Self-Publishing for Fun and Profit

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In yesterday’s post, I distinguished between the “indie author” and the “self-published author.” A reader named Wendy commented, with a question.

This is a distinction that I originally got from Bob Baker, author of 55 Ways to Promote & Sell Your Book on the Internet. Bob got his self-publishing start with a book about indie music marketing, back in the mid-90’s. He told the story in a recent interview about self-publishing:

In 1996, I self-published the first crude version of the Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook… one of the first books to advocate self-reliance and taking your music career into your own hands (as opposed to “getting signed” to a record label, which most music business books were all about back then).

My DIY perspective came in handy when the traditional music biz began to crumble around 2001. Before long, going the “indie” route became the way to go…

Eh. So the book industry is 10 years late.

Anyhow, (a few years ago, as I recall) Bob pointed out that most people don’t care who published your book. But if someone does ask you who, you can say, “I’m an indie author,” rather than saying, “I self-published it.” He got the “indie” tag from the music industry, where “indie” is no longer looked down upon as less legitimate than being signed by a big record label.

I took his advice to heart. When I talk about “self-published authors,” I’m usually referring to authors who use modern publishing technology in pursuit of their hobby. When I talk about “indie authors,” I’m referring to those who take their writing seriously, take their books seriously, and treat them as part of a business plan.

(I’m not sure if that’s what Bob originally had in mind. But that’s the gist of what I wrote yesterday.)

In reply, Wendy wrote (and I paraphrase):

Hi, Tim.

I’ve never contacted you before but I have read your blogs and comments on Holly Lisle’s blogs… My question is how does one start/run her own publishing company? Any information or resources you could point me to would be greatly appreciated?

Wendy C. Boston

Hi, Wendy. Thanks so much for commenting. This answer is going to gloss over a lot of material, but I hope that I at least provide a useful link or two.

The easiest way to get started is to publish ebooks under your own name using Smashwords and/or Amazon KDP. Smashwords’s site is designed to be author-friendly; that is, you don’t have to be a publishing expert to use it. (However, once you are a publishing expert, you’ll probably learn to hate it. Ba-dum bum.) Amazon has also designed their site to be used by authors, but you’ll need to convert your ebook appropriately for their system. Both sites have good help guides, and Amazon has user forums as well.

You can also set up a small business, file a fictitious name, and use that as the publisher name. Whether and how to do that is the same for a publishing business as for any other business. Nolo Press has some great self-help legal books on how to start a business legally. Starting a modern small publishing business is easier than starting many other businesses, because you don’t need a storefront, and you don’t need any government licenses or permits (at least not here in the U.S.). You don’t even need to deal with publishing contracts, if you’re only publishing your own books (and if you are publishing your own books, you should probably think twice before you also publish someone else’s… but that’s another topic).

Even if you use your own name, the key, I think, is to treat your authoring and publishing as a business or career, not as a hobby. That is, engage it seriously, put into it the time and effort it demands, and plan well in order to ultimately succeed. Of course, hobbies are wonderful. I have hobbies, too. And I think everybody should write stories as a hobby—at least everyone who isn’t pursuing it as a career. But you were asking about self-publishing as a business. The real difference is in attitude, whether it’s a hobby or a career, because that difference will help you make certain decisions and affect your level of commitment, especially over the long haul.

I can also recommend Aaron Shepard’s book POD for Profit: More on the NEW Business of Self Publishing, or How to Publish Your Books With Print on Demand by Lightning Source. Lightning Source is the printer/distributor that many boutique and indie presses use (even Lulu and CreateSpace use them, at least sometimes). Lightning Source is not “self-publishing company,” like Lulu. Rather, they offer book printing services (both POD and offset) and distribution services (through Ingram), and they work with publishers, not authors. In fact, when I filled out their client application form, it seemed to me more to assure them that I was a publishing company, and not just an author.

Aaron Shepard in POD for Profit also goes into some of the business aspects of running a small publishing company. You might be interesting in the first book in that series, Aiming at Amazon, too. (I personally think those two books are out of order. Lightning Source first, because that gives you something to sell to all your readers who have been interacting with you via your blog and email and Twitter and Facebook. Then Amazon, because you want your book to look as good as possible on their site. But most people seem to think in the opposite direction: Amazon first.) In any case, you should check out Aaron’s self-publishing site.

(I should also add that I have not myself read POD for Profit, but it clearly has some of the information he was originally planning to put into the second edition of Aiming for Amazon, which I did review. In any case, I can personally vouch for Aaron’s status as a bona-fide self-publishing expert, because I’ve been following his work for some time. And so I trust that he knows what he’s talking about, even if I haven’t personally read the book.)

Hope this helps. Best of luck in whatever you endeavor.

Keep writing!


One response to “Self-Publishing for Fun and Profit”

  1. charlotte abel Avatar

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for another informative and interesting post.

    I’m one of those “Amazon first” authors. Instead of setting up an independent publishing business, I published under my own name. My reasons for doing so were …

    1. I am completely right-brained and totally incompetent when it comes to anything numerical. (I balance my checkbook by calling the bank and asking them how much money I have). If I set up an independent publishing company, I would have to get a business tax ID, keep a ledger and file quarterly returns instead of just adding my income to my husbands and letting his accountant handle it all.

    2. It’s hard enough developing my own name into a “brand,” I don’t think I have the energy to start over with a company name.

    3. All I really want to do is write, create cover art, and produce video trailers for my books! … (and hang out with my writing buddies on Twitter, find and read great indie novels like “From the Ashes of Courage” and “I Wish,” and comment on other people’s blogs).

    All joking aside, I take my writing seriously and spend eight hours a day writing and doing writing related “stuff.” This is no hobby. I hired a publicist to market “Enchantment” and its sequels. She’s doing a fantastic job, but I still have to spend a lot of time promoting myself and my books. I don’t think I could handle running a business as well. I admire you and other indies that truly do it all!


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