11 Keys to Self-Publishing Success

Anyone can self-publish, but only those who take responsibility will succeed.

Here are 11  trends that will determine the few who get through the gate and find success:

  1. In it for the long haul, rather than thinking you’re playing the publishing lottery. Far too many writers  want success now.  They check sales figures every day.  Instead, they need to think about perhaps succeeding in 3 to 5 years, with at least a half dozen titles under their belt.
  2. Plan for the long haul. Always look at least three years ahead.  Have a writing and production schedule laid out that keeps you on task.
  3. Stay one step of ahead of the trends. Act, don’t react.  This means sometimes you must take risks.  Some of these attempts will fail, but the ones who succeed will be on the front end of the trends.
  4. Write good books. This one seems so basic, but too many writers spend so much more time worrying about promotion than worrying about the quality of their craft.  I learned more about writing in the last two years than in my first twenty.
  5. Sweat equity. This ain’t easy.  Never has been.  I’ve watched the careers of many writers.  The majority of writers who are having the most success as indies have a backlist, which is the sweat equity from the time they spent in the trenches in traditional publishing.  If you don’t have backlist, your sweat equity begins now.
  6. Run an efficient business. Most writers just want to write.  They don’t want to deal with all the details of running a business, but being an indie author means you are self-employed.  I know people who were great doctors or lawyers but went bankrupt because they couldn’t run their own business.
  7. Networking and team building. “Indie” is an interesting term because in fact, I believe it’s very difficult to succeed on your own.  You’re going to need help with the books (editing, covers, formatting, etc.) and you’re going to need help with the promoting.
  8. Build a platform that has a specific message. At Write It Forward we view our platform as author advocate.  We see too many writers whose platform seems to be “buy my book.”  People need a reason to read your blog, RT your tweets, and listen to you.  The key to successful platform building and branding is the ability to create a community. It is not about selling, but making yourself available to those individuals who will be most likely to buy your books. Always be real and genuine.  Build community before you worry about promoting.  I’ll be posting about that later at Write It Forward.
  9. Stay informed. Things are changing fast.  Many people are trying a lot of different things.  Some will work, some will fail.  But staying up to date on everything that’s happening can help you make informed decisions.  Some things you can do for this are get on Kindleboards and follow and get involved in the discussions there as well as promote your book in the Book Bazaar forum.  Subscribe to Publisher Weekly’s Lunch and Deals for $20 a month.  Stay active on Twitter and follow people who are knowledgeable about the business.
  10. Be assertive but not obnoxious. I’ve grown much more assertive in the past six months.  One of the largest mistakes I made coming out of Special Forces and going into traditional publishing was trusting that other people would do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders.  This cost me.  Now I push others, gently, but consistently, in order to achieve goals.  No one cares more about the success of your book than you do.  Always remember that.  Perseverance and persistence count for a lot.
  11. In sum. Writers, your fate is in your hands now.

That makes this the most exciting time ever to be a writer.  You are your own gatekeeper.

Learn about these keys and other information on how to successfully self-publish in The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author.

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  1. Ruth Harris says:

    On-target advice, Bob. Thanks!

    Re #10: Will show you how dumb I am: I worked in TradPub as an editor for years, yet when I started being published, I assumed everyone would know what to do & how to do it EVEN THO I knew how the whole system worked from the inside. IMO this is the most difficult area of all. No matter how polite you are, how diplomatically you phrase your ideas, & how much your editor/publishers says they “love” you & your book, they don’t really want to hear from you. The fact is they are too busy, have too much to do, and a great deal of the process is out of their hands. This has gotten even worse as staffs have been pruned in recent years & the old-time pros have retired.

    • This was my experience, too, Ruth, when I was TradPubbed with a Big 6. Boy, did I learn the hard way.

      • Ruth Harris says:

        Alicia, IME that’s just about the only way we learn! lol

        When you have “cover consultation” and you finally—after asking politely about the cover over & over—get to see the cover THE SAME DAY it goes to press, you learn really fast that you don’t have even what the contract says you have.

  2. Great post, Bob! Every single point rings true. I’m going to print this one and hang it on my office wall for both motivation and perspective.

  3. Bob Mayer says:

    I find even as an indie that I have to be persistent. No one cares about my books more than I do.

  4. Great post, Bob. As usual.

    I’m looking forward to the post on building a platform.

  5. I’m a this-looks-interesting-so-I-have-to-try-it kind of person. Needless to say, there are lots of times I run into the wall instead of scaling it. But it’s exactly these kinds of posts, Bob, which help me re-evaluate what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

    Thank you so much for a great post!

  6. Jill James says:

    Bob, great post. I have to constantly remind myself this is a business, not just the fun of writing.

  7. Fantastic post, Bob. I would have put #4 at #1 and #2 and had 12 rules, just to reinforce the importance of quality writing, but everything here rings true, even if you’re not self-published.

  8. #10 resonates with me about trusting others to do their jobs. Who follows through and does their job anymore? That’s what I would like to know. I agree Bob that you have to always watch over somebody’s shoulder. But when you’re the one solely responsible for the outcome, then it’s up to you to make sure you succeed. Can’t blame anyone else if you fail though. :)

  9. D.D. Scott says:

    Wavin’ atchy’all from vacation in Music City Nashville TN…well…it’s not all vacay…I’ve got several business meetings for upcoming projects too!

    But wow…anyhoo…what a post, Bob! Superfab terrific!!!

    I luuuvvv what you said about being “in it for the long haul”!

    That’s the key to me! This is in no way, shape or form a get rich quick kinda gig. In fact, it’s more like the “10 years and 24-hours to success” plan, which is the title of my new non-fiction book coming out in May 2012 about what it takes to be a Bestselling Indie Epub Author for the long haul, and not a “one-hit wonder”. Not that “one-hit wonder” isn’t superfab too, but that concept and kinda success most times won’t make for a career in years versus days or months.

  10. D. D. Scott says:

    And note…there really is no vacay when you’re an Indie Epub Author! But that’s okay…I luuuvvv that! I thrive on this biz and thrive on interacting with u and my readers too!!!

    That’s the level of dedication and joy I truly believe will make us long haul Indie Epub Authors!

    Cheers to that!!!

  11. Excellent post, Bob! And it’s particularly interesting to know that someone with your experience and years in traditional publishing still has to focus — again and again — on these basics.

    I’m one of those people who enjoys the business and marketing aspect a lot. But I get so involved in connecting that I don’t leave time to write. That won’t work!

    I like your emphasis on the long haul. If a writer keeps plugging at this business, the words will add up, the books will add up, and the money will add up. And if she doesn’t…

  12. Julie Day says:

    I am in it for the long haul, too, even though I keep checking my sales every day. Ha. About covers. When I got my first children’s book published, the character on the cover wasn’t like I imagined her to be when I wrote about her. I wanted her to have curly hair like me, but the publisher put her with straight hair and I had to agree. Now I can choose my own covers, after finding photos of the characters that I want. My cover designer knows what I want now, and we work really well together.

  13. Excellent advice from the man who knows!

  14. Carl Purdon says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I print this list and tack it to the wall above my laptop. It’s great advice, and needs to be read every day.

  15. Bob Mayer says:

    Thanks for the feedback. It’s what Jen and I learned from years of work in the indie publishing field.

  16. Sarra Cannon says:

    “If you don’t have backlist, your sweat equity begins now.”

    So true. This is a brilliant post, Bob, thank you. I needed a reminder this morning that I have to stop worrying so much about where my sales are now. Instead, I need to get my butt in this chair and keep writing and working hard so that in 3 years, I will be in a better, more successful place.

  17. Rebecca Emin says:

    Brilliant advice!

  18. Lacy Camey says:

    Great post! I’ve really appreciated all of your resources, Bob, that you’re providing with Write it Forward. I took one of your classes last July and found it very motivating, inspiring and educational. I have a question for all of you. It’s in regards to #6. My 2nd book should be releasing in the next week and I will have around 7 titles total under my belt by the end of the year. I was thinking about opening an LLC to keep everything organized. Do any of you have an LLC? Or a DBA? I already am a self employed copywriter and have a home office… and now with book royalties coming in every month it seems time to do something. Do any of you have any recommendations? Thanks so much and thanks so much again for creating such a positive author community :) . I’ve very appreciative!

  19. Great post, thanks. Writers do like to get validation quickly, but the more I’ve read about e-publishing success, you have to look long-term and have multiple books. And I loved what you said about writing a good book, working on craft. Too often writers rush to publish, but that isn’t good for them or for the industry. If there are too many indie-pubbed ebooks that are poor quality, readers will steer clear of them. We have to make sure the quality is as good if not better than traditionally published books.

  20. Jill Mora says:

    Great advice Bob! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Rachael says:

    Dear Bob & fellow authors & commenters:
    You just made my day! It’s so wonderful not only to come to a community of writers who not only care and are savvy about marketing–but who care about what brought us all here in the first place: Writing :) I just self-published my first novel, an Arthurian, THE DRAGON’S HARP . It’s getting great reviews (I’m currently on a blog tour)–yet I have so much to learn and the true key seems to be visibility–and sincere community. Any suggestions from any of you would be deeply appreciated. And I do reciprocate :)

    Thank you again, Bob for your resources. And Samantha–2 posts above mine–I couldn’t agree more. As self-publishers we’ve got to be as good, if not better, than traditionally published novelists.

  22. David Slegg says:

    Excellent advice.

    Concise and well done.

  23. Thanks for good advice. Am puzzled though about the Kindle boards. I’ve heard this advice before but was taken aback when I tried to find a discussion. After several hours of searching, I kept finding “for authors” posts that were rabidly bashing authors for self promotion and essentially anti-author. Clearly, getting on the “Kindle boards” and saying “buy my book” is not the right thing to do, but I can’t seem to find the right way to participate. Are there specific discussion boards you would recommend? How can an author find relevant, friendly board discussions to join?

  24. Thanks, Bob, for reminding about the long haul. My husband is always preaching that, too. I want to get another book out this year, but I have this dang perfectionist gene nagging me. I know I have to let go, but I think sometimes authors let go too soon. I worry that so many writers are rushing to publish, when their books really need another round or two of editing. All of this comes to the issue of raising the quality of indie publishing. Or should we even be worried about that?

  25. LK Watts says:

    Great post, Bob, especially point number 1. I’ve only been in this business for a year now so it comforts me to think that my greatest success might still be another three to five years away.

  26. Carmen Capuano says:

    What a great post! You have inspired me and encouraged me to keep on keeping on. As a newly self-published author, there is so much fear, trepidation, excitment and disappointment wrapped up in the start of every morning…now I know I’m not alone. Thanks for all the insights.