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Should I self publish or seek a publisher for a book about my founder's experience?

Bartlomiej Skorupa Vice President of Leadership Development at Figur8

May 8th, 2017

I've written a book and expect that I can sell about 1k to 2k copies over the next year. My editor says selling books in lieu of speaking fees is a popular way to increase sales; Tim Ferriss did this and it's dope idea.

Should I self publish or use a publisher? Factors:

  • I can get a Foreword written by a 'good' founder (started/runs $5M -$150M company)
  • I'm antsy to get it out and waiting a year for a publisher sounds painful
  • I have money to self-finance
  • I speak 4-6 time per year, average ~70-150 people per talk
  • I coach ~30 people/year
  • I know how to leverage SEO + social media
  • This is my first book
  • More about me here:

Thanks in advance for any thoughts/considerations. Recommendations to publishers are appreciated.

Daniel Turner Available

May 8th, 2017

Never discount the value of a good editor. Working with a publisher (a reputable one) means you'd be working with an editor. Someone not just to catch your typos and usage ("it's dope idea") but to help you challenge your own assumptions, help you explain what needs to be explained, make sure you're not repeating others or saying something stupid, and so on. I and every other published author have appreciated such catches good editors have made.

Also consider that self-published means you have to do all the marketing, all the expenses, all the stock, as well as field the questions of validity that everyone who pays to publish their own musings have to face.

Shel Horowitz I help organizations thrive by building social transformation into your products, your services, and your marketing

Last updated on May 8th, 2017

Hi, Bart, I love what you're doing! Just listened to your talk, "Building Apps that change the World." (I'd like to listen again if you can get the volume up. I have my volume on max and it's still hard to hear. Maybe if you reload to Youtube?) It's wonderful that you were able to build an API with such minimal resources.

As it happens, I'm both a publishing consultant/book shepherd/book marketer and a profitability consultant/popularizer for social entrepreneurship and green businesses. These two pieces come together when I get a book that is about social entrepreneurship.

I often advise my clients to self-publish the RIGHT way and THEN, after establishing a track record, seek a larger publisher. At that point, you'll have much more leverage and will be treated much better. And from what you've listed, you totally have the chops to become a publisher. There will be a learning curve, but you can handle it.

But don't try to do it without some expert help. The editor you found is the first step, but there is much more to cover. If you don't know what you're doing, self-publishing can be a minefield. Whether you choose to work with me or another experienced book shepherd, you want that person on board.

And there are also steps you can do (in parallel and concurrent with the writing and publishing) that will lead you more directly to success, some of which can open the same types of doors that a big publisher can do for you. One of my own self-published books was reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, landed an endorsement from Chicken Soup's Jack Canfield (as well as about 80 other people), won an award, and was translated/republished in two other countries. I later sold the rights to Wiley, which published a revised and updated version as Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. Then when Wiley took it out of print, I did it again with Morgan James, which published a revised and updated version (my 10th book, not counting several foreign editions!) as Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, a year ago, with endorsements from Canfield and Seth Godin as well as Joel Makower from, Jacqui Ottman from, and even guest essays from Frances Moore Lappé and Cynthia Kersey. I've done earlier books with Simon & Schuster, Chelsea Green, and Stackpole, as well as my own imprint. And I've helped clients publish, providing everything from some quick basic consultations to full project management.

Of course, I'm hoping you'll decide to work with me. If you send me your e-address (I've sent you mine in a private message), I'll happily send you info about how I can help. I've also got your LI profile loading and will reach out to you there too.

PS: I first tried to visit your site when I was in a doctor's waiting room. It is not very mobile-friendly; you might want to fix that right away.


Last updated on May 8th, 2017

I would have to agree with Daniel. Self-publishing has its pros and cons. When you self-publish you get to keep all of your revenue. You also have greater control on marketing the book as well as the ability to determine where your book is sold and for how much. This may sound super, but you have to also keep in mind that you take all of the risks as well.

The biggest benefit of going through a publisher is "access." A reputable one with connections can get the word out to targeted groups for your book. Which can lead to a higher number of sales. They can also provide the printing and distribution as well (or e-book distribution). Which leads to the next issue of "reputability" there are still a large number of potential book buyers who have not fully grasped the self-publishing model and will not purchase a book which is not being offered by an author who is not affiliated with a publisher.

Despite all of the above though, based on what you have written it seems like you have all of the tools needed to self-publish and possibly even be successful. I think it would be worth a go of trying to self-publish on your own for maybe 6-months and see what kind of impact you are having; if it is not where you want to be, then try locating a publisher.

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

May 10th, 2017

I love the level of debate here. It's bringing up many points that need to be considered, although we have yet to find the direction that Bart wants to go with this.

Wally, you're clearly passionate about writing, but passion isn't a business. If releasing the book is supposed to be a business, Bart may have to put his talks and coaching on hold, no matter which path to publishing he chooses. Bart needs to answer the three questions I posed earlier, purpose of publishing, how many copies he wants to sell, and whether it needs to be a hard copy book. Those define the path. And whether through a traditional publisher or self-publishing mechanism, the required PLAN will line up behind those goals. Yes, authors can self-publish in the tradition that came BEFORE there were publishing houses (as Shel referred to several writers who had). There is no reason to need an ISBN unless a writer wants the book to be an internationally available library book or sell through a specific channel that requests one. Tons of well-read books don't have them. Selling a book on your own is a full-time job, unless you have an audience already begging you to write down your thoughts. Nothing about publishing to a large audience is as simple as it sounds. Publishing for a small or more captive audience is a lot simpler. We don't know which Bart wants. Mechanically printing copies it's easy, but none of that matters until you've made up your mind about WHY you're writing a book. In my experience as a marketing executive SEO is almost dead as an isolated strategy, and social media promotion most definitely is a full-time job if you expect sizeable results.

Between coaching 30 people a year and giving half a dozen talks, how much time do you (Bart) have to promote your book? Does it matter if you sell 30 copies a year versus 3,000 or 30,000 copies a year to you Bartlomiej? There are no guarantees that your celebrity foreward will gain you any additional readers. Seeking a publisher is not just a year of waiting, it's a year of to dozens of potential publishers. Just like self-publishing would be a very active job of selling, maybe even 80% of your time if you're trying to generate thousands of copies in sales.

If the writing project is really meant to document the things you cover in your coaching sessions and talks, and your customer target is the same group of people you coach and lecture, then maybe self-publishing is perfect because it's fast, doesn't require a lot of resources, and you already have your (small) captive audience who will get a copy of your book included with your service or pick up a copy after your lecture. Is your audience the general public or is it your current customers?

I'm not against either path to publishing. I'm pointing out that there's a gap in information regarding the goal of making a book available. Essential questions still need to be answered to offer meaningful guidance on which path is more suitable to meet Bart's goals, and what other factors besides the publishing portion will need to follow to ensure the goals for the book are met.

Here's a proposed interim solution. Write your book as an e-book. Send it as a gift to your coaching clients, and maybe make it a reward for attending one of your lectures. See what feedback you get from your captive readership. Do they share it, ask for more, suggest edits, do they even download it from the link provided at all. This may offer significant insight into how much of your own money you should consider putting into publishing and promoting your book as a physical book, and whether it has any steam of its own to help drive interest or sales. You can write an e-Book and share it as a PDF with virtually no cost other than your time to write it. You don't even have to include all of your ideas in the first edition, meaning that more chapters could be included later so you're not excluding your test audience from the pool who would buy a print edition. And you'll have time to revise and expand it with the initial feedback you request from the friendly recipients before choosing to put more effort into a new edition. The data you gather on your early release e-book might also be used as leverage with a traditional publisher if you decide to go that route later on. It may also tell you which parts of your book need expansion and which parts need a trim for a printed edition.

Chuck Bartok Social Media Consultant, Publisher, and Contrarian Curmudgeon

May 8th, 2017

Not an expert, but not happy with a publisher a few years ago.

Self published three in past 60 days and have enjoyed 1,000's of sales, both paperback and Digital. 99% Five Star Reviews.

Best part is Income is much higher than from a publisher

Daniel Turner Available

May 8th, 2017

Well, that's exactly the tradeoff, what Chuck points out. Working with a publisher, you are literally paying someone for their time and expertise, which is aligned with making your output better. If someone asked you to do work for them, you'd expect to get compensated out of the total sales, yes?


May 8th, 2017

@Bartlomiej when I went to publish my first book, I literally went to publisher sites and looked for a link which related to writing for them. I was lucky in that the publisher I found had it laid out perfectly on how to pitch books to them along with templates. I followed the instructions and about a week later I they contacted me. The most important thing is to look for a publisher that works with the type of book that you have. When reaching out to them you should also be able to tell them what line or

"family" of books they publish already which your book would slot into nicely.

Shel Horowitz I help organizations thrive by building social transformation into your products, your services, and your marketing

May 15th, 2017

Andrew, thank you not only for the warm and wonderful endorsement but also for the excellent advice you're giving Bart. I agree with pretty much everything you've said. But I want to clarify that in most cases, the way an author would want to use CreateSpace is as a printer and distributor, and not as a publisher. The obvious difference is that you'll supply an ISBN to CS, and not the other way around--and that is actually very important. I could give you a five-page explanation about why, but I have work to do. So just trust me that it's far more important than it sounds. It affects every aspect of your book's future.


Last updated on May 8th, 2017

I second the advantage of a good editor. Sounds like you have one you work well with. That is the potential advantage of finding a publisher. These days from what I have learned book publishers offer little advantage unless your story has some sensational aspect. I heard one fairly successful author complain that now he had to do all the promotion including arranging speaking engagements. Now you basically get their brand attached and they take a significant cut for the privilege.

It has been a few years, Amazon had a relatively low cost self publishing setup and your book can be ordered and listed on their website. This was the lowest upfront cost I found for self publishing. I think they even give you a barcode and ISBN. I think it is limited to paperback because it is a print on demand service. If you want a hard cover, there were two vendors, but I think you had to print at least 100 and set up the ISBN and barcode yourself.

Wally Barr Business Owner at Undrnu Management

May 9th, 2017

An editor is very valuable. You can outsource this without much difficulty. Today I don't think publishers provide much value. There are services and platforms that can print your book on an as need basis and ship as well. As to the marketing they really don't do very much either. You can do the same and you will probably be better and more enthusiastic about it. As your book sounds like it is your journey to building a company that currently exists it seems like a win-win for you to do the marketing.