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Why Bloggers Should Self-Publish

By James Altucher of jamesaltucher.com.

I’ve published seven books in the past seven years, five with traditional publishers (Wiley, Penguin, HarperCollins), and the last two I’ve self-published.

In this post I give the specific details of all of my sales numbers and advances with the traditional publishers.

Although the jury is still out on my self-published books, How to be the Luckiest Man Alive and I Was Blind But Now I See (the latter was just published last month and is #2 for Motivation on Amazon’s Kindle store as I write this), I can tell you these two have already sold more than my five books published with traditional publishers, combined.

Self-publishing

Image copyright photogl - Fotolia.com

The rest of this article is really three discussions:

  1. Why self-publish, rather than use a traditional publisher?
  2. Why bloggers should self-publish.
  3. How to go about self-publishing.

Why self-publish?

  • Advances are going to zero: Book publishers are getting more and more squeezed by declining booksellers so they, in turn, have to squeeze the writers. Because there’s so much free content on the Internet, the value per unit of content is going to zero unless you are already an established name-brand author.
  • Lag time: When you self-publish, you can have your book up and running on Amazon, paperback, and Kindle within days. When you publish with a traditional publisher, it’s a grueling process—book proposal, agents, lawyers, meetings, edits, packaging, catalogs—that ensures that your book doesn’t actually get published until a year later. Literally, as I write this, a friend of mine IMed me the details of his book deal he just got with a mainstream publisher. Publication date: 2014.
  • Marketing: Publishers claim they do a lot of marketing for you. That’s laughable. I’ll give you a very specific example. After I published with Penguin, they met with a friend of mine whose book they wanted to publish. They didn’t realize she was my friend. She asked them, “what marketing did you do for James Altucher’s book?” They said, “Well, we got him a review in The Financial Times and we got a segment about his book on CNBC and an excerpt in thestreet.com.” Here’s what’s so funny. I had a weekly column in The Financial Times. I wrote my own review. As a joke. I also had a weekly segment on CNBC. So naturally I spoke about my book during my regular segment. And I had just sold my last company to thestreet.com. So instead of doing my usual article for them, I did an excerpt from the book. In other words, I felt the publisher did nothing, but took credit for eveything. Ultimately, authors (unless you are, for example, Stephen King) have to do their own marketing for books. The first question publishers ask, even before they look at your proposal, is, “How big is your platform?” They want to know how you can market the book and if they can make money on just your own marketing efforts.
  • Better royalties: When I self-publish I make about a 70% royalty instead of the 15% royalty I made with a traditional publisher. I also own 100% of the foreign rights, instead of 50%. I hired someone to sell the foreign rights to my work, and they get 20% (and no upfront fee).
  • More control over content and design: Look at this cover, designed by a traditional publisher for me (this was my third book). It’s hideous. Now look at the cover for my last book. You may or may not like it, but it’s exactly what I wanted. Publishers even include in the contract that they have final say over the cover, and this is one detail they will not negotiate. Also, when you self-publish, you don’t have any teenage interns sending back editorial comments that you completely disagree with. You control your own content.

Why should bloggers self-publish?

  • You have content: I have enough material in my blog right now (including my “Drafts” folder, which has 47 unpublished posts in it) to publish five more books over the next year. And I’m sure that number will increase over the next year as I write more posts.
  • You have more to say. If you just take the posts (mentioned in the point above) and publish them, people will say, “he’s just publishing a collection of posts”. A couple of comments on that.
    1. So what? It’s okay if you are curating what you feel your best posts are. And for a small price, people can get that curation and read it in a different format. There’s value there.
    2. Don’t just take a collection of your posts. A blog post is typically 500-2000 words, but usually closer to 500. Do a bit more research for each post. Do intros and outros for each post. Make the chapters 3000-4000 words long. Make a bigger arc to the book by using original material to explain why this book, with these chapters, presented in this manner is a different read than the blog. Have a chapter specifically explaining how the book is different from the blog. With my last book, I had original material in each chapter, and several chapters that were completely original. Instead of it being a collection of posts, the overall book was about how we have been brainwashed in society, and how uncovering the brainwashing and using the techniques I describe can bring happiness. This was covered in a much more detailed fashion than the blog ever could, even though the material was inspired by several of my posts.
  • Amazon is an extra platform for you to market your blog: Or vice versa. You won’t make a million dollars on your book (well, maybe you will—never say never) but just being able to say, “I’m a published author” extends your credibility as a writer when you go out there now to syndicate your blog elsewhere, or to get speaking engagements. And when you do a speaking engagement, you can now hand something out—your book! So Amazon and publishing become a powerful marketing platform for your overall writing/speaking/consulting career.
  • Nobody cares: Some people want the credibility of saying “Penguin published me”. I can tell you from experience—nobody ever asked me who was my publisher.
  • How will I get in bookstores? I don’t know. How will you? Traditional publishers can’t get you there either. Often bookstores will look at what’s hot on Amazon and then order the books wholesale from the publishers. In many cases, traditional publishers will take their most-known writers (so if you are in that category, congrats!) and pay to have them featured at a bookstore. As for my experience, my traditional publishers would get a few copies of my books in the bookstores of major cities (i.e. NYC and that’s it), but nothing more.

Okay, I’m convinced. How do I self-publish?

There’s lots of ways to do it, but I’ll tell you my experience.

First, write the book

For my last two self-published books, as I mentioned above, I took some blog posts, rewrote parts of them, added original material, added new chapters, and provided an overall arc as to what the book was about, as opposed to it just being a random collection of posts.

But, that said, you probably already have the basic material already.

Use Createspace.com

I used Createspace because it’s owned by Amazon and has excellent customer service. The team at Creatspace let you pick the size of your book and then have Microsoft Word templates that you download to format your book within.

For my first book I did this by myself. For my second book, for a small fee, I hired Alexanderbecker.net to format the book, create the book design, and create the final PDF that I uploaded. He also checked grammar, made proactive suggestions on fonts (sans serif instead of serif), and was extremely helpful.

Upload the PDF

Createspace approves it, picks an ISBN number, sends you a proof, and then you approve the proof.

Within days your book is available on Amazon

All of the above (from Createspace) was free. If I didn’t hire Alex to make the cover I could’ve used one of Createspace’s possible covers (I did that for my first book) and the entire publishing in paperback would be free.

Go to Kindle

With Kindle, Createspace charges $70—and they take care of everything until it’s uploaded to the Kindle store. Now your book is available in paperback and Kindle versions!

Marketing

  • Readers of my blog who asked for it got the first 20 copies or so for free from me. Many of them then posted good reviews on Amazon to get the ball rolling.
  • I’ve been handing out the books at speaking engagements. Altogether, I’ll do around ten speaking engagements, handing my latest book out.
  • I write a blog post about how the bo0k is different from the blog and why I chose to go this route.
  • Writing guests posts for blogs like ProBlogger helps, too, and I’m very grateful.
  • Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+ are also very helpful.
  • Promotions

    You’re in charge of your own promotions (as opposed to having a book publisher handling them for you). For instance, n a recent blog post I discussed the differences between my latest book and my blog, and I also offered a promotion that lets readers get my next self-published book (Bad Behavior, expected in Q1 2012) free.

    Over the next year, I have five different books planned, all on different topics. I’m super-excited about them because I’m allowed to push the barrier in every area I’m interested in, and there’s nobody to stop me.

    You can do this also. And you should do it. There are no more excuses in this environment. Do you have questions about self-publishing? Let us know in the comments!

    James Altucher has written 7 books, has started and sold 3 businesses, and has blogged successfully this past year at jamesaltucher.com. He also writes for the WSJ and other media outlets. He exposes himself way too much on his blog.

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Comments

  1. Hugo Guzman says:

    Really solid stuff, James! I’ve been seriously considering self-publishing a book based on my blog content, and this post has some of the nitty-gritty, actionable tips I’ve been looking for.

    Really appreciate it.

  2. Nice set of recommendations for blogging book publishers. Thanks for the good read.

  3. This is really helpful information. I am curious though, do you feel that your sales would have been as good with your self-published books if you hadn’t already been published traditionally? There seems to be a bit of credibility as a buyer that if a Publisher took the time on a book, then I should too.

  4. Is there another platform to sell my ebook beside via own website and Amazon ?

    • Ryan Danks says:

      There are many venues to publish your ebooks on. The three stores that have the highest traffic and volume of sales are the Kindle Store, Nook and the iBookstore. Kobo and Sony’s Reader Store are also good places to sell.

      Just like with paperback books, don’t try to focus your sales in one place. Get in everyone’s face.

      Ever since Borders went out of business I’ve lost faith in brick and mortar bookstores (which isn’t a bad thing, since it’s so hard to get your work featured in one anyway). And since many authors are reporting that this year their ebooks are selling at higher volumes than their paperbacks on Amazon, I focus entirely on electronic formats nowadays.

      Good luck!

  5. I love this article!

    I released an abbreviated version of the book on my heart (Warrior Prayers: Praying the Word for Boys in the Areas They Need it Most) as a PDF/eBook/Kindle/Nook book last year and it has done so well! The whole process was sort of a test drive for me…to see if this could really work and prep me for what it would take to write the rest of the book. I’m happy to say that I plan to release “the rest of the story” mid-December. I’ve been looking for good info on someone’s experience with Create Space…your testimony was a tremendous help. Thanks!

    I love the age of publishing we’re living in. So many choices, so many ways to wear the pants in your own process. However, I do highly recommend humbling yourself and hiring a good editor. It has been invaluable to me as a writer and helped me learn to see some of my common weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to get edited. It will set your book apart from other self-published books and be worth the $$ in the end.

    I highly recommend Erin Ulrich, of Design by Insight, for book covers too. She and her husband are fabulous and design everything for me.

    • Eric Sun says:

      Brook, How do you find a good editor, when you’re just getting started in the book world?

  6. Mike Carroll says:

    I will do this! I am currently working on a particular ebook to do this very route!

  7. Musa says:

    Thanks James for this update.

    You to ProBlogger ~_^

    It was very informative, especially the part of establishing an extra source of income promoting what you love.

    With my blog it’s as if I have already written 5 books that just need to be published, I mean, self-published!

    Awesome post.

    Thank you.

    Musa

  8. Faizan Elahi says:

    A great article filled with lots of unique advice. And I definitely agree that self-publishing is the way to go for bloggers who have a lot of content.

  9. Constantine says:

    I think self publishing is the forward for anyone who is a talented writer as you James. I didn’t know you are a writer on the side. The first time I read about your other site stocktwits was when Michael Covel was flaming you.

  10. Bill says:

    Nice overview, although I think you can do better on your covers.

  11. Personally, I think it’s best not to write and publish books at all.

    Treat your blog as THE MAIN WORK.

  12. paul wolfe says:

    James

    Great post. I was already sold that self publishing for 99.5% of writers is the best route – you just sold me all over again.

    Quick question: how much does Create Space charge the author of a book for copies? (Or am I being lazy and is that information I can get from the Create Space part of Amazon’s website?).

    Thanks.

    Paul

  13. Michael says:

    Self-publishing has come along way and has numerous benefits as pointed out by James. I recommend Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book, this book will get you started in the right direction. Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass… Poe self-publsihed, say no more and good luck!

  14. I agree with you man. Self publishing has thought me a lot of things about internet marketing and meeting prospect’s needs. I’ve used Lulu in the past to self-publish and they’re good. I’ve try the one owned by Amazon to see how it works. Thanks for writing this powerful guest post.

  15. Thank you so much for this post! It could not be more timely for me! I’ve watched all of my friends go the traditional route and as I’m wrapping up my book I keep asking why would I want to do all the marketing work and give up almost all of the profits? Every person said credibility. To hear your perspective and know that the name of your publisher never even comes up is really inspiring to take the plunge and go it alone. I am so grateful for your step by step instructions. If I can do anything to help you spread the word about your recent release please let me know.

  16. Ryan Danks says:

    “I’m super-excited about them because I’m allowed to push the barrier in every area I’m interested in, and there’s nobody to stop me.”

    That’s great!

    I tried (begged) for years for just the opportunity to make money through my writing. Once I stopped begging and made my own opportunities, I finally started to make that money.

    Great article.

  17. Móna Wise says:

    What great advice. I am 30 K words in to my first book and can’t wait to self publish.
    Thank you for sharing, there are many like me that really appreciate the honest advice you share.
    Móna Wise

  18. J S says:

    I’m published this way also. If you’re serious about self-publishing, you need to look up Konrath and Locke or my book author blog (linked on my name), and search for the kindle tag where I discuss in more depth.

    Physical books continue to be difficult to push (that this article leans toward first). eBook sales, particularly Kindle, are where all the growth is. There is a huge amount of fear in the publishing business now because the traditional comfortable process is getting fractured. But it’s not just Amazon .. there are a couple of publishing companies in Asia that will give Amazon fits in this wild new global business within the next year or two.

    As authors, you need to create the content – which is the protective moat about this whole book business, and what the publishers are getting less and less choices of – and then work on positioning and marketing. Oh, and remember, the readers are looking for the authors to have more than one book. They want to see a whole series of titles before you’re really considered for purchases .. even if you are selling at $0.99. So get writing..

  19. Hi James,
    Receiving 70% of the commission alone is enough for me to want to self publish. I like the idea of taking the content from my older posts and turning it into a book. I have an eBook that I just wrote and I want to begin selling it on Amazon.

    Congrats on your book writing success as well.

  20. Philos Mudis says:

    Started my blog this November on 7th. I am thrilled. Had one blog before but I wasn’t serious with it. Used it mostly to learn whatever I could about WordPress.

    Now all I want to do is write and write and hopefully come up with a successful eBook one day. I know things aren’t that easy but doable. One of the stories that always reminds me of this is Darren’s My Story page – been on my hard drive for several months now.

    Oh I should go and write some more. Thanks for the advice James. Hope your backs open more doors for ya.

  21. Claudia says:

    This is solid information, very generous James. I also self-published and pass the initial fear it feels great to have done it!

  22. James thanks so much for putting all this information together. I’ve been blogging for a year and thinking about a few different e-books…now I feel I’ve found the way forward!

    Regards

    Sarah Lawrence Hinson
    A Mom On A Spiritual Journey!

  23. Liz says:

    The self-publishing market is becoming saturated with people who don’t put enough work into their product. Most bloggers don’t even reread their posts before hitting the publish button, never mind edit their ebooks before they go live. Make sure you are crafting good pieces to begin with, and edit, edit, and edit some more. Hire an editor after you’ve edited yourself. There is a reason why many publishers slate dates years away; books need work. Just because you can self-publish instantly does not mean you should.

    I know not everyone does this, but the importance of quality really needs to be stressed.

  24. Pat says:

    Just attended a writer’s workshop and hear about a new site that helps writers connect with publishers… http://www.inkubate.com/ its a new way … you might want to check it out… and its free for writers.

  25. Morgan says:

    This is one of the most detailed posts on self-publishing that I have ever seen. It’s such a breath of fresh air to see someone actually take the time to help out those considering self-publishing and push them in the right direction. You not only told us why, but you told us HOW, which is what a lot of articles lack these days. Kudos for this! I’ll be referencing it often. :)

  26. Lisa says:

    I could practically cry, I feel like this post was written just for me! I’ve spent (wasted?) the past 6 months trying to get an agent, and while every one of them wrote that I had a fascinating subject (forensic art) they all said “there’s no audience.” I know that’s not true, so a few weeks ago said “the heck with then, I’m going to concentrate on my blog, then publish an e-book.” Maybe I’m a goof, I’m not doing this for money (I realize there may not be any) but I love what I do and want to share everything I’ve learned. Thanks so much for this information.

  27. Mike Fook says:

    Just getting yourself to go forward with it and write a book, publish it, and see what happens – is a monumental achievement. I don’t even consider myself a writer, and I have 23 books at Amazon.com. They are right at the tipping point of making me enough money to quit everything else. If I can write a book – you likely can too. If you are any sort of writer at all – you can do it. Even if you’re not – try it and see if you can do it. You might be surprised.

    What’s the worst that can happen? You make a few bucks extra each month and pay for dinner with your family with your book income.

    What’s the best that can happen? You might be like me and be able to pay all your bills, and consider dropping it all to become a full-time writer… something you never thought you would be in your life.

    Best of luck to you!

  28. Lori says:

    Hi James,

    Bloggers as clever and informative as you should definitely self-publish. Your posts are insightful and fun to read. Always a plus! With that said, I’d like to say that non-bloggers should also self-publish. It’s no secret that writers write because they have to. Like having brown eyes or blond hair; I’m certain there is a gene that drives an individual to sit down and type away at a keyboard until they have ‘downloaded’ the information in their minds that seek a voice. Crazy or creative, only the reader can decide. :)

  29. naijadotcom says:

    I totally agree with your points,This information is useful and importanat,thanks for sharing.

  30. James London says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been pondering the thought of writing a book or two and this definitely gave me what I needed to know as far as self-publishing is concerned.

  31. Josh Sarz says:

    Thanks for telling me about createspace. Now I feel I know a little more in case I decide to write a book.

    Great points as well about the marketing aspect of traditional publishers. Gives us something to think about.

  32. Tom Ewer says:

    Well this was an eye-opener! Thank you James.

    One of my long-terms plans may be to produce books. I had always thought along the PDF eBook route, but perhaps that isn’t the best option…

  33. Jim Kukral says:

    Great tips here. I would add that the reason you aren’t doing this already is that you were told it was too hard and too expensive and that the “big publishers” can only do it. Hogwash. You already probably blog about a topic. Why not make a small book about it as well? No brainer.

    Jim Kukral
    http://www.digitalbooklaunch.com

  34. Mark Aylward says:

    Thanks James!
    I am writing two books and was researching how to go about publishing them. Sweet timing:
    Mark

  35. Thank you so much. I’ve heard CreateSpace is a good way to self-publish. But hearing from someone who has first-hand experience was extremely helpful. Now I’ll just have to finish my book… :)

    • I agree that CreateSpace is really good. Have published a few books there, though not my own but from other authors and I only do the formatting and the layout I can say that most of clients are satisfied with CreateSpace

  36. Bougie Girl says:

    Thanks for taking away my lame excuses for not publishing my book.

  37. In the spirit of being as transparent as you are in this post — I have been published twice by a traditional publisher – Wiley – and even though the advance was good (and necessary for cash flow at the time) I will still only get less than 30 cents per book sold (retail at approx. $24). I just recently put up a Kindle ebook with a $3.99 price – so my cut will be around 2.79 per book. The challenge is (as in all things) marketing the ebook,

    You say, “I can tell you these two have already sold more than my five books published with traditional publishers, combined.” I have just the opposite at the moment, and the first potential royalty check might arrive in December/Jan.

    I do, however, believe that self-publishing is the way to go. I say ‘believe’ because I haven’t seen it actually materialize yet, but hope springs eternal. I do plan on putting up at least 10 more ebooks in the next few months. Then we can really look at the numbers.

  38. Guulo says:

    Came across this post by googling. I have put up many chapters of my novel on my blog, and do want to self-publish. I am wondering what is the policy regarding having content public on a blog when you want to self-publish. I am aware in traditional publishing one can not have content public on blog, but not sure when self-publishing. Any information on that would be very helpful. Thank you.

  39. Mark Tully says:

    Am I understanding correctly, paperback is free but Kindle costs $70? Interesting.

  40. HistoryOfSL says:

    You are really Rocking Person. After reading this article I also want to publish a Book. I never Publish books. So you motivated me to publish a Book. and You have given the important things I need to know, Good Services etc.

    Thanks!
    Shyam

  41. Kristyn says:

    Ive just self published my first children’s book using createspace and now I’m working on the next one. Great post!!

  42. Sharla says:

    I really appreciate you sharing your insight. It comes at a very good time for me. I just this week published an eBook on Kindle and am a few weeks away from having another book that is being published by a traditional publisher in stores. I have already found that there have been frustrations for me in working with a publisher because of the lack of control I have. I want to start creating buzz for that book and working on marketing, but I am not even sure when it will be coming out. By contrast, I had complete control over when my eBook was available and can create momentum up to my launch date of this coming Monday.

    What I found especially helpful about your article is the information about self-publishing on Createspace. With my eBook, I hadn’t considered publishing in book form because of the cost of self-publishing, but I may have to re-think that given the information you provided…thank you!

    I also loved the article where you shared honestly and from the heart about your experiences with traditional publishing. That kind of transparency is rare!

  43. Leza says:

    Hi James!

    I friend of mine from FB sent me this link when we were discussing self-publishing. My mother is a published poet with three books (her independent publishing company went out of business) and although she said she will not be publishing anymore books, she IS encouraging me to publish (I have several things in mind for books) and said she will be my editor. This is a wonderful resource you have posted and I will definitely be using your resources!

    One of my books will be a children’s book combining my poetry, art work (possibly through my 18 year old step-son) and Braille. I have Braille printing equipment here at home :)

    If you have any other suggestions that may be helpful to a new author, your input would be most appreciated!