Self-publishing a Book in 2019: The Good, The Bad, and The Money
Once in a while, I publish a guest post that brings something different to this blog.
Our guest today is David Sawyer, author of RESET, a thoroughly well-researched book on Early Retirement from a UK perspective.
This book is seriously packed full of value and action points and is easy to read.
Dave has an impressive life story, which you’ll learn a lot about shortly.
However, I thought his self-publishing journey would be extremely insightful.
It ties well with our continued theme on Creativity, Personal Development, and using what you have in your hands today.
His journey to creating RESET is a story of triumph through a relentless focus on achieving a worthy goal.
I hope you enjoy and learn from this guest post as much as I have.
Do make sure you grab a copy of his book! I highly recommend it.
Let’s now handover to Dave to talk Self-Publishing:
Let’s start in November 1972.
I grew up in mid-Cheshire on Wimpey’s Hill, so-called because I lived on a hill with Wimpey homes on.
A book-ish child, who always favoured the arts over science.
I predictably left university with not a clue about what I wanted to do in life, eventually choosing journalism as the least worst career option.
After an NCTJ course, spells on local papers and a regional news agency, I soon realised that the poor work-life balance and average wages would not cut the mustard if I was going to achieve my goals.
So, I crossed the Rubicon into public relations, which, at its heart, is about writing and telling a story.
For the next 17 years, I worked hard, starting off on the bottom rung at a small independent PR consultancy and ending up spending my final five years in corporate life heading up the Glasgow office of the world’s biggest PR agency.
This was because I was a good practitioner and manager and had an excellent track record of hitting (exceeding) “the numbers” (which comes through providing a consistently good service to clients).
Worldwide awards (including one from the United Nations) followed regular promotions followed pay rises.
Bigger houses followed better neighbourhoods, followed two children.
Yet as the years went by and responsibilities increased, I felt uneasy.
My industry was changing (have you heard how many people buy a newspaper nowadays?), and people were consuming information differently.
Yet the last thing I had time to do was “get with the digital programme”, and I was getting farther and farther away from the writing and story-telling skills I’d made my name on.
Concerned more with HR, staff management, board meetings and keeping big clients happy, than what I really enjoyed about the job: creating.
As I approached 40, a chance set of events led me to take up running and that’s where the book journey really starts for me.
For the first time in many a year, I got some “me time”.
As I saw the benefits of hard work, application and setting my stretch-yet-achievable goals when it came to running, I wondered what would happen if I applied the same logic to my career.
In early 2014 I waved goodbye to corporate life and set up my own PR company, Zude PR.
And overnight, my mindset shifted.
Anyone who’s set up a resolutely one-man-band business this past five years will testify to the fact that if you weren’t committed to learning and development previously, you must be now.
For a period in 2014, I was reading eight hours’ blog posts a day, and still, now I happily browse whatever interests me for a good two hours daily.
This leads to a lot of personal growth and, eventually being much more in tune with what you want to achieve in life: what matters to you.
Previously I’d been a great believer in the maxim that the best PR men and women are those you’ve never heard of.
Which is fine when you work for a global behemoth but not when you’re a high-value consultant trying to encourage people to choose you over hundreds of others.
Related reading: Recommended Books I Love
Writing Style Is Born
So, to build my profile I blogged then set up a weekly newsletter.
This proved another pivotal moment in the book-writing journey, as I found my writing voice, and a style I, and others, was comfortable with.
“I’ve got a book in me”
I’m not that person who’s always felt they had a book in them.
I love writing, but from what I’d heard you had two choices:
1. Churn out some low-rent, low-production-value crap (self-publishing) or
2. Die penniless having been rejected by hundreds of agents and publishers (traditional publishing).
Neither route appealed.
A Seed is Planted
By early 2015, my reading material was predominantly US-based, and I stumbled on a post that lodged at the back of my mind.
While this article did not promise untold riches, it made a good case for the side benefits of writing a book.
It also showed me a 10-step (in retrospect simplistic, try mine) plan of how to go about it.
It seemed to lend itself to someone not shackled to a 9-5 way of working and a person who knew about digital marketing, something I’d taken a crash course in over the previous year.
Not right now I thought, but I started to bounce some book ideas around in my head.
The next two or three years were good ones for Zude PR and me.
The business went well, and my professional and personal development sped up.
I discovered and become obsessed with the US financial independence movement (predictably my entry point was Mr. Money Mustache).
Falling into Place
By autumn 2017 I had the following things in place:
- Life reset done.
- Support of partner/family.
- A unique idea for a book I was passionate about.
- A book title and strapline that didn’t change markedly prior to publication.
- A rough plan.
- The belief I could do it.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was now or never.
My Self-publishing Summary
The next ten months were the most inspiring, fulfilling and difficult of my life.
However, to summarise.
– I self-published.
I did everything myself from researching to writing to editing to designing the book cover to formatting to dealing with Amazon, to the footnotes to book-indexing. Everything.
– It took 10 months’ working full time (I took a year off to write RESET).
By full-time I mean 50 hour-weeks, including three hours a day while on holiday. I never missed a day.
– Formatting and preparing the book for publication was by far the hardest aspect.
I reckon I took two months (my running partner, Neal, will attest to how frustrating this period was).
– The rough breakdown was:
Oct-Dec –>researching/sorting the outline,
Jan-Feb –> writing,
Mar-April –> second edit,
May –> final edit,
Jun-Jul –> formatting/marketing,
August –> marketing/Amazon set-up.
– I took three months to get a mini-outline, mini fat outline and outline (114 pages of notes) done while researching the topics.
Time well spent.
– You need to know your genre.
I’ve read hundreds of self-improvement/personal finance books and learnt things from each one.
– Aim high.
My aim with RESET was to not to ape the books I admired but to go one step further.
I wanted to create something that would be timeless and was better than anything I’d read in the past.
I wanted to create the book I would have wanted to read had it been around six years ago.
Ryan Holiday’s Perennial Seller was a constant companion, a book I’d recommend any creator reading.
– Throughout the book-producing process, I was reading, reading, reading.
Before putting a finger to keyboard, it was books on writing.
While editing, it was books in the self-improvement/personal finance genres.
While formatting it was thousands of blog posts dedicated to every nook and cranny of the self-publishing process.
– I used Google Docs to write the book until I got to about 40,000 words then switched to Word.
In retrospect, I should have started in Word.
After publication, I spent time marketing the book.
I figured the best way of doing this would be trying to get people who might be interested in it to read it.
This has worked and now almost 5,000 people have bought a copy of RESET.
Nine months after publication (only 1% of books sell over 1,000 copies in their lifetime).
Things you need to know before you consider writing a book
No, it’s f’ing hard. I’ve done some hard things in my life but it’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Producing a book is a solitary pursuit. You’re in complete control, and that’s a huge responsibility.
RESET’s 80,000-words-plus. Think about it for a minute.
There’s an infinite amount of ways you could fit those words together, structure the book, present it.
To get it right, you need to know your genre inside out. That will involve a lot of reading.
But to create something timeless you need to subvert your genre a wee bit.
You must know the rules before you can break them.
It has to be right
If you’re writing a non-fiction book, mistakes have no place in your book.
The research, fact-checking, etc, you will need to do is mind-boggling.
And that’s just factual accuracy, what about your grammar, consistency, your style guide?
What about the hundreds of arcane rules of indexing and book-formatting?
You better have a thick skin.
I’ve analysed my motives for writing this book, and what it boils down to is I wanted to help people, and I just had to get it out there.
I couldn’t not write this book.
However, don’t expect everyone to like it. And do expect them to tell you so in no uncertain terms.
It never ends
Think self-publishing ends with pressing that button? Nope.
Marketing a book is a faff, and if you don’t market it, no one will read it.
In your lifetime, expect to spend 50% of your time marketing the book and 50% producing it.
My marketing strategy has been simple.
Encourage influential people with bigger audiences than me to read it.
If they like it, see if they want to say nice things about it or let me write a guest post on their website/appear on their podcast.
This is the best way of finding your committed fans, and that’s what you’re after.
I’d rather have 100 people telling their friends about my book than 1,000 people thinking it’s “pretty good”.
The money ain’t great
You better be of independent means or have a nice pot of money built up before you even consider producing a book.
I’m not talking about a business card book here.
I’m talking about a book that’ll really help people, not just allow you to charge clients a higher day rate or sell one of your ancillary services.
Without giving you the full sp, here’s a flavour – and please remember RESET is an outlier in terms of self-publishing success.
– Money Out –
Book promotions, purchase of ProWritingAid and podcast-suitable mic, Facebook and Bookbub ads, Amazon ads (£1k).
Plus one year’s lost fee income (inestimable, a small fortune).
In addition, I’ve just finished recording (self-narrating an audiobook) at a local studio.
The quality is high – the mic I’m recording on is worth £5k – and the studio’s past artists include Teenage Fanclub, Travis and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Again, this is not inexpensive!
– Money In –
Kindle book sales, paperback book sales, RESET 1-2-1 Coaching (under £10k).
Routes to Market
How does this work, you might ask?
Search high and low and you won’t find the following information (particularly the money side of things) anywhere easily accessible.
So, gather round. Listen up.
There are three routes to market for the budding author:
1. Strict self-publishing
Like what I’ve done, albeit I drew the line at learning how to edit and record the audiobook, which would have taken months to get to the standard I wanted. For once, I got a man in.
2. Hybrid publishing
3. Traditional publishing
Let’s explore the details –
With strict self-publishing, you do absolutely everything yourself (albeit I couldn’t have done it without the support and guidance of my alpha and beta readers).
This is a life-changing process. You will learn hundreds of new skills. It’s bang in line with the DIY FIRE ethos.
You will have complete control of “your baby” and you can change tack like a two-man dinghy.
In addition, you can do anything you want, but it’s time-consuming.
The second route is hybrid publishing (which covers many scenarios).
For instance, I could have paid someone to structurally edit the book (£1.5k).
I could have paid someone to proofread/grammar-rewrite the book (£500-£1,000).
Then, I could have paid someone to do the index.
I could have paid someone to sort the references (all 511 of them).
Also could have paid someone to design the Kindle cover, then the pernickety paperback cover (up to £500).
I did none of these. But if you’re salaried (like 90% of us), you might do so to cut down on time.
The third route is traditional publishing, which would have involved the following:
– Write a book proposal.
– Draft and first-edit book.
– Send off to agents/publishing houses.
– Get taken on.
The advantage of traditional publishing is the kudos. They do the editing, printing, formatting, designing, publishing and some of the initial marketing.
They also bring years of expertise and will undoubtedly add value to your book.
In addition, there’s a chance you might get onto the shelves of Waterstones or Foyles, something you can’t do as a self-publisher through Amazon.
The disadvantage is your chances of a traditional publisher taking you on are slim to none.
Unless you have an existing audience to bring to the table (expert in your field, high traffic website based on your writing, some claim to fame).
The cut-off for a smaller independent publishing house taking you on is 3,000.
Eg, if they don’t think your book will sell 3,000 copies in its lifetime, they won’t touch you with a bargepole.
Other disadvantages include lengthened timescales and lack of control.
Plus, reduced royalties (they are doing a lot of work on your behalf and even on the higher sale price they’ll want to sell your book at, you’ll probably make less money per sale).
And no one, and I mean no one, will sell your book better than you.
You’ll be left doing most of the marketing anyway but without the price levers or day-to-day transparency.
More on the Money Part of Self-publishing
And here we come to the nub of the money equation.
If you’re a self-publisher, selling only through Amazon (where 80%-plus of the books are sold in the UK) is the way to go for the ebook.
You could “go wide” but you don’t then get to join Amazon’s KDP Select programme.
This sees you earn 70% royalty on every ebook sale, compared to just 35% if you sell on other platforms’ too, such as Google Play and Apple iBooks.
Why would you do that considering most of your sales will be through Amazon?
With the paperback, you’re not tied in, so you can sell anywhere.
But to do that you have to be a recognised publisher, so again, it’s Amazon for you.
What’s a Royalty?
Well, that’s the profit on every book sale.
To get sales you must make your price attractive.
This is where you have an advantage over the traditional publisher who has a lot more costs than you do.
With an ebook, it’s 70% of the sale price, minus a tiny cut for Amazon minus VAT. That’s your royalty. Do the maths.
With the paperback, it’s the sale price minus the printing cost minus the charge for using Amazon’s platform to sell your paperback.
That’s the overall royalty, and you get 60% of it (VAT is not charged on printed books in the UK).
All you’ll be bothered about is:
i) Are your prices attractive enough to entice people who don’t know you to buy your book, and
ii) What money do you get in your pocket (KDP, Amazon’s self-publishing platform, pays you monthly).
At £2.95 for the RESET ebook and £9.99 (list price, Amazon cuts it periodically and takes the hit) for the paperback, I make the same royalty on the paperback as I do on the ebook.
Passive income you might think. Think again!
There’s a lot of work that goes into marketing a book, much of which is enjoyable, admittedly (mostly chatting with people face-to-face and online).
I have kept my prices as keen as I can to spread the central message in my book.
One mistake I made was going for a 9-by-6-size (large) paperback book.
This has led to a bigger print size, more pages and a higher printing cost.
Although great for the reader who gets a cracking product, it’s no good for me if I want to keep the sale price under that magic £10 barrier.
The audiobook is another ballgame entirely.
You don’t get to set the price for your audiobook. It goes on length and Amazon decides what you sell it for.
Also, ACX (Amazon’s self-publishing audiobook platform) has a complicated pricing structure.
The amount customers pay depends on whether they’ve already bought the Kindle book (a secret hack to cheap audiobooks, and as you’re a FIRE aficionado yourself, I’m guessing you’re into money-saving hacks), and whether they are an Audible member, etc.
The bottom line is you earn 40% of the sale price on every audiobook sold.
But given the upfront cost of producing a quality audiobook, I ain’t going to be breaking even any time soon.
Benefits of Self-Publishing
So, if it’s this hard, you must spend this much time, and you make bugger all money out of it, why would you even consider writing a book this way in 2019?
A. Because you can.
It is mind-blowing that I can produce a book of the same quality as traditional publishing houses, sell more copies, garner more reviews (RESET’s 4.7-star-rated on Amazon, with 105 reviews).
All the information to self-publish is out there if you need it. Usually in helpful up-to-date blog posts like this.
B. Because hard things bring the most satisfaction.
No one said life would be easy and imagine the warm feeling inside you’ll get from self-publishing a book you’ll be proud of for the rest of your days.
C. Because you’re a creator.
Whatever it is you’re creating; you can draw inspiration from my story.
I’m nothing special but I had belief and the determination to follow my dream.
I did it in 10 months. It might take you a few years if you’ve got a day job.
But if you have an idea you want to share with the world, a mark you want to make, buckle down and make it happen.
D. Because it’s free.
Erm, well, sort of. But you know what I mean. Prior to publication, I didn’t spend one iota on this book.
Every piece of software I downloaded for free or used on the cloud.
The cost of the time I spent, those 40-odd 50-hour weeks, now that’s a different story.
E. Because it’s a social experience.
Before I published RESET, I knew no one in the UK FIRE community.
I now count scores of amazing people among my acquaintances and have even become friends with bloggers and authors who, previously, were like heroes to me.
F. Because you’ll help people.
I get two messages a day (email/LinkedIn) from folk who have taken action after reading RESET. That inspires me.
G. Because it’ll help you long-term.
Every new business meeting I go to nowadays I leave a copy of RESET.
I’ve written loads of guest posts, appeared on podcasts, gained 500+ newsletter subscribers, branched out into 1-2-1 coaching, won a few contracts and bagged one or two speaking gigs.
None of this would have happened without the book.
In this modern world of ours, writing a book is great for building your influence.
H. Because you just had to get something out of you.
I. Because you’re a published author now.
Well, I’m launching the audiobook this month (June 2019). It’ll be on sale on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.
I have a few US podcast interviews airing over the next month or two, which I’m hoping will bring RESET to a new audience.
The beauty of Amazon is that your book’ll be available from India to Japan, but 89% of my sales are in the UK and just 10% in the US.
It’s also been full speed ahead on my business since the turn of the year, and I’ve hugely enjoyed getting back to the cut and thrust of public relations consultancy for clients old and new across the UK.
Another book? No time soon. But I’ve got the bug, and they “never say never”.
Finally, if you take three things from this post, make it these:
1. Write the book you want to read not the book you think you should write.
Concentrate everything on making the product the best it might be (that’s what’ll sell your book after publication; no amount of marketing will sell a bad book)
2. Write your passion: follow your gut and act on enthusiasm
3. Self-publishing has changed the game. If you want to write a book, you can.
David Sawyer is a United Nations award-winning PR man and 2:40 marathoner. He lives in Glasgow with his wife, Rachel, young kids (Zak and Jude) and pet – Hamsterdam. RESET is his first book.
If you want to keep in touch with David or email him questions, sign up to his email list and get the first 8,000 words of RESET for free.
Recommended resources (if you want to self-publish a book, too)
In addition to the posts and self-publishing resources referenced throughout this article, these four posts – including comments – plus Jesse Tevelow’s, I carried around in a Foolscap folder for the 10 months I wrote my book.
I dipped into them whenever I needed reassurance on some point or other. You should read them, too.
Self-Publishing The Bestseller Inside Of You: A How-To (as you’d expect from James Altucher, a searingly honest and informative guide to self-publishing books).
Here (with 2 Years of Exhausting Photographic Detail) Is How To Write A Book (Holiday’s a traditionally published author but his advice on the book-writing process is valuable, comprehensive and universal).
They tell you how to self-publish a book and why everyone should consider it.
P.S. This one is fantastic too, The Ultimate Thought Leadership: How To Write an Industry ‘How-to’ Book.
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Do you have a goal of self-publishing a book in the near future? What steps are you taking today to make that a reality?
Do please share this post if you found it useful, and remember, in all things be thankful and Seek Joy.[yasr_overall_rating size=”small”]