with an easy, learner project (poems for a month of the year rather a more sophisticated one on artist and muse). I’ve now done six monthly books and the artist/muse one. They get steadily easier. Easist of all, after these, was a children’s poem picture book.

    I really encourage writers to explore self-publishing these days. It IS getting easier all the time, and less likely to thwart eventual traditional publishing. The publishing/platform issue is considered a chicken/egg question by some of the writers I know. Some say it’s good to have a few books written before approaching a wide audience, so that, if one book sells, there will be others immediately available to the reader. I guess each writer and project has to find its own balance when it comes to considerations like these.

    Again, thank you for sharing so openly and helpfully.

  7. Priti Das

    It was very nice to read your post

    Who is Hindu ?

    Religion’ is Apartheid and Flawed Western/Islamic concept
    This post is just to answer many friends, who have asked me about Hinduism, Buddhism and difference. What Hinduism constitutes. Post reflects my understanding and facts I came through.for


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