How to Decide Whether to Self-Publish Your Book or Not
How to get your book from brain to bookshelf the smartest way possible.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
At least once a week, some highly motivated CEO, C-suite executive, coach, or entrepreneur calls me up and asks, "Should I self-publish my business book?" Unfortunately, there's no one right answer to that question.
To begin with, it's critical to understand the current landscape of publishing options. In today's publishing world, there are three main options to get your book from brain to bookshelf.
Traditional. You or your agent submit your book proposal to a publishing house such as Penguin Random House, Wiley or Simon & Schuster. These publishers sell books through brick-and-mortar stores or online through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. You usually get an advance, but give up a bigger slice of the pie and often some power over the publishing choices.
Self-publishing. You publish your book independently and at your own expense. You pay for the writing, editing, book layout, book cover design, promoting--and everything else in between. The upside is that you get to keep most of the profits, and control the content and copyright.
Hybrid publishing. You hire a company who offers editing, design, distribution, and marketing of your book--for a fee. This is becoming a popular option for people who want to do a more formal version of self-publishing, with structured support.
I recently did a podcast where I interviewed my fellow Inc.com columnist Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, who emphasized that hybrid publishing works well for authors who have a strong direct sales platform, such as speakers or consultants.
"They like having the creative control and ownership," says Hall, "but they also get the speed to market and operational support of a traditional publisher."
But that may not be your situation.
What's your end game?
It helps to know the ultimate outcome you want. Some of the most common results authors look for in publishing a business book include:
Using a book as a high-end business card and source of potential clients. For businesspeople looking to raise their profile, thought leadership, and credibility, a well-written book can be a boon. Imagine meeting someone at a conference. You exchange business cards, but then you follow up with your book. Other ways a book can be used for marketing include:
- Send to new connections on LinkedIn.
- Mail to potential clients along with your proposal.
- Email a Kindle version to a media producer looking for sources.
- Send off to a meeting planner looking for speakers on your subject.
Make money from book sales.
Okay, let me just be honest here. Of all the reasons to write a book, this, in my experience, is the worst one.
According to BookScan--which tracks sales of titles in most bookstores, online, and at other retail outlets such as airports--the average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling fewer than 250 copies per year and fewer than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. The bottom line: Very few people make money off of book sales alone.
Contribute your knowledge.
I always know it's time for me to write a book when my brain is bursting with information after I've plumbed the depths on a specific topic. For many book authors, the motivation for writing a book is a deep desire to give away what they have learned.
The reason it's important to know your motivation for writing a business book is that in large part, your reasoning impacts your path. For example:
- Primarily looking to make a contribution? In this case, what difference does it make whether your book is self or traditionally published?
- Hope to generate income from book sales? Consider this. If you sell 1,000 copies of your book for $15 each and you keep 12 of those dollars, your profit is significantly greater than the small advance you receive from the publisher.
It's a known fact in publishing that most books rarely "earn out" -- meaning most authors never see any money beyond what they receive up front as an advance in a traditional publishing deal.
Build your thought leadership.
Here's where it gets tricky. For better or worse, a traditionally published book still has more cachet than a self-published one. Yes, that is changing, but saying "Harvard Business Review is handling my forthcoming book" sounds significant.
That having been said, those authors who do high-quality self-publishing with their business books or hybrid publishing can generate great buzz and business.
The bottom line is that the path your business book should take is not set in stone and varies greatly depending on where you are in your career, your end goals, and even your ability to prove your platform to a publisher.
Still have questions? Head on over to Amazon.com which boasts more than 5 million results for books on the topic of "publishing a book." I'll bet some of them are even self-published.