The Business of Self-Publishing

There’s no way going around it: if you want to make a career out of self-publishing, you must treat self-publishing as a business.

Confident beautiful businesswoman sitting at desk and posing, she is smiling at camera, office shelves on background

Yes, self-publishing involves writing a book, and the act of writing is the reason why you’re entering the industry in the first place. That said, self-publishing is still publishing, making it a business with all the trappings that come with it.

If your primary goal is riches, you may want to pick a less risky path—but what’s the fun in that?

The business part of self-publishing means we can apply most of the fundamentals of business creation to your self-publishing career.

I’ll touch on the basics here. This article doesn’t cover everything about a self-publishing business, but it will give you a broad scope of the venture.

First things first, you’ve got to make a business plan. Yes, you can groan at me, but think of it as outlining a book and figuring out how to best use your time to give your book the support it deserves.

Next, set your goals. What do you want to get out of self-publishing? Do you want to sustain it as a part-time endeavor alongside your day job, or do you want to go full-time? How many books do you want to put out, and how often? What will be your genres, and who are your audiences?

Then, choose some organizations. It’s helpful to have specific companies in mind but do pick which aspects of your process you want to delegate to freelancers and when you want to bring in an agency or press. Do you intend to stay self-published, transition fully into traditional publishing, or do both in a hybrid publishing model?

Use that information as part of your market analysis as you research books in your field of choice and determine if your niche aligns with your goals. Then with these considerations in mind, sketch out your mission statement: what is the driving objective of your business?

At this stage, you should also consider your brand—how you’ll present yourself professionally.

Branding includes visual components of your design and marketing, like typeset and color scheme. More importantly, your author’s brand concerns how you communicate with your audience and other professionals. This isn’t necessarily about putting on a persona but more about being intentional regarding which parts of you to put out in the world.

Also, investigate which business structure you want to operate under. This varies by where you are, but most self-publishing authors are considered, by default, to be sole proprietorships. The stakes are shorter with this structure, but your personal and business assets and liabilities are one and the same.

If a sole proprietorship doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, investigate other options: a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC), a corporation, a cooperative, and so on.

Before you execute your plan, there’s one more step: make a budget. Besides business expenses, there are the special considerations for self-publishing a book: book cover design, developmental and copyediting, formatting for physical and eBook, marketing, and software.

It’s tempting to cut corners. You may reason you can design your book cover. But unless you’re already a top-notch cover designer, you’re better off delegating the cover to a specialist. Believe it or not, readers do judge books by their covers.

It’s the same with editing and formatting; of course, you should be doing both, but a second and third pair of eyes makes a huge difference between a book being passable and a book being professional.

Then think about marketing and publicity before you get to the editorial and design stage. I’m not just suggesting this because I work with marketing in my job—it’s because you should begin marketing and PR before you release your book. A built-in audience before launch day will help your book debut with momentum.

I go over the facets of book marketing in another article, but here’s a list to get started: consider your genre and category, book design, author bio, distributors and sellers, book reviews, social media platforms, author website, mailing list, ad campaigns, interviews . . . You get the idea.

There are thousands of ways to market a book, so pick and choose your components. For instance, you may forgo paid advertising until you’re secure in your social media posting. Instead, focus more on fewer things.

In this post, I’ve thrown a lot of things at you, which may be overwhelming. However, don’t let this intimidate you. Take your time researching the publishing business, then focus on the parts more prevalent to your plan. For instance, you may phase in marketing gradually once you’re secure in your branding and business structure.

One more thing: always remember that the most critical part of the self-publishing business is your book. The best business in the world can’t sell a bad book. While a good book can’t sell itself, it gives you the foundation to build your business.

Go forth and build your business!

Over to you: What’s YOUR business plan for self-publishing? What advice do YOU have for self-publishing authors looking to make writing a business? Alternatively, what questions do YOU have about the business side?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

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