Great questions and tips to help authors decide whether to self-publish, query, or do a hybrid solution.
by Adam G. Fleming
For speakers, coaches, trainers, facilitators, and consultants, publishing a book and attaining an Amazon bestseller ranking can lead to more gigs or give you the confidence to command higher pay. Even though it’s easier than ever to publish, books are still a great indicator of expertise. A book can be leveraged as a part of your marketing sales funnel; either as a freebie or used to obtain a mini-close leading to more “yeses” in the future. They can be sold at speaking gigs for additional income, but for many speakers this is a secondary reason to write a book. Here’s a recent example: while I was signing copies at a bookstore on a Saturday morning, a woman approached me and mentioned she was an HR rep. She took one look at one of my books and said, “Do you also do live on-site training?” Of course I do. She bought my book; now it remains to be seen whether she ever books me for training. One gig could make the entire process—the time and financial expense of writing that book, which I wrote in 2015—worth it. Few other kinds of marketing collateral have that kind of relevant longevity. On top of that, how many marketing pieces do you have that people will actually buy? Not many.
One thing every aspiring author needs to know: no matter what avenue you choose, you are the primary person responsible for marketing your book.
There are three primary ways to publish: Traditional, Hybrid, and Self-Publishing models.
You may have heard that it’s difficult to get a publishing deal. While getting a traditional publisher interested is much easier if you already have a huge platform, that doesn’t mean you can’t submit a proposal to a smaller traditional house. It’s not impossible. If you have a massive following, a traditional publisher will pay for editing, cover design, layout—everything. In return, traditional publishers will give you a small royalty; but then again, a small royalty is great if your following is so big that you can sell millions of copies in your sleep. At that level, you probably don’t even have to write the book yourself. Ex-presidents and the biggest pop stars often don’t write a single word of their own memoirs. Be aware of the fact that the traditional publisher may own your manuscript. When I asked my small traditional publisher for permission to use a chapter when I had an opportunity to do a guest blog, and they didn’t reply, I knew that they’d probably never notice, but also knew that legally I shouldn’t do it.
Bottom line: this avenue is best for people with large, pre-existing platforms whose social media team can sell a lot of books with a few posts.
Pros: Minimizes financial investment.
Cons: Lower royalties and potential restrictions on your copyrighted material.
With print-on-demand and the ease with which you can make changes to a manuscript in Amazon if you find a typo these days, self-publishing is a breeze. In fact, it’s almost too easy, which is how the marketplace is getting flooded with rubbish alongside the gems. So, if you’re going to focus on a career as an author, you may want to learn to do almost all the things that must be done to self-publish a quality book, and find one or two trusted contractors for things you don’t do well and don’t want to learn. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things you’d have to do for yourself or coordinate as a project manager: Graphic design for the cover (it needs to look good); interior layout; purchasing ISBNs, editing, proofreading, uploading everything in the proper format … this list goes on. A friend of mine who has self-published multiple times told me that last year he had to re-upload his cover file to Amazon four times. Each time it didn’t work, he had to go back to his designer. These kinds of things can happen to authors even after they’ve done multiple books.
Bottom line: Best for people who intend to write two or more books per year over multiple years and consider being an author either their top professional focus or a super time-consuming hobby.
Pro: If you’re a good writer, you may only pay for a proofreader and a graphic designer. If you’ve got graphic design chops, you might only hire a proofreader. You keep the royalties, and keep expenses down on the front end.
Cons: Some may debate this, but I think that the biggest con is you have to be your own project manager. Although you might save some money, it’s a major time suck.
Full disclosure, I’m the CEO of a self-publishing consulting business, so we offer hybrid solutions. I’m biased in this direction. That being said, I am in this business because I believe that hybrid publishing gives you the most flexibility to do only the things you’re good at and let experts take care of the rest. Hybrid solutions can include everything that was mentioned above, and more: from ghostwriting your entire book for you, editing and proofreading a manuscript you wrote, identifying and contracting a good graphic designer, project managing your entire setup, and setting up your imprint for you. Some hybrid publishers even help you with marketing your book. In fact, certain hybrid publishers rely more heavily on their ability to help you market your book and speaking career than on their ability to make sure you have a quality product for people to read. That may not be a bad thing, if you can manage your own quality control.
Bottom line: Hybrid is great for a lot of people, because there are a lot of a la carte options. As in most other marketplaces, beware of one-size-fits-all packages that guarantee success: look for companies with flexibility to serve your goals, your specific needs, and who have a realistic outlook on sales in this industry.
Pros: Saving time. If you don’t have a big audience yet, and you don’t want to learn to do a million things you’ll never have to do again, talk to a hybrid publisher who is able to help you fill in any gaps you don’t want to do for yourself.
Con: Financial cost. Quality hybrid solutions can cost anywhere from $5,000 on the low end to well over $20,000. I suggest thinking of it as a marketing expense for your speaker business, because while it’s possible to make your money back in book sales, that shouldn’t be your focus.
Be cautious about using artificial intelligence to write your book for you. AI is improving rapidly, and it may be able to give you a quick draft, but it doesn’t have life experience the way you do. The rule of thumb here is: if you want people to take your book seriously, write it as if you expect people to actually read it! Even though the reading public is dwindling, people who do read are tomorrow’s thinkers and influencers. They’re looking for fresh ideas. Decision makers don’t have time to read sloppy or generic work. Imagine reading someone’s book because you thought they were an expert, only to find out that it was poorly executed in every respect! Yes, you can use A.I. as a tool, but don’t let it be a crutch.
Anthologies have become a popular way to get published for less. But is it worth joining nine other authors (or more) to put out a book? It’s not for me, personally, but that’s partly because I’m heavily invested in a lifelong goal to write 25 of my own books and build a back catalog. In the cost-benefit analysis, the expense of time and paying someone else to manage the process might be just the thing. For others, an anthology might be just the thing. Our company recently did the editing for a group of South African writers, and as my wife pointed out, there’s a cultural context for ubuntu, or I am because we are. Consider your culture and context carefully, because it’s not unheard of for speakers, coaches, and consultants to drop money into participating in an anthology and get nothing from it. Here’s a metaphor to consider: do you want your brand to be accessible like a restaurant in a food court at the mall? Or would you prefer the image of an exclusive fine dining restaurant? Both serve a purpose, but if the answer is the latter, stay away from anthologies.
The final word on anthologies: don’t expect anyone else involved to sell that book. They might, but they also might not. Do what you can control. Are you willing to promote it, to sell it, to take it everywhere with you? If so, you can make it work for you.
Writing a book is a great way to establish your expertise, brand yourself, and share your ideas. It’s easier now than ever before in the history of the world to put your ideas into print. Whichever direction you choose to go, you’ll never regret it if you take your time and make sure things are done with a high level of quality.
Adam G. Fleming, PCC, is an ICF certified coach and trainer. He has trained people in coaching skills around the world and has also led other seminars as speaker and facilitator. Using both traditional and DIY methods, Adam has published 13 books in a variety of genres, and serves as the CEO and lead ghostwriter for Victory Vision Publishing, Inc. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, with his wife Megan and their four children. Contact: email@example.com.