By Joel Friedlander

When I meet with authors who are thinking about self-publishing, I ask a lot of questions. I need to find out what their goals are, and how they expect to achieve them. This talk is very useful for the rest of the project of getting their book into print.

If you’re thinking about self-publishing for the first time, you can have a little “consulting call” with yourself. I’ve cooked down my talks with authors into nine questions that you can use to interview yourself. Try to answer as if you and I were sitting across a table from each other at Peet’s Coffee in San Rafael.


9 Questions

  1. How do you feel about starting a business (or expanding your business, if you already have one)?

A big misconception about self-publishing is that it’s all about literary fulfillment or artistic expression. Publishing is a business, you need to keep records, pay taxes, and organize a business structure. What’s your attitude toward business? How do you feel about marketing? Does it fill you with excitement, the thrill of the hunt? Or would you rather hide under the covers?

  1. What would make you feel the publication of your book was a “success?

Do you have realistic expectations for your book and your publishing company? In your mind, is the only measure of success a movie deal, a seat on Oprah’s couch, or your mug in People magazine? Those outcomes are pretty unlikely, no matter who you are. Can you define what would make you feel successful? Books sold, or getting reviewed in a particular publication? Or the satisfaction of your friends?

  1. Is it essential that you see your book on the bookshelf of retail bookstores?

Most self-publishers are publishing almost exclusively for online sales. Getting into bookstores is not feasible for most self-publishers, with the exception of specialty bookstores, where it might be easier to get on the shelf. Getting your book ready for bookstore distribution will take longer and cost more, and you’ll have to find a willing distributor and build in their cost to your price.

  1. Are you sure you don’t want a traditional publisher?

Are you genuinely excited about publishing your own book, or are you merely impatient to strut your stuff for some reason? Will that reason really matter in six months or a year?

  1. Can you identify or contact a niche group of people interested in your topic?

Nonfiction is easier to get started with if you know your target audience. It’s good if you’re an expert in your field, or you already have a public eager for your writings. This support is vital when you’re trying to get traction for your book.

  1. Have you thought about what kind of self-publisher you’ll be?

Are you a Do it yourself person, or will you hire professionals to help your book compete? Remember, this is a business. These expenses are investments in a product with possibly a very long shelf life.

  1. Do you have a plan to learn the nuts and bolts of publishing?

Your task will be easier if you plan to hire professionals the whole way. How will you learn about discounts, shipping, print on demand, and all the other details of your new publishing business that are your responsibility? Consider doing some research first with one of the comprehensive books on self-publishing.

  1. Are there other books, products or services you can sell once your book is established?

Most successful self-publishers quickly realize they can multiply their efforts and gain profitability much faster by developing new products or services. A series of books, a workbook to accompany a text, a service based on the area of expertise you’ve demonstrated by publishing your book-these are all good candidates for expanding your “product line.”

  1. Do you have a “fire in the belly”?

Publishing a book yourself and trying to sell it can be a tough job. Be honest with yourself. Are you excited about self-publishing? Are you just beside yourself waiting to see your book in print? If so, great! You’ll need that drive to see you through to your new life as a self-publishing author.

Take an honest assessment of yourself and your skills before self-publishing. It can be revealing and helpful in the long run.

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