Not that long ago, self-publication was seen as the foolhardy act of the rank amateur who couldn't convince a "legitimate" publishing house to take his work. Today, now that the internet age has spurred the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit among those who want to succeed with their own ideas rather than handing them over to a larger company, that's no longer nearly so true. Many people have chosen to self-publish their work strictly as a business decision. Perhaps they want greater control over their product. Perhaps they want a greater share of the profits, or final say in how the book is marketed. Maybe their desired market simply isn't a traditional one.
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Peter Bowerman is a successful freelance writer in the commercial market who rocketed to success with his first self-published book, "The Well-Fed Writer," followed that up with "The Well-Fed Writer: Back for Seconds," and has now packaged the keys to his success for other writers in "The Well-Fed Self-Publisher" (TWFSP). He chose to self-publish for several reasons: greater control of the process was certainly one of them, but he also felt he could do better by overseeing the process himself than by handing it over to a publisher. Why? Because he believes that unless you're selling to a mainstream market, many of the marketing efforts of a publishing company will be ineffective compared to the highly-targeted efforts you can put together yourself. Besides, as he points out, these days publishing companies expect you to do much of the marketing yourself anyway, so why not pocket more of the profits as well?
Mr. Bowerman freely admits that he's biased toward self-publishing as opposed to more traditional methods, but he strives to provide enough information to help you make your own decisions. He firmly believes that this is a business, and his book is aimed at those who want to make money with their books. While he is optimistic about the possibilities inherent in self-publishing, he in no way undersells the amount of effort required to make it work. It was clear to me after reading this book that in order to make a significant amount of money by self-publishing your work, you need to not only have a superior product, but be willing to market and sell it and yourself as a full-time job.
Scope and Focus
I waited to review this book until I had also read "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Publishing" (CIGSP) (review to come soon), as I wanted the comparison to give me a better idea of the quality of information in both books. The most obvious difference is that TWFSP is fairly specifically aimed at authors of niche market books--primarily non-fiction--who have written quality products and seriously wish to market and sell them to make a profit. If you want to self-publish a novel for the mainstream market or a family history just for friends and family you'll still find some handy information in here, but the book isn't really aimed at you and you'll find much of it irrelevant.
For folks who fit the book's intended audience, however, "The Well-Fed Self-Publisher" is a dragon's hoard of clear, well-presented information. Because of the tight focus, Bowerman is able to present highly targeted and relevant information that walks you through each step of the process. This makes the whole thing feel less overwhelming (although don't make the mistake of thinking it's simple!) and allows him to present a great deal of information on ways to cut your costs without cutting quality. By keeping his focus narrow he gives himself room for depth. The CIGSP does contain some information you might find useful that this book doesn't, primarily related to various niggly details of printing, binding, layout, and so on, but Bowerman skips much of that because of his audience assumptions and his assumptions regarding which tasks you'll farm out to professionals. I believe he made the right tradeoff choices for his intended audience.
TWFSP certainly makes a good example of Bowerman's precept, that it's entirely possible for a self-published book to be attractive, easy-to-read, high-quality, and well-marketed. Since you're self-publishing, however, the entire responsibility for making that happen rests with you. In order to help you achieve that goal, the book includes a great deal of helpful material. In part it's a case-study of Bowerman's own experiences, but always told from the viewpoint of how his experiences can help the reader--it isn't written as an ego-trip. Bowerman also includes information from other authors' experiences as well as his own research into self-publishing, all in a chatty and accessible style.
Chapter one details the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publication. As I mentioned this information is certainly affected by Bowerman's bias toward self-publishing, but he's open and frank about his feelings and provides a great deal of supporting information. Chapter two strives to make the evil specter of sales and marketing (teasingly labeled S&M) less frightening and more attainable.
Chapter three deals with the nuts-and-bolts of constructing a book, from cover to title, back cover copy to ISBN, copyright to typesetting, galleys to pricing. In some cases the CIGSP does provide a wider range of information, but I came away with the feeling that after reading TWFSP I had a much more concrete and practical notion of what I was doing--I think it's that focus & depth thing again.
Chapter four covers targeting your buyers and creating demand for your book, and it's a fascinating read. The marketing information in this book is far more detailed than that in the CIGSP, and of (I believe) a more practical bent for most self-published authors, since it focuses on highly-targeted marketing efforts, whereas the CIGSP has a more mainstream focus. Chapter eight, however, does bring the mainstream media into play in case you get that far. Chapter five covers the needs and role of your website in your marketing efforts, going so far as to address selling your own book, running an affiliate program, and more. Chapter nine covers various routes to extra free publicity, ten handles radio interviews (including podcasting!), and eleven details signings and speaking engagements.
Chapters six and seven address the difficulties of getting your book into bookstores, online bookstores, and buyers' hands, while chapter twelve delves into the realities of the POD (print-on-demand) world as it relates to the profit-minded author.
Finally, chapter thirteen goes into a surprising wealth of detail on spinoff revenue streams (bet you thought this was just about making money off of your books, huh?), and after that the book goes on to provide a number of collected tips and suggested resources.
The CIGSP was written by someone who has experience in the self-publishing world, but more experience in the mainstream publishing world, and it shows--that book does address some items traditional publishers care about as well as providing a few tidbits of inside information from the publishing business. It is also aimed at a much wider audience, including those who don't intend to make a profit with their self-published books.
If you're a talented writer in a niche market who wants to write and sell her own book, however, "The Well-Fed Self-Publisher" provides an incredible amount of information as well as plenty of pointers to more. It's written in an accessible, friendly style jam-packed full of information to absorb. It's encouraging in tone, yet never tries to soft-sell the amount of work involved in this endeavor. It's difficult to imagine trying to make a serious attempt at self-publishing without this book right next to my computer.
Review copy courtesy of Peter Bowerman
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