Peter Bowerman is an award-wining author, veteran commercial freelancer and business coach. He’s written two of my favorite books, which remarkably are not about being a dad! Peter’s books are about making a living by writing: specifically freelance copywriting (The Well-Fed Writer), and self-publishing (The Well-Fed Self Publisher).
Part 1 of this series overviewed both books. Part 2 focuses specifically on self-publishing. Peter was kind enough to answer some questions on the subject. I hope you find them helpful…
Can you outline why you got into self-publishing with your first book? Why not take this to a traditional publishing house?
The short answer, I suppose (only half-joking…) is that I’m a control freak at heart! But, seriously, I’m not sure what gave me the sense that I could do it (since I had zero experience in publishing of any kind), but what I WAS sure of was that the “deal” being offered by traditional publishing houses was no prize: You give up the rights, control of the creative process, control of the timetable and almost all the profits. And then you’re still expected to do most of the marketing yourself. And if anything, that scenario has gotten worse for authors since then.
An author with a $20 retail book like mine might make $1 a book through a publisher. Even on the low end (i.e., through the bookstores and Amazon, where you’re giving up 55% of your retail out of the gate), I’ll still make 4-5 times that. Sales on my own site? I can net $14 or so. And that doesn’t even count the potential to market companion ebook products to web site buyers – that they’ll purchase along with the hard-copy book, and which represent pure profit – often $20-30 more, on top of the profit on the hard book. I’ve that quite successfully with both my last two books.
Looking back at the experience of self-publishing the first edition of the Well Fed Writer, what key advice would you give to new aspiring self-publishers?
Let me preface my remarks here with this: my experience is in non-fiction, and specifically, non-fiction “how-to,” so this is the only book genre I can speak about authoritatively. Fiction is a different ballgame – though, that said, many fiction authors have applied my strategies with good success.
Whether you’re self-publishing or conventionally publishing, the first step is crucial: come up with a topic that’s marketable. Using my books as an example, I knew there was a market for a book (The Well-Fed Writer) offering a complete blueprint for starting your own lucrative writing business (as opposed to another simply straight “freelance writing” book – most of which discuss avenues of dubious financial potential).
Ditto with The Well-Fed Self-Publisher, offering a complete blueprint for profitable self-publishing. Not just telling you how, logistically, to self-publish, but (as my subtitle promises), how to turn one book into a full-time living. You have to separate yourself from the pack. If there are already 20 books on your subject, does the world need a 21st and if so, what makes yours better in ways that’ll mean something to a buyer?
Just as crucially, is this: Write a Really Good Book. I had an epiphany recently that this is THE #1 most important marketing strategy any self-publisher can employ. Write a really good book, one that’s better than it has to be – well-written, well-produced, topical, comprehensive, useful – and you’ll make your ongoing marketing infinitely easier. Why? Because you’ll have precious and powerful word-of-mouth advertising going for you. ,
For many writers, the biggest challenge will be “MARKETING.” The very word is enough to terrorize creative types, but know that it’s not nearly as scary as it first seems. Having come from that background, I’ve been able, in my books, to demystify those often-scary concepts so they’ll work for you, not against you.
Finally, many people fail as self-publishers because they forget that first and foremost, that this is a business and you need to bring rigor to the running of it. Be committed to excellence, reliability and service, and you’ll do fine.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently when you published your first book? What pitfalls do you now avoid?
I was rushing to get it done, having pre-sold 1,000 copies to Writer’s Digest Book Club, and I proofed it myself. BIG mistake. I cringe when I think of how many errors were in that first edition. Thank goodness the first run sold out relatively quickly and I could get the next printing right. Other than that, believe it or not, I actually didn’t make any major blunders the first go-round.
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Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series, which completes the interview. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about either of Peter’s books just click the appropriate title:
And remember, you are not alone…