When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool

Broken pencil

The turning point of my long-term publishing plans came when I realized I have very little in common with author Joanna Penn. Have you heard of her?

I started following Joanna on Twitter because she always shared great writing links, but I also began to follow her self-publishing story. She wrote a novel, released it as a 99-cent download, and reached 10,000 downloads after a few months.

Joanna blogged through the whole process and shared all of the details from editing to marketing. She worked really hard to pull it off, and as I added self-publishing to my own long-term publishing plans—plans that included books also published through large traditional publishers—I had no qualms about working hard.

For my self-publishing projects I marked up several drafts, lined up cover designers, sent out review copies, booked blog tours, and worked through spreadsheets listing everything else I had to do. The book received praise from experts, and my brother-in-law, a designer by trade, put together a sharp cover.

For all that fell into place, I dreaded opening those spreadsheets listing everything I had to do. You’d have thought I was being forced to slap a kitten each day.

I’ve always loved writing. Releasing my first commercially published book was a highlight of my life. Why did I hate self-publishing?

After processing my reaction to both self-publishing projects, I read Joanna Penn’s About Page one day. The light flickered on for me: Joanna had a business consulting background. She wasn’t just creative and dedicated to writing; she had the skills you need to run a successful business, which is a huge part of the self-publishing process.

Even the smallest publishing house provides more support than you’ll receive when self-publishing.

Self-publishing means that authors become small publishing companies. They aren’t just writing and editing. They need to manage a complex and draining process. There is layout, design, development editing, proofreading, retail planning, and marketing.

Doing all of these things well enough to sell more than fifty copies to my friends calls for a set of skills that many creative writers like myself simply don’t possess. Even if I had $5,000 on hand to hire designers, editors, and publicists, I’d turn myself into a publisher. Having published through large publishers, small publishers, and now independently, I’d much rather surrender a chunk of my royalties to an experienced publisher—heck, almost any publisher—so that I can pursue my creative calling.

Not sure about my take here? Read what Catherine Howard has to say:

We’ve seen time and time again that the self-publishers who enjoy consistent success are those who treat self-publishing like a business they’ve started up. They act like entrepreneurs, and make like their book is their first product—which it is.

I’m releasing my next book with a relatively small publisher that focuses on my niche, and the experience has been far better for me than self-publishing. They couldn’t pay out an advance, but I’m guaranteed a standard royalty. In return, they have edited the book, designed a cover, written marketing copy, developed a marketing plan, sought out endorsers, and reached out to retailers.

I could lament the non-existent advance, or I could focus on this: they’ve heavily invested in publishing my book after I paid them zip.

Best yet, I wrote the book and have been very involved in the design and marketing process, but they have managed the whole thing. Knowing that someone else is keeping the publishing process on track removes a tremendous burden from my mind and makes it far easier to develop creative marketing ideas.

I used to think of self-publishing as the only alternative to publishing with a large house. Now I’m committed to working with both large and small publishers. In addition, there are some strong subsidy publishers that provide excellent support to authors who have the means to pay for their services.

Now for my caveat: I haven’t ruled out self-publishing completely.

I’ll still create e-books that readers can download for free if they subscribe to my e-newsletter. E-books are also a great promotional tool. Even just selling a 10,000 word e-book on Amazon for 99 cents is a simple way to introduce readers to my work. It’s like I’m getting paid to advertise, but I have no illusions about building my career on these self-published books.

For example, each April 1, I release a prank e-book that my readers can download for 99 cents on Amazon (this year and last year). These e-books, which lovingly poke fun at the Christian subculture and my own quirks, are not a way to make money. They’re simply a way to introduce readers to my writing—even if I lose a few subscribers each year who miss the prank and think I’ve lost my mind.

Self-publishing is a great tool to keep in your publishing plans, but for creative writers such as myself, it is far more useful as a marketing tool. I don’t plan on writing another e-book until next April 1 because I don’t have the chops or desire to run my own small publishing company. When I hammer out 3,000 words in a morning, I hit a high that leaves me chattering about all of my ideas to my wife. When I run my own publishing company, she hears sobbing noises from my office.

I’m grateful that there’s a Joanna Penn in the world. I’ve learned a lot from her about publishing. The greatest lesson she taught me is that I’m not like her and that large and small publishing companies exist because there are authors like me who just want to write.


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Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski writes and edits books in Columbus, Ohio, and is the author of Pray, Write, Grow, A Christian Survival Guide, and Write without Crushing Your Soul, among other books. You can find him at www.edcyzewski.com and on Twitter and Facebook.

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47 Comments on "When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool"

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Matthew Turner
3 years 11 months ago

This is a very good outlook indeed

Self Publishing has many great aspects to it, and I see more and more getting into it. You have to embrace the entire world it comes with though, and if you simply can’t, or don’t want to do this, well, the traditional route is for you.

It is like a business when you think about it. You are in control of everything, which ultimately means the vast majority of work rests on your already burdened shoulders

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Cooper West
3 years 11 months ago
My writer’s group has this debate all the time; one of the authors who was published under the “legacy” system really liked that model and has no desire to be an entrepreneur, while others of us enjoy that aspect of it a lot. I think it goes back to my primary observation about the changes in the publishing industry, which is that now authors have CHOICES where they didn’t before: self-pub, indie press, traditional publisher, or a mix of all three. Before it was rigged system, rigged against the author in almost all ways, but now we have the opportunity to… Read more »
Bob Mayer
Bob Mayer
3 years 11 months ago
I almost believe the term “self-publishing” to be false.  A person might be able to self-publish one or two titles, but more than that, and being successful, requires help.  Right from the start I formed my own publishing imprint.  We just incorporated, Cool Gus Publishing, this past month as our revenue cleared seven figures.  What grew from a few titles of my backlist now encompasses 72 titles and 10 authors.  I have a four page fact sheet I give to potential authors to explain why they would be giving up a small percentage of their earning to us.  ie I… Read more »
Joanna Penn
3 years 11 months ago

 Bob, you are a great example of an author who is a consummate business-man, but I also think you encourage authors to understand that they are part of a business (at least that’s how I read your site!)

LJ Cohen
3 years 11 months ago

It’s interesting–I realized reading your blogpost that I *do* have a business background of sorts.  Before turning to full time writing, I was a physical therapist. The last 12+ years of my practice, in private practice as a solo clinician. Having to manage promotion, billing, paperwork, etc along with the more creative work of the patient care stood me well in the move to publishing.

Not that I like the business side any better in writing than I did in physical therapy. . . 

Mvin19z3
Mvin19z3
3 years 11 months ago

When successful traditional published authors are being touted as indie breakthrough it is a disservice to a lot of aspiring authors. They already have the advantage of name recall and an established market, in contrast to newbie authors who don’t have them. Amanda Hocking is a rarity. There are millions of books being consistently thrown in the cluttered space known as literary world–reader discovery is a huge problem for self published authors.

Dale Rogers
Dale Rogers
3 years 11 months ago

I understand completely.  Just curious–I suppose you work without an agent when you’re with the publishing houses?

Jennifer E. McFadden
3 years 11 months ago

I self-published my children’s book to see what was involved in creating and selling a book and realized that it is both writing and a business. I’m not sure what path to take when I publish my young adult novels when the time comes.

Joanne Tombrakos
Joanne Tombrakos
3 years 11 months ago

I agree completely that publishing independently requires a business mind, which is why I adapted so easily when I published my first novel last September and even more so with my new book, It Takes An Egg Timer, A Guide to Creating the Time for Your Life, that I just released this week.
That said, in today’s environment it behooves any writer, whether they go it alone or through a legacy house to understand and adapt to the business, particularly the marketing aspect.

Misha Herwin
Misha Herwin
3 years 11 months ago

This is just how I am beginning to think.  The more I research what I should be doing to promote my self published books, the more I realize it’s not me.  I want to sit and write for as much of the day as I can, that’s what satisfies me not telling anyone who will listen what a great book I’ve written.  You only have one life. Do what makes you happy.  That’s what I’m trying to live by. 

William Brust
William Brust
3 years 11 months ago

Great post! I have similar opinions. I’m pursuing traditional publishing for my fantasy novel and scifi shorts. My comic book is a labor of love, though. I don’t especially care if I make a profit or not. I just want to share Bubblegum-Man with as many people as I can. That one will be self-published.

BellaVida
3 years 11 months ago

Fantastic point about self publishers needing to have business skills as well as writing skills.

Kat French
3 years 11 months ago
This is a really good piece, Ed. Also super timely for me right now. I have a business marketing background, a lot like Joanna. So self-pubbing might make sense for me eventually. But through a serious of unusual events, I’m publishing my first fiction work through a small independent publisher.   I’ve got a full time job I still enjoy. And a family. And life outside writing.  While I have a skillset that means I probably could take on all the various roles involved in self-publishing with a short learning curve, not having to do so is a better fit… Read more »
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[…] Jane Friedman is hardly the first person to note that the author of a self-pubbed book has to become other things besides a writer: a marketer, a publisher, an entrepreneur. And for some people, including her, that’s just not part of the skill set or too far out of the comfort zone. Today she explains why she’s traded money (less royalty money) for expertise (the publishing house’s ability to manage the publishing process). […]

Rosanne Dingli
3 years 11 months ago
I could not agree more. This post really analyzes the whole changing aspect of  publishing very nicely. I too have a small publisher. I also release my backlist independently, which gives me a great basis for comparison. The novels I have with the publisher do a whole lot better, because of what they do to promote and publicise, which meshes in a good way with how I use my indie books “as marketing tools”. Understanding who you are as an author, and what your skill set allows you to do successfully, is a step in the process few are brave… Read more »
Joanna Penn
3 years 11 months ago
Thanks so much for the mention Ed – I appreciate the way you’ve teased out why self-publishing may not be for everyone. I have had 5 businesses over the last 10 years and have learned a lot of business lessons, which I bring to the business of being an author. However, I do think that even if you’re not self-publishing you should have a business perspective, because otherwise you are putting all the the power in other people’s hands. You are in charge of your own reputation, and so you should make sure you have some control over branding and… Read more »
Will Entrekin
3 years 11 months ago
I think it’s terrific more people are realizing and noting that understanding elements of business is important to successfully publishing–regardless of where you are in the supply chain. Even if writers eschew participating in editing, cover design, and decisions related to retail strategy and pricing, they still have to be active in promotion and publicity, after all. One thing: “self-publishing.” Such an imprecise term, especially if we’re discussing it with regard to business (jargon notwithstanding). If we’re going to acknowledge that pretty much every author who decides to publish their books without the support of a bigger corporation is pretty… Read more »
Kbuuk
3 years 11 months ago
Great post! We’re about to release a blog post with similar themes. Self publishing certainly isn’t easy, and there are no guarantees. The self pub route provides very clear benefits, such as: your own timeline (which could go either way depending on how motivated you are), more favorable royalty structures and of course distribution of content on a broader scale that was previously unavailable. However, it doesn’t exempt you from any of the rules that would make someone actually read a book, i.e. interesting plot or content, good characterization, correct grammar, you know, the little things 😉 We encourage you… Read more »
kelly McClymer
3 years 11 months ago
Ed, you make an excellent point that needs to be explored by any writer trying to decide what choice(s) to make in the new world of publishing. I’ve come up through the trad publishing experience (the queries, the waits, the submissions, the waits, the offer, the waits…). I’ve been successful at indie (self) publishing and it has opened my eyes to what my trad publishers did (and didn’t do) for my books. There is a way to reduce this decision to a dollars and cents comparison (assuming long-tail of 35 years for both models, because it seems likely that is… Read more »
Ronald Sieber
3 years 11 months ago
Ed: I’ve been reading some of Joanna Penn’s blogging and have found self-publishing very helpful for a type of work that I want to publish. She answered my queries and freely shared what she knows. I think she is a tremendous resource in that regard. Thanks for writing about what she does. Self-publishing works for some written products, but there are other works that I will use more traditional publishing methods for.  For this reason, I am now looking at publishing options for my written work as an array of tools in my writing box. Some choices work for this… Read more »
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Friday Fry-Up — Speakeasy
3 years 11 months ago

[…] When Self-Publishing is More Useful as a Marketing Tool is a great post about one of the core things that’s overlooked when it comes to successful self-publishing – shifting your mindset from writer to creative entrepreneur – and why self-published ebooks can still be useful even if you aren’t interested in being a small business. Joanna Penn’s Self Publishing and the Definition of an Indie Author covers similar territory, and it’s a great post for anyone interested in the difference between Indie and Self-Published. […]

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When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool | The Book Author Theme
3 years 11 months ago

[…] When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing ToolPosted on May 22, 2012In a guest post on JaneFriedman.com, Ed Cyzewski writes that “The turning point of my long-term publishing plans came when I […]

Cindy Dashnaw
3 years 11 months ago
Before any author self-publishes, I encourage them to do a significant amount of research. It’s true that some self-publishing firms do not offer much in the way of support. Others, though, offer a great deal, from editing to cover design to marketing and publicity outreach. Another significant component to look for is how much money an author will retain. One relatively new company that is garnering attention is Booktango, because it is paying authors 100% of their royalties on books sold through its online bookstore. Most publishing houses, even self-publishing ones, pay only a third of that, at best. As… Read more »
thekillerknowswhy.com
thekillerknowswhy.com
3 years 10 months ago

Self publishing is a good tool, but needs a lot of defense towards the company. They never keep their promises of distribution terms and prices.  They care only how to charge you more for every step the suggest for marketing, publicity, etc,etc.. But for a new writer still is a good tool.. At least you have a book in your hands.   

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Is Self Publishing For Everyone? | Digital Publishing Expert
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[…] Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool Posted on May 16, 2012 on  by Ed […]

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Is Self Publishing For Everyone?
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[…] their ebooks”.  I just came across an article written by an author named Ed Cyzewski, title When Self Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool .   He eloquently justifies the reason for the […]

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[…] When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing ToolPosted on Jun 23, 2012In a guest post on JaneFriedman.com, Ed Cyzewski writes that “The turning point of my long-term publishing plans came when I […]

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[…] Today’s guest post is by Ed Cyzewski. You may recall him from his previous post here, When Self-Publishing Is More Useful as a Marketing Tool. […]

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[…] enjoyed this post by Ed Cyzewski on Jane Friedman’s blog about his experience with self-publishing and why it’s not for him. Great to get another […]

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When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing Tool | The Book Author Theme
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[…] When Self-Publishing Is More Useful As a Marketing ToolPosted on May 22, 2012In a guest post on JaneFriedman.com, Ed Cyzewski writes that “The turning point of my long-term publishing plans came when I […]

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[…] Ed Cyzewski looks at the need for a head for business in When Self-Publishing Is More Useful as a Marketing Tool. […]

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