How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First


I’ve christened May the How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated, but before we get into the nuts and bolts of marketing and promoting your book, we need to have a little tough love session first.

At my most recent workshop I started off by saying to the participants that my aim for the day was to send them home with everything I wished I’d known before I started self-publishing, or in other words everything I had to learn on the job because when I started self-publishing, I didn’t have a clue. And yet clueless and all that I was, I was operating with a huge advantage: realism. Because I’d spent a good decade of my young life poring over every How To Format a Manuscript for Submission To Within an Inch of Its Life Because, Yeah, That’s What’s Going to Be the Deciding Factor (Not!) and 500 Pages About Submitting to Agents Even Though You Haven’t Written a Word type books, I knew way more than I’d ever need to about the way the traditional publishing world works, and so I knew that as a self-publisher, I wouldn’t be sitting at the top table. I mightn’t even be in the same room. But that was fine by me. I still recognized what an amazing opportunity digital self-publishing provided, and I was excited about getting to avail of it. And because I knew the score, I could manage my expectations. (Truth be told, I didn’t have any.) Ultimately when success came, it was a welcome bonus. So before we get into the practicalities of selling your self-published book, let’s have cold blast of reality, shall we?

1. By Default, No One Cares About Your Book

Just because you wrote a book does not mean people are going to want to read it. Sounds suspiciously like common sense, but as I’ve said before, common sense isn’t as common as you might think.

Think of all the books you hear about on a daily basis. Think of all the books you see when you walk into a bookstore, or through the book isles of supermarkets. Think of all the books that pop into your line of vision while you’re on Amazon. Do you buy them all? Are you even interested in them all? Or are you like me—and, I’d suspect, most book-buyers—buying and ultimately reading just the very cream of the crop, the top 0.5% or less of the books we know about, just the ones that get us interested in them and wanting to read them, i.e. just the ones we care about?

At least once a day I receive an e-mail from an author I don’t know saying “I’ve wrote a book. Will you review it?” If this author knew that every Friday Oprah’s Book Club sends me an e-mail recommending several books—books that, this being Oprah’s Book Club, are hugely publicized, high advance, this-is-gonna-be-big traditionally published books—and that, on average, I make a note of maybe two of them and ultimately buy maybe one of them for every five or six e-mails I get, do you think they’d do anything differently?

It is very hard to get people to care enough about your book that they go and buy it. It’s the hardest part. And before you can even do that, you have to get them interested in it, and before that you have to let them know that it exists. But embracing this will help you achieve this, because you’ll know what lengths to go to in order to make it happen. I blogged a little bit more about this in How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed.

2. Your Book is a Product—and It Had Better Work

We’ve seen time and time again that the self-publishers who enjoy consistent success are those who treat self-publishing like a business they’ve started up. They act like entrepreneurs, and make like their book is their first product—which it is. Your book is a product. While you were writing it you could be all writer-like, hanging out in hipster cafés with your soy milk lattes and your well-creased Moleskine, but now that the book is going to be out in the world, for sale with a price-tag on it, the romance must drop away and the book must meet standards and be a viable product. When it comes to books, we’re talking about a professional polish and it having appeal. I talked about appeal in Why It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Your Book is Good, so let’s focus on the professional polish bit here.

Self-publishers against enlisting the services of a professional editor and/or proofreader seem to be against it because it’s expensive and/or because they don’t understand what editing means. The “I can’t afford it” thing drives me completely cuckoo because if you can’t afford to spend some money on your product, you shouldn’t be self-publishing it. If you’re not prepared to invest, why should I be expected to buy? And buy a sub-standard product at that. Which brings me onto my next point: not understanding what editing is.

Generally we can divide editing into three stages: structural (think re-writing), copyediting (think language) and proofreading (think errors). (If there’s any editors hanging around these parts, feel free to correct me on that, or elaborate.) I can understand why self-publishers would skip the structural bit, because it’s the most expensive and going back to the business analogy, you wouldn’t buy Egyptian cotton tablecloths for a fast food joint, because you’d never make the money back off a $1.99 burger. But you would have tables, right? And chairs for sitting around them? Of course you would, because that’s what’s expected. That’s a minimum standard. When we go into restaurants, we expect there to be somewhere to sit. And when we buy a book, we expect it to be error-free. (Or at least almost error-free. I’m still searching for a way to make perfection happen right out of the blocks.) We expect the language to be correct. We expect clarity and consistency. And that’s what a copyedit and a proofread does: it brings your book up to the minimum industry standard.

Every time I mention this, I get comments and e-mails saying things like, “But if a reader likes the story, they’ll overlook misspellings, etc.” I’m just going to say this once, okay? ONLY IF THE READER IS YOUR MUM. Take an hour to read a few Amazon Customer Reviews and then see if you still feel the same way.

3. Social Media is About Connection

I am evidence that social media does sell books, but only if you don’t use it to sell books. This is something I’ll be blogging loads more about this month, but for now I’ll just say this: you can’t use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to blatantly sell your book, because no one will buy it. Being subjected to the hard sell is not why anyone is using those platforms. We’re there for one or more of the following reasons: connection, entertainment and valuable information. Where does you saying “My book is on Amazon now: just $4.99!” or “My book is out now. Buy it!” fit into those? Obviously it doesn’t. (And no, it’s not valuable information!) I have a little giggle to myself every time I meet someone with a business who mutters, “I really have to get on Facebook” or “We really should start tweeting” as if social media is California during the Gold Rush and all you’ve to do is show up and start digging and—hey presto!—you’re a millionaire. News flash: starting a Facebook page does not equal sales.

Worse than the shameless self-promoter is the person who has no interest in blogging, tweeting or using Facebook but reluctantly comes to the table to flog their wares anyway. If you don’t genuinely enjoy connecting and sharing with other people online, what are you doing there?

A presence online takes time to build, and it isn’t suitable for people who don’t really want to be there or who don’t have an instinct for how it all works. So if you’re planning to self-publish a book and your marketing plan is to tweet a link to its Amazon listing once an hour 24/7/365, you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.

4. You Can’t Sell New Concepts with Old Ways

In my experience if your book is only for sale online, you should only be promoting it online. Time and time again I see self-publishers with money to burn hiring publicists who draft press releases for them and then send them round to all the usual suspects—newspapers, radio shows, magazines, etc. This is totally pointless, especially in the beginning, unless your book has a specific local interest or something. If you want to spend money, you’d be far better off doing it on a Goodreads ad or a Kindle Nation sponsorship, i.e. a place where readers gather online. You need to let go of any existing ideas you may have about selling books (especially if you’ve been traditionally published in the past) and haul them—and yourself—into this brave new digital world.

In February 2011 a series of events meant that in the space of a week or so, I was featured in The Sunday Times and appeared on several national radio shows, including the second most listened to show in the country with an average of 400,000 listeners. As far as I could tell, it led to no bump in sales. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that when I read about a book in a newspaper, chances are I’ll later walk into a bookstore, see the book on the shelf and think, Oh, yeah. That’s that book I read about. I must get that. But when you read about a self-published/only for sale online book in the newspaper, there’s no chance encounter later to remind you of it. And since apparently you have to be reminded of something three times before you’ll take action and buy it, it never translates into sales.

John Locke famously spent a fortune on “real world” advertising all to no avail, but became the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books when he started focusing online instead. Traditional methods for selling books just don’t work when those books aren’t being sold traditionally.

(Note: I’m not saying say no to print and radio interviews. Say yes! They’re great fun and will make you feel like a proper published author. And your relatives might even believe you now when you say you’re selling loads of books online. Just don’t pursue them as a means to advertising a book, because they’re not effective when the book isn’t widely available in stores.)

5. You Are Not The Next Amanda Hocking

In all probability you’re not, anyway. And I’m not talking about becoming the first household name success story of this modern e-book self-publishing era—I’m talking about having to do little other than upload your e-books to achieve stellar sales. As in, chances are you’re going to have to do a lot more than that to shift any copies at all.

Let me explain. As in all walks of life, some people get really lucky at this self-publishing e-books thing. They upload their e-book and sell thousands of copies the first week, without ever having blogged or advertised. They massively outsell self-publishers who have been at it for years, and they do it almost instantly. So we should copy them, right? We should find out what they’re doing and do it ourselves. Wouldn’t that make sense?

No, it wouldn’t. Because they’re the outliers. They’re the extremes. You’d be better off focusing on the people in the middle, the ones who never meet the bleak abyss of failure or the dizzying heights of success, but instead consistently sell and can tell you what they did to achieve it. As I’ve always said, it’s better to hear from me, a moderate seller who can say I did x, y and z to sell my books and you can do it too, then a mega-seller who isn’t quite sure how they managed to sell a hundred thousand books.

Think of it this way: You meet a newly published author who is now sitting atop the bestseller lists with a debut novel that scored her a top agent and a six-figure deal. A movie adaptation is in the works. She’s rich, successful and she has achieved a lifelong dream. How did you do it? you want to know. She says that she was interviewing for a position as her agent’s assistant when they got talking about a recent news story, and she said “I bet the girlfriend did it. Wouldn’t it make a great story if she did?” The agent instantly got dollar signs in his eyes, told her to forget about being a PA and instead go home and write a one-page synopsis, which she did, and seven days later she had her six-figure deal. Now, knowing this, what would you do about your own published writer dreams? Would you continue to polish your novel, write a synopsis, craft a query letter and politely submit to suitable agents and editors, or would you start scanning the jobs listing for admin openings at literary agencies and publishing houses?

(I sincerely hope it would be the former!)

Your model for success shouldn’t be an extreme, because chances are you’re not going to be one. Millions of authors have self-published but only a relative handful had found success comes easily. Instead, get ready to work really hard.

And read all my upcoming posts, of course…!

L-R: the gorgeous spa-style bathroom of the St. Regis San Francisco, which I loved, and the dirty deathtrap of a “shower” in our room at the [cough, cough] “Hotel” San Francisco in San Pedro, Guatemala. Which I did NOT.

I’m testing KDP again with Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. It’s the story of me (loves Starbucks, boutique hotels and inactivity) going backpacking in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama (climbing active volcanos, sleeping on planks of wood, cockroaches, etc.) and it’s FREE between now and Wednesday 9th May for Kindle. So please, feel FREE (see what I did there?) to download it for yourself, or let your anti-backpacking friends with e-reading devices know that they are also FREE to download it for FREE from or For FREE.


See you on Monday!

[UPDATE May 5th: Woo-hoo: Freshly Pressed! Not quite sure how it happened but thanks Word Press—and hello to everyone who came here because of it. *waves* Do say hello below.]

May is How To Sell Self-Publish Books Month on Catherine, Caffeinated. Find out more about here, or read all related posts by paying a visit to the category page. Get every new post direct to you inbox by subscribing to this blog (see the sidebar or footer for the sign-up box).

276 thoughts on “How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First

  1. lovelylici1986 says:

    Awesome post. I’m still in the early stages of my novel, but I love reading your posts. They are so realistic, to-the-point, and simple. Thanks!

  2. Jan Mendoza says:

    Such a huge fan Catherine! I just self printed my third book about being one of the first female forest firefighters in California. Fire Girl. Its on Amazon and I’m getting local TV and newspaper interest. However when that fire dies down (pun intended) I will need to push the ebooks online just as you mention. All proceeds for my book are going to the US wildland firefighter foundation.

  3. MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

    I’m sorry, you seem like a real nice and successful person, but everything you are saying is regurgitated and trite. Get an editor AND a copy editor? In what world is that happening? Writing on a shoe string, which most of us do, will not allow a couple thousand dollars for that endevour. Now, will pro editing make your book better? Sure, somewhat. I’ve had four of my dozen stories pro edited and copy edited. A real good experience, but I was lucky the publishing houses paid for them, cuz I sure wouldn’t (although the two editors I worked with were super cool, mega brains!)It comes down to a story being ‘live’ or ‘produced’. Everyone wants to get paid, but if you are advising your readers to invest in their ‘business’, I am sorry to say that it will take years (if ever) for that money to be returned. I feel more of a kinship to street corner musicians or bar bands than Clive Barker.
    No disrespect intended.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      It may indeed take years to get the money back, but I couldn’t honestly ask people to pay for something that I wasn’t personally prepared to invest money in. I actually said above that I’d understand if self-publishers opted not to have a structural edit (I didn’t get one for any of my books), but a copyedit and a proofread is a minimum requirement unless you plan on giving your book away for free. It’s not really about making the writing or the story better (that would be the structural edit which, as I said, is out of the range of most self-publishers), but putting the book out there in a professional way, and giving readers what they expect in return for spending money on a book. I also believe that every self-publisher has a responsibility not to “bring the side down” — if someone downright refuses to read self-pubbed books because “they’re all crap” and then are finally persuaded to read one, and that book hasn’t met anyone’s eyes other than the author’s and is filled with misspellings, etc. they’re not going to read any more, are they? And that affects all self-publishers. But we are of course all free to do what we want. Best of luck with your writing.

      • MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

        I write with a lot of slang and purposefully outlandish methods that can (and have) caused unfortunate confusion with some readers. I accept that, they paid their dime and can say (and do) whatever they want. However, it is difficult to swallow from other writers. Let me give you an example of two recent (short) reviews on the same book:
        Compelling characters and a thriller-type plot make this a good read. It’s not quite as fast-paced as a thriller, but the dystopian alternate USA is both vivid and scary.

        The book needed both an editor and a copy editor. The author doesn’t quite pull off all the tense changes and there are a few annoying misused words. Weird and truly annoying was the overuse of italicized words. It was distracting. I subtracted 1 star for these problems.

        Just what you were saying. And then:

        Great story. I really enjoyed this book, I read it all in one session because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

        Both valid opinions.

        I do not think writers should be scared, just write.

        • jamestkelly says:

          If I may jump in.

          No-one is saying that the opinion held by that second reviewer is somehow wrong. Just as you can love a filthy, smelly, flea-ridden mongrel, you can love a book with errors. But most people will be put off by the smell and the fleas. All Catherine is suggesting is that you buy some shampoo and wash the damn dog. Then more people will love it!

          Editing is expensive but it’s an investment. Maybe it would take a long time to earn it back. But when I pay for a book I expect it to be edited. And I would rather the people who bought my books got more than what they expected, not less.

          Great post as usual, Catherine, and full of great advice. Have you ever wished you had a structural edit on any of your works?

          • catherineryanhoward says:

            Yes, I have actually. On Mousetrapped. That book has some serious flaws, most obviously an overlong first chapter (too much personal backstory) and later on the chronology jumps around. But it’s a bit late to do anything now! 🙂

            With my novel I was lucky because I had a literary scout working on it with me, so that was *kinda* subjected to some of the things involved in a structural edit, and I think it made it out okay. That book has a very complicated plot so at least I know that’s sound.

            With Backpacked, I think I got away with it because I’d learned so much from Mousetrapped at that point, and the story was really straight-forward and linear. But you definitely get away with a lot more in non-fiction.

            • James T Kelly says:

              Interesting. Do you think you’d ever have a structural edit done on a future work? And are you ever tempted to go back to Mousetrapped?

          • redpengirl says:

            As an editor, it thrills me to hear you encourage writers to find and use editors – whether proofreader, copy-editor, or line-by line.

            Conversely, it depresses me to hear writers say that if their writing is that good, readers will dismiss their errors. That’s like saying people will buy (and love) a sweet-looking car and overlook the fact that it doesn’t always run!

            No matter what product you sell, you need to make it the best that it can be. If you don’t care about a car that works intermittently, fine, but don’t expect to sell it. You can love your smelly, flea-ridden dog, but don’t expect someone to buy it.

            And write the best damn book – but please, find an editor before you publish!

            • catherineryanhoward says:

              I wouldn’t worry too much about the writers who don’t get the editing thing, because they’ll find out soon enough what happens if they don’t get a professional polish. I’ve tried everything but some people just won’t be convinced. Even my own books, which have all been through copyeditors and proofreaders, *still* manage to sneak an error or five in, because thus far I just can’t find a way to get everything 100% perfect. (I suspect I’m not setting enough pairs of eyes on it before publication; I’m going to add a couple more on my next book). And I get reviews complaining about errors as if the book is filled with them. What kind of reviews would a book that’s *actually* filled with errors because it never met an editor get? I shudder to think. And I can’t think how the writer could recover from it, sales and reputation wise.

              Love the name of your site, BTW!

              • Alison Wong, HK writer says:

                Ah, I love your advice because I used to be an English teacher and I’m my worst critic. As a reader & writer, a picky one, I would expect flawless work. I self-published my book and cringed when I realised there were errors, no matter how many times I edited and proofread my own work. I paid a proofreader to edit my grammar then when I self-published years later, I realised how many errors – content, type O’s etc, still remained EVEN after sending my manuscript to be published! And I paid to have corrections done with my self-publisher! Arrgh! Hence my advice is to “EDIT, EDIT, EDIT” and even if my book or wiriting may be a novice/debut written novel, I still cringe over the content or bits where I could have written better! I wished I spent my publishing package money on a copy editor instead. People DO notice errors. I notice them! So, thanks Catherine. I agree 100% with you and hope my writing craft gets better.

        • Roemer Lievaart says:

          Don’t be scared, just write, but let someone clean up after you 😉 I sold quite a few copies of my book (non-fiction). It was only after the second revised print that I asked some friends to do some editing. And why didn’t I do that before!? The book got so much better. My Dutch (it’s a Dutch book, I’m Dutch) is actually very good, but not perfect. It gave me so much and helped the book really forward. And I learned so much. I just asked friends who do something with language for a living. I soon realised how important editing was and since I was selling anyway, hired a friendly professional cheaply, so I could really demand that she was strict with me, because I thought they weren’t strict enough. An OK sentence must be replaced by a good or perfect sentence. The “I get your drift” reaction must be replaced by “Dude! That’s awesome!” and language can do that. My book was good, now it is so much better. Even though I did most of the work myself – it was triggered by them. So if you do not have any money to spend: look for friends who are professionally good in language, hand them a whip and ask them to whip you. They won’t, because they like you, so press them again and again, ask for deep flesh wounds. My sales went up and up and up since… Ninth print just came out.

          • MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

            Sincerely, my friend, (or is it; or maybe:) jump off the band wagon. The only ones who gives a rat’s assnick are other writers, I swear to god. 😉

            • MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

              And besides, planet Earth’s 1st Technology has long since expired. In other words … ‘Print Is Dead’. We may as well learn to play jazz. :0

              “WRITE WHAT YOU WANT, HOWEVER YOU WANT AND IN WHATEVER WAY YOU CHOOSE”. Thank you. ‘I am The Grim Reverend Steven Rage and I sanction this propoganda.

              • Mel Dawn says:

                That’s awesome Morbid! I just finished a so-called pro novel by Jean Auel – Land of the Painted Caves and there was a mistake on every single page. I guess the publisher booted it out the door. Do I mind so much? Not really, I enjoyed reading it, and I’m sure they’ll clean it up for the second printing.

                • MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

                  Thank you, Mel. I’m going on five years penning stories and I can honestly say that the only ones who care are other writers. I can pick out their snarky reviews and blog comments and posts from a reader any day of the week and twice on Sunday. All I was trying to say is that it is unrealistic financial deterent to composing stories for reader consumption.

            • Roemer Lievaart says:

              If a reader as a choice between something that reads ok and something that is really fun and comprehensible to read, he knows which choice to make. Underestimating that is underestimating your possibilities. My sales prove me right. I could live from my book alone in a small country, with only 20 mln people speaking the language, on a specialist subject. Why? Not by making it expensive – it’s cheap. Not by advertising – that didn’t work. No, by making a book that reads damn well. With only word of mouth, I sell enough to live by. I challenge you to do the same with a book full of mistakes and not well thought through sentences. Just do it.

              • Roemer Lievaart says:

                Oh, and there are about three books more on the same subject in the same language. Full of flaws, or not well structured, or both. They don’t sell shit compared to my book. They don’t read well. It is as easy as that.

              • shannon stuhlman says:

                I’ve been reading through these blogs and yours caught my attention. Right now, I am editing and polishing my husband’s novel. I like his novel and found it a page turner, but I am not that objective. When I am done would you consider having a look at it to see if it’s entertaining and readable?
                New at this Noni

    • rachelevelynnichols says:

      If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on editing, you might find a writer/editor who would be willing to swap services. You edit his or her book and you get that person to edit your book–for free. We always are better at finding mistakes in other people’s work than our own. This is what I intend to do when my book is complete.

  4. gingercalem says:

    Fantastic blog. I’m going to follow and I look forward to your next blog!

  5. Cristian Mihai says:

    This was a fantastic post. Not that your other posts are bad or anything. From what I’ve read so far, you’ve got a sense of realism that doesn’t really characterize this industry and the people in it.

    And I agree with everything you said. Writing a book, selling it, all that, requires a lot of hard work and a lot of time. And sometimes people forget that. But I think that there’s one aspect that you didn’t mention in your post: luck. Whether we like it or not, luck plays an important part in our lives. Most books don’t sell for a particular reason; editing, formatting, a really bad cover, or countless other factors. Things that can be changed. But there are books that don’t make it simply because of this luck factor.

    It happened before (a great deal of artists who didn’t achieve success, commercial or critical during their lives, like Stendhal or Gauguin) and it will happen again. I suppose you just have to try, again and again, and, no matter what, never give up. At least that’s what I’ve always thought about life; if you try hard enough, you’ll end up getting what you want.

    I’ll stop here. My comment is long enough. One more time, I congratulate you for this amazing post and wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors. Oh, and if possible, post more often.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Luck definitely plays a part, but I’m a big believer in making luck your only variable. If you do everything else right and work as hard as you can, you’ll be ready to take full advantage when/if luck comes around.

  6. Iain Broome (@iainbroome) says:

    I think you could take the ‘self-published’ part of the title of this post and it would still be handy and relevant.

    I find myself in the curious (but ace!) position. I have a novel coming out traditionally, but I know that I need to use my online presence, and to be aware of the various pitfalls that you describe, to actually sell the book. It’s amazing how many traditionally published authors fall foul of the very same pitfalls, especially that assumption that people will actually want to read their work.

    We have to work hard. All of us!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Iain—yes, that’s true! I think sometimes traditionally published authors, especially debuts with modest advances, are under even more pressure to ensure that their book sells, because they’re under contract and might like another one one day. I do understand why there “everyone will want to read my book” feeling comes from—I had it myself, once upon a time—but once the book is out there, reality comes crashing in. 🙂

  7. Novel Girl says:

    Reblogged this on Novel Girl and commented:
    I don’t usually reblog posts (this is my first time, actually! yay!) but this one tipped me over the edge. What I mean is you. cannot. miss. this.

    You know how people make you pay $0.99 for a really crappy self-published eBook? Well you could pay $0.99 for this blog post and it would be better value. This is a must read for self-published authors, writers about to self-publish and ANYone interested in expanding/mastering their online platform.

    I found this post from The Book Designer’s website, so make sure you subscribe to both Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog and The Book Designer’s.

  8. Northsider says:

    Totally agree with you about nobody cares about your book. However you do because it’s your baby and brain-child. All you can do is put your wares (book) on the stall and hope that somebody buys it. I thought I had made it when my book was published by a book publisher. The penny dropped when I realised the book will never be a best seller – a book that sells best. Starting to even question my style of humour and wonder if only I laugh at my jokes? Don’t ever write humour it’s all subjective. Great book thoughts Catherine.

  9. BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten says:

    Thanks Catherine,
    Now that I got my book out, I will keep that all in mind and advertise on line. I agree that having editors is important,so I did spent that amount up front, just hoping it might come back to me. You wouldn’t want to have a lousy version out of your book that will remain alive forever and might turn up when you least expect it…
    Johanna van Zanten

    • catherineryanhoward says:


      When I first released Mousetrapped (my first book) there were two typos in it (despite professional editing, etc.—it is *so* difficult to get the whole book perfect, even with professional help.) One was a person’s name that wasn’t spelled right, and one was an “it” that should’ve been an “if.” I knew they were there, but I did nothing about them. Then I got a call from a really important person who wanted a copy of the book. Big things could’ve happened if this person read and liked the book. I instantly thought of the typos, and kicked myself for not having a perfect copy to send them. Then I realized: I should’ve been thinking like that all along! My readers are just as important as the Really Important Person, they’re one and the same. So I always self-publishers to imagine the most important person they can think of—Oprah, for example—reading their book. Would you like them to read an unedited version filled with typos, errors, etc.? Obviously not. Think of your readers the same way.

  10. bellarossi says:

    Finally some realism…if I had a penny for all the illusions and delusions about publishing or being a writer…I’d be vacationing in Fiji full time.

    Thanks Catherine!

  11. Candy Korman says:

    Another sane and sensible missive! I can’t tell you the number of friends who just assumed I’d be the next Amanda Hocking. As soon as the first ebook was up, I’d get news clippings about her meteoric rise to fame and fortune. This is a long haul process — like anything else in life.

  12. lizmonster says:

    What a great post. I’ve purchased a number of self-published works, and the biggest difference I see between (most of) those books and those coming out of publishing houses is polish. Many of them I don’t finish, regardless of how interesting the premise is.

    As an unpublished writer, I am considering self-publishing as a way to keep control of my product, and to get it to market more quickly – but I also feel very strongly that I don’t want to release into the wild something that is not absolutely as good as I can make it.

    Consequently, I have an editing fund. When the time comes, I may have to choose between a professional editor and replacing my long-in-the-tooth laptop – and it’s no contest. I will send them my manuscript, and I will tell them to be as brutal as they can. (If they hurt my feelings, I figure they’re doing something right.) I will fork over the money, and I will be glad to do it. (And no, I don’t expect to make much, if anything, off of my novel, and I recognize I’m fortunate to be in a position where I don’t need to.)

    My mother, by the way, would kick my sorry backside if I published something with misspellings and grammatical errors. She’d still tell me she loved it, though.

    (Thanks to Novel Girl for the link to this post!)

  13. Keith MacKenzie says:

    That is a dynamite post. I’d be lying if I said I’m a wildly successful writer – I’m not – but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t realistic about knowing the importance of clear, error-free prose. I’m an editor at a newspaper by trade and also run a writers’ group biweekly so I’m able to put my professional skills to use in editing my writing and then hone it with valuable feedback from group members.

    One thing’s for sure – it’s plainly obvious that most writers aren’t going to get rich one way or another. You have to persevere, work hard, maintain a high quality of writing AND be consistent no matter what. Your readers will thank you for it, and you’ll be able to sell a bit more. No one will buy because you tell them to – they’ll buy because your product rewards them.

    Again thanks for the realistic tips on self-publishing. Many important points to consider and keep in mind as we go about our craft.

    • MorbidbookS, Extreme Fiction Publisher. says:

      The only ‘real’ money in fiction is when you sell your movie rights.

  14. Ernie Zelinski says:

    Overall this is an outstanding article.

    But I have to disagree with you about the importance of
    using a professional editor and having everything perfect.

    If you have a great book with great content, it won’t matter all that much.

    First, I am a self-published author of at least ten books and have had four of my books published by major U.S. publishers.

    My books have been published in 28 different countries in 21 languages, have sold over 725,000 copies worldwide, and have earned almost $1.75 million in pretax profits for me.

    One of my mottos is: “Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!”

    I actually did the keynote opening speech called “Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!” at the Edmonton District Convention of Toastmasters International. For the record, I have never belonged to Toastmasters and had never ever taken any speech-making training. I delivered the speech anyway because perfection is for idiots.

    In my pursuit of self-publishing, I have always remembered this great advice by a self-published author who has sold millions of his books including “Winning Through Intimidation” and “Looking Out for Number 1?:

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right project than a great job working on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    One of my “right projects” was my second self-published book “The Joy of Not Working” which was released in 1991. Instead of getting it perfect — or even remotely close to perfect — I kept to my schedule and followed my motto “Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!”

    At the time (1991) that I first published “The Joy of Not Working”, I used a desktop publishing program that had no spell check. I did not hire any professional editor and just used some of my friends to help me edit the book. Three years later. I purchased an update of the desktop publishing program that had a spell check. When I ran the spell check on the book, I found out it had 150 spelling errors. Did it affect sales? I don’t think so. It had sold 30,000 copies in its first three years — and that was in Canada with one-tenth of the population of the U.S. Incidentally, I received only one complaint about the book. It was from some school teacher. She complained about the spelling errors and how good she was at spotting these spelling errors. But she only spotted about ten of the 150.

    Here is the key to having a bestselling self-published book: Create a book that has great content, something that really stands out and is so far ahead of your competition that it owns the category. If you can do this, people willl overlook spelling errors. The best promotion is still word-of-mouth advertising from readers who love your book.

    Recently, I purchased a copy of Brendon Burchard’s “The Millionaire Messenger.” Brendon had the book published within 10 weeks after he started writing it. The book was released in March 2011 and has now sold over 50,000 copies. I spotted a number of spelling and formatting errors. Did I mind? Not at all — simply because it has great content.

    Here are a few quotations about perfection to put perfection in proper perspective:

    “And in fact, I think the more we start to worship perfection the more soul leaks out of art.”
    — Kathy Mattea

    “Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.”
    — Gustave Flaubert

    “Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.’
    — Salvador Dali

    “Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life’s ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.’
    — W. Somerset Maugham

    “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”
    — William Shakespeare

    Incidentally, if there are any typos here, enjoy them.

    Ernie J. Zelinski

    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach

    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”

    (Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)

    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’

    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • herocious says:

      I feel the same way as you in many respects. Spellings errors, however, are pretty easy to catch and correct. Not too many won’t detract much from the reading experience, but having no obvious spelling mistakes helps keep the reader engaged throughout.

      But what I really agree with is your take on perfection and your take on the need for editors. The flaws in a manuscript are, in the end, signs of the writer’s mortality. I like knowing the writer is mortal, and that’s one thing I get from self-published books that traditionally published books don’t offer to readily because they are, in many ways, over-edited.

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        I’m afraid in my experience spelling errors are not easy to correct. I’m going through my novel now for the umpteenth time and despite it being edited, proofread and gone over by me time and time again, I’m still finding a couple of things here and there, namely missing words (my personal bad habit!) and misused words. Unless the word is actually misspelled it’s not easy to find them.

        Also I’m not sure how you could tell a book has been over-edited…? Perhaps you could elaborate.

        • herocious says:

          Missing and misused words, yes, those will get you everytime 🙂

          For me, in works of personal literary fiction, which is what I always seem to write, there’s an element of confession (when the writer shows their foibles) that is sometimes tempered too much in traditionally published books.

          Maybe I can make an analogy: You have the person who is always professional, always says the right things, never too much, always is in control, never goes over the edge. And then you have the person who is sometimes an amateur, sometimes lacks tact, sometimes gets carried away. Ultimately it’s a matter of preference, but, for me, the latter has a human dimension that can be magnetic, or at least easier to relate to, whereas the professional can come off as cold. Seems like great editors know how to temper a manuscript without making it glassy/untouchable, and I am all for this kind of editing, but I sometimes get the feeling that a book isn’t really by the author but rather a mixture of author and editor, or even the editor entirely.

          Hopes this elaborated a little. I’m ad-libbing.

    • Edward Coleman says:

      I read this blog and the subsequent replies last night and made a point to come back today and add some thoughts about it. I see both sides of the coin in the sense that it really depends on WHAT you are writing. In my professional life, I am a journalist, and the format and content of my work needs the kind of scrutiny that is being discussed here. From spelling and grammatical errors, to style and function issues like the inverted pyramid, etc. Journalistic style requires a tight, neat, orderly appearance to work in that particular world.

      That said, in the world of fiction, there is the subjectivity of the content. For instance, I can only imagine an editor’s head exploding when having to contend with post-modernist, experimental and avant-garde literature. Here, the rules are bent, if not broken. But these breaks are devices implemented within the text for any number of reasons or effects. The fictional work I’m currently working on, for instance, lives within this modality, not as a contrivance, but because there is a certain hinderance in the dogma of how prose is “supposed to be”… that sometimes, though you may know the rules, you have to break them in order to achieve the effect you are after. Flow, sometimes, is more important than fitting within the mold of what is considered to be “correct” writing.

      However, even in this context, spelling errors (unless they are some Joycean play on words with a purpose) and misused words only make the reader appear as though they don’t quite grasp the language they are attempting to use. I edit for those kinds of errors and have my work looked over by somebody I trust, who understands why I write the way I do, but I generally have a subtle contempt for the notion that literature is supposed to fit within some plastic mould. And perhaps that will marginalize my work, to not write for consumers, but innovation has never come from those unwilling to take risks.

      I think it’s a fine line between editing for the kinds of mistakes that can diminish the quality of your work, and the kind of editing that will likewise diminish the unique voice that lives within your work. But, again, all of this is subjective.

      • ezekelalan says:

        I think between your post Edward, Eric’s original comment, and Catherine’s blog we have three of the most important messages about writing and not just self-publishing. I would love to see these packaged neatly together in one place for all visitors to the site. I agree overall with the importance of having a professional looking product, because if I start a book with a bunch of spelling errors and other grammatical problems in the first couple of pages only assurances from someone whose judgement I really trust will get me to continue reading. But that’s really about just not being sloppy and amateur. What I liked about Eric’s and your postings is the emphasis on not only having a great story but also on finding a unique way to tell it. I find too much of the material out there to be standard, with wretched conventional wisdom suffocating every element of creativity in prose, language, and use of words. In my own debut novel, Disposable People, I believe I broke all the rules about how a story should be told and how words should be used. I mixed poetry, sketches, journal notes, standard prose, and every else together. The most common words used by amazon reviewers are “madness” and innovative”, and one newspaper headlined it’s review “A brilliantly innovative debut”. Needless to say the ratings have also been 4-5 stars from folks who found the novel ‘strange’. I think readers welcome something different, and with thousands of self-published novels going out monthly, we should encourage new writers to take risks to standout. This is really what matters to me both as a reader and as a writer.

  15. tonyschumacher says:

    Excellent post, but as I’m finding out as I try to promote my own book, it’s becoming a nightmare to market via twitter. The problem? Well, in my opinion, everyone has pretty much read blogs on how to do it and twitter is flooded with authors banging on about their books! I’ve an author list on my twitter account, if I scroll through pretty much everyone there is using their accounts to sell (which is fine, because I’m doing it as well!)
    Unfortunately I think the time has come to try to think of a new marketing strategy for your ebook, because the people who are buying them are getting pretty fed up reading all these tweets from the likes of us!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I very rarely tweet about my book, and yet I’d credit Twitter with my entire self-published writer career (and then some). That’s one of the things I’ll be blogging about later this month.

  16. Penguin Pete says:

    This is brilliant, and it’s also refreshing to see writing advice from somebody who obviously knows how to write themselves. (you would not believe how rare that is). You remind one of Natalie Goldberg without the mystic Zen unicorn part.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Shamefully I had to google Natalie Goldberg (does my writer badge get taken away now?!) but I’m definitely going to order her book, if only to find about this mystic Zen unicorn part! ;-D

      Incidentally (and weirdly!) one of my very first posts on this blog was about Talking Purple Unicorns…

  17. Sumiko Saulson says:

    I think this is all great advice. I am going a more traditional route, selling paperbacks of my books locally in bookstores. Most bookstores will not carry a book that hasn’t been edited by someone competent and objective. I sent a copy of my first book to my college English teacher and she immediately began proofreading and copy editing it by force of habit. To those who say they are unable to afford a professional editor: see if you can find a teacher, an English major, or someone else who cares about you enough to edit your book yet is able to maintain objectivity. To paraphrase one local book buyer: never get your girlfriend or your mother to edit your book, they’ll be too busy trying not to hurt your feelings to do the best job.

    • The Eclectic LadyBird says:

      Great advice, Sumiko. There are always some low-cost solutions to most things. Really, I don’t know why some here seem not to have taken well to Catherine’s suggestion to edit, and make as best of one’s work as one can, before putting a price tag to it. I know I wouldn’t buy a second book from an author I had read a shoddy piece of work. But then again, to each his/her own.

  18. Ian Hutton says:

    I’m enjoying your posts. My favourite coffee is how the Dutch make it. I am learning from your posts. Thank you very much,
    Ian Hutton, Canada

  19. Theasurus says:

    Great post!

    I read a wonderful success story once about Matthew Reilly, who started out as a self-published author trying to flog his novels to Sydney bookstores. He managed to talk a sales manager into putting copies in the front window of a large, centrally-located bookshop (I think Angus and Robertson on Pitt St), alongside the likes of John Grisham and Tom Clancy. He also spent a lot of time pretending to read on peak-hour public transport, holding his novel up so the cover faced the front door of the bus and giving loud, spectacular descriptions of the story to anyone who asked.

    Needless to say, his meagre self-published supply in the Pitt St store sold out. The book was then picked up by an astonished publisher, who just happened to walk past the bookshop window and did a double-take, wondering why on earth this unknown new writer had been placed alongside international best-sellers.

    Reilly’s now written several more books and is a multimillionaire.

  20. palmtreelifestyle says:

    Hi. I have written two books and got them self published, and have to say that I thought the grammar and English was correct, but decided anyway to get it proof read and professionally edited, and boy am I glad I did, as there were many mistakes that I kept over looking! I now feel more confident and happy in my books being sold on the world wide web knowing that the content is correct and informative and life changing!

    Thanks for your enlightening post.

    Kind regards


  21. cezannepoetess says:

    I’m glad I came across your blog Catherine, it’s very clear and straight to the point; I’ve been toying with the idea of Self-publishing my first novel, but my question is, once you’ve put out a great book, as a Self-publisher you still have to do all the marketing and promotions your Self. My thinking is that with a traditional publisher, you have their financial backing and expertise in getting the book out; I think I’ve written a best-seller, but if I was to Self-publish, how would I turn that into reality?

  22. Debbie Jeffrey says:

    Thanks Catherine. Your comments are in line with what I have found out so far. Just as in movies, the Editor and Director decide the final cut, so my ebook needs an Editor to tighten it up. Proofreading a bonus 🙂 . Can you suggest where to start looking for one?
    Thanks appreciated.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think you can do one of two things to find the services you need. I went to a company that acts as a kind of referral system for editors, etc, They’re based here in Ireland but the editor I used was in the UK (and she’d previously worked in the US), and as everything is done by e-mail location doesn’t really matter anyway. There’s another great company in the UK called Bubblecow (, I think) and Saltwater Press in Ireland (I blogged about them a few posts back), who essentially recreate what happens in a publishing house for self-publishers. Both are extremely reputable and no doubt have a long list of happy customers you could ask re: references. Alternatively, find a self-published book you think is in good shape and e-mail the author for the e-mail of his/her editor, proofreader, etc.

  23. thisislemonade says:

    Thanks for some great tips, will be passing them on. Downloaded the book, sounds like an interesting read…will have to read it first, but I’m interested 😉 Like how you demonstrated how to e-publicize. That shower looked not nice!

  24. housetrade says:

    Many would be authors can be very daunted when writing their first book especially when approaching publishing firms. Very informative and confidence building post, Thanks.

  25. kellie@fooftoglow says:

    Just getting ready to take the plunge with an exceedingly niche book on low fibre diet and recipes (for cancer patients), but I think your tips will really help. Also, like zillions of others, have a couple of outlines for brilliant novels stashed in my hard-drive just waiting for the time to finish/stop being so f-ing lazy. Great post. And congrats on being FreshlyPressed. I got mine in January and have been buzzing ever since! Enjoy the limelight!

  26. The Hook says:

    I’m waiting for my first physical proof and then we’ll see if I can make anyone care about my book. I do not intend to be one of the self-published authors you make fun of here!
    Good luck with your own campaigns.

  27. Marti Parham says:

    Great post. Would love to include it on my blog Marti Ink this Sunday in “The Week’s Head-turning Headlines.”I will put it under the “Creativity” section. Oh yeah, congrats on being Freshly Pressed too!

  28. kingdom Seeker says:

    I would like to thank you, as I have certainly benefitted from this post. It had been educational and relevant to me seeing as publishing some of my written work is something I am preparing to do in the not too distant future. I will certainly be paying attention to “how to sell self-published books month”! Thanks again.

  29. Verity Glasswing says:

    I really enjoyed this article. It’s well written, and cuts right to the chase.

    Self-publishing is something I’ve been reading about for a long while, and it’s great to find helpful information that is realistic. I agree with all your points, but it never hurts to occasionally fantasize that you WILL be the next Amanda Hocking.

    As someone who is writing a novel and taking (baby) steps to self-publish it online, I am always happy to receive any great advice from other self-published authors. So thank you, Catherine! Your words are really appreciated!


    P.S. I had great fun reading your blog sidebar and footer, specifically the “Nothing Important” widget. Sleep definitely is important, and we writers need as much of it as we can get!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Haha! Thanks. Yes, that footer was driving me crazy until I inserted that. 😀

      Of course we *should* dream of being as (or even half as) successful as Hocking, but we shouldn’t assume we’ll get there overnight. Hocking herself points out that she was writing for something like 10 years before her sales took off. My point is always to make luck your only variable. Do everything you can as best as you can, and then when/if luck arrives, you’ll be primed to take advantage of it.

  30. Grace Louise says:

    Hi! I found this on Freshly Pressed and it caught my eye, love the post. It’s really useful, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog. I’m one of the millions who want to write my own book (no time soon, I don’t even have an idea yet) but can see that your blog is invaluable for info, so thanks for sharing 🙂

  31. rockedbypilates says:

    Glad you were freshly pressed. Can I say that the thing that caught my eye was the pink typewriter??? Love it! So perhaps, one does judge a book by it’s cover? I know I do. And I liked what I read too btw.

  32. slowborg says:

    fan-freaking-tastic post. I got here from Freshly Pressed and I can see why you’re featured. I have in the past scoured the net for exactly this type of information when I’m enjoying my fantasies about being a published author and never found it. Your blog is down to earth, matter of fact, humorous and informative and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s obvious you know your stuff, thank you for providing such a great source of entertainment and wisdom x

  33. djmillerja says:

    Loved the post – thanks. Must say as an aspiring author (journalist by day) and a reader myself I am amazed at the resistance to your comment about the need for such basic things as proper editing. I don’t care how good your story is. If two pages in I realise the book is full of spelling errors etc I am not going any further and would certainly never spend another dime on that author. Why should I spend time or money on an author who clearly has no respect for his/her readers?

  34. ConfusedDi says:

    Thanks for such great tips! And thanks to your writing skills which had captured my interest! Will follow your post!

  35. drakejamie says:

    I wrote a book…..thanks for the reality check. I like to think of myself as a realist about getting any attention for the book so advice from you is very valuable to me! My book is very specific, so I have an even higher mountain to climb. It’s about being realistic about teaching your baby how to use sign language before they can talk. Only good news: places to market the book are pretty obvious, I think. A bit of a narrow readership but an important topic nonetheless. I’ll be drinking coffee and following your blog to learn more! Thanks!!

  36. Audrey says:

    Great thoughts here! I’ll be back to see what else May has in store. And congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

  37. Elisabeth says:

    I think editing is important because it communicates credibility to your readers — and also because it shows courtesy. I’m sure there are variations between writing genres and the different crowds who read them, but generally, if a non-fiction author is careless with basic writing principles, I begin to wonder if they are also careless with their facts. It’s also about comfort — and that’s where fiction books come in as well. It’s like a gorgeous car with terrible shocks, or a professional portrait with a stray bug on the subject’s shoulder. Plot inconsistencies, grammar errors, or misspellings can all distract from what may otherwise be a fabulous book.

    Here’s a thought: if budget is a problem, why not try out a talented but unknown freelance copy editor? Seems like a natural fit for a self-published book.

  38. Kiki says:

    I absolutely agree on # 2 re: editing – I’ve read one too many ebooks that seemed to be totally unedited, and it annoys the hell out of me. A spelling error or two might be OK, but when the number of errors, both in spelling and formatting, takes away the joy of reading I get mad…

  39. gardenlilie says:

    Morning! Yes, I’ll follow you as I need some info and will be putting my second book to digital after I send out queries. I hope to find an editor or publicist, someone interested in my story and give me a chance. My first is on Amazon and has sold about 500 or so, it’s a novella. I’m proud as it was my first, with errors. My editor, my sister, quit on me as she was too busy 😉 Maybe you’ll be able to direct me to a bona fide list of people to send letters to. I found the directory on the internet not friendly for first timers. Thanks. Kim

  40. Liz Alexander says:

    Wow, self-publishing sounds like a nightmare. x_x;;;; I think I’ll try for a traditional publishing house (at first anyways), if I actually finish any of my novels!!

    What are your thoughts on traditional publishing? (I realize that’s a loaded question, so I apologize if you’ve already blogged about it!)

  41. Brendan O'Sullivan says:

    I was curious when your name entered my twitter feed so I downloaded Mousetrapped this morning and am enjoying it. Now I am even more curious and I find myself here. Good luck to you.

  42. herocious says:

    Hahaha… I subscribed to the comment feed here and woke up to an inundated inbox. Great job. Seems like this post gets the people going!

  43. Nicolle says:

    Congrats on freshly pressed! I definitely took advantage of your book offer on Amazon and look forward to reading it. My dad’s side of the family is from Panamá and I’ve been to visit about four times, but I’ve never backpacked across it.

    Just a note, I think you mean your offer will go until Wed., May 9 🙂

  44. Mom Meets Blog says:

    This subject is so off my radar screen (honestly I clicked on your post on the FP page because I liked the pretty pink typewriter) but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. As a mom who just talked a friend down from a parenting ledge, I think a little self awareness and a dose of realism goes a long way in any area of life (or business). Maybe I’ll send her this post and see if she can make the self-connection 🙂

    Anyway, thank you and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  45. nazarioartpainting says:

    Thank You for your post. I am a writer and believe me that is hard for the people that speak English language, but it is a little more hard for the people like me that write in Spanish. I love the Spanish but I hope in the future to write in English, but for now I am practicing my English to do so.
    My lovely second book is

    Un Regalo Secreto (The Secret Gift)

    The story is about a girl call Catalina who recently moved to a small town in where live an strange woman that nobody knows anything. The woman is excluded from society except for the recent arrival girl Catalina. Between both creates a strong bond of friendship. Catalina receives from enigmatic woman a very peculiar gift that will not only help her purpose in life and but that reveal their destination.

    It is an e-book available at
    Searching by tiltle Un Regalo Secreto

    I hope one day you have the opportunity to read. I really enjoyed today read your posts


  46. Desmond Shepherd says:

    Good post. I think many can benefit from it.

    But I’m taking a slightly different approach. I’m not even trying to be in that middle ground for sales of my books. Instead, writing under this name and B.C. Young, I have a 5-10 year investment plan.

    In my plan, I write as many books as I can, maybe selling only 1-5 copies of each book a month. At the end of 5-10 years it is possible that I’ll have in the neighborhood of 60 books. Let’s go with 5 each and figure that I make approximately $3.50 on average (I’ll make more with some, less with others). If that works out, it would be about $1050 a month.

    Which to me is great supplementary income for doing nothing but enjoying the hobby of writing.

    Don’t get me wrong, if things took off and I could make a living at this, I would. But I’m trying to be realistic in my approaching. That way, if I have greater success, it will be icing on the cake.

  47. Sabby G says:

    Wow, thank you for this! As an aspiring writer (with naught but a few pages of her book done…) this kind of stuff is extremely appreciated! Thank you for being kind enough to share your gained knowledge; I expect to check in a lot this coming month! 🙂

  48. Life in the Boomer Lane says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. I’ve self-published two books, both via print-on-demand. I’ve sold about 8000-9000 copies and learned a ton about publishing and marketing. Many people ask my advice but for the most part, they either don’t want to hear what I have to say (“Yeah, I know it’s tough, but my book blah blah blah”) or they immediately get depressed and don’t want to hear anything else. I keep telling people: The world doesn’t care about your book. You have to create the demand for it. It’s hard work, and it probably won’t make you a lot of money. You have to start by being passionate about what you do and stay that way in the face of rejection and apathy.

  49. emahadeo says:

    Wow Freshly Pressed? Congratulations. Ironically, as a recent first time self-publisher, you would think the hard part would be writing, editing, formatting the book. But the hard part is the social media! I am new to blogging and extremely impressed with what you have going on. I look forward to further blogs you will be posting about promotions. How long have you been blogging on WordPress and how many hits do you get normally? Being Freshly Pressed it a huge honour!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’ve been blogging since March 2010 and generally get about 15k-20k visits a month. I suspect I got Freshly Pressed because Redditt was driving truckloads of traffic to that post, which is how they noticed it (probably). But when I first started blogging, I used to get 1,500 hits a month if I was lucky.

  50. athomewithgod says:

    Thank you for sharing what you know about the industry. I think your posts will prove very helpful in the future. I’m not sure what I’ve decided about self-publishing, but I’d like to be informed in case I go that route with my future books.

  51. Chris says:

    In terms of my own self-publishing, I’m not sure that I can afford editing services, but agree with the sentiment of giving the product some polish — and when there’s a price-tag on it, it’s definitely a product. However, I’ve bookmarked the links to saltwater and inkwell just in case.

    Two quick questions:
    1. Would you say the key to the appeal of a book is based on a general sense of relevance (regardless of genre)?
    2. My blog is about rough studies of flash-fiction and drawings; does it make sense to drop the drawings altogether and focus on fiction, or does it not matter all that much?

    thanks for the advice

    Also, I take my coffee black, but sometimes with milk.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think the appeal of a book comes down to how good a story it aims to tell, not the relevance or anything else. I really can’t advise on individual books but I’m sure if you dig around the internet a little, you’ll find answers to your question re: the drawings.

  52. T. C. Nomel says:

    I’m very glad this was freshly pressed. I look forward to learning a great deal from How To Sell Self-Published Books Month

  53. Natalie Gorna says:

    Question: in your opinion, what are the pros of self-publishing versus publishing through an established publisher? Are there any cons to either that you could point out to me? Thanks for an educational read! 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I could write a whole book in answer to that question. Personally I would never chose to self-publish over getting published; it’s nearly always better to have someone else do the majority of the work (editing, cover design, etc.) for you, and put up the money to pay for it at no risk to you. But self-publishing is a great option for niche books, backlists and authors who can use it as a sideline while they pursue traditional publication (like I do). Then for some it can be the achievement of their dream, and pay their mortgage and more besides. Personally I would always try to get published first, but self-publishing done right can be a great adventure.

  54. tonicreatesart says:

    I’m a freelance editor, so I thought I’d chime in here and give my two cents. Yes, I believe every book should be edited, and it’s not just so I can support my family. Many freelancers like me work with people all over the world, and many of us do everything we can to keep our fees reasonable, even doing payment plans if necessary. While it is true that no single person can possibly catch every single error, the more sets of eyes you have going over your manuscript, the better. When my husband and I wrote our first book, we both went through it for errors, then we had our two oldest children read through for errors (one is also a writer, and he didn’t hold back on his criticism), we sent it to beta readers, and then we sent it to an editor. Like most authors, money is always an issue for us, but this was too important to skip.

    As for knowing when to stop editing… it’s kind of like telling a woman she’ll know when she’s in labor. This is one reason beta readers come in handy. They can provide feedback on what is really working and what isn’t. For my clients, I strive to do my best to give them my best for proofing, sentence structure, and consistency. It is my job to remain invisible… when I’m done, the work should still reflect the author’s voice, not mine. I’ve read a lot of posts on a lot of blogs that say it isn’t that important to get your book professionally edited. Hand it off to a friend or another writer, but do they have the expertise? If your writer friend doesn’t know where to put the punctuation for dialogue, would you trust them? Would they recognize that when you changed the name of character x, you forgot one spot?

    Think of it like this. Would you put out lesser quality if you were preparing a nice dinner for someone important? Would you go to a job interview without dressing nicely and combing your hair? Putting out the best book possible is in your best interest, just like in any other scenario where you’re putting your reputation on the line.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Exactly, exactly, exactly. I think one of the big problems is that some self-publishers confuse editing with spell-checking. I always say how do you know what you don’t know? How can you find a grammatical mistake if you don’t know what the right way is? But in my experience, very few listen! 😦

  55. Craig says:

    Great post about self publishing. Do you think Children’s picture books would work as e-books or not. Always pondered whether this would work ?

  56. Amanda J. says:

    I love what you’ve written, love how you’ve ‘said’ it! You’ve opened my eyes to a few things along the way and I’ve had a couple of giggles from your quirky comments! Looking forward to reading more. Thank you!

    Amanda 🙂

  57. gabriellereport says:

    Fantastic blog post. I’m a reporter, and get calls all. the. time. from self-published authors, wanting me to profile them. I’m bookmarking this page, both to recommend, and to keep for myself should I ever dream of writing something longer than 15 inches.

  58. The Word Jar says:

    Love this post! You have a wonderful voice and writing style. I look forward to more of the same in Backpacked!

    Thank you for extolling the virtues of the editing process. As an editor, I find many authors give editing low-priority status, and it’s a bit disconcerting. You nailed it–it’s all about the polish. It feels a bit disrespectful of readers to think they should just read through the errors because you have, what you personally believe to be, an awesome story. Not the way you should treat someone who just paid you money for your product.

    Wishing you nothing but success in your future, whether it’s self-publishing or traditional publishing! (PS–I love Ireland! Tried to stop for a bap on our way through Cork, but we were running late. Hope to get back there someday!)

  59. Madison Woods says:

    Every time I try to explain that Twitter isn’t the best way to sell books (direct *buy me* sales) people get rankled.

  60. Kathy says:

    Found you through Freshly Pressed. Congrats! Great blog. Some day, one day, I’d like to take my blog and with additional information turn it into a book. I also have other book ideas, just not a lot of free time at the moment to focus on my personal writing. I love to write. I don’t expect to become a sucess story, but any tips are great, and self-publishing will probably be the way I go. Thanks!

  61. tryingtoknowthyself says:

    Hello 🙂
    Great post, I’ve become very interested in how this whole “self-publishing” world works recently so I’m definitely following for more insights in the weeks to come!

  62. Wendy Van Camp says:

    This is an excellent post. I’ve been an self-employed artist for the past 16 years and am currently working on my first novel. I view the book as a product that I’m developing and publishing as I would the sales of my previous wares. I love to write and hope to never lose the love of doing so, but in the end this will be something to make my living with. I would not release art that has not been perfected and I certainly agree that a book should be edited and proof-read by a professional before being self-published. I am glad to see a kindred spirit in this subject. I’ll be following along to see more of your viewpoints on the subject!

  63. kristasta says:

    Your site is such a visual delight… love the banner – is that pink Royal typewriter for real?! Too cool. 🙂 Additionally, what a wealth of information… so glad you were FP and I found you!

  64. idiosyncratic eye says:

    Here from Freshly Pressed. Thought provoking article. There never seems to be a wrong or a right, a black or a white in marketing. So many what-ifs. 🙂

  65. SandySays1 says:

    One of the best posts I’ve ever read on the realities of self publishing (and traditional publishing for that matter). One thing you can’t emphasize enough is product quality. You only get one first chance. Authors need to do something besides buying that Chicago style manual – they need to use it…………

  66. Parlor of Horror says:

    You should really repeat point # ‘1’ several times in your article. What is so staggering is ‘how much’ No One Cares About Your Book! Before anyone publishes an e-book, they should post a 30 – 40 page story up somewhere for people to download for FREE! See how many people actually read the whole story. Hell, see if anyone will even take two minutes out of their day to download the damn thing. Did any of your good friends read it? Your family? If you can only get ten people to download it for FREE!!! how many do you think will actually pay money for it?

  67. Lakia Gordon says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I self published my book a few months ago and this advice is definitely going to be used. Thanks for writing.

  68. Nawfal Johnson Nur says:

    Thank you for writing this blog entry. It is always good to have a reality check now and again to think more clearly about things and to get moving on a better path. Best Regards!

  69. Delana says:

    I greatly enjoyed reading this article, and I look forward to reading some of your other posts, as well. Last December, I self-published my first book through CrossBooks Publishing (the self-publishing arm of LifeWay). I am currently working on a second book, and I have been thinking about self-publishing through CreateSpace and KDP.

    Doing the publishing and marketing side of things is much more complex than I ever imagined! Writing is definitely the easier (and more fun) aspect.

    I have also read posts recently about authors needing to invest time in public speaking. I am beginning to branch out into this strange new world. Have you been involved in speaking engagements? Were they mostly about your books or about other topics?

    Thanks for the advice!


    • Delana says:

      Oh yeah…I like my coffee (dark roast) with low fat evaporated milk and sucralose, plus a dash of cinnamon. 😉

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I have done speaking engagements about self-publishing, but to be honest I *hate* bringing books to these events because people have usually paid a small fortune to attend in the first place, and then I feel like you’re looking for more money off them for the book. But I really enjoy doing them and of course some people do go off and buy my books anyway, and they’re another way of making money from your writing/expertise. But I wouldn’t rely on them as a source of promotion unless you had an existing career, say, as a motivational speaker or something.

  70. Alyssa says:

    This post is promoted on freshly pressed. Congrats! By the way, thank you for the tips. 🙂

    [link removed by blogger; see comment policy]

  71. boomdeeay says:

    You write well. I lost interest half way through probably due to too many illustrative examples. I also disagree with your comment that the only person to accept spelling errors is a Mum… as a mother who has to bright articulate children I would have to say that such a generalization is totally erroneous. Mum, mom, ma, mam whatever her name may be will correct the errors she sees her children make and educate them that striving to be their best and presenting quality over trash is important. Sadly, kids tend to tune their parents out. deaf ear and all that stuff. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more of your writings.

  72. Janna Noelle says:

    Oh wow. So glad I clicked on the Freshly Pressed page today (I don’t do so every day). There is a wealth of practical knowledge to be found in this post (indeed, this entire blog) for an aspiring published author with next to no knowledge of marketing. Bravo!

  73. Orville says:

    I’m in the process of writing an e-book on how to maintain your horses health and diagnose problems. Your site has a lot of useful information even though I’m doing a e- book I think the same principles apply.

  74. SimplySage says:

    Lots of exceptional nuts and bolts here. I love the part about the wink in your comment policy. 🙂 ‘Grats on Freshly Pressed!

  75. F. Kenneth Taylor says:

    Great post! Very informative & very true! I must admit I’ve fallen into the loop of a few things you said ‘not’ to do, but I will definitely be putting your knowledge & advice into good practice from now on! Look forward to reading more from you! Keep up the good work!

  76. Jae says:

    Concise, honest, and just the right dose of reality we all need. I met a first-time author who only sent out 10 query letters and now has published his second book with Simon & Schuster–an irritating outlier. It would be nice if it was easy, but alas…

    I especially appreciated your advice on editors. You’d be foolish not to invest in one. I’d recommend to other aspiring authors, see if you can’t do a trade if you really don’t have the funds. Often we have something valuable to offer another person needs. (I traded video editing for my professional editor’s time. Granted it took longer than a typical editor would take–about 8 months–but worth the time and trade).

    I’m definitely tweeting this. Thanks for your advice and words of wisdom!

  77. Benjamin Smith says:

    Wow, this really puts things in perspective. I’ll definitely be returning to this post when my novel-in-progress is a bit closer to completion.

  78. Dani Loebs says:

    I’m so glad to have discovered your blog of Freshly Pressed tonight! This was a great post and I’m happy to have read it. I’m a social media specialist at an ad agency, and I thought your marketing advice was spot on!

    I look forward to delving deeper into your blog. Thank you!

  79. bexstewart says:

    Really helpful blog, Catherine. I’m 22 and just beginning what will hopefully become a career in writing so I will be sure to visit this blog often for useful tips and reality checks!

  80. indiraadams says:

    What an informative, well-written article. It was so refreshing to read the honest truth, broken down by bits. It certainly made me look at self-publishing in a new way. Realistic, as you put it. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  81. Just!ne says:

    Thanks for the advice! I’ve self-published all of my books, two paperbacks, and a few Kindle books, and I am learning (though I knew beforehand) that being realistic, is the key to obtaining success. We all have dreams, but dreaming and doing are two separate walks of life, and I hope people, not just aspiring writers, understand that.

  82. Wife says:

    Fristly congratulations on freshly pressed I would never have found you other wise ! I enjoyed reading what you and others had to say about self-publishing and would some day like to join a lot of you as a published author but for the time being I think I will continue to reading everyone elses work and just stick to my blog. It seems to me publishing in any medium is a too bit scary. Thank you for sharing your wisdom

  83. Joe Labriola says:

    Great tips! We’re all doomed, haha. Well, it’s tough, but like you said, there are certain things we can do to help self-promote, expand customer bases, get the word out, etc. Such a new field of growing electronic print. I sell way more eBooks than paperbacks myself..

  84. Susana Marina says:

    Yay! I’m one of those who found this post thorugh the freshly pressed.
    Thanks for sharing.

  85. kathleenspasture says:

    Advice taken: when I talk to sales people who facilitiate self-publishing, how do I know what I really need and what the sales people want me to buy (from their menu of services)?? Can you follow-up this month on the self-publishing industry?


    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I never recommend going to one-stop-shop self-publishing services. In fact I wrote a post recently called Why You Should Have Some Self in Your Self-Publishing on just that topic. Instead you should be the project manager of your book, hiring recommended and trusted freelancers. If you go to a company—and I include the add ons the likes of CreateSpace, Lulu, etc. offer like editing and design—you can’t trust them to tell you what you need and what they’re just trying to make money off of. Their aim is to get you to go “all in” with them; your aim is to spend as little as possible producing the highest quality product. I’d avoid them at all costs.

  86. cooper says:

    #2 cannot be stressed enough. I’ve read a number of self-published books that included mis-spellings on every page (after about 20 pages of that I raised the white flag), or had every piece of expositional action italicized. I stopped prior to my eyeballs exploding.
    A distilled version of #5, and one I still have to constantly remember, – develop a thick skin. No matter how good your book may be, someone is going to think it’s junk.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Italicized expositional action? Wow. Never came across that before. Where do people get these ideas, I wonder? I used to say the first thing self-publishers need to do is STUDY REAL BOOKS. Apparently some of them have never seen one! 😦

      I agree with your thick skin point, and yes, someone is always going to think your book is junk. Unfortunately some self-publishers use this as an excuse not to professional polish, as in “But look at this book. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Editing isn’t going to change that. It’s just someone’s opinion” etc. etc. They don’t understand the difference between a reader not enjoying your book and why you shouldn’t italicizing your exposition…

  87. Daniel Geery says:

    Great post. Thank you! I look forward to more…

    P.S. My forthcoming novel will be available for some arbitrary and capricious price, once I come up with a title and write it, and I encourage everyone here to be looking for it and getting their credit card ready. P.P.S. Just kidding, but I do appreciate this article and have internalized the concepts. Daniel Geery

  88. Vinny Grette says:

    Much useful info. I’d like to follow, but can’t find a way. This is my second comment on same, because I noticed there is a box to click below my comment that allows me to follow you. Now to see if it will work 🙂

  89. Al Philipson says:

    At AKW Books, we use two editors:

    -A “story editor” (analogous to your structural editor) to clean up the story line, get rid of “info-dumps”, and often help the author restructure the book

    -A copy editor who also does proof reading.

    Now, the most important thing about editors is that even the copy editor should understand what makes a good book. Little things like eliminating unnecessary dialog tags, repeated words (same word at the first of each paragraph), passive voice, weak writing habits (“He moved across the room” [– YUCK!]), and such.

    We have some pretty talented authors, but not one of them has produced a manuscript that didn’t need editing. The big problem is that the author has spent too much time with his/her story and is blind to its faults. A second and third pair of eyes is necessary and those eyes had better understand the craft of writing (preferably published authors, but I’ve seen some very good editors who do better at fixing other people’s work than they do writing their own).

    That being said, there are a LOT of charlatans out there calling themselves “editors”. Some will just run a spell check against the manuscript and charge the author a small fortune. So, always get references before plunking down your hard-earned cash. If you see a “thank you” to a particular editor on the dedication page of a book that’s selling well (and you like), you might want to look into that editor. Always do your homework!

    Your name is your brand! Our imprint on a book won’t make a tinker’s difference in sales (when is that last time you noticed the imprint on a book when you were shopping?). The author’s name is the big thing. So don’t do anything that will reflect poorly on your name (like trying to sell an un-edited book).

    And no, you can’t engage me to edit your book (this isn’t a sales pitch). I’m too busy. And no, AKW isn’t taking new submissions at this time (we have more than enough, which is why I’m too busy).

    • Mel Dawn says:

      Thanks for the great post! I’ve been working on my blog, short stories and articles. I’ll be outlining my next “real” book shortly. Good point about actually having written the book first, before worrying about whether to self-publish or find an agent.

  90. Dream Job Diva says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your post.
    No, I am not a writer and I will not write (yet), however it seems as everyone around me does write and publish. That is why I started to read your blog.
    Than I realised that your comments are also valuable for other businesses. It doesn’t matter if it is a book, candy or coaching for that matter – your business (products/ services) are at the end of the day just a product a real businessman need to sell in order to generate the profit.

  91. kylie m interiors says:

    Fabulous. A blogger who tells it how it is, I love it! Totally valid for me too as I checked this out as I was taking a break from writing my book on decorating. I am now a faithful follower, thanks for saying it like it is 🙂

  92. Pink Ninjabi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing as this definitely demystifies the process a lot better for me as I was trying to understand exactly what are the steps.

    Thank you so much, and I look forward to reading more of your adventures!


  93. Samantha says:

    Great post! I’ve been working on a novel since November and am thinking of going the self-publishing route. Sometimes I tend to think I’m a better editor than writer, so i’ve been looking to edit others’ books, etc., but I feel that everyone tends to be worse at editing their own work, thus, the need for an editor. This was all great advice, especially about connecting rather than shamelessly promoting your work. If you’re already connecting online through social media, it will make it even easier to use social media effectively to promote your work without making it off-putting. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  94. ezekelalan says:

    Reblogged this on Ezekel Alan and commented:
    This is simply one of the most honest, practical and useful blogs I’ve read on the challenges of selling self-published novels, and also on how to do it successfully. Very well written and extremely helpful.

  95. ezekelalan says:

    This is simply one of the most honest, practical and useful blogs I’ve read on the challenges of selling self-published novels, and also on how to do it successfully. Very well written and extremely helpful.

  96. tomdharris says:

    What a great post Catherine, common sense galore. I’m just at the end of the first month of self publishing my YA novel The Amber Room. I’ve not marketed the book perfectly and have done things that I now realise were a bit of a mistake, but I always hope I come across as being just me – but who knows? About a week ago though I realised that I was beginning to get a little caught up with my sales stats and marketing – groan, what have I become 😦 – and so I decided to have a week of reduced social networking which was harder than I would have believed, but I wrote 16,000 words of my next novel and it felt great to write again. What I learned though was I could not ‘go dark’ or hide in a metaphorical cabin, because I didn’t want to and just couldn’t. I had friends to think about, guest blog posts, my own blog and I realised that I have to be totally disciplined and put everything first. Being a self-published author is a massive juggling act, where writing and marketing become a marriage. It may not always be happy, but once that book went out there I made a promise and a vow and now I have to stand by it – as well as having an affair with the follow up novel, but that’s okay – right? Blimey, it’s wonderful to feel alive isn’t it! Thanks for sharing so much valuable information in this post. I was told this was a fantastic blog, guess they were right 🙂 Cheers.

  97. rachelenichols says:

    I have my own reason for wanting to self-publish. I only expect to sell a few hundred copies.
    Because I live on disability, I am afraid of losing it, even if I manage to break in with one of the big 6. 🙂 Chances are I’m not the next J.K. Rowling, so I would probably receive $2000 one month and $1000 or so a few months later. That would wreck my disabilty income. (I’m only allowed $85 a month, before I start losing $1 for every 2 I earn.) At least, by self-publishing the money would come in in driblets of less than $100 each month rather than lump sums that would count against me. My marketing skills are practically zero, and unless you are already well known, you are expected to self-promote whether self or traditionally published. There is the stigma, especially for fiction, but it is slightly less than in the past.
    I also live in a small town, so most promoting would have to be online anyhow, unless i chose to travel from town to town on my own dime

  98. Rachel Heller says:

    Thank you for this series! I’m writing a memoir/travelogue about my experiences in the Peace Corps in the 1980’s and I was wondering if you’d give any different advice for non-fiction writers. And how do you decide if a book is worth sending to traditional publishers?

    I hope you won’t hate me if I say I don’t like coffee, relying on tea for my caffeine.

  99. Cardello, Patricia says:

    A wonderful article and so very to the point. I self published a children’s picture book and have achieved great success. My projections for this year and the next few years are substantial. The reason is exactly what you have stated; I did not write a book as much as I opened a business. My business is the promotion, marketing and distribution of my book. When I tell other people or other writers this they get offended. They want to believe in the romance and fantacy of writing a book. I tell people – I decided to open a business and that business took on a literary slant – but a business it is.

    The fantasy of a book selling a 100,000 copies on it’s own is just that – a fantasy. Even if you go the way of a traditional publisher they are only gong to spend so much money on promoting a book before is shows up in the remainders section at Book Expo.

    I can spot a writer that has this understanding – the rest I tell to take their money and go on a long vacation because the money will be better spent. Unless of course their intention is only to be able to tell people they wriote a book. That was never my intention – my intention has always been for this book to lead to profitability with an ultimate goal to segue the book into an annimated feature film – all within the relm of possibliity. I even have been approached by traditional publishers at a few of my trade shows that now see the profitability in what I am doing.

    That said: all self published authors have to understand that wiriting a book is the easy part – getting it out there is where the real work comes in.

  100. Normandie says:

    Reblogged this on Writing on Board and commented:
    This is not only very funny, but also very, very true. Now, I’m not self-publishing anything. But I do edit, and I do acquire, and I do write books, and I do buy. This means that all of Catherine’s advice on paying attention to the details is important to me as an editor, a writer, and a reader.

  101. Trish & Norah's BIG Giveaway says:

    This is, hands down, the very BEST article on self-publishing I have ever read. You nailed everything. You brought up everything I’ve been wanting to say for the last year. Kudos. Perfectly said. (or written)

  102. toracullip says:

    This is perfect timing that I stumbled across this post via a roundabout route as I’m just about to self-publish my book and I’ve already seen two friends suffer massive disappointment by not having a best-seller. It’s taken me longer than I thought to get my book through the final stages and now I’ve already come to my senses about the book. Love your first point, that’s the bit I ‘got’ these last few weeks. Now I feel somewhat less pressure and somewhat more excitement about trying to get my book out there.

  103. Adrienne Brown says:

    My Pastor just wrote a book. How do we get people to buy his book. It’s a really good book.

  104. Dennis says:

    I have completed a first draft on my “New Young Adult” novel. It involves horror & romance. I’m busy on rewrites now & will probably have to go the e-book route b/c the traditional publishing path is so difficult and time-consuming.

  105. Jim Powell says:

    What a great post. I have written a couple books and I am working on a couple more, but I have never moved towards publishing them (I really cannot tell you why?). I suppose my biggest personal stumbling blocks have been questions about an editor (Do I need one, how do I find one, what will it cost, etc.). I guess it’s time to go to the local college and look for a starving English Literature grad student.

    Thank you, J.D. Powell

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