5 Unbreakable Laws of Self-Publishing

I’ve been featuring guest bloggers who’ve had some success with self-publishing, in print and with ebooks. Some have been traditionally published and others have ventured out as indie authors. By having many authors writing in various genres around the world speak about the publishing experience and sharing helpful tips, hopefully their insights and suggestions will smooth out your road to success.

Today’s guest post is by my wonderful friend, author James Scott Bell:

Sometimes you get to be first at something, and this year it was my turn. I was the first author to have a self-published work nominated for an International Thriller Writers award. ITW allowed active members to submit stories that appeared first in digital. My novella, One More Lie, got nommed for the big prize. The other four nominees were from traditional venues. And while I didn’t come home with the trophy, I did have the pleasure of confirming once and for all that this is no longer an either/or publishing world. It is both/and and why-the-heck-not?

I have been a traditionally published author my entire career. I have nothing against the industry. I want the industry to survive. I am not one of these authors who is ripping off his shirt and doing a war dance facing Manhattan. I love books and I love readers and I love the people who work at companies who love publishing books for readers who love to read (and who provide editors for sentences like this). If publishers can keep serving both authors and readers profitably, which is what they’ve been doing for two hundred years, then so much the better.

For writers this is a golden age. There is no longer a barrier to publication. But as I explain in my book Self-Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books: You have to give it all some serious thought and planning.

 The 5 Unbreakable Laws to Making It

The first law in my book is this: you must think like a publisher. Even (maybe especially) before writing the book.

The enterprise of a publishing house is upheld by books that make a profit. Of course, every publisher wants every book it publishes to make dough. So there are all sorts of calculations to be made. First and foremost is, what to acquire? This is a collective decision. An acquisitions editor finds a manuscript and gets excited about it, then crunches numbers, runs a formula or two, and tries to convince the sales department that this is a book that will make bank by an author who will continue to build.

You must think the same way about yourself. You are CEO of your own business––You, Inc. Act like it. Don’t be the town eccentric. Find that place between art and commerce, voice and cash register. This is where careers live.

The second law in my book is that you must write the best book you can, every time out. That sounds simple in theory. It is very hard to do in practice. That’s why I spend a great deal of my time teaching writers. I had to learn this stuff myself. Along the way I was helped by a few mentors and some good books, and then some great editors.

So I help writers take their fiction to the next level. And over the last decade I’ve seen many of my students land traditional publishing contracts, and now publish independently on their way to steady revenue.

Most people are not naturally wired for strategic thinking. They have not been trained in it, nor are they particularly excited about learning how to do it. What I do in Self-Publishing Attack is lay out a simple strategy for all writers, fiction and non-fiction; a strategy that is understandable, usable and repeatable.

But there’s one thing I can’t give you, that you have to provide on your own. And that’s blood. Red Smith, the famous sports writer, once said, “Writing is easy. Just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”

Can you do that? Can you write like that? Can you sustain that passion day after week after month after year?

There will always be people who want to read. And thus there will always be writers. There will be blood. The blood will be in the stories. The stories will be in the hands and hearts of the readers. They need and want more books.

Make it so.

Host’s note: To learn about the other unbreakable laws for success and lots more great info, buy Bell’s book here!

James Scott Bell writes thrillers and short stories and novellas and some of the most popular books on writing available today. Visit him at his website here and follow him on Twitter!


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  1. Great advice. Your second law is the one for me — “write the best book you can, every time out.” I hoped to publish my first novel this year, but with the help of great critique partners realized I was rushing to an arbitrary deadline that would result in a book I would not be proud of. I took a deep breath and stepped back, giving myself time to be sure of the plot line and to be sure I can stand by every word. Thanks!

  2. Great post. These are essential, and for me, after writing the best book you can, is getting a good editor. Not a beta, not a copy editor, but someone who understands developmental editing and will help make your book the best it can be. I

  3. Hi Susanne and James Scott!

    Great post. I love your line, “For writers this is the golden age.” I love the options writers have now, but I also agree with Stacy. Having a good editor makes a huge difference in my confidence. I want to know I’ve written the best book possible. (No pressure Susanne. Ha!)


  4. Excellent post. And I agree, it’s not an either/or world any more. However, with options comes responsibility. Traditional or self published, only the highest quality book should ever be sent into the world. 🙂

    Looking forward to reading your book, JM!


  5. I learned some great things from his book and so started my own “publishing company”–Ubiquitous Press. Just taking one little step at a time to reach my publishing goals. Jim offers great, clear advice on how to do all this. All his books are very encouraging in the manner they are written–so you don’t feel overwhelmed or an idiot if you don’t already know everything.

  6. Very good advice here on self-publishing from James and Susanne. Think like a business, and produce the best work you can, I would fully endorse as two key mindsets you need to embrace before embarking on professional self-publishing. A third is to keep on learning and improving with realistic goals. Writing and the processes of self-publishing are a long-haul, especially for those of us, like me, who had no previous experience of the publishing or writing world. Be prepared to put in the 10,000 creative hours to learn all the skills and stay determined, it gets better each week as confidence grows. My professional background is in workbased learning and being a big advocate of learning by doing, I would recommend having a go at doing all the processes of digital publishing yourself on at least one book, from editing, designing a cover to marketing before outsourcing. There is so much help and excellent advice out there on forums, blogs, (especially Susanne’s) and directly from KDP and CreateSpace you will find it great fun. Then you will not only understand the publishing business better but have criteria to judge professional associates you will be happy to work with.

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