Randall Wood

What is good self-publishing advice?


The last few days have seen advice from several trusted sources regarding the best way to make your book available. A large amount of it is contradictory.

It reminds of my days in the army. The constant stream of advice offered was like drinking from a fire hose and you were led to believe that every tidbit of information was life or death important; don’t walk along walls, bullets follow them, don’t forget nuthin, get up before dawn, that’s when the enemy attacks, never walk on trails, don’t touch this plant; it’ll kill you, if your chute doesn’t open after you count to four pull your reserve, don’t open the covers on your scope until you’re ready to shoot, stay 3 meters apart at all times, twist your grenade spoons so they don’t catch on anything, never crimp the detonator with your teeth, friendly fire isn’t, don’t forget your malaria pills, stay off the ridgeline, never do anything alone.

Everyone seems to be offering the same forms of advice to the self-publishing newbies. Go all in with Amazon, spread your books around to every distributor, price your books low, price your books high, ignore print, ignore print at your peril, offer your books for free, buy your own ISBN’s, get your ISBN’s for free from the distributor, write your own reviews, form your own publishing company, twitter daily, blog weekly, Facebook is your friend, don’t get an agent, the Big Six are the enemy, Apple is evil, the DOJ is all-powerful, promotion is the key to success, promotion is a waste of time, 10% is writing and the rest is marketing, just shut-up and write the next book, friendly fire isn’t.

Wait a minute. Didn’t you say that last one twice?

Yes, I did, and I’ll say it again: FRIENDLY FIRE IS’NT.

What does that mean? You have to stop reading the blogs, stop reading the how-to books and take three steps away from the computer before you can really think about it.

For those not familiar with it, friendly fire is the term used when someone or something is damaged/wounded/killed by their own fellow soldiers. It’s typically used to refer to artillery fire that ends up hitting the very people it was meant to help. While its intentions may be pure, it doesn’t discriminate.

In other words; friendly fire can kill you just as dead as enemy fire.

So how do you know who to listen to? It’s not like they post their CV on the page with their advice. Most writers don’t even have a degree that has anything to do with writing. Why should you even listen to what you’re reading right now?

Because listening never hurts, nobody ever got hurt listening to anyone, it’s when you decide to act on that advice that you run the risk of making a mistake.

So, what to do? How do you know when you’re getting good advice from a blog or an article or a book you read on self-publishing? After all, self-publishing is new, and I mean brand-spanking new. There are no veterans of self-publishing! It’s evolving at a record pace. Things seem to change daily. How do you keep up?

How do you know if what you’re being told is beneficial to you or friendly fire?

Unless you’ve trialed-and-errored every piece of advice out there, there’s no way to know. But there is a way to filter a great deal of what is out there. You can do the majority of it simply by reading a book. No, not a book I wrote.

It’s a text book.

One piece of advice that repeatedly comes up is to treat the publication of your book(s) as if it were a business. Most people have no problem agreeing with this as it just speaks to common sense. Unless you are writing for the shear enjoyment of it, writing something for the family only, or well off enough to dismiss anything concerning profit, then you must treat your publicizing like a business.

When reading advice from veteran authors remember this; writing stories, whether its 8 or 800, does not automatically translate into business savvy. Just read this blog post by Kristine Kathyne Rusch, veteran authors are signing contracts that basically give away all control of their books! Why? Because they have no business education.

There aren’t many colleges out there that don’t offer a Business 101 course. The textbook can usually be found in the school library or for sale cheap on a bulletin board. Try Craigslist in a college town. There are plenty of them out there and they can be had for cheap.

If one were decently versed in business then the need to constantly read blog advice would drop by a significant measure. A business educated author would see the folly of most advice expounded on the internet for the self-published author. One can quickly classify what is antiquated, ignorant, or just plain wrong advice and what is not. What is speculation from what is knowledgeable. With this business education, understanding markets and trends would be a skill that constantly ran in the back of one’s mind as they read the latest advice column.

But how many self-publishers have a business education? From what I’ve been reading; not many. Instead of reading more advice blogs and how-to books, it could be argued that the best book to read would be that business textbook. Or better yet, take the class itself. Or find a class that speaks to the business of publishing alone. As long as the class is business first and publishing second, you’ll most likely gain the knowledge you need. Improve your filter rather than following the latest suggestion from another self-published author. Then you would know what advice to listen to, rather than just following what the other guy suggests and trusting that they do.

He’s minding his business, not yours.

Blogs are a good place to see what other people are trying, but it’s up to the writer/business owner to filter that information. The only filter that counts is business knowledge, certainly not some other writer’s opinion.

Joe Konrath informed the thousands of people who follow his blog that after several years of writing and publishing he just recently hired someone to straighten out his sales figures and organize them into a readable spreadsheet. He also advocated going all-in with Amazon as the sole distributor of his books. Kristine Kathryn Rusch immediately countered that by saying the best plan is to utilize every means available to reach the reader. Kris’s husband, Dean Wesley Smith advised his followers to check their sales no more than once a month and to spend no more than a few minutes doing so. He states that to do more is a waste of time. (read the comments) Deans been a successful writer for many years and I think he and his wife give some of the best advice out there, but I was truly shocked to see this advice. For one simple reason;

Try doing either Joe or Dean’s version of these accounting forms for a standard business. It just won’t fly. One of the first steps to starting a successful business is to have a good accounting program set up well before day one. In the world of business, bookkeeping is essential. It’s right there in the textbook. (In their defense I understand that Kris and Dean have someone on their payroll who tracks these things for them and thus they can get away with only checking once a month, but how many self-publishers have someone like that helping them?)

The tone I got from Dean’s post was that the writer shouldn’t let themselves get bogged down in worrying about their numbers as it takes away from writing time. That I would absolutely agree with. But I would also say check your numbers, they will tell you things. (Like a typo price change, do you want to wait 30 days to notice it?)

What other kinds of things? If you read that textbook you’ll know. You’ll also know what to do with that information once you have it. Amazon is a huge data miner, they track everything. Why wouldn’t you?

This self-publishing game requires two hats. I wear my writer hat for several hours a day before I switch to my business hat for maybe one or two. So far it seems to be working out. I also keep that textbook close by on a shelf within reach.

Just something to keep in mind. I may be wrong. But would you be able to tell?



1 thought on “What is good self-publishing advice?”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Sometimes it becomes easy to get bogged down in the paralysis of analysis that can come when being offered disparate pieces of advice. Having a “nodding acquaintance” with business can help filter the wheat from the chaff”.

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