The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishing and Self-Publishing
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When Self-Publishing Makes Sense
The mines of the Amazon are liberally salted with fool’s gold. Your chance of striking it rich with the next best-seller as you make an end run around traditional publishers is right up there with winning a Powerball jackpot.
But there are a few good reasons to self-publish. Some will help you turn a dollar or two; others let you create a product with special significance for specific, targeted audiences. Let’s consider the possibilities.
First: The costs
Publishing on Amazon is free. You can create a Kindle book by posting a Word document formatted cleanly with Word’s “Styles” function. You can make any content available to anyone with a Kindle reader—and since you can download a Kindle app on almost any device, this means your market is anyone who owns a computer. You can set your price or even give it away, gratis, if you’re willing to fork over exclusive sales rights to Amazon.
Print-on-demand technology is not free, but it’s very cheap. It allows you to produce a professional-looking book in extremely small print runs—even one copy. Most PoD printers will ship books to addresses that you provide. With this approach, you can create a print book for a specific audience, order only as many copies as you need, and never worry about warehousing or shipping. Unless you’re an experienced publishing professional, you’ll need the help of a copyeditor and a graphic designer, but prices here are within reason, too.
So, what can this swell self-publishing technology do for you? What kinds of projects are we looking at?
Educate your business or professional practice’s clients
This is useful for doctors, lawyers, and any business whose customers benefit from understanding facts and processes.
During the Great Recession of 2008, a lawyer I met displayed a self-published guide to walking away from an underwater mortgage. He had it sitting on the receptionist’s counter where everyone who came into the office could peruse it. Part of his practice entailed helping people to get out from under dead-weight loans.
The Mayo Clinic, among other medical groups, publishes a book-length guide for patients with breast cancer.
A chiropractor who has developed a specialty in treating fibromyalgia distributes his book to patients, complete with charts and diet logs to help them keep track of their treatment and its results. He also takes the book to conferences to share with other health workers.
Build credibility for your business
Most people still hold “authors” in awe, believing that anyone who writes a book must be an expert.
A friend and former university colleague started a corporate consulting business that thrived. Early on, she published a book that outlined the major principles of her specialty. Last I saw of her, she met me for lunch at an expensive restaurant, wearing an outfit worth more than my net worth.
Market your business
Because of that “gee-whiz” factor, a book not only can build credibility but helps spread the word about what you do. My chiropractor client, for example, takes his books to regional and national conferences, where he sells or gives them away to potential clients and colleagues.
Another friend, writing before the Amazon era, created a book that complemented her consultancy, which did in-house employee training programs. Her book, which (admittedly) appeared through a mainline publishing house, added luster to her image and gave her something to distribute to prospective clients and their workers. She did exceptionally well in that line of work.
Raise funds for clubs and nonprofits
Who among us has not seen (or bought!) a Junior League or church cookbook? For groups with active memberships or effective communications, a book relevant to the group’s mission can bring in some nice charitable contributions. These may be inspirational books, how-to books, or books about the group’s history and accomplishments.
Record your family’s history and genealogy
A professionally produced and printed paperback is a much better way to collect and share a family’s history than a big pile of papers in someone’s closet. You can create such a book and print as many or as few as are needed to give them to every member of the family. If you don’t have a lot of graphs and images, you can (in theory) produce it in e-book format for family members around the world to download economically, or even for free.
For family genealogists, a big advantage to self-publishing technology is that you can easily change or add to the existing content. All you have to do is edit the formatted copy, add or delete what you like, and re-upload.
Write and share your memoirs.
One of my clients has led an interesting life as an international banker. Among several books he’s writing is a memoir that he wishes to hand down to his children and grandchildren. This is a brilliant use of self-publishing technology. The result was a professionally produced, bound book that can be shared with his adult children and friends and also saved for the coming generations. He printed about fifty copies for friends and family.
Commemorate large family reunions
Write up the events and experiences when a large family comes together for a reunion. One strategy might be to ask family members to write anecdotes or short memoirs. Another could be to have one person do the reporting and collect photographs.
On a vacation in Bermuda, I stayed in a hotel that had mostly been taken over by a very large African-American family who were gathering there for a family reunion. It was quite a posh and fun affair. Any event like that would lend itself to a book commemorating the reunion and celebrating the family’s history.
Write a community or town history
My city has several historic neighborhoods populated by active community advocates who love their districts’ history and charm. These areas are often besieged by developers and political interests who would sacrifice them for a profit. A book describing a neighborhood’s historical importance and unique aspects can help preserve it, interest others in living there or protecting it, and enhance property values.
Most small towns have town archives or a museum housing historical materials. These lend themselves to the writing of book-length histories. If you’re a history buff, gathering and interpreting these materials is a fun and rewarding project. Produced as a well-edited and professionally designed book, it’s a great contribution to the community.
Compile a business history
Some years ago, a friend of mine was commissioned by a large corporation to write the company’s history. It was a big job, for the company had been in business for many decades. The result was useful for the company’s upper management, a nice morale-builder for employees, and all-around good public relations in the community.
Monetize your blog
If you have a blog with a specific theme, collecting posts or—preferably—rewriting posts to create a book-length work and then adding extra content to enhance value can help drive readers to your site. Sales of the book can also increase the site’s profitability. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff blogger Crystal Stemberger, for example, sells books on budgeting and on monetizing websites.
Enhance your online or face-to-face course
Many people offer informal online courses to any and all comers. Journalist and personal-finance blogger Donna Freedman, for example, has an online course on writing successful copy for the Web. Providing a free-standing text or workbook—electronic or print—adds value to your course and gives participants a permanent reminder of their experience.
Community colleges often allow people with expertise or experience to present special community-service courses, usually for little or no college credit. This is also a good venue in which to sell books you’ve written and self-published, assuming they’re relevant to the subject. You may not be permitted to require students to buy them as textbooks, but nothing can prevent you from drawing them to students’ attention.
You get the idea. No doubt there are many other possibilities. The point is, an ambition to publish a best-seller is not the only reason to create a book. Nor is profit the only motive: contribution to community or family is as good as the almighty dollar when it comes to writing and publishing.