Thursday, August 20, 2009

The many hats of a self-publisher

A basic truth for most self-publishers is that they start out alone. That being the case, you will find yourself wearing many hats. Just because you may be an amateur doesn't mean the book you produce will be flawed. By studying and applying yourself, you can wear the various hats well. Many self-publishers never draw on outside help to do their books—and you can do it all yourself if you choose. We show you how to be all these people or how to find the best professionals to do the job for you.

Writer. The basic foundation for your enterprise is writing. Study your craft and refine your product. Good, readable works sell much more readily than disorganized garble or lofty dissertations.

Editor. If you're not lucky enough to have a qualified friend or relative to edit—one who knows the English language well and will be objective—hire a professional. This is the one area where it is very easy to miss the forest for the trees, overlook the same typo, and lose your objectivity.

Designer/Artist. Many books and book covers are self-illustrated or designed. Even if you decide to get professional freelance help, it would be foolhardy not to get somewhat involved personally.

Typesetter/Compositor. When you use a computer to prepare printer-ready files, you become a typesetter. We highly recommend you use a desktop publishing software. (Or hire a pro!)

Printer. Thousands of books and booklets are created each year at copy shops, but this is probably not the best way to produce your project Make a wise decision between print on demand and traditional printing processes. Educate yourself on printer specs and other requirements.

Financier/Accountant. You are the chief accountant, bookkeeper, and company representative to your banker. You must keep good records for yourself and for the IRS.

Marketeer. It doesn't matter how well all other hats fit if you don't wear this one well. Be imaginative and creative. Go ahead and slip into flamboyance when you don this hat. Shrewd promotion and sales strategies will do much to ensure your publishing project's success.

Shipper/Warehouser. It doesn't do any good to get book orders unless you can fill and ship them. Although this is a routine job, it takes time, space, and energy.

Legal adviser. Many times attorneys collect sizable fees for answering simple business questions. Take a good look at the question. The use of common sense and comparison to similar situations will often save a fee. There are instances, however, when you definitely need an attorney—if you've been accused of libel or copyright infringement, for instance.

Business manager. This hat has been saved for the last but not because it's a low priority. Quite the opposite. You can do a fantastic job on all other aspects of the business and still lose your shirt if this hat isn't secured firmly on your noggin. In fact, a study once conducted by theSmall Business Administration showed that 93 percent of the businesses that failed did so because of poor management practices. The job of business manager can be a piece of cake or an absolute nightmare—it's up to you. Managing a company is fun if you establish and adhere to operating procedures designed for that business.

Be prepared to fall and skin your knees occasionally. No one has all the answers; certainly not a new self-publisher. Although we have compiled this reference to help you avoid mistakes, there will be times when you'll goof or when nothing seems to be going your way. Hang in there! Soon things will take a positive turn. As in anything, there are pitfalls, but there are also many pleasures. Move ahead with passion and conviction, and you will succeed.

(Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier, coming March 2010, Writer's Digest Books.)


  1. Excellent post Sue. Having gone through the traditional publishing process three times, and now in the process of self-publishing my fourth book on B2B marketing, it seems that I am gaining a lot of control but inheriting many moving parts that I didn't have to think about previously. But I am willing to do this not just for the pyshic satisfaction but also for the monetary rewards if my colleagues and I do it right.

  2. It's pretty amazing just how many "moving parts" there are to the process, isn't it? Thanks for reading, Chris!