Successful Self-publishing Is Possible — With the Right Plan

Successful self-publishing is possible — with the right plan.

By Greg Sharp

I first saw digital print on demand in 1989 at a trade show in Los Angeles. The setup looked very different from what we see today; however, even then I could see its enormous promise. They promoted it as a way for publishers to keep their titles in print forever. Back then a publisher would stop selling a book once sales dropped too low to warrant a reprint. Print-on-demand technology offered a new way to keep books alive. Most publishers couldn’t see beyond ink and paper and worried about the consequences of going into digital printing. Much of the industry ignored print on demand for twenty years. That’s how long it took for the business to develop into what we see today. It causes as much trepidation now as then, but now it’s a different group pondering the uses and consequences of the technology — authors.

Publishing and printing operate in conjunction, yet they are very different industries. One creates content; the other manufactures it. Often the consumer sees a book and accepts that these industries must be one and the same. To a publisher, a printer is one of the vendors, one link in a long chain. To a printer, a publisher is its customer, the end of the chain for its manufacturing services.

Now, let’s look at the print-on-demand machine manufacturer. For twenty years they have been working on the technology to produce books one at a time — with a goal to sell a great volume of them. Once they realized the publishers weren’t going to come on board, they turned their attention to the printing companies, offering the printers a technology deal. The printers began to bypass the publishers by selling their services directly to the authors themselves. It was a brilliant promotion.

 By digitalizing the process, the printers also became the publishers, working with both the content and the manufacturing. Printers built websites that made them look like publishers. The only problem was they just didn’t have the history and experience of publishing. Producing a quality book takes more than technology. Experienced people and tried-and-true processes were discounted in the process. Regardless, pay-to-play publishing was born. Quick and cheap caused mayhem and criticism throughout the industry.

It took a while, but in time the larger publishing houses finally realize they were feeding these companies through their severe selection processes. In rejecting potential authors for so long, they had inadvertently created a big group interest in the new print-on-demand companies. “Why reject the authors we aren’t willing to take a financial risk on?” They thought, “If we can’t beat ’em, let’s join ’em.” And publishers became printers as well. Many publishing companies began selling authors their production services for a fee, cloaked as publishing contracts.

The pool of publishing companies has become a confusing and potentially risky place for an author. Printers now act as publisher and publishers act as printers. At this stage, everyone is selling their services to the authors. The focus has become on producing books, not necessarily on creating a quality published book for the author. It’s not surprising that authors are left confused.

I lead a company called Sea Hill Press, and I’ve been in this industry for over thirty years. I started as a printer, moved into publishing, and have worked in book promotion and sales. In short, I’ve been in all areas of the industry. Publishing is a creative endeavor, and each book is unique. A successful book project is greater than the sum of its parts, which are editing, layout, design, printing, and sales. I spend a lot of my time helping people make these decisions.

Here are a few questions that may help you better define your mission:

1) What is a successful outcome for me? For many authors, the writing has been a hobby. The completion of the hobby comes when they see the manuscript in its completed form as a printed book. Many authors today want enough copies for their friends and family members. And that’s OK. Print-on-demand publishing is a solution that gets your there. If you can only envision selling fifty copies, then start there. With print on demand, you can always order more. you may find that the process of writing was rewarding and producing only a few books is a happy ending. If so, you don’t need to move onto the next question. However, if you want to share your writing with a larger audience, then it’s time think a little bigger.

2) What are my goals for selling my book? Be specific in writing out your intentions and goals. Consider such things as who your audience is, where they live, where they work, and what their purchasing habits look like. How are you going to tell these people about your book, and how are you going to promote your work?  Write your ideas down. This is the start of your marketing plan. It’s better you know this before you go too far down the path.

3) Do I understand what it means to have a good editor? There’s more to editing a book than being good at grammar. Book publishing has its own set of language rules and presentation guidelines. Not only are specialized book editors experts in the writing and style guidelines exclusive to the book industry but also they are experts at understanding the layout and design formatting of a book design. A good book editor knows the pitfalls of publishing and can steer you clear of the holes that bring criticism and bad reviews.

4) Have I developed a good distribution plan? If you intend to sell your work, then launching it successfully is no different than any other new business venture. Plan it, develop it, and make it happen. Just because your book has an ISBN and is listed online doesn’t mean it will sell. Getting it online is only an initial step in the distribution plan. Look for specialists to assist you in shoring up your weaknesses in marketing, promotion, and sales.

5) Am I interested in going into book sales as a business? You probably enjoyed working on your manuscript and developing its layout and cover, but not all authors enjoy the aspects of selling their books. Book selling is a business; along with it comes making sales and handling accounting and taxes. Your business is going to take time away from your writing and other activities you enjoy. It’s OK to work with a company to help you get your proof of concept and get your book finished. Ask yourself how much time you’re willing to commit to the business side of selling your book.

I’ve meet with many authors in my life. They tend to fall into one of two groups: either they want to see their writing in print or they want to make a good income off selling books as a business.  There’s not a right group and a wrong group. We spend money and resources in our lives for experiences and hobbies we enjoy. If writing your book was the experience, and sharing it with friends and family is the reward, then printing a limited number of copies using print-on-demand publishing will likely be satisfying for you. If you want to go into the business of selling your books and earning a living off them, you’re probably a candidate for learning the publishing industry and jumping into the business.

 Let me end with a word about our company: Simply put, our job is to help people navigate the path to successfully publishing their books, whether they want three copies or three thousand. Our editors and designers are trained and experienced specialists in the book industry. We are the go-to people to make sense of print or digital printing production and beyond. We are here to help you establish realistic publishing goals and to achieve them.

About the Author:

Greg Sharp, a thirty-year veteran of publishing and media, leads the Sea Hill Press team, located in Leesburg, Florida. Greg is an objective, independent, and insightful business leader whose management analysis and research has made a positive impact on hundreds of printing and publishing projects. For more information about Sea Hill Press publishing services, please visit or contact Greg at (877) 397-0005

© Greg Sharp, 2017. All rights reserved.

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