Self-Publishing as a Step Toward Traditional Publishing

Yesterday I held a Self-Publishing Boot Camp all-day workshop in conjunction with the San Francisco Writers Conference. Twenty authors attended, ready to get their book into readers’ hands. Some were committed to self-publishing. Others were looking to self-publishing as a step on the road to a traditional publishing deal. Here is a summary of what we talked about, including links that you can download to presentations by Mark Coker of Smashwords, Brian Felsen of BookBaby, Ron Martinez of Aerbook Maker, and Agent Savant Laurie McLean of the San Francisco Writers University.

Self-Publishing as a Step to Traditional Publishing

It’s possible! More authors, agents, and publishers at the SF Writers Conference than ever recommended self-publishing as a “step,” not just as an alternative.

You’ve noticed it. Traditional publishing has been experiencing a massive fail in the last few years in a dramatic see-saw ride to the bottom as massive self-publishing growth teetered authors to the top.

This year, the self-publishing and traditional publishing paths are starting to meet. I feel like it’s been a long journey, with both parties hacking away in a jungle to create a path through the overgrowth toward an intersection where we can have a conversation. It happened, thanks to massively successful romance author Belle Andre and the open-mindedness (and profit-hungry) Harlequin.

Bella is prolific beyond belief (a new novel every three months!) and has been, and will continue to publish her ebooks using Smashwords and other tools, but will publish print books with Harlequin. This is no small news. Traditional publishing has been desperately grabbing all rights or nothing – print, ebook, movie, all of it. Andre and Harlequin have set a precedent. They’re not a Big 6 (5,4,3…) publisher and it’ll be interesting to watch other traditional houses follow suit. Thank you Bella! Thank you Harlequin! And thank you to Mark Coker!

Self-Publishing Boot Camp Report

I started the day off with a summary of all the tools and service I like the most: the most reputable, easy-to-use, and cost-effective tools on the market. By the end of the day, I tell my students, you’ll be able to identify which of these tools and services are right for you, so you can get started on your self-publishing journey tomorrow. Find my presentation here: Choosing the Best Tools & Services for Your Self-Publishing Journey.

Mark Coker of Smashwords

Mark Coker of Smashwords was my first presenter yesterday at the Self-Publishing Boot Camp. I love Mark’s presentations not only because Smashwords really listens to authors and readers and delivers the technology that allows us to succeed, but because he always evolves his talks. Never the same one twice.

Mark showed us some charts and graphs to demonstrate “break-out” successes by authors. Some successes were due to cover art changes. Others were thanks to pricing strategies. Price your book low to gain fans, and raise your prices as you succeed, was one piece of advice. Another was to offer at least one of your books for free. Fans are more valuable than profit margin, at least at first, in an author’s career. You can find Mark Coker’s slideset here: How to Reach More Readers with Self-Published Books.

Brian Felsen of BookBaby

Brian Felsen from BookBaby wowed the students next, not only with the ease-of-use (send us your files, we’ll format them for you), but tips on design – creating great book covers actually sell more books. He also gave us a quick tutorial on what makes an effective author website. (Starting to see a theme, here?) Regarding multimedia books, he let us know what makes Apple happy and what makes Apple sad. “I don’t like to make Apple sad,” he said. We were listening! Like Coker, Felsen stressed the importance of creating a quality book. “Readers are always just a click away from a cat playing a piano,” he said. And print is alive. Create print books. BookBaby offer a short-run printing service for that.

Ron Martinez of Aerbook Maker

It’s always fun to have Ron Martinez at the boot camps because none of the memoir writers, novelists, and other “immersive” book authors think they want to create a multimedia picture book. But when Ron demonstrates Aerbook Maker, you can see minds being blown and lightbulbs going off in heads all over the room. After witnessing the absolute ease of creating a multimedia picture book demonstrated, authors start thinking “add-on products” to distribute for free or for little cost to market their books. The bells and whistles are also astounding. Free samples of your book via SMS, for example. Ron gave us a mobile phone number to text message, along with a keyword, and we those of us with phones got his entire presentation on our mobile devices. You can get it too, just message (213) 986-2800 and enter the word “aerbook” and prepare to be wowed.

Agent Savant Laurie McLean

Finally, “Agent Savant” Laurie McLean, aka “The Energizer Bunny,” came in (with a bag of chocolate kisses) to demystify social media marketing with Twitter, Facebook, your blog, and other tools. You don’t have to do it all, she told us, “play the field and only commit to the ones you like.” (The romance writers liked that one.) “A blog post a day is a book a year. (I like this system: blog with WordPress and then when you’re ready to create a book, use Pressbooks to consume your blog and, voila, you’ve got a first draft.) I’ve posted her presentation here: Tweet and Shout: Blogging, Marketing and Promotion.

Publish Early and Often: Beta Readers

Another topic that came up during the day was to publish early and often, wooing “beta readers” to make sure you’re delivering the book your readers want, and that you’re delivering a book that is complete, error free, and ready with an audience who supports you. Tools that allow you to do this are the usual social media suspects, but also LeanPub and Gumroad, two newbies to the self-publishing scene very worth checking out in my opinion.


I tweeted a lot during the day, and you can find more facts and advice, in 140-character tidbits, in my @selfpubbootcamp Twitter stream.