It’s a tall enough order to plod through the months or years with your manuscript, doggedly pushing forward until finally you get to those glorious ultimate words, “The End.” But now, you’re going to self-publish?
I get tired just thinking about it.
That’s the thought I had in my head right before I decided to dive into the world of self-publishing – a choice that revitalised my career and put me on a path to success. Like every other contemporary first time author, I had to make the call on whether I should chase traditional publishers or go rogue.
It was a choice that once I broke down the facts, seemed stone cold obvious: self-publishing was going to get me further, faster. Now, in the moment right before my launch, I have no book sale statistics to share with you. I have no stories of Good Morning America calling to interview me. But what I do have are seven ways I believe self-publishing saved my career and have guaranteed me long term success.
1. Learn how to grow a platform
When I first approached literary agents with my book proposal, they loved the idea, thought I was a good writer, but rejected the book, saying, ‘Courtney call us when you have 10,000 followers’. I took it to heart. Okay, I’d go out and get 10,000 followers. No problem, I was up for a challenge.
I cross-collaborated with other creatives. I pumped out one blog post per week. I started a monthly newsletter to stay in touch with my following. I let everyone know what I was doing. Then I thought, if I’m going to go get 10,000 followers, why would I then give them away?
I realised that both self-publishing and the traditional route meant connecting to that audience, so instead of handing the audience over, I doubled down on creating the relationships.
This isn’t just about one book, it’s about a lifetime of connection with my following.
2. Gain Freelance Clients
Because of that direct connection with my audience, I was able to offer services that, had I published traditionally, I might not have offered.
The ability to speak directly with my followers helped me realise what they were needing and what skills I already had to offer. This ability to determine their pain points and then speak to it offered me a second income stream.
Now I wasn’t just promoting one book, I was promoting a relationship that could result in reading my book or working with me one on one.
3. Handle multiple projects at once
When you self-publish, you are in charge of the printing, distributing, designing, editing and marketing. If you thought writing the book was a challenge, promoting it and making sure it’s packaged correctly makes writing a book seem like child’s play.
But the benefit you get by handling such a multi-faceted challenge is essential for writers who want a long, prolific career.
As creatives, we constantly have seven ideas we’d like to work on at once, so the ability to delegate, prioritise and streamline is imperative. Learning these skills via self-publishing has made any future endeavour, no matter how massive, seem easily surmountable.
4. Seek a low overhead
The fantasy of a book deal comes intertwined with visions of parties and galas and signings and oodles of books in cardboard boxes.
In reality, when you self-publish, you need the lowest overhead possible. This makes you an online entrepreneur.
The lower your overhead, the greater your reach.
Self-publishing helped me recognise that building webinars, a monthly newsletter or simply a consistent blog schedule was more than enough to boost my following.
That forced frugality has now infiltrated even the launch. I consider what exactly we need to spend in order to get the most bang for our buck. If it’s not going to have a huge ROI (Return on Investment), I don’t want it.
I’ve learned how to cut the fat – a skill I can use in any endeavour.
5. Learn to build effective teams
When you self-publish, you are the boss. I had to find a designer, editor, director (for my book trailer, of course), copy editor and proofreader.
Because I was paying these talented people and I didn’t want to sacrifice my lack of funding for a lack of quality, I really had to do some searching.
I put together a team of top notch creatives, and although I’m based out of New York City, I worked with them remotely.
In addition to New York City, my team was based out of Chicago and Baltimore. I wasn’t limited by a publishing company, so I wasn’t limited to NYC.
This was a key element of finding a team that I could communicate well with and whose work I really admired. And learning how to build my book team has taught me how to bring different talents and perspectives together in order to make the whole picture bigger and brighter.
6. Determine Your Freelancing Rate
This might seem obvious to some people, but my research on the internet suggests that no one really knows what they should be charging.
Working on the book, while contributing to other sites as a freelancer myself and paying freelancers to work on my own project gave me a great perspective on how much or how little my work is worth.
Knowing this rate has been instrumental in setting up gigs or turning down gigs. It has given me a peace of mind that comes with being confident in the value I bring and how much my time is worth.
7. Remember to Learn
Maybe the most important way self-publishing saved my career was reminding me how to learn. When you sit and write for months on end (especially if it’s non-fiction), it’s easy to forget that you are at your best when you are a student of the universe.
That is what gives writers their power. The ability to wonder at the world, seek out what is different and new, push our comfort zones and be compelled by our endless curiosity is what drives us to write in the first place. Not knowing how to self-publish and then figuring it out as I went reminded me of how to be a student. If I take anything away from this process, it will be the value of beginner’s mind.
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Self-publishing hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There have been moments of hysteria and quiet angst. But more often than not, I’ve learned what it takes to be the boss of my future, to find creative endurance and to stand fully in my work with integrity and passion. I highly recommend it.