10 Lessons Learned from a Decade in Self-Publishing


The following story is part of our #FriesenPress10 series examining the past, present & future of self-publishing.

It was on July 13th, 2009 when FriesenPress started its journey in self-publishing, and now, with over a decade of books published by our over 4500 authors, we’ve undoubtedly gained valuable insights on the publishing process. 

As we embark upon our next decade in business, we consulted a number of our team members and asked them to share with us some lessons they’ve learned while working in self-publishing. Here are 10 lessons learned over a decade in self-publishing:

1. The success of your book depends on promotion

The biggest thing I've learned since being part of the team is how much learning, focus, and effort needs to go into book promotion and marketing. I used to think that if I made a good book, that would be enough, but getting the book published is only the half-way point on the publishing journey. With so many books being published every day, publishing a book is like putting a black cat in a dark room; if you don't turn the lights on, no one knows it's there! 

The authors who find the most (and longest lasting) success are those who try outside-the-box approaches. I’ve come across such concepts as releasing a song to accompany a children's book, running crowdfunding for custom editions, and doing guest spots on podcasts or interviews to showcase the author’s subject matter expertise. My authors often gain traction by publishing subsequent books, thereby making sales not only on the newest release, but also on all their previous books (known as their "backlist”). 

Most of all, the best authors are those dedicated to promotion. They take their book seriously, acting professionally in all of their interactions with businesses and the public, and are unwavering in their persistence. They follow a business plan, make industry connections, find new avenues to reach their potential target market, take chances by trying new approaches, and continue to produce new content to retain interest and encourage word-of-mouth reaches future readers. – Astra, Publishing Specialist

2. Authors need impartiality

While writers pour blood, sweat, and tears into their work, that doesn't matter to potential readers. All they see is what's on the page. Anything that needs further explanation to elicit the desired impact on your audience—stop right there. You won't be there to explain your choices to a reader, so the work needs to speak for itself. If the artwork provided by the author's nephew is shoddy, it doesn't matter how much the author loves their nephew; all the reader sees is amateur work. The same goes for cover designs quickly slapped together or revisions to a manuscript performed by a "friend with an English degree." You only get one opportunity to make your first splash, and cutting these corners can be the reason a bookstore declines to list your title. 

Try to remain objective when making decisions about your book. Rather than what you want, what does your potential reader want? What will appeal or impress that potential buyer or client? Leverage the advice your publishing specialist offers, do your research, get feedback from your target market. One of the most gratifying parts of our job is seeing our authors succeed, and one of the best ways you can succeed is by being impartial. – Astra, Publishing Specialist

3. Decide whether or not to work in a genre

An important factor to consider when writing and publishing your book is whether the book should fit into the genre or stand out from the genre. Both are reasonable conclusions, it’s just that each will lead you down a different path. Whatever your decision, I’ve learned that you need to stand by that decision and make sure to apply it consistently along the publication and promotion process. 

Have you ever been browsing book covers and, without question, been able to tell what genre a book fits into? That cover has done its job by communicating to you that it is part of a genre you recognize. On the other side of that coin, have you ever been browsing and a cover caught your eye that you just had to look at? That cover disrupted your browsing, also doing the job it was designed to do. Each of those covers were designed with their specific purpose in mind and were effective in catching the readers’ eye, simply in different ways. – Hannah, Book Promotions Services Team Lead

4. Find your why

Find and understand your why—that is, why you wrote the book. What about your book will make people connect with it? Why did you share this story with the world? In this world of clutter, readers resonate with your why. You can practice your pitch and break down the key selling points, sure. But if you don't know your why when you deliver that pitch, the pitch most likely won't land. When you understand your why, you are no longer delivering a practiced pitch but a passionate expression of something you know deeply. People will connect with that and want to know more. – Hannah, Book Promotions Services Team Lead

5. You can be your own boss with your own unique product

One of the coolest things about self-publishing is how it can give you the opportunity to start your own business, be your own boss, and make a truly unique product. You have total control over the decisions for your book. No one tells you what your cover should look like or what your protagonist should say. You want to make an audiobook or turn your book into a web series or pitch it to a producer? By all means! You could be a real rebel if you wanted to be. You’re never stuck with a publisher’s decisions or locked into a contract that stops working for you. 

But even if yours is one of the best stories ever written, the book needs to be done professionally if you want it to be successful. If you don’t have editing done and don’t find the time or expertise to develop your book’s cover, people won’t buy it—no matter the quality of your writing. When you have skilled and knowledgeable people on your publishing team, combined with talented authors, it’s no wonder our authors regularly win awards and earn incredible reviews from some of the toughest reviewers in the industry.  Oriana, Book Promotions Specialist

6. Self-publishing saves stories from gathering dust

There are thousands of incredible stories out there that won’t make it to the bookstore shelves. That’s because traditional publishers are looking for a handful of books every year on very specific topics. If your book doesn’t make the cut, you’re out. Please try again. And again. And again. People often pitch their books dozens of times, while others might not even bother because the publisher submission guidelines indicate they won’t even consider a book like yours. The result? A stack of papers that gather dust in a box somewhere. Those could be absolute gems, and that’s kind of heartbreaking.

What if some of our stories were given a chance to be published, to be noticed, to be read!

It makes me wonder, if given the opportunity to self-publish, would some of my peers have published books by now? Of course, most of us won’t get anywhere close to becoming the next JK Rowling, but what if some of our stories were given a chance to be published, to be noticed, to be read! – Oriana, Book Promotions Specialist

7. It’s all about your reader

The biggest lesson I've learned is that self-publishing isn't all about the author; it's really about the reader. Sure, it may fulfill a personal, life-long dream, but authors publish books for the connection to other people. They publish books for those living in struggle, for their family—here and no longer with us—and for those who like to spend their evenings engaged in a good story.

When an author enters editing, it's about what their readers need to get from the project, and how those needs influence the book's content and the content's presentation. Does this structure work best for the reader? Will readers relate to this character? Can readers understand the intention of what's being said in this passage?

When they move into design, cover concepts and interior choices are based in what will delight their readers. Authors consider what will attract readers to the cover and what choices they can make on the book's interior layout to clearly demonstrate a shift in scene, chapter break, callout, or otherwise.

Finally when they get to marketing, authors are considering how to reach their readers. They've created back cover copy to grip their readers, and now they shift to focus their attention on getting their book into the hands of those they've created it for—their readers. – Amy, Editorial & Illustrations Coordinator

8. Go the distance

I've learned that when working in self-publishing it's best to go all the way. We can absolutely help authors see their manuscript through to publication, should that be their sole goal. But if you're going to invest in publication, if you're going to go that far, why not go the distance to publish a fully realized book? It requires hard work and further financial investment, yes, but it's worth it.

My experience tells me it's worth the time, money, and effort to publish your book fully realized. Go the distance. Editing, design, and marketing are crucial facets of a project, and these investments directly affect both the author and their readers. If the aim is simply to publish a manuscript, we can help authors achieve that. But when investing in publication, it's worth the full investment—both financially and in personal time and effort—into the professional services that will help the book to achieve its full potential in time for publication. Don't show readers the potential of your project, show them the fully realized work. – Amy, Editorial & Illustrations Coordinator

9. There’s immense value in a well-designed cover

As the old adage says, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” But as pleasant a message as that is in metaphor or literally, the truth is that we still make these judgments on the outward appearance of a book. Such judgments influence our immediate impression of the book and even, if we are to pick it up, affect the experience in reading the book.

A book cover can be a delicate component of your book. So, ensuring you have a well-designed cover, backed up with a comprehensive strategy to guide it, is necessary if you want your book to stand out against shelves of traditionally published books. Even if your book’s content is brilliant, when you present it with an unprofessional cover, the inference by potential readers is that the content will mirror that same low quality. – Andrew, Design Team Lead

10. Make the best decisions for your book

As a self-published author, being that you are the sole individual to definitively make decisions, it’s difficult to avoid indulging in making emotion-based choices when it comes to your book’s design. But, of course, it is imperative that you strain to focus on what is best for the book. Make those decisions on what’s best for your book based on your publishing goals, research, the target demographic, and anything of substance—just not strictly your own personal feelings or preferences. Be sure to reiterate to yourself the goals you have meticulously established, and ensure that your decision making is consistent in taking steps towards those aspirations. – Andrew, Design Team Lead

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