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.The rest of this article is really three discussions:
- Why self-publish, rather than use a traditional publisher?
- Why bloggers should self-publish.
- How to go about self-publishing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
- 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.
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.