REPLAY 2011: 5 Things Self-Publishers Shouldn’t Worry About (But They Do)

I’ve been using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) This post was first posted back in September.

I get asked a lot of questions about self-publishing.

Most of these questions – I’d say at least eight out of every ten – are answered on my blog, and if the people who asked them took a few moments to read my blog every once in a while, they wouldn’t have to ask. Some of the answers don’t even require the reading of my blog, for instance: Do you recommend CreateSpace?

Do I recommend CreateSpace? Hmm. Let me think on that. You know what? No – no, I don’t. I hate those bastards. With a passion. In fact, I hate them so much that I’ve chosen to self-publish not one, not two, but three POD paperbacks with them, included detailed instructions for using them in my book Self-Printed and I’ve a fourth CreateSpace POD baby on the way. So recommend them? What do you think?

Some of these questions I’m asked – maybe one out of every ten, on a good day – are really, really good questions, questions I wish I’d already answered on my blog, questions I make a note of so I can answer them one day in the future. The kind of ones where I didn’t explain something because it feels second nature to me now, and I’ve forgotten there was a time when I didn’t have a clue. I like those kinds of questions. I hope they keep coming.

That rest are what I call the Are You Kidding Me With This? questions.

You know that saying “Don’t run before you can walk”? Well, some would-be self-publishers seemingly want to figure-skate professionally before they can stand upright. They want to know where they can buy “Signed by the Author” stickers before they’ve even wrote the book. Others have only the faintest grasp of what self-publishing is and what it means, realistically, for them and their book, and so presume that they’ll have to add things like “movie deals”, “paparazzi” and “Booker Prize” to their Things to Concern Myself With list. A couple of weeks ago an author told me that it had taken “four phone calls to Amazon” before he managed to get his book published on KDP. What? Why? And what could you possibly be calling them about? This isn’t rocket science, people!

Self-publishing is simple. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, yes, but it is, ultimately, simplistic. So don’t overcomplicate things. Don’t be overly ambitious. Don’t let your imagination run wild. Don’t run before you can walk (or figure-skate professionally before you can stand upright.) Don’t get your knickers in a twist over movie deals.

And whatever you do, don’t worry about these things:

1. Shipping Charges

CreateSpace’s shipping charges are a bit on the pricey side. They used to be on the astronomical side, but at least now they’re somewhat affordable. But they don’t really matter that much. They certainly don’t matter so much that they should affect your decision when it comes to picking a POD company because if you want to make money self-publishing, start by not sending books to yourself.

If you want to sell your POD books in bookstores, you’ll have to buy them, ship them to your home and then try to sell them to bookstores. But if you want to sell your books in bookstores, then don’t get them printed by the likes of CreateSpace or Lulu. There just isn’t enough room in the margins to accommodate the manufacturing cost, a cut for the bookstore and your profit while keeping the retail price far away enough from the stratosphere for anyone to consider buying it. Don’t buy your own book, even for stock.

You also shouldn’t worry about your readers having to pay those shipping charges, because you shouldn’t encourage anyone to buy your book from, say, your CreateSpace e-store. I just despair when I see authors asking readers to buy their books from there because their royalty/profit is the highest. The way to sell books is to make them visible on Amazon – once you do that, the books sell themselves. “Visible” means high up bestseller ranks, high up search results and in things like “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” Every time you sell a book on Amazon, you contribute to this visibility. So why would you encourage anyone to buy your books from CreateSpace, where the sale leaves no trace at all? In that case there’s a tree falling in the woods with nobody around, and we can definitely say it doesn’t make a sound.

The only times you have to even think about shipping charges is (i) when you post the proof copy to yourself and (ii) ordering books for friends and family. Let’s say for the sake of it that that totals somewhere between 30-50 books. Presumably your goal is to sell thousands, so why would you make a decision based on something that affects a fraction of the books you hope to shift? There’s no good reason, so don’t worry about it.

After a while, your POD paperback’s cover will start to do this. But who cares?

2. Perfection

Once upon a time I had the misfortune to work as a campsite courier, a kind of general assistant on a “camping” resort in the south of France. Our customers paid big bucks to stay in mobile homes, chalets and oversized tents, and we got paid practically nothing to clean them before they arrived. Whenever anyone complained about a stain on the floor or a bit of dust on the window or a smear on a glass, we’d shrug, hold up our hands and say, “What do they expect? It’s camping!”

This is Print-On-Demand. This is a machine that throws together a book in a matter of minutes. It’s not a professional printing press that uses high quality cover card, elegant binding and smooth, beautiful paper. And these are self-published e-books. It’s a Word document that’s been run through an almost free-to-use, automated conversion program that spits out several different formats at once. It’s not a team of highly trained techie types who work from the code and make e-books that are things of book-design beauty. Yes, you should make your POD paperback and e-book look as great as you possibly can, but don’t chase perfection because you won’t find it.

Your POD paperback will likely have:

  • a glossy cover that collects fingerprints
  • a cover made of card thinner than a traditionally published book, so it’ll bend more
  • some pages that may appear printed very slightly off kilter
  • the occasional ever-so-slightly damaged corner
  • “Proof” printed on the last page if it’s a proof copy
  • A barcode, date and address printed on the last page no matter what.


Your e-book will likely have:

  • spaces where you didn’t intend for there to be spaces
  • lines where you didn’t intend for there to be lines
  • page breaks where you didn’t intend for there to be page breaks
  • an automated table of contents (that’s different to the one you put in).
But it will still be perfectly readable and if you’re lucky, looking good too. So don’t worry about it.

3. Unrealistic Retailing

Every time a self-publisher wonders aloud how they can get their book up on Amazon for pre-order, a fairy dies.


What kinds of books are available to pre-order on Amazon? Books published by actual, proper big publishing houses. Who should be thanking their lucky stars they’re even allowed on Amazon in the first place without a warehouse of stock, a meter-high stack of paperwork and some credentials? You, the self-publisher.

Don’t be getting ideas above your station. If you’re Hilary Swank and you’ve been invited to the Academy Awards, Oscar de la Renta will send you a beautiful gown made just for you. If you’re you (or me) and you’ve been invited to your (or my) grandmother’s 80th birthday party, it’s off to Debenhams (Macy’s, American friends) to buy something mass produced off the rack.

So when you say anything about pre-ordering, I say: Puh. Lease. If you self-publish a POD paperback, it will be for sale on If someone orders it, magical elves will print it, package it and ship it, and then the cousins of those magical elves will deposit the profits earned from that sale into your bank account. This is amazing. This is fantastic. And this is ENOUGH.

Don’t worry about whether or not Waterstone’s can stock your book, because they won’t ever want to. Don’t worry about VAT and Whispernet delivery charges, because they’re on all books, not just yours, and therefore the concern of the buyer, not the seller. Don’t worry about who is selling your book – just be glad anybody is.

And don’t even mention pre-ordering.

(There goes another fairy…)

4. ISBNs

An ISBN is a 10 or 13 digit number that identifies your book. If CreateSpace or Smashwords give you an ISBN, they own the ISBN but they DO NOT own the work you assign the ISBN to. In other words, you are free to publish your book anywhere else whenever you like, but you’d have to use a new ISBN.

So, repeat after me:

“ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protects. ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protects. ISBNs identify, copyright owns and protect…” and continue to do so until you stop worrying about how taking a free ISBN might affect your future movie deal, agency contract or first million dollar cheque.

Just STOP.

5. The Future of Publishing

In one dark corner of the internet right now, last month, next week, there is a conversation comprised of blog posts, articles, tweets, etc. that’s going like this:

“The book is dead.”

“The book isn’t dead.”

“Yes, it is. I just bought a Kindle.”

“No, it isn’t. Can you decorate with it? Can you decorate with your Kindle? Didn’t think so…” and so on and on and on.

There is also another conversation running parallel, going like this:

“Publishing is dead.”

“Publishing is not dead.”

“Your children won’t remember bookshops.”

“My children will be visiting their children in the bookshops they work in…” and so on and on and on.

And yet another that goes like:

“I heard these guys saying publishing and books are dead. I’m going straight to self-publishing e-books. It’s best for my career.”

“I don’t know how to do it though. I’m going to submit my novel.”

“You’ll be sorry when you die before you hear back.”

“You’ll be sorry when no one buys your clump of computer code…” and so on and on and on.

If you are thinking of self-publishing and haven’t yet sold a single book, or even if you have self-published and sold a few copies, NONE OF THIS MATTERS.

And for the ranty record, I really wish people who don’t work in publishing – and that includes me, and almost all self-publishers – would shut their pie holes about what a world they don’t live and work in may or may not have happen to it, theoretically, in the future, based on how many guys down the pub they know with Kindles. Knitting a scarf doesn’t make you the fashion editor of Vogue, and self-publishing a book doesn’t make you a publishing expert, and it especially doesn’t make you an expert on the whole global industry of publishing and where it’s headed. Self-publish, sell a few hundred thousand, make money and perhaps either refuse or sign a publishing deal, and then I’ll start to listen. Otherwise, I’m going to need you to actually work in publishing.

See also: debate over whether people like me should be called “self-publishers” or “indie authors.” What’s next on the agenda of irrelevancy – whether it’s e-books, E-books or E-Books? Because I don’t know about you, but that’s a question that’s keeping me awake at night.


Instead, concentrate on your own little corner of the world, the part of the world you do know about, on your big picture, and–

[Say it with me now]

Don’t worry about it!

Let’s all have a nice, big cup of coffee now. That will also help with the not-worrying.

One thought on “REPLAY 2011: 5 Things Self-Publishers Shouldn’t Worry About (But They Do)

  1. Marie Michelle Coleman says:

    This stuff has been on my mind a lot lately and your article helped me feel a bit less anxious about potentially traumatizing things like those darn ISBNs. As an almost-ready-to-dive-in indie author, I was glad to get your sensible perspective. Thanks!

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