From Author to Publisher

printerOver the past 18 years, I have had six books published by three different publishers. When I decided that I had another book inside me, I considered pitching it to my usual publishing contacts. After serious thought, I decided to self-publish The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love through’s print and e-book services. While it usually takes a publisher nine months or a year from receipt of a manuscript to shipment of a book, my turnaround time was just four months—a significant factor with a book that covers social media and other rapidly changing fields.

This choice isn’t for everyone. It was appealing to me as an established author and speaker because I already had a number of avenues for promoting and selling my book. I have developed strong writing skills, so I knew that my manuscript would not need extensive editing. A good friend of mine had already handled the production of several other books, and we established a barter relationship through which she could provide me with the editorial and organizational support I needed. Along with Guy Kawasaki’s remarkably useful book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, I felt that I had the resources I needed to self-publish.

I chose to produce both soft-cover and e-book versions, on the assumption that the relatively small additional work required to modify the format would make the book appealing to as large an audience as possible. (So far, I have sold roughly an equal number of print and e-books.) While getting the print version formatted to my satisfaction took longer than I had anticipated, the process was relatively painless. Amazon’s CreateSpace platform makes it easy to preview and print draft copies, and I can purchase author copies of the book for $3.50 each—significantly less than what traditional publishers charge authors for copies of their books.

Even though I decided to self-publish, I wrote up a book proposal outlining the scope of the book and of each chapter, spelling out my marketing plan, and committing to a completion date nine months out. In my experience, a clear proposal with accountability and metrics is an essential tool in ensuring that a self-published book gets from idea to publication.

As with all my books, getting the last 10 percent written was the most difficult part of the process. As before, my spouse sent me to a hotel with the admonition that I not check out until the manuscript was done. As always, this approach was successful; I returned home three days later with the manuscript completed and ready for my editor.

Having had the experience of working with traditional publishers, I had a fairly good idea of what would be required in self-publishing a book. Following are the most significant trade-offs I encountered during the process of taking The Reluctant Entrepreneur from concept to publication.

Editorial support. Publishers provide an editor, copyeditor, and (usually) an indexer. I bartered for editorial services, and paid for copy editing of the final manuscript. I chose not to include an index to the book, relying instead on a detailed table of contents (and, of course, the full-text search functionality of e-books). The coaching and writing support I received from my editor was instrumental in getting the book done, and I doubt I could have afforded to pay for all the hours my editor spent keeping me on track. If you are not in a position to pay or barter for time with an editorial coach, consider finding a writing buddy to keep you focused and on track. Be sure that you also have someone who is skilled at editing and polishing book manuscripts; this is not an area in which you want to economize.

Design support. Publishers usually design the book cover and internal format without input from the author. I bartered with Brain Bolts, a local graphic designer, for the book cover and logo for Niwot Press (the name of my self-publishing identity), and my editor and I worked together to develop the book’s internal layout. As with traditional publishers, I chose the title and subtitle myself, with plenty of input from my editor and from colleagues.

Administrative support. Publishers handle the administrative work involved in getting an ISBN and Library of Congress control number (or equivalent) for the book, assigning a cover price, and generating the barcode. Fortunately, these are fairly straightforward tasks, and both and Kawasaki’s book spell out the steps involved.

Advance against royalties. Most publishers pay authors an advance of several thousand dollars against the royalties they will earn from the sale of their book. As a self-published author, I have to invest in the expenses of preparing a manuscript for publication. The trade-off is that I earn more money from each book sale, particularly when I sell books directly. Since the success of the book is dependent on the quality of the writing and appearance of the book, it is important to budget for high-quality editorial and design services.

Sales support. Publishers handle distribution and sales of both print and e-books; I sell copies of my books through my own web site as well. As a self-publisher, I use Amazon as my primary distribution channel, and I keep an inventory of about 100 copies of my book to sell at book signings and speaking engagements. Since my book is more likely to be purchased by individuals than libraries or institutions, my focus has been on reaching out to groups that comprise solo practitioners and entrepreneurs providing professional services.

Marketing support. Publishers provide what most authors consider to be a minimal level of marketing for their book. After all, while I am just one author among many to a publisher, this book is top priority to me. All authors must become comfortable marketing their books; self-published authors are simply more aware of that fact. I developed a six-month marketing plan for my latest book, using many of the techniques mentioned in Kawasaki’s book, APE. I can use the social media profiles I already have, and I have created this very blog and web site specifically for the book. I am participating in the local author consignment programs offered by two large independent book stores in the Denver area, one of which includes a book signing and promotion as well as prominent placement near the front of the store for three months.

Reflecting on the process for getting this latest book to market and comparing it to my experiences with traditional publishers, I am happy with the trade-offs required for self-publishing. I found it tremendously satisfying to be involved in all aspects of the design of the book, and I enjoyed having complete control over the editorial process. And while I miss that royalty check, I believe that I will ultimately earn more through self-publishing. This may not be the route for first-time authors, but I encourage more experienced writers to consider self-publishing for their next book.

Handling pro bono requests

If askingyou have been in business for more than a couple of weeks, you have probably been asked by someone to donate your time and services for their organization. And especially if your business is still in its early stages, it can be tempting to say yes. “It’s a great way to market myself”, you tell yourself. “They’ll see how great my work is, and then they will pay me.”

Sadly, that often isn’t the case. Human nature being what it is, we tend not to value highly that which we are given at no cost. Donating your skills and expertise just because you were asked to is not the most effective way of managing one of your most valuable assets — your time.

A better approach is to decide at the beginning of the year how many hours of accounting services you would donate as pro bono work. Look at those hours as part of your overall marketing  efforts, and “spend” your pro bono budget on organizations and causes that you care about and that provide you with contacts to potential clients.

What makes this so effective is that, when you are approached by an organization asking you to donate your services, you can evaluate the opportunity and your available time and accept or decline based on more than just the warm and fuzzy feeling you may have about a particular group. Rather than just saying no to a request, you can explain that the hours you have set aside for pro bono work have already been taken. The unspoken message that comes across is “I value my time highly, and I give it away purposefully, not haphazardly.”

(Of course, if you know of a professional association or group that offers a free or low-cost alternative to the services you provide, be sure to refer your requester to that organization. You aren’t losing a client — the requester is looking for free services, not your full-fee, high-value service.)

Want to be an entrepreneur while keeping your day job?

The Freelancers Union has a useful blog post, How to Start Freelancing Without Quitting Your Day Job, including suggestions on how to learn how to generate clients through social media, set an hourly rate and how to think differently about yourself as an independent consultant (yes, this group uses the term freelancer, which I think diminishes the value of us entrepreneurs).


ZhivadanAdam Davidson (NPR Planet Money co-host) mused about innovation in a piece in the Nov. 16th issue of the New York Times, Welcome to the Failure Age. What I found most intriguing were his thoughts about the impact of information technology on usually risk-averse professions such as lawyers and accountants. As they see much of their low-value, routine work disappear to Nolo and Quicken respectively, these professions are finding new ways to surface the unique value they provide, using tools that once threatened their business. As Donaldson put it:

[S]ome enterprising accountants are learning how to use some of their
biggest assets — the trust of their clients and access to financial data — to
provide deep insights into a company’s business. They’re identifying which
activities are most profitable, which ones are wasteful and when the former
become the latter. […]

[Lawyers] use data-sniffing programs and their own legal expertise to cull through millions of patent applications or contracts to build never-before-seen complex models of the business landscape and sell it to their clients.

I have to smile when I remember that I was hired to work in the library of a law firm back in 1979 to work on a database of the firm’s internal legal memoranda for later re-use. Bleeding edge back then, complete with keypunch cards. Then I started Bates Information Services back in 1991, when gopher was a powerful discovery tool and Mark Zuckerberg was entering grade school.

Over the years, my business has had to shift dramatically in order to stay competition-proof. My deliverables have changed radically over the years, and my research projects are more complex and strategic than they used to be. I find it comforting to remember that I am in the company of so many other professionals whose are facing similar challenges. If CPAs can be seen as strategic business partners, so can many other reluctant entrepreneurs.

The absolutely best reason to call a client

Antique telephoneI was chatting with a colleague the other day, who was concerned that she had not heard from a client in a while and she was starting to imagine all the worst possible outcomes. “The client hates me. He’s found someone else with lower rates. I made a horrible mistake and he hasn’t told me.” Blah blah blah… I know; we have all been down that road.

She decided that she would focus her attention on updating her web site to reflect a new aspect of her business. I suggested she call a few clients and ask them to tell her how they describe her to their colleagues, on the assumption that those would be effective words and phrases to use in her web site.

Then the lightbulb went on — what a great reason to call the Silent Client! She called him and left a message that she was updating her web site and would like to chat for a few minutes to find out how he has described her to his business partners. He was happy to talk, and she got some compelling phrases she will work into her marketing material.

But the real payoff was that the client then mentioned the delay in sending her the expected project, explained that they were in the process of landing a big contract themselves  and would be back to needing her services by the end of the month. Now she knew she could expect more work from this client soon, and she had some new ideas on how to describe her value to prospective clients.

This Call Waitingis a great reason to reach out to a client you have not heard from in a while, a prospect you think could be ready to use your services, or a colleague with whom you expect to share referrals and subcontracting. And yes, it requires that you pick up the phone; email completely misses the point of the contact, which is to engage the person in a conversation and find out their current situation and concerns. You will probably get sent to voice mail, so write out a short, friendly message like this:

I’m reviewing my marketing material and reaching out to some of my clients/colleagues to find out how they describe me to a colleague. I would love to chat with you for a few minutes to get your thoughts. I’ll be around all day today; feel free to give me a call at …”

Every conversation you have will give you useful information, and you get a great reason to invite someone to think about when to call you. It also helps you self-correct if you hear people describing you in ways that do not highlight your value. If the feedback you hear does not reflect how you would like to be seen, this is a good opportunity to update (not correct or argue with!) your contact on the additional ways you have worked with similar clients. Be sure to remove descriptions from your marketing material and web content that downplay the value of what you do, based on the feedback you get.

You may also learn that your clients and colleagues see you more expansively than you do. If your stomach clenches when you realize how you are seen, you know you are on to something useful. Check out my thoughts on the Imposter Syndrome, extracted from The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love.

How CEOs negotiate – with a hug

coupleToday’s Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article about “How Steve Ballmer Became a Rookie Basketball Mogul” in which we learn that even CEOs get nervous when they are preparing to meet NBA superstar players for dinner. (And they binge-watch to relieve stress just like the rest of us.)

More interesting is how he negotiated the purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers from Shelly Sterling after her odious estranged husband was forced to sell the team. Rather than have his people call her people, he arranged for mutual friend and former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner to call Ms. Sterling to vouch for him. During their meeting a couple of days later, Ballmer dropped his prepared pitch and instead focused on reassuring Sterling that he wouldn’t move the team to Seattle and that he was committed to seeing the Clippers win a championship. Ballmer knew that this negotiation was between two people, not two faceless corporations. He was competing against Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison, so clearly Shelly Sterling’s decision would come down to more than just money.

And the best part of the story is how he handled Ms. Sterling’s counterproposal to his $1.75 billion offer for the team. She raised the price to $2 billion, and asked for courtside seats, parking spaces and the title of “owner emeritus.” Mr. Ballmer agreed and threw in the title of “Clippers #1 Fan.” This man is brilliant. He understood what the other party wanted and valued, and he knew how important it was to respect, address and meet the other party’s underlying concerns. And when they signed the deal, Steve Ballmer and Shelly Sterling hugged.

You may not actually hug the person you’re negotiating with, but can you find where you can add a “Clippers #1 Fan” title?