Great reasons to self-publish: 7 case histories

Writers who self-publish often reap enormous benefits that are personal and unique.

This goes way beyond the usual notion of self-publishing as either an alternative or a pathway to a traditional book deal.

Writing and publishing a book can strike an emotional chord of meaning and importance for the author that is rewarding beyond expectation.

Some experience the profound satisfaction of leaving a family legacy, or finally making sense of life experiences, or raising public awareness about a serious issue. Publishing your own book can also make sense financially and strategically for business purposes, as many writers have found.

Here are seven great reasons to self-publish with case histories from authors I’ve worked with.

Making sense of life experiences

Baby boomers of a certain age are reaching a life-cycle plateau past their years of building careers and raising children. They’re asking themselves: What happened? What did it all mean?

In his recent memoir Wrong Side of the Tracks, Ron McElroy, a flourishing real estate developer in Hawaii, Mexico and Southern California, tells the story of his struggle to overcome poverty, discrimination and violence as the son of an indigenous Hawaiian mother and emotionally shell-shocked, physically abusive father.

“I never really dug down beneath the funny bad stories,” Ron says, “like picking up my big brother in jail or getting beat up by neighborhood gangs or helping my mom get my father back home in one piece. Writing it down showed me it wasn’t so funny at all, in fact it was awful. It nearly killed me. How did I ever escape? I had to figure out and explain it to my wife and kids.”

This kind of self-discovery often produces a sense of urgency. It can’t tolerate the kind of frustrations and delay usually involved in getting an agent who can sell a memoir by an unknown writer with no platform.

Leaving a legacy

One writer wanted her children to know the true story of their grandmother’s escape from Germany during the holocaust.  The author’s mother had never wanted to speak about her experience as a nine-year-old thrown from the train just before reaching Auschwitz. But finally at the age of 88, she agreed to let her daughter tape a long series of interviews.

“I wanted my own kids had to have this information before it was too late, not only about their beloved Nana, but also her parents and older brother who died in the concentration camp. My mom had incredible stories of being protected by a network of German farmers who risked their own lives hiding Jews in their haystacks. They kept Nana alive until she could come to America. What a legacy! She always wanted to forget about it and just have a normal life, so no one knew the details of her experience. I had to preserve this.”

I’ve also worked with innovative entrepreneurs who built family fortunes, courageous creative artists, and other authors of multi-generational memoirs and novels eager to pass on their stories to generations to come.

These authors aren’t trying necessarily to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, though of course it would be nice. Their goal is to preserve the most significant details about what exactly happened that only they know. They envision their great-great grandchildren will one day read the memoir and understand more about their family history.

Why wait? There’s a lot to tell and life is short. Self-publishing provides a perfect solution.

Setting the record straight

John Montandon, a co-founder of several business media companies including magazines, radio and online publishing, wrote By His Own Blood about his 81-year-old father’s experience after he got AIDS from a bad blood transfusion in rural Texas. He remembered the way his father fell victim to heart-breaking prejudice and was shunned and denied proper care from the local institutions. So after his father died, Montandon felt compelled to write the shameful and infuriating true story as a testimonial to his dad and also to prevent this from happening to others.

“I’m most surprised and pleased that many of my readers who responded to the book with emails, blog posts or Amazon reviews find that they relate very directly to my story in various ways,”  he said.  ”One lady whose gay son committed suicide says the book has changed her life and she can now put a lot of her negative past behind her.  That is an example of an unintended consequence; one that I find extremely rewarding.  Other readers have shared with me how they think the book should be required reading in college psychology classes.”

Seizing control of the publishing process

Lee Geiger, a fast-moving day trader in the stock market, wrote a transgender love story called Pearls of Asia, and was able to get a literary agent pretty quickly. But then things began to sour. “During my very first meeting with Random House, a fresh-out-of-college kid looked me up and down and asked, ‘So how many Twitter followers do you have?’ I told him three, and that two of them were my kids. ‘That’s not going to help us market your book,’ he said. I walked away from this meeting wondering how many Twitter followers Ernest Hemingway had.”

Geiger is a successful guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As he began to realize how the book business really worked, he was increasingly appalled.

“Even if a publisher bought my book that very day, it would be 12-18 months before it ever saw a bookstore shelf,” he said. ” It would then be included in a quarterly catalog, along with dozens of other books. If a bookstore decided to carry my book, it would have only six weeks to prove it could sell before being returned and replaced by another book. ‘Ninety percent of all published books don’t make money,’ this rep told me, ‘so we have to keep bringing in new books.’

Are you kidding me? I sweated over this novel for three years, you want me to sign my rights away to a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately publisher, and it only has six weeks to prove itself? Thanks, but no thanks. My book is like a fine wine, and it needs time to age.”

Making More Money

Simon Royle is a British-born international businessman who wrote the techno-thriller TAG and a follow-up novel called Bangkok Burn. He was impatient with the traditional agent/publisher process and also confident he’d make more money on his own in the long term. So he self-published both books, in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

“The financial reward is not insignificant,” he told me. “I have already earned back the money I spent on developmental editing and self-marketing and am in profit; meanwhile the combined income from both books is roughly $1K a month. That income will grow with each book and although the fortunes of each wax and wane, the trend is upwards every month.

Changing the World

An attorney who specializes in food and drug law, Margaret Kathrein’s son Jonathan was nearly killed in a great white shark attack off Stinson Beach in Northern California. She decided to self-publish because of the urgency of her mission to increase knowledge and safety in the public consciousness regarding living near sharks.

Therefore, instead of focusing on his horrific trauma and painful recovery, Margaret’s book Far From Shore explains the dangerous misunderstandings most humans have about these iconic creatures. Meanwhile Jonathan used his reluctant fame to speak at schools and colleges about living near sharks and wrote his own book Don’t Fear the Shark. They’ve appeared together at bookstores and in major national print and broadcast media, including Dateline NBC, the Discovery Channel’s “Primal Scream” special, Sports Illustrated and elsewhere in their mutual campaign, and both books have sold widely.

Creating a calling card for business

Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz are a husband and wife team of psychologists who help sustain long-term marriages at workshops and trainings. They self-published their book Building a Love that Lasts and used it to promote their weekend workshops. They’d give away free copies when they spoke at conferences and couples’ retreats, build the cost of a copy into the price of one of their many training sessions, and put discounted copies in the back of the room whenever appropriate. Eventually they had sold and distributed more than 15,000 copies and were approached by a major book publisher who made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Many other authors who offer training or consultations in the field of relationships, parenting, cooking, dieting, health and fitness, real estate, wealth management and investing, and other self-help fields publish their own books. Some have the intention of pitching to commercial publishers eventually, but many don’t.

__________________________

What about you?

Authors, does self-publishing make more sense for your book and circumstances than taking the traditional route to finding an agent and commercial publisher?  If so, what are your reasons and motivations?  If not, same question!

We’d love to hear your story here in comments.

28 Responses to Great reasons to self-publish: 7 case histories

  1. MKS

    I think there is value to both traditional and self publishing. They both require a certain degree of work, just in different areas. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by talented people to help with a cover and editing. I find the process enormously rewarding.

    Traditional publishing I think offers a more immediate satisfaction that comes with the validation of a publishing house behind you. In return you lose a lot of control over the editing and cover.

    I think it boils down largely to what sort of vision you have for your book vs what sorts of resources are available to you. The nice thing is that there is a choice now.

  2. R.E. McDermott

    I guess I’m with Lee Geiger. I was all for going the traditional route until I actually understood how things work. I come from a marine background, managing shipbuilding projects for the past 20 years. It’s not unusual to start from scratchings on a napkin to designing, building, sea-trialing, and delivering a state of the art commercial ship in 15 to 18 months. That normally includes a library of 5 or 6 hundred technical manuals and several thousand drawings, all of which have to be right or someone might die. When I realized it took about the same amount of time to turn a finished manuscript into a book, I knew that would never work for me. I published my first thriller Deadly Straits in June of last year, and the sequel Deadly Coast last month. Both are doing well, and I’m happy I went the self-pubbed route. I’m way too much of a control freak to wait around for things to get done.

  3. Linda Adams

    If you’d asked me five years ago if I was going to self-publish, I would have said “No, way!” To me, it had that feeling that if I couldn’t get my novel published, I would be a failure.

    But a few years ago, as SP began to unfold, I noticed a trend in the publishing industry — as a reader. Publishers seemed to be narrowing their focus, maybe trying to take on less risk by going for more sure things, and I’m a cross-genre writer (contemporary fantasy/action-adventure thriller). Publishers are looking for different but the same, and I’m just in the different category. Did I want to spend a year trying to sell the book, have agents ask for fulls, and then get rejections because it’s a little too unusual? And that’s how I arrived at SPing.

    I’m still working on the revisions and sorting out a few thorny problems. Soon, soon!

    Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller

  4. Cynthia Washburn

    Great article. It leaves me wondering who the writers are that seek, year after year, a traditional publisher to publish their work.

  5. Ernie Zelinski

    I first self-published my first book in 1989 due to necessity. No publisher would touch that book. I also self-published my second book in 1991, because no publisher would publish it. The book still sells 4,000 to 5,000 copies a year and makes me $10,0000 ot $12,000 a year in profits.

    I have self-published several other books and have never lost money on any of them.
    Nevertheless, I would consider a traditional publisher for various projects, including one that I am sure would sell 50,000 to 100,000 copies within three or four years. The reason that I would turn over this project to a major publisher is that I could become financially insolvent if the print edition of this book sells as well as I think it would. Of course, most writers are ignornant of how a book’s success can make a small publisher insolvent. But I won’t get into that.

    Having said that, I still have my top-10 reasons for self-publishing, one of which is that the print edition of a book can cost me as little as $1.25 per copy when I print 10,000 copies or more. This means that I can give a lot of copies away without having to spend a lot of money. In fact, I have given away over 13,000 copies of my books over the years, which is one of the many factors that have helped me sell 750,000 copies of my books worldwide.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 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)

  6. Lexi Revellian

    In two years I’ve sold 58,000 ebooks, made more money than from my day job, been interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and had emails from fans (a real thrill).

    This started after I’d spent a year trying to find an agent; though I had near misses, a year was enough time to waste. I knew ‘Remix’ was good, and that readers would like it given the opportunity.

    I love being in control. I taught myself Adobe Photoshop to make my covers, and learned to format ebooks and paperbacks. Six or eight beta readers do a better job, in my opinion, than most editors. I’m so pleased I self-published when I did. When Trident Media NY approached me this year, I thought long and hard and turned them down – though I do wonder, given the sales I’ve achieved on my own (mostly digital), how many one of the Big Six could have sold…

  7. Alan Rinzler

    A few responses to comments above:

    MKS,

    During my many years as a traditional publisher, our authors never lost control of the editing. All changes and corrections were suggested only, and the author was free to accept or reject. What the publisher can do if there’s a major disagreement, according to the contract, is declare the manuscript “unacceptable” but that happens very rarely. In fact the only cases I know of relate to potential legal problems that could be dangerous to the author. As for the jacket, that’s always negotiable. A publisher doesn’t want an unhappy author, believe me. Those occasions where an author hated what our art director submitted, we changed it.

    Ernie,

    You do a terrific job self-publishing, so I really doubt you’d go bust over printing a successful book. Yes, it takes a 10K plus press run to get the unit price down to $1.25 per copy. But remember that cautious brick and mortar and online retailers are ordering only a few weeks worth of books these days. So better to wait until the book starts really moving, even accumulating back orders, before ordering a really large run. It’s also possible to negotiate terms with printers that allow you to schedule payments over the duration of the book’s success. As for giving away so many books, it’s usually a very good idea, but in this case, you’ll have to analyze the cost versus return on investment. Considering your self-publishing success so far, you can do it, Ernie.

    Lexi,

    Congratulations! I’m very impressed with your accomplishments and success self-publishing. Your website, moreover, is well-written and useful. Also witty, always a plus.

  8. Georgette Todd

    Although I have an agent, who is far better than my last one, I told her upfront that I’m moving ahead with the self-published route (Amazon CreateSpace) for my debut book. All that’s left to do is format the interior and complete the book jacket back cover. The estimated release date is December 1, 2012. I doubt she can get me a deal before it goes live but that doesn’t matter now – one way or another, it’s going to be available to the masses, and much sooner w/ CS. If I wasn’t in the process of self-publishing, I would be very depressed and wildly frustrated in waiting and waiting and waiting…for others to handle my fate.

    So far so good with the process of self-publishing – it’s moving along a lot quicker than traditional would. Only real problem is finding tips on how to build a presence online. Social media is a lot harder than I thought.

  9. Anna Erishkigal

    Lots of helpful advice here. I’m still in that ‘swamped learning curve’ phase trying to find that work/creative balance between marketing, editing, and writing new content. The non-fiction is an easy sell (I could scribble the information on lipstick on a brown paper bag and people would plunk down $24.95 for a copy), but the fiction work is just going to take time to build an audience no matter how cheaply I sell it (or give it away) because the market is so saturated.

    You have given me some new ideas to experiment with. Thank you!

  10. Sandra Novacek

    I have just “self-published” my late husband’s memoir – Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Rssistance by Charles Novacek, 1021 Press, 2012. The book has been endorsed by Madeleine Albright. Charles spent his last seven years writing about his life spent in the Czech resistance from the age of 11 to 20. We tried aggressively to find an agent and/or publisher without success. After he died I continued to try and finally decided to self-publish before something happened to me! We both felt strongly his story needed to be told as there is little published on the Czech resistance, espcially about a child in the resistance. His story: In 1938, Charles’idyllic childhood was shattered with the Munich Agreement, displacement of the Novacek family to Moravia and the ensuing Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. The family became actively involved in the Czech resistance. At the age of eleven Charles and his sister were trained for wartime resistance by their father and uncle: how to resist pain, hunger and fear―and to trust no one.Charles continued his work in the resistance after World War II ended as the Soviets occupied his homeland. He endured arrest, capture, and torture ultimately escaping his homeland across the German border in 1948 only to land in a displaced persons camp. He relocated to Venezuela and was finally able to immigrate with his family to the United States in 1956 where he taught himself English as his seventh language.

  11. M/R Johnson

    WOW! I AM A NEW AUTHOR WHO IS PLEASED TO BE INTRODUCED TO THIS WEBSITE. I HAVE HEARD OF THE HORROR STORIES OF AUTHORS WHO WISH TO GET PUBLISHED AND THE CHALLENGES THAT COME WITH LOOKING FOR AN AGENT. I MET A AUTHOR WHO PUBLISHED THROUGH CREATE A SPACE AND I NOW UNDERSTANDS KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. THE INFORMATION I HAVE RECEIVED TODAY I KNOW SELF PUBLISHING IS THE WAY TO GO. MY BOOK MEMOIRS OF AN ADDICT FACT OR FICTION FITS IN THE MESSAGE OF THIS PAGE. MY STORY IS TO IMPORTANT TO WAIT… PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW! THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION!

  12. Evelyne Holingue

    After several years spent doing my homework (attending conferences, subscribing to newsletters related to the business of writing and publishing, submitting regularly to editors and agents…), I had mostly accomplished one thing: receiving positive rejection letters.
    Positive is one word that writers cherish. But there is a limit to ‘positive’ when in the end it still means ‘no’.
    Editors and agents are of course entitled to their likes and dislikes. Most of them have been gracious and encouraging whenever I approached them. Yet I was more and more aware of the slight chances to break through in a traditional way.
    So last month, I decided to join the ever-growing number of writers who decide to independently publish their work. I picked one of my manuscripts for YA and, with the restless help of my techie husband, was able to give birth to Trapped in Paris, a fiction novel for 12 and up. I added the e-book option for e-readers.
    My experience in terms of publishing has been wonderfully satisfying. It was worthy of my time and effort. Amazing tools are now available – many for free or very low cost – to writers of all genres. I am proud of the physical aspect of my book, something that was still difficult to reach recently.
    I am well aware that I have only accomplished a small part of my work.
    I am now confronted with the daunting task of promoting my fiction novel among young readers. But my friends, published by big names in the publishing business, are facing the same issues. So, in many ways, it looks like we have embarked the same rocky boat.

  13. Marilyn Slagel

    Georgette, I recommend We Grow Media/Dan Blank for your social presence help. I’m currently taking Dan’s online class Build Your Platform. It is a fabulous class, 6 weeks in length. It is all about how to develop your online presence, develop your particular “brand” and has loads of great information. The class is relatively small. I think our class has about 15 members. It’s great to get to know people in this way. I believe Dan has another class starting the end of this month.

    I, too, chose SP for a couple of reasons. No way am I willing to wait on a TP for 18 months. I’m way too much of a control freak to allow someone else to make decisions that I am perfectly capable of making myself.

    Having said that, I did choose to go with Supported SP through Abbott Press in Indiana. Being a first time author, I wanted help while still maintaining control. My debut short novel will be out in December. I’m working on book #2 and not sure yet if I will require AP or if I’ll do it with a smaller firm.

  14. Rod Schulhauser

    I see the results of many authors who selfpublish – all with great results and satisfaction. I believe the key is for authors to get the right guidance and information in order to get the results they’re after. There is much to consider, not just from the creation and design of their book, but also the promotional aspects as well.
    In today’s world of technology, so much is possible that could not be realized 10 years ago. The key is for authors to find the process that meets their end goals, budget and dreams.

  15. Carmen Anthony Fiore

    I’ve hitched my publishing wagon to Amazon’s Kindle program. When I get the publishing rights back from publishers, who never really promoted my work the way I wanted them to, I format the text and my wife, Catherine, who is a professional artist, does my covers; and then I post the novel, novella, or self-help nonfiction book on my Kindle Bookshelf and pronto it becomes available all over the world. My once dormant books are now being downloaded and read and appreciated once again. An author can’t ask for anything more than that. So far I have three self-help titles, one juvenile, seven novellas and fourteen novels listed and selling on the bookshelf. I intend to list two more works of fiction this year and plan to list three juvenile fiction projects next year. After that I have two collections of short fiction scheduled for listing. Kudos to Amazon for helping authors do an end run (excuse the sports metaphor) around the gatekeepers of publishing and the lousy incompetent publishers who do nothing for our books when we let them publish them. (tip: get your work edited by a professional. I’m a professional editor as well as a writer, and I have my own private editor who reads and critiques everything I write before I go public with it. Being professional takes extra effort, but in the long run, it beats anything an amateur publishes before it’s ready for public scrutiny.

  16. Derek J Ripley

    Hello
    I chose to self-publish my first book as I wasn’t confident publishers would ‘get’ it: a spoof local history book that parodies the genre.
    Early days, but starting to chalk up sales after an innovative marketing campaign under the guise of the Tripe Marketing Board.
    I’m really enjoying these blogs about self- publishing – useful advice to be had.

    Best Wishes

    Derek

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  18. Wayne Bryant

    I tried the traditional route first. I played by the rules and did it like I was supposed to. I got 100s of rejection letters from publishers and agents in what looked like a form letter as they were all basically the same. It was as if these agents and book publishers were like a tiger stalking its prey just waiting for the next victim to come along so they could pounce on them with their rejection letter. I feel certain many of you have traveled the same publishing avenues as I. There is a lot of frustration involved when a new writer is trying to get his or her manuscript noticed. I decided to self-publish and I’ve found much more satisfaction and appreciation in my efforts. I am beginning to be recognized more now globally as my books have sold in foreign countries around the world, making me an international acclaimed author. Thank you Create space for opening the publishing door to me and giving me a chance to show the world my writing abilities.

  19. Ken puddicombe

    Just released my first novel Racing With The Rain on CS and now working on the Kindle version. I decided to go the CS route after waiting to hear from two publishers who showed interest but kept promising to get back to me! This gave me the reassurance that my novel was least promising. But, I realized, after waiting over a year to clinch a deal with them, that, even if they did agree to take on my book, it would be another eighteen months before it hit the bookstores. Life is too short for that kind of timeline, I decided!

  20. Ann Simpson

    I didn’t give tradtionals much of a try after reading it was months before you hear back and another 18 months if someone likes the book. At the same time there were many successful authors who gave up on traditionals, they self published and though money is great it was the knowing their works were out there to the readers that sold them on self publishing. They no longer had to wait 20 months or more for their work to be read/viewed by more than just a handful of agents. Let the masses decide!

  21. Michael Pearson

    I am an entrepreneur at heart, and loved the idea of producing the book projects myself. I’ve completed two so far, and look forward to getting better and making great books for people to read.

  22. S. M. Hausen

    My husband was a military physician who was being pressured into illegal activities by his commander. When he refused, the commander threatened the lives of our children, so David reported the problem to try to protect our family.As a result, he faced severe retaliation that nearly cost him his life. The military wrote the Military Whistleblowers Protection Directive because of this case, and the story was broadcast nationally on ABC. I wrote about our experience in “One Step Ahead of the Devil”. We are Christians, but the Christian publishing world would have nothing to do with this story because of their political positions. I was warned that secular publishers would not accept this book because of my faith. So I self-published. I could not see any other way to tell my story without compromising the contents. Sam Donaldson of ABC wrote a commentary for the book, verifying the truth of this account. My first 60 author copies sold in less than 48 hours. I think self-publishing was definitely the way to go for me.

  23. Allison Hall

    Thank you for your great article. I love the discussions too. Both traditional and self-publishers have their merits. Self-publishing can be challenging, since you are managing the entire publishing process, but it can also be rewarding. It all depends on the author.

  24. TJ Foster

    This has helped me make up my mind.I have been writting dark poems and short stories since i was 12 years old. Now in my late 30s I am ready to do what I have dreamed of most of my life.I would love to make money. My main reason however is to have it for my children. I want them to see you can follow a dream and I want them to know my was way more than just a mom.i will keep reading your blog!

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  26. Elisabeth Potts

    These cases are inspiring, but the key to self-publishing is marketing. How do you market your self-published book online?

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