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How to Publish Your Book—Advice for Today’s Authors

Have you considered writing a book?
Desireé Duffy is a marketer, author, media expert, and Founder of Black Château—a public relations and marketing agency specializing in promoting authors, books, small press, personality brands and creative companies. She chairs AWM SoCal’s Advisory Board and sits on two advisory boards for the Lifeboat Foundation. An award-winning marketer, she writes about digital media, online marketing, technology, and topics with social impact.
Desireé Duffy is a marketer, author, media expert, and Founder of Black Château—a public relations and marketing agency specializing in promoting authors, books, small press, personality brands and creative companies. She chairs AWM SoCal’s Advisory Board and sits on two advisory boards for the Lifeboat Foundation. An award-winning marketer, she writes about digital media, online marketing, technology, and topics with social impact.

Have you considered writing a book? Whether you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field, or create a work of fiction that entertains and inspires, publishing a book today is easier than ever before. Self-publishing gives everyone the ability to unleash their opus to the masses.

I spoke with the host of GetPublished! Radio, Gerald Everett Jones, about the ins and outs of the publishing world. Jones is also an author and indie publisher who has delved into every aspect of publishing. His sixth, and most recent novel, is the unputdownable Bonfire of the Vanderbilts. It is about an art scandal in 1892 Paris. Before concentrating primarily on fiction, he authored, coauthored, or ghost-wrote more than 30 business and technical books for mainstream publishers, including the renowned How to Lie with Charts—a must-read for marketing and business professionals.

1. As the world of self-publishing grows and evolves, what trends or areas should people be aware of?

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to get published. But that also comes with some challenging, if not bad, news: lots of other people are doing it. So, the noise level in the marketplace is higher than ever.

New authors learn that an active social media presence is the best way to capture an audience. What can you do to set yourself apart? Recently, there’s been a trend toward more video in posts. But, techniques aside, what’s crucial in the long run is engaging and compelling content. Yes, you need to expose your brand, but what does your name or your brand or your book stand for? Cute pictures of your cat may get likes, but you want readers with longer attention spans.

2. What opportunities exist in the industry today that weren’t there ten or even five years ago?

The other big thing that’s changed is international marketing. Online book distributors and retailers now have access to markets all over the world. Give some thought to how your message might play over there.

Not long ago, my agent sold foreign rights to my business title, How to Lie with Charts and made a deal in China. I asked how much I’d get for the translation fee, which typically goes with those deals. He told me there wouldn’t be a translation fee because the book would be published in English. It turns out that there are more people in China who read English than there are in all the other English-speaking countries combined!

3. With so many options for authors, including: vanity press publishing, Amazon KDP, KDP Select, or hybrid publishing, how can people understand and navigate all the options?

We say on the GetPublished! Radio show that the host, me, has the answers because he’s already made all the mistakes himself. That’s pretty much true. I was an early adopter of print-on-demand (POD) and ebook publishing, and I’ve also done audiobooks, DVD and streaming video, and, of course, radio broadcasting and podcasting.

My approach was haphazard as new opportunities for publishing and distribution came along. That’s why I’m a good host for the self-publishing advice show. And I’ve coached, edited, and ghostwritten book projects for other people. So, you could hire me or another “book shepherd.” The advantage is you’ll get personal attention that carries through the project from development through production and promotion.

You can also get much the same range of services from a book packaging service like Author Solutions, BookBaby, or Waterfront Digital. You’ll get a turnkey range of services, but perhaps not personal attention.

4. Success can be defined in many ways. Beyond book sales, what are some ways self-published authors are finding success today?

I feel strongly that success has different definitions depending on what type of book you’re promoting. If you’re writing nonfiction, your goal is to be perceived as an expert. If you’re writing about your profession or your practice, it may be less important to sell books than to recruit clients or build your professional standing.

If you’re writing fiction, your primary goal should be artistic success. That doesn’t necessarily mean sales. I call it “garage-band marketing.” A musician might play at clubs at one in the morning when there are two people in the audience. How do you measure success if not in money? How much feedback are you getting on your posts? Are you getting reviews and long conversations on your message threads? If you are engaging people, you’re on the right road.

5. What are some misconceptions or old notions about self-publishing?

One old notion is the fear that ebooks will replace printed books. Ebook sales are about a quarter of the book market and have stabilized there. Over the long term, yes, that share may grow further as communication becomes increasingly paperless. Some pundits are saying there will be a trend toward multimedia books, incorporating interactive graphics and video. But that market has yet to see its “killer app.”

Another old notion is that print-on-demand is somehow lower in quality than offset. The technologies are different – POD uses plastic toner and not ink – but it pretty much takes an expert these days to tell the difference, and readers really don’t care as long as the pages look crisp and clean. The notion that bookstores won’t carry POD books is also outdated. What many people don’t realize is that the backlists of major publishers – books that would otherwise be out of print because their sales have fallen off – are now kept in print from those same publishers by using POD.

The jury’s out on whether you can have a breakthrough success publishing only via ebook. The late Dan Poynter, a self-publishing visionary, believed that. I’d say, for now, if you can afford the extra expense of also publishing in paperback, you will increase your chances of building an audience, as well as your credibility as a small-press publisher. Unless you are an accomplished book designer, doing so will add several thousand dollars to your budget so you have a professional-looking product. And, I should add, just having some experience with Adobe InDesign doesn’t mean you can consider yourself a book designer.

6. Is self-publishing better than being traditionally published? What are some of the key differences?

The big advantages of self-publishing are timing, profitability, and control. An overwhelming advantage is timing. From the time you send a query to an agent until a mainstream publisher has your book in stores is typically two years.

If you already have an agent and a publisher who is interested, perhaps half that time. But assuming you have a publishing deal, what advantage, as a first-time author, does that give you? These days, unless you are already a financially successful author, a publisher will not devote any publicity budget to your book. They will expect you to do the same things on your own that you would do as a self-publisher – have a website, write a blog, solicit reviews, enter contests, and seek media appearances. They may point you in the right direction – share a media list, for example – but you can get that information elsewhere.

Profitability is obvious but only in the strict sense that, as a self-publisher, you’ll keep a lot more of the royalties, depending on how you distribute. You can price your book lower than a major publisher would – but in doing so you’re telegraphing to the market that you’re a newbie. Pricing decisions can be tricky.

The third consideration is control. A major book publisher might not give you approval over the cover design. Or you could get stuck with a book editor who wants significant rewrites that will make the book different – but not better!

7. On your show, you offer advice for writers. What are some tips you want everyone to know?

If you haven’t published before, get a professional evaluation of your project. In business, they call this a gap analysis. What are your weak points? Where do you need help? Then seek qualified help and create a budget for the effort.

Commit to spending that budget, and don’t be discouraged when your first book doesn’t make that money back. It probably won’t. But if your main motivation for writing books is to make money, you should find another line of work.

8. For investors or companies who want to take advantage of opportunities in the industry, what do you suggest they do? What should they be watching?

I’ve said this to potential sponsors for the show: You should be thinking about building your brand. In self-publishing, the flux in the market these days is in the middle ground – the book shepherds and turnkey middle-players – and in distribution.

Among the middle players, there is a lot of brand confusion, including the old stigma of the vanity press. Interestingly, some agents are retiring to become book coaches, and some of those are forming middle-player companies that look like vanity presses. The distinctions between these potential helpers are blurry. And there’s the question of credibility and trust.

Co-branding with a show like ours, or some other related service, can grow the presence and the favorable impression of both in the marketplace. If you wait until your potential partner already has market share, that’s a deep-pockets strategy because your stake in it will no longer be affordable. And waiting for the market to shake out might be waiting too long.

For example, Macmillan bought Pronoun before they were even fully launched. You can say what you want about whether that venture will be successful. But these days, merger and acquisition decisions, along with sponsorship commitments, are being made earlier – even before the real-world numbers are there to justify the move. Things are changing so fast that you can’t afford to sit back, or wait and see.

The self-publishing industry is enjoying a robust period. It is an excellent investment for sponsors and business professionals. If you are interested in becoming an author, or need publishing advice, listen to past shows on GetPublished! Radio.

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