Writing a Book is Easy, Self Publishing is a Full Time Job

I am officially on my fourth self-published book and I’ll admit, it’s a mixed bag for me. When I wrote my first book, I had no expectations. I had gotten my inspiration from a conversation with friends that lead to a blog post. After the post came out, it was suggested I write a book since I was so passionate about networking. So after a little research and some soul searching, I did it. In 2009, I wrote and released my first book. Fast forward to January 2012 and I’m in a totally different head space.

When I published Go Ahead, Talk to Strangers: The Modern Girl’s Guide to Fearless Networking, I had no expectations. I was basically writing to see if I could do it. I was always that kid in English class who always wrote “A” papers without breaking a sweat. I was that blogger who had a knack for saying just the right thing, even if it was something other people were afraid to say publicly. I inherited my story telling abilities from my Dad. I could spell, string together proper sentences, and I had an actual story to tell. So I did it. When I was researching the self-publishing process, I made sure I understood as much as I could so I didn’t get jerked around. I chose Lulu.com as my distribution channel and went for it. The book went on to be featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, and three years later, I still get some sales coming in. All with minimal marketing. Like I said, I had no expectations and didn’t really have a marketing plan in place. If I sold books, great. If I didn’t sell books, that would have been fine too. I just wanted to see if I could do it, and I did.

As I wrote and released my next few books, it became clear to me that I needed to do more than I had when I released the first book. Sure, I had a strong social media and industry following, and people really liked my work. But the stakes became higher for me when I finally said to myself “you’re a writer“. Until that point, even though I blogged and contributed to Forbes, Examiner and a few other sites, I never considered myself a real writer. Jackie Collins and Terry McMillan were writers, not Adrienne Graham. Adrienne is a businesswoman. But then it dawned on me that writing books was part of building my brand and a way to leverage my expertise. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a degree in journalism or that a big publisher hadn’t come to scoop me up. I was a writer and I was on my own.

When I wrote the blog post Be An Author, Don’t Just Write Books last month, I had already come to the conclusion that writing and publishing was a full time gig. If I was going to continue self-publishing, I had to treat it like a separate business entity under the Empower Me/Adrienne Graham brand. So I’ve made it my mission to educate myself on the process and pass along what I learn to others.

Here are some basics that are vitally important for you to know as a self-published author.

  • Own your stuff. If you know you want to self-publish, before you even write your first word, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number. I did this for my very first book. In fact, it’s one of the first things I learned. When you own your own ISBN, no matter where your book is sold or published, you retain full rights to your work. Vanity press shops and places like Lulu and Createspace say they will give or sell you a number. But if you want to take your content elsewhere, you can’t. They own your content if you use their number and become publisher of record. The only place in the United States, and I can’t stress this enough, you can buy an ISBN number is from Bowker. You need an ISBN for each book you want to eventually sell in bookstores, and you need a different number for each version of your book. They cannot be reused. So if you have paperback, ebook and audio, they all need separate numbers. You can buy one, ten or one hundred ISBN numbers at one time. At first I got the one, then I bought ten.
  • Pay for someone to do your cover art and editing. I have always had someone else do my covers. I usually put a bid out on Elance.com and have had some really great designers. If you want to be taken seriously, I would suggest you not use the DIY covers on sites like Lulu.com to create your covers. They don’t look professional. Invest the dollars into a real designer to come up with a custom cover for your book. Make sure you give them the correct specs for the cover and get it in every file format you can. Also, just as a precaution, get them to make a matching CD cover, CD face, and graphics to use on your website or in print (should you decide to have posters or banners created for book signings). Editing is another area you shouldn’t scrimp on. I chose to self edit, and that may have been a mistake. But going forward, I will be using professional copy editors to review and suggest corrections for my books. There’s nothing worse than having your book go on sale, then get email telling you they found errors!
  • Diversify your offerings. At first, I stubbornly only wanted the print version of my book available. I had this egotistical mindset that holding an actual book in my hands validated me as an author. Yeah, and it cheated me out of sales too. Now, I have made three of the four books available on Kindle and Nook, and they’ll soon be on iBooks. I’m also recording audio versions of my books as well. You want to give people as many ways to access and buy your books as possible. Take the time to create versions that are comparable for each method you make your books available.
  • Get on Amazon and in bookstores, BUT always sell copies from your own website. It’s great and validating to have your books sold through well known book store. But that cuts into your royalties and profits. I always order copies of my books to keep on hand should someone make a purchase directly from my website or if I happen to be at an event where people want to buy directly from me. Of course the benefit of this is you make more money selling it on your own. The downside is unless you’re a well known author or have a popular, loyal following, sales will be low. So make sure you’re maximizing your opportunities.
  • Create a marketing strategy. Nobody is saying you have to go on a full fledged book tour. Technology has made it so much easier for authors to get the word out about their books. Truth be told, a marketing plan should be in place before you even finish your book. You have to know how you will sell your books and the best ways to reach your audience. You should not be relying solely on social media to announce your book. Your marketing plan should include book signings, a virtual tour, media appearances, giveaways, distribution, contests, discussions and reviews. Not all things will work for all types of books or authors. But the beauty is you can experiment until you find your perfect mix. Write your marketing plan as you would your business plan.

The publishing playing field has indeed been leveled. But keep in mind, just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you should. It is your professional calling card. Don’t put out any half-hearted attempts because you’ll lose your audience immediately. Make sure you have a story to tell, even if your book is non-fiction. If it’s an interesting read, your readers may be a little forgiving for minor errors for your first book. But after that, you must raise the bar.

I’ll be teaching a series of classes that help you strengthen your brand in March. They include Building Your Brand with Smart Self Publishing and Taking Your Brand to the Next Level: Online Radio & TV. I’ll be sharing the strategies and resources that helped raise my brand and awareness through publishing and broadcasting.

Til Next Time,

Adrienne Graham
Please, go buy my books! 


Check out my new book Get Recruited: Secrets from a Top Recruiter on Using Unconventional Tactics to Get Noticed in an Inconvenient Economy in paperback or on Kindle! While you’re at it, order your paperback copy of No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. Or if you can’t wait, get it on Amazon Kindle


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Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (www.empowerme.org). She is a strategist that helps people grow their career, business or network in any economy. She is the voice behind Views from the Top Radio Show, and the creative visionary behind Empower Me! Institute and Empower Me! Magazine. Her writing and shows focus on Career Management, Networking Strategies, Entrepreneurial Success and Small Business Management. You can also find her causing a ruckus on Forbes.com.

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