This series is my love letter to marketing for self-publishers.  But you know what’s more fun than reading love letters?  Reading hate mail.  So while I remain a firm advocate of thinking positively and of making as many innocent errors as is necessary to refine our techniques to perfection, I have been framing this series–now four weeks gone–in the context of the dangerous and the deadly in terms of marketing missteps. Thus far, I have addressed the following errors:

As I mentioned last week, each of these things can tank your book sales singly and for a long time, and a combination of these mistakes will leave you struggling to recover years in the future.  And while some other steps off of the narrow path to success won’t necessarily damage you irrevocably–a few mistakes are, as I said, useful for making adjustments–these ones just might.  These are the Big Bads, the missteps you don’t want to make.

So today, I’m writing hate mail to self-publishing packages that lock you into massive initial print runs.  The error?

Printing Anything Other Than On Demand

Some authors out there will caution you against doing a print run without already having  solid distribution deal in place, but I’ll take it one step further and caution you against buying into any publication package that locks you into an unsupportably large print run.  The average hybrid publishing company (also sometimes and misguidedly referred to as a “vanity press”) will offer a range of packages to choose from, depending on your budget, and many of them include these massive print runs in order to set you up to compete with traditional publishers and their even more massive print runs.

The problem is this: we can’t compete with traditional publishers by replicating their behaviors.  Self-publishers simply don’t have the same budget, and the same margin for error.  Traditional publishers want to flood the market with a book in order to sell as many copies as possible by simple exposure alone, but they also have the distribution deals to get their books into a lot of different markets to do so.  These distribution deals mean that if a book sells poorly in one corner of the world, Hachette or Penguin or whoever can simply bundle up all of those books and send them somewhere where they are selling well.  Or, if they’re selling poorly everywhere, the loss is attenuated by the profits from other books entirely–books that are selling well.

Campus Bookstore at University of Pennsylvania

Unless you have the reach and courier services of a traditional publishing company, I caution against these massive initial print runs.  I am a firm advocate for printing some copies of your book from the outset–they’re useful for ARCs, for book readings, and for giveaways–but they should be a tool, not a burden.  If your garage is stacked floor to ceiling with printed copies of your book that you can’t sell and can’t move, that benefits no one–and it’s a needlessly expensive price to pay in a market where ebooks continue to be a profitable source of income for the self-publishing author.

I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to printing your books in bulk: you do save money.  But what do you lose?  You end up covering shipping expenses later, and having to manage distribution through your own personal website.  That’s a lot of work, and most authors don’t have the time or resources after that initial purchase to operate within luxurious margins.

So: keep that first print run small, until you can gauge future demand.  Better to sell out that first print run entirely and put in another order via Print on Demand (POD) copies than to end up sending your books to landfill.  (And believe me, this is such a common experience among my self-publishing acquaintance.)  Better yet, start with POD instead of turning to it as a second option.  Hybrid publishing companies like Outskirts Press, my own employer, offer several packages that allow you to cut back on the numbers–or to start without a built-in print run, with the option of going straight to POD copies purchased wholesale.  Other hybrid publishing companies offer similar deals with some variation, but the fact remains: this kind of plan helps keep initial costs down, and frees up your money for other, more carefully targeted marketing strategies.



Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, 10:00 AM

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