“The good news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself.” — Lori Lesko
❓ What You’ll Learn
- ✍️ How to write in public?
- ⚖️ How to validate demand?
- 🤓 How to build a community of readers?
- 📚 How will AI streamline book creation?
- 🎙️ How to market books on podcasts?
- 🚅 How to write about rapidly-changing topics?
- 📤 How to use print-on-demand?
💎 Why It Matters
Gatekeepers have historically decided what gets published.
Traditional publishers act as gatekeepers. They pick what you read.
Self-publishing makes it easier for you to publish “long-tail” books. With more control and upside. See:
- Philip Kiely made $34,524 with Writing for Software Developers
- Jon Sherman made $25,000 with 101 Mistakes All Golfers Make
- Alex Ellis made $10,396 in 1 month with Serverless for Everyone Else
- Arvid Kahl • Zero to Sold and Embedded Entrepreneur focus on entrepreneurship
- Michael Gill • Maker Minions focuses on developing efficient work processes
- Sherry Walling • The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together focuses on stress management for entrepreneurs
- Rob Hope • Landing Page Hot Tips focuses on landing page design and conversion
- Rob Fitzpatrick • The Mom Test focuses on talking to customers
- Steph Smith • Doing Content Right focuses on creating, writing, and scaling blogs and newsletters
- Steve Schoger and Adam Wathan • Refactoring UI focuses on designing user interfaces
- Daniel Vassallo • The Good Parts of AWS focuses on mastering Amazon Web Services
- Swizec Teller • Senior Engineer Mindset focuses on the mindset of a senior engineer
- Gumroad • Publish and sell ebooks
- Hemingway • Check the complexity of your writing
- Grammarly • Check your grammar and spelling
- Scrivener • Create, manage and publish your writing
- Ulysses • Writing app with built-in proofreader and editing assistance
- Magic Author • Write, translate and format your books
- Typora • Minimalist markdown editor
- Foster • Get help from writers, editors, and experts.
- Scribe Media • Write, edit, publish and market your books with premium guidance
- StreetLib • Distribute your ebooks, audiobooks comics and more
- Reedsy • Find editors, designers, marketers, ghostwriters and more
- Ebook Launch • Edit, design and format ebooks
- PrintNinja • Print hardcover and paperback books
- AI will streamlinebook creation. This helps you automate mundane tasks.
- Speechki and Murf turn text to speech.
- GPT-3 performs a lot of natural language tasks.
- Marlowe gives a high-level analysis of your writing.
- Grammarly and ProWritingAid check grammar and spelling.
- DeepL and Systran translate dozens of languages in seconds.
- DALL·E 2 creates images and art from natural language descriptions.
- Traditional publishers will become amplifiers. They will bet on potential or proof to minimize risks.
- Seth Godin got picked by Portfolio after selling 10,000 copies of Purple Cow.
- J.A. Konrath got picked by Kensington after selling 2,000,000+ self-published ebooks.
- Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg got picked by Portfolio after succeeding with Traction.
- T.R. Ragan signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer after selling 300,000 books as a self-published author.
- Mark Manson got picked by HarperCollins after selling thousands of copies of Models: Attract Women Through Honesty.
- Andy Weir self-published and sold 35,000 copies of The Martian before he got picked by Random House and 20th Century Fox for the film.
- Authors will launch communities for their readers. This makes your message stickier and helps you keep readers in your ecosystem.
- Phil Sturgeon launched a free community for Build APIs You Won’t Hate readers.
- Teresa Torres launched a paid community for Continuous Discovery Habits readers.
- Rob Fitzpatrick launched Robfitz in progress with early ideas, daily struggles and Q&As.
- Shawn Wang gives 2,000+ developers access to a community with The Coding Career Handbook.
- Yoroomie offers The Guide to No Code Marketplaces as part of the Everything Marketplaces community.
- Jason Swett gives Rails developers access to a private Slack channel as part of The Complete Guide to Rails Testing.
- Write in public. Crowdsource ideas, get feedback and build early readership.
- Daren Smith included public feedback into Craftsman Creative.
- Michele Hansen wrote Deploy Empathy in public to get honest feedback.
- Arvid Kahl wrote The Embedded Entrepreneur with the help of 500+ founders.
- Visakan Veerasamy wrote Friendly Ambitious Nerd and Introspect by talking to people.
- Kevon Cheung wrote Find Joy in Chaos in public using live calls, videos and beta readers.
- Create audio versions of your books. Use Podcastle, Findaway Voices and ACX to create audiobooks and boost the total addressable market for your message.
- Use podcasts to market books. Borrow trust from podcast hosts and build connections with potential readers.
- Derek Sivers talked about Anything You Want that made $500,000+ in sales.
- SPA Girls talked about Kick Author Overwhelm to the Curb on their own podcast.
- Sherry Walling talked about The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together.
- Theodora Taylor talked about 7 Figure Fiction on how to build a 7-figure author business.
- Publish revised editions. Turn readers into repeat customers and cover fast-moving areas such as programming tools and frameworks.
- Tony Redmond co-authored the 9th edition of Office 365 for IT Pros.
- Robin Wieruch wrote 4 programming books and updated them as needed.
- Leda Muir wrote the First Anniversary Edition of Mooncallers: Stars Wake.
- Luca Dellanna wrote the 3rd edition of 100 Truths You Will Learn Too Late.
- Greg Lim wrote Beginning Angular with Typescript for Angular 9. Then updated it to Angular 12.
- Joanna Penn wrote the 3rd edition of How to Market a Book and How To Make a Living with Your Writing.
- Presell books. Validate demand and find people ready to support you when the book launches.
- Tracy Osborn got ~$5,000 preselling Hello Web App.
- Steph Smith got $4,000 preselling Doing Content Right.
- Alex Hillman presold 150 copies of The Tiny MBA in a few hours.
- Jason Swett presold “Angular for Rails Developers” for $49 and got 7 sales.
- Jon Yongfook got $12,000 preselling “Growth Hacking Handbook” in 1 month.
- Marc-André Giroux presold Production Ready GraphQL before its official launch.
- Nicolas Dupont presold The Engineering Manager’s Survival Guide and got 10 sales.Nils Mehlhorn presold 100 copies of NgRx Book: Reactive State Management for Angular.
- Launching to Crickets • You’ll launch into the void if you don’t market the book before publishing.
- Competitor Risk • It’s hard to stand out among ~1,700,000 self-published books per year.
- Platform Risk • You’re subject to platforms’ terms and fees.
🔑 Key Lessons
- Small books can be successful too. Sacha Greif wrote Step by Step UI Design. A 40-page book that generated $6,663 in 48 hours and $25,000 in a month.
- Self-publishing leads to higher royalty rates. Traditional publishers pay 10% royalties on average. While self-publishers can get up to 70% when selling on marketplaces and up to 97% when selling directly.
- Self-publishing helps authors take full control over their books. This unlocks creative control, higher revenue and rights licensing.Self-publishing unlocks long-tail ideas. Without gatekeepers, we experiment more, fail more and succeed more.
🔥 Hot Takes
- Writing books is largely a charitable act. Don’t write to make money. Write to get a message out. Seth Godin says “Publishing a book is really nothing but a socially acceptable opportunity to promote yourself and your ideas far and wide and often”.
- We’ll see entire comics or graphic novels generated with DALL·E 2. Julian Glander used DALL·E 2 to generate art and GPT-3 Playground to generate text for Frog Comic.
“Self-publishing transfers the responsibilities of traditional publishers to authors. Which I don’t want.”
You can control the production process as a self-published author. It can be wise to take the traditional route if you prioritize writing over publishing. If you get permission to.
“Traditional publishers invest their own money, not mine.”
With great risk comes great reward. Traditional publishers do risk their money. Be it non-refundable book advances or publishing costs. That’s why they keep up to ~90% of yours.
“Self-publishing has led to more noise. These days everyone’s an author.”
We can’t blame people for following their dreams. With 1% acceptance rates, traditional publishing is a tough field to stand out. Rob Hope says “all you need to do to be an author is to just put in the work”.
“Traditional publishers signal quality.”
Traditional publishers are experts at picking and publishing quality books. Yet their judgment is not error-free. Amanda Hocking received rejections for 9 years. She went the self-publishing route. Sold 1,500,000 books. Then signed a $2,000,000 deal with St. Martin’s Press.
- Looking for self-published authors • The tweet behind this report.
- Print On Demand 101 • Steven Spatz talks about how to self-publish books with print-on-demand
- Amazon International Markets Explained • Dave Chesson talks about selling Kindle books internationally
📁 Related Reports
- Digital Products • Ebooks are a type of digital products.
- Presales • Preselling helps you validate demand for your books.
- Personal Brands • People buy from authors that resonate with them.
- Build in Public • Build early readership and get valuable feedback.
- Audience-First Products • Build trust by focusing on people’s problems.
Thanks to Rob Hope, Eric Chou, Soma Mandal, Maciej Cupial, Stewart Townsend, Tyler Priest, Krish and Shashank. We had a great time jamming on this report.
✏️ Emin researched and wrote this report. Dru researched and edited this report.
📈 What else?
Trends PRO #0092 — Self-Publishing has more insights.
What you’ll get:
- 31 Self-Published Authors (244% More)
- 37 Self-Publishing Tools (428% More)
- 16 Self-Publishing Services (166% More)
- 10 Predictions (233% More)
- 18 Opportunities (260% More)
- 7 Risks (133% More)
- 10 Key Lessons (150% More)
- 5 Key Lessons (150% More)
- 10 Links (233% More)
With Trends Pro you’ll learn:
- (📈 Pro) How to boost the perceived value of your book?
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- (📈 Pro) How to build appealing book visuals?
- (📈 Pro) How to boost your book’s visibility?
- (📈 Pro) What to do before writing a book?
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