Do You Have What It Takes to Self-Publish Successfully?

Self-publishing sounds like the great panacea to all publishing woes. It is indeed a tremendous development that is transforming the industry and handing unprecedented power to authors. This is all exciting stuff, but before you jump on the bandwagon, you’ll want to consider these traits that are key to self-publishing success and happiness.  

An entrepreneurial spirit: The successful self-publisher knows that being an author these days is not just about creative genius. It’s about seeing yourself not as a writer but as a small business—a publisher. As such, you’ll want to behave like one.  Create a business plan. Set goals. Develop a targeted marketing plan. Learn how to use Excel. Track your numbers. Then analyze them to determine which of your marketing efforts are working best. Watch those numbers grow. Study what the competition is doing, and learn from them. If that sounds daunting at first, start by learning from others: Join or form a community of other aspiring authors. Share information. Knowledge is power in this business, and the authors who are making a good living these days spend half their time writing and the other half nurturing and growing their platform. The key to doing this well is not fighting it or denying that it’s necessary, but creating dedicated time and space to embrace it.   

A deep understanding of your audience: The successful self-publisher also knows that bigger is not always better. It’s not about how broad your audience is. It’s about understanding exactly who your audience is—what problem they’re looking to solve, and providing the solution through very targeted writing that speaks directly to them. The most successful self-publishers know where their audience is hanging out online and are informed and generous members of those communities. It’s more effective to develop a cult following of a few thousand than to dilute your message and aim to please too many different groups. Know your reader, know what they want, and write for them. 

The long view: Publishing your first book is a massive accomplishment and certainly something to celebrate. Call your mom. Break open the bubbly. Jump up and down. Maybe shed a few tears of relief that you’re finally holding your very own book in your hands. But that’s not the end of the journey. In fact, successful self-publishers know that that first book is really a building block that serves as the foundation for your career as an author. Book number one is for establishing an audience. Book number two is for growing that audience. Book number three will help sell books one and two. And so on. Publishing is a long game, and the big rewards come only after investing time in your platform, building a loyal following, and rewarding that loyalty with the next book in the series. So pop the champagne. Share it on Instagram. Then sit back down at your desk and get to work on book number two.  

Realistic expectations: I don’t mean to bring anybody down, but the realistic self-publisher knows that competition is fierce and sets attainable goals. Successful self-publishers don’t give up when their book doesn’t appear on the New York Times bestseller list. They’ve done their homework, know their audience, keep the long view in mind, and don’t let themselves get blindsided by the fact that Oprah hasn’t called. And your goal doesn’t have to be easily quantifiable. It’s okay if you just want to be able to give your life story to your grandchildren; if it’s going to be part of building your platform or brand; or if it was something you wanted to cross off your bucket list. But be very clear on your objective from the start. Then celebrate it when you reach it. 

A commitment to quality: Quality matters. There’s a temptation to upload as soon as your draft is done (so that you can get to that champagne celebration that much sooner), but take a deep breath. Consider the long game (again), and know that a well-designed cover, professional editing, and carefully crafted marketing copy are all essential to long-term success. It’s a way of treating your readers with respect and showing them you care about delivering a fantastic reading experience. And taking excellent care of your readers is what successful self-publishing is all about.