Think Like a Publisher (and Release Your Inner Badass)

I s this all too often.

A writer wants to self-publish without being a publisher.

She hands off her manuscript to a company like AuthorHouse, IUniverse or WestBow Press without doing any homework. She doesn’t even research the company’s reputation until she realizes she’s made a mistake.

He buys a template cover, then discovers five other books that look just like his.

She doesn’t understand a contract, but signs it anyway, assuming it can’t be changed.

He is talked into buying videos, blog tours, and banner ads without considering whether they will increase sales enough to justify the cost.

And then, disappointed and poorer, these writers give up the dream of getting their books into readers’ hands.

I want to say to these writers, com’on! Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey were self-publishing, what would they do (riches aside)? They would push, demand, question, negotiate, and micro-manage until they produced the best books possible. They know the road to success requires taking ownership of the process and maintaining control.

In other words, writers, release your inner badass.

Take charge. Think and act like a business investor, an entrepreneur, the publisher, the boss.

Why is this so hard for writers? Otherwise capable, successful, competent people turn into self-doubting wimps when it comes to pursuing their writing careers. They become embarrassed, even sheepish. Why?

Do we feel guilty? Are we being self-indulgent by taking time away from our jobs and family to write, self-publish and promote?

Do we feel silly? Are friends calling us “writers” while making air quotes with their fingertips?

Are we fatalistic? While our culture admires dreamers who pursue Don Quixote quests, it also considers them tragic, predictably so. How many well-meaning heroes die before the end of a movie or novel? Eighty percent? Ninety percent? Does cynicism justify giving up on dreams? Is there a hidden message here? we feel out of step? Our culture measures a person by what he can buy, not by what he can produce. We glorify those who make their millions fast and easy. No matter how much you reject materialism, does part of you wonder if you are wasting resources that would be better applied to a “real” job? After all, there are faster, easier ways to make money than crafting a novel word by word by word.

Are we intimidated? Does the self-publishing process seem too complicated, too risky? Are there too many decisions, too many negotiations, too many contracts?


In 30 years of practicing business law, I’ve seen a lot of people succeed and fail. No matter what the business, the number one indicator of success is not intelligence, talent, luck, money, education, connections, ethics, or even lack of ethics, although all of those help.

It’s Tenacity — on Steroids.

Successful entrepreneurs have a drive that pushes them on despite obstacles, detours, doubts, debt, and mistakes. (Believe me, they make plenty of mistakes.) They believe that achieving a goal is worth pushing people to do beyond their best and breaking some of the “rules” that hold others back.

Sheepishness never got anyone anywhere.

You don’t need to be a Larry Ellison to self-publish successfully. Any writer who can write a book, mastering character, plot, and structure in the process, can handle the process of self-publishing. You’ve done harder things in your life.

Like driving a car, or marriage, or raising children.

Oprah at Whilte House

Oprah is awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nov. 20, 2013

Think of it this way. If you want to self-publish successfully, you must

Release your inner Oprah.


Do your homework?

I know people who will spend an hour on TripAdvisor before choosing a restaurant. A car purchase takes them months! Choosing your publishing path requires a bit of research .

Once you’ve decided to self-publish your book, take the time to learn the process. I recommend you buy just two or three books. If you buy more or research on the internet, you’ll be bombarded with too much information. It will be paralyzing. Joanna Penn has compiled a list of books organized by different points in the process. Check it out. Recommended Books for Authors.

Don’t be afraid of hiring freelancers.

You are better off hiring freelancers than going with a so-called self-publishing service company. Those companies are into making profits. They don’t care about your book, and their reputations will not be hurt by your bad experience. A freelancer depends on a good reputation and referrals and will work harder to make you happy.

You’ll be more satisfied with the results if you have direct contact with the person doing the work. Like you, she is a creative person trying to turn her passion into a business. You’ll have more in common than you expect. everything is negotiable.

In our culture, we don’t learn to haggle and negotiate on a day-to-day basis. It’s considered impolite. We fear people will think less of us. The reality is, when it comes to business transactions, people will respect you more if you negotiate.

The key to negotiation is preparation. Know what you want. Know your choices. Know your walk away point. Even if you can’t negotiate a better deal, you always have the choice of saying no.

Maintain control.

No one cares about your book as much as you do. If you hand your manuscript off to someone else, they won’t put the time and attention into it the way you would. Their tastes and preferences will not be the same as yours.

Of course, your editors, designers and consultants will have skills and ideas that expand your own. But always have the final say on standards, designs, marketing, pricing, distribution and licensing.

If you hire an Author Solutions company or any other company to help you self-publish remember, they are merely service providers, not publishers. You are the publisher. They should not decide your retail price, size, or design, and they certainly should never get exclusive rights or an option on any other work.

Image you design your own home and hire a contractor to build it. You’d never expect the contractor to say who can live in your home or what at price you can sell it. Yet that’s what some of these companies do!

Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.

In particular, read and understand everything regarding the granting of rights, licenses, and ownership. And make sure the contract may be terminated by you at any time. There are sharks out there.

Admit your mistakes.

If you signed on with the wrong company or freelancer, admit it and find a way out, even if it costs you money. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve paid for cover designs I never used, and I wish I could get back money I paid for worthless promotions. Sometimes you just need to pay the piper and move on.

Think big and think long term.

The chances of earning enough to quit your day job by publishing one book are slim.If you approach your writing career with a long-term view, realizing you will learn and improve along the way, you are less likely to burn out before you reach your goals.

Bottom line, treat your writing venture as a legitimate and laudable endeavor, something you and everyone around you should take seriously and admire.

When in doubt, ask what would Oprah do?



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One response to “Think Like a Publisher (and Release Your Inner Badass)”

  1. Bad bad Leroy Brown says:

    English has no gender-neutral singular pronoun. Thus the bloggers’ best choice is choosing male or female AND STICKING TO IT. The 2nd-best choice is to use the barbarically illiterate plural pronoun “their.” The worst choice, as seen in the above post, is to go back and forth from male to female when discussing the same person, a bad choice that constantly irritates and often confuses the reader.

    The very best choice is to use the gender singular that most matches the percentage in the population being discussed. For example, pilots, soldiers and such would normally be referred to in the masculine (he, him, etc.) because they are almost always males. Elementary school teachers should be referred to in the feminine because that profession is overwhelmingly women.

    Above all we should strive for clarity, and eschew the idiotic and misguided political correctness which so often leads to bad writing and illiterate writing.

    Glad to be of help.

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