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Why you need to become a manager to self-publish successfully

“Self-publishing author” and “indie”, often seen as perfectly interchangeable, are two increasingly used terms, as “self-publishing” grows more popular every day. The problem with both these expressions is that they convey this totally incorrect idea that self-publishing authors are on their own. They’re all lone wolves who think they don’t need the help of others to succeed.

Well, self-publishing and “indie” have rapidly catched on, but everyone knows that this is not the truth. When self-publishing, you basically go through all the steps you’d go through when working with a publisher, except the first one (sending a thousand letters and getting as many rejections…). You work with an editor and a book designer, you heavily promote your book, you go to events and conferences, you build relationships, a reader base, and you carry on writing. It’s just about cutting a middleman who sometimes has no idea how to use the new media to promote your work.

What does this mean? Everyone talks about freedom. When you self-publish, you choose who to work with, final decisions are always yours, you keep your rights, you keep your royalties.. But there’s obviously a downside to that: with freedom comes responsibility. You are not on your own, but you are the only manager.

This is what Joanna Penn expresses in some way in her post: The Arc Of The Indie Author Journey. From First Book To CEO Of Your Global Media Empire. Except that even from the first book on, you are often CEO of your own publishing imprint. While this might sound scary, there’s a learning curve, as for anything else. You’ll quickly learn which decisions bring good results and which don’t. There are many challenges and you’ll have to make strategic choices for your book. One of them will be about human resources management and choosing the right professionals to work on your project.

You have several editors, a designer, and sometimes marketers or even translators working on every one of your books. And like any other company, you have to keep your suppliers happy and efficient. This means adapting your writing, your schedule, your habits in order to integrate their workflow into yours.

Good editors usually have little trouble finding work. When working with them, you’ll have to let them know in advance when you’ll need their help. Same thing goes for your cover designer. If you want good suppliers, you need to book them in advance, and to do this you need to have a clear writing schedule and stick to it. It’s usually impossible for an author’s first couple of books, but once you reach a consistent writing pace, and don’t let yourself get distracted too much by the notifications popping up on your phone, it becomes possible.

I know this might sound crazy: “why should I adapt myself to these people’s needs when I’m the one paying them?” Well that’s what management is also about: knowing how much you can ask of your employees/suppliers and making it as easy as possible for them to do a good job. When Steve Jobs asked Norman Foster to show him what they had done for Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, he told him: “don’t think of me as your client, think of me as one of your team“. The same thing works for you: companies that work well work as a team. You’re the boss, but you’re still in a team. Obviously, there’s a fine line between that and getting bullied by your suppliers, and, again, it’s up to you not to cross it.

But it’s not all about schedules and anticipation of needs. It’s also about the work itself. There are always going to be complications and delays when you’re not the one doing the job. The more you share about your book, your needs, your personality, the way you work, etc., the more you can minimize the risk of things going wrong. And if you don’t know your needs, seek an editorial assessment or a consultancy first, else you’ll most certainly end up realising you have paid for services you actually didn’t need…

So self-publishing authors are not alone, but they  have to write, market, publish, and manage a whole range of collaborations that ultimately will make the difference between an amateurish work and a high-quality book.

Written by: Ricardo Fayet

Ricardo is a startup enthusiast and likes to closely follow the publishing industry. He's co-founder at Reedsy, a marketplace connecting authors to vetted, industry-experienced editors, book designers, marketers and transl Read More

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2 Comments

  • Kristen Steele September 26, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I think you should add “should” into this sentence: You SHOULD work with an editor and a book designer, you SHOULD heavily promote your book, you SHOULD go to events and conferences…etc. Unfortunately, not all authors are doing these things! Of course, that’s also why many of them wonder why they aren’t selling books! The actual writing of the book is just one part of the equation for self-published authors.

    Reply

    • Ricardo Fayet October 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      Exactly. I’m glad there’s more and more education material out there for starting indie authors, and all of it starts with “you should hire professional help for editing and design”. A few years ago you might have been able to sell a bit without those, but today you don’t stand a chance if your book doesn’t feel professional.
      Many authors’ request is for help with the marketing, and I always answer by asking if they first have hired a professional editor and designer, because there is no point in even trying to promote something that is going to get a bad review as soon as it’s read…

      Reply

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