Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer and business
coach, is the author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (all
self-published; www.wellfedwriter.com), how-to “standards”
on lucrative commercial freelancing – writing for businesses and
for rates of $50-125+ an hour.
He chronicled his self-publishing success (52,000 copies of his first two books in print and a full-time living for seven-plus years) in the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com
Call me crazy, but I disagree. For me, self-publishing was the first choice. Why? I wanted to keep control of the project and timetable, keep the rights, and, most importantly, keep most of the profits. How did it turn out? Well…
A Full-Time Income
For over four years, my first book supported me full-time. Not “picking-out-chateaux-in-the-South-of-France” kind of money, but it paid all my bills (including two printings each year), allowed me to take some nice vacations, save a chunk of money and incur no new debt. When your per book profit (after expenses) is many times what you’d make with a publisher, you can be nicely profitable with much lower numbers.
A few caveats. My genre – non-fiction “how-to” – is, arguably, the easiest to self-publish (with straight non-fiction second). Why? Not only is there an insatiable appetite for information in the buying public, but also with non-fiction “how-to,” it’s relatively easy to identify and pursue specific target audiences. Fiction is harder to self-publish but for first-time novelists, it’s also far harder to attract a conventional publisher.
Second & Third Caveats
All this advice applies if your goal is to have your book be a commercial success and if you have the time to market your masterpiece. If neither is the case, you’d be better off with a publisher or in a POD scenario, where your upfront investment is low or nonexistent (as will be, in all likelihood, your backend profits…). As for the time thing, though, if you’re fantasizing that you’ll find a publisher who will allow you to simply drop off your manuscript while they handle that whole “icky marketing thingy,” think again.
Author Jessica Hatchigan (How to be Your Own
Publicist) observed, “Authors who receive modest advances for their
books – and that’s most authors – can expect scandalously
little in marketing support from most publishers.” Most publishers
these days want to work with authors who come to them with, not only
their book, but also a plan for promoting and marketing that book.
So, if I still have to do most of the work for anemic royalty rates,
self-publishing is worth a look.
Conventional vs. Unconventional
Most publishing companies take the “shotgun” approach to promotion and publicity. Mass emailed press releases to mainstream media outlets. Mass-mailed and unsolicited review copies (with little or no follow up). EVERY single one of the roughly 500+ review copies I’ve sent out over the years went to someone with whom I’d communicated in advance. Yes, it takes more time, but yields far more “bang for the book.”
As a self-publisher, you can focus on your title and find the most effective ways to promote it, as opposed to the above-described pub company model. By contrast, as a self-publisher, I go where the traffic is lighter, the reception is warmer and the people speak my language.
The Goal: To Be Seen “Everywhere!”
A year or so back, after asking a buyer where she found the book, she replied: “Everywhere!” Music to an author’s ears. Another woman wrote: “I first heard about your book on writersdigest.com, then on writerswrite.com, and finally on writersweekly.com. After the third time, I figured I needed to see what the fuss was all about.” Sounds like people need to receive multiple impressions before they take action. Very useful information. How did I do it? Through the Internet, of course – the Great Equalizer for the little guy.
Let’s take my book as an example: The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less – a step-by-step “how-to” for establishing a lucrative full- or part-time freelance corporate writing business. With all the downsizing of the past decade, Corporate America is outsourcing plenty of writing projects at hourly rates of $50-125+.
Okay, so who’re my audiences? All “wannabe”
writers looking to make a handsome living with their pen, seasoned
freelancers looking to diversify into higher-paying work, and at-home
moms and home-based business seekers looking for a flexible,
well-paying career from home.
Go to Your Market
To land reviews (and interviews, blurbs, mentions, green lights to write articles, etc.), go where your various target audiences hang out. Scour the Internet for web sites, associations, newsletters, and newsgroups that cater to those groups. Visit the sites and make your pitch by email. Make up one standard pitch letter, vary it slightly for your different audiences, and “cut ‘n paste.” And repeat, hundreds of times.
Certainly pursue mainstream media (MM) coverage in addition to Internet contacts, but know that the media is exponentially more fickle than if you can zero in on your target audience via the above-described process – where you’ll get a FAR better response.
The Reality: the chance that an unknown author will
attract the attention of a reasonably major-market newspaper is slim.
Not impossible, but not worth the return when a far better one is
waiting. If you’re going to pursue MM, forget the book editors, and
figure out which “channel” editor – Food, Jobs, Career,
Business, Features, Computers, Lifestyle – a would be a fit for
your topic. Contact them and pitch, not the book, but an angle
represented by the book. They simply don’t care that you’ve
written a book; they want to know why the book is relevant now.
Your Web Site
A web site is mandatory. Period. It’s the linchpin of any Internet marketing push. Mine (www.wellfedwriter.com) has sample chapter, table of contents, reviews, cover art, Q&A, sample radio/TV footage and much more. Check out the “Attn: Media” link on my site, which makes their job much easier (and hence, more likely to happen). Always add your URL to your e-mail signature going out on every email you send.
Landing a publisher has never been harder, but thanks to the Internet, that’s no longer your only option. Self-publishing is easier, more accessible, and more lucrative than ever before. Isn’t it time for a raise?
***The above article was excerpted from The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, by Peter Bowerman. Fanove, 2006. http://www.wellfedsp.com