A life lesson from self-publishing


There is a mountain of material on the internet about self-publishing. Some of it’s useful, most of it isn’t. Many simply want to add you to their email list or sell you their guaranteed method to a “six figure income” via webinars (which are actually advertorials). It sounds too good to be true because it is. The real problem with this mountain of information is that you’re only able to judge good advice after you have self-published which is a catch twenty-two.

I’m in the process of self-publishing my book – The Single Dad’s Guide to the Galaxy – and it’s hard work. Thankfully I’ve learnt a valuable lesson, and not the hard way for once. And, like most lessons, it applies in a range of contexts.

Respect other people’s skills and what they bring to the table.

What this lesson really highlights is something that should be common sense but, given the evidence I see, is far from it – false economy. False economy is when you think you are saving money but it either costs far more in the long run or you never achieve what you set out to achieve meaning you waste your money. Public sector organisations are awash with this logic and that’s because they are run by accountants, but that’s for a different soap box!

There were five key aspects to publishing my book that, if I tried a DIY approach, I wouldn’t have made it. You can’t beat the fact that you usually get what you pay for.

First, I hired a literary consultant – Geoff Walker – and seriously, without his advice and wisdom I would not have the book I have. I’m doubtful I’d even have a book. It was light touch in that we would often go six months between contacts but he kept me from tangenting off to tell other stories. Obviously we worked a little more intensively towards the end but the result was a book, ready for polishing!

I next engaged a design firm for the cover – Smartwork Creative. I had a design I’d been using but the final design (which is splashed all over my website) was fantastic. Initially I wasn’t sure about the glasses and moustache (and said so) but they advised (as did Geoff) to give it a little time. In the end that was the perfect touch that captured the tone of the book. People pick up books when the cover catches their attention and so it is an important part of the book.

Next in the chain were proof-readers. Absolutely obvious and vital. You simply read what you think is there and not what’s actually there. My book has been out for about three weeks and not one person has noticed a typo. Perfect!

The first three aspects allow you to get to the start line. You now have a quality book that nobody knows about!

If you are looking for sales then you’ll need a publicist. I suggest that you book an hour consult and you will then understand what they can and can’t do for you. Not all books and markets are the same. I used LighthousePR and the difference they made was staggering. If you check out the reviews page of my website you’ll see print (the DomPost & The Manawatu Standard), Radio (The John Cowan show which had the Prime minister on two weeks later) and TV (The AM show and TV3 café). Without a publicist, I would have had little chance of getting that level of publicity (and there is more to come).

Finally, if you are able to attract the interest of a distributor then that will give you a decent chance at getting into New Zealand book stores. Yes, you will lose a percentage of your income but let’s be honest 40% of a bigger number is usually better than 80% of not much! I used Paul Greenberg’s company Greene Phoenix.

And, after all that, there is still hard work to do. The battle you are up against when you are against large publishing houses was demonstrated to me after Jordan Watson (the “How to Dad” guy) launched his second book. Instantly his book is in every book store in New Zealand in vast quantities. Fifteen plus books in a pile with one perched on top at the front of the store, what I assume is coveted real estate in the book trade. If you do the maths to try and compete it’s financially scary. Let’s say 5,000 books at approximately $6 each. That’s quite an outlay!

I like a good fight, it’s the entrepreneur in me, and so I’m thinking hard about how to influence both the demand and supply side. Father’s Day is approaching and it seems to me to be an ideal time to strike! If I take my own logic I should hire a social media expert and maybe a marketing guru but, alas, the war chest is pretty thin and I will have to be creative. This is summed up in the following quote from one of New Zealand’s finest.

We don’t have the money so we are going to have to think!
— Ernest Rutherford