A year or so ago I started to think seriously about self publishing. Since then I have had a chance to compare a text book published traditionally with three self published monographs and others in various stages of planning
First, let it be said, I publish primarily as a way of getting my ideas out there. That has been the case since I wrote by first business book with the knock you down title Problem Solving through Creative Analysis in 1973. PSTCA was published by Gower Press. I think I chose Gower because a young colleague from Manchester Business School had joined them as I was completing a first draft. The book outlined work I had done on ‘structures that destructure’, i.e. techniques for stimulating creativity.
Later I worked with with various publishers with whom I have shared a mostly amicable relationship. These include the collaboration with my current publisher Routledge, now part of the global Taylor and Francis group, who commissioned my most recently published text Dilemmas of Leadership 3rd edition.
Money matters, but not like you might think
There is plenty of advice around about making a lot of money out of publishing. I am not able to offer such advice. I doubt I have ever made more that 10% of my annual income directly from writing. On the other hand, a later version of PSTCA (mentioned above) was read by someone who became a dear friend and who brought me in to his company as an external trainer and thus kept me in a slightly better class of car for several years. His friendship was far more than an added bonus.
Anyway, I am a firm believer in the principle of intrinsic motivation. You work best if you are primarily in love with what you are doing, rather than for the money it promises. Big earners only notice money if they feel a competitor is judged better because he or she earns more. It is an ego before bank balance thing.
On to the Pros and Cons
If you have are offered a contract from an established publisher, cherish it. The big plus is that the final product will benefit from a range of professional inputs from copy editors, proof readers, marketing, pricing and PR experts. Rare is the author with all these skills.
There are two major downsides to weigh against the benefits of the pampering with an experienced publisher behind you. Traditional publishing is increasingly vulnerable to market forces reducing profits from ‘dead tree’ products. Your contract will reflect that. The other issue is time to market. Things are speeding up, but there is a long way to go before even the most successful of traditional publishers will be able to set up their own route-to- market to compete with with the lean mean electronic self-publishing route.
Self publishing is in contrast rapid, and has lower entry barriers (business school speak, but self evident), and thus more open to anyone to give it a try. The self-publishing author is able to produce print and e versions relatively easily. I use Amazon’s Create Space services which is a safe choice for the inexperienced author.
Frontloading and deep diving
A lot of tacit knowledge about being an author acquired through writing twenty non-fiction texts, still left me wirth a lot of gaps in the skill set needed for self publishing. One particular experience was the commitment to the discipline of writing regularly. Another was accepting that a great deal of redrafting is necessary. Finally, pre-planning (‘frontloading’ ) before diving in to writing, is just as important.
I have already hinted at the down side of self-publishing. You risk the vulnerability of the lone author. You have to decide how to compensate for the other non-writing skills.
Search widely, invest wisely
I am now moving on to assessing the best investment for buying in some of those skills. A good example is designing a cover (which you need, incidentally, even for e books). Shop around, as they say about consumer decision making.
I kept reading about the advantages of going it alone For me, this is not the best mind-set. You should never go it alone, you need all the help you can get. The bigger question is which services should you pay for, and when. I decided to make my mistakes on a small scale, preparing to invest more when I am further up that learning curve.
My first self published books
My first self published books in the period 2014-2016 followed the principle of getting ideas out to a wider audience. I wanted to explore the nature of creativity and leadership in a new format.My first effort, The Manchester Method (e book only) was by way of a trial. I made my mistakes on a small scale. The ‘final’ e-version still has the look of a book completed before the author discovered how to use advanced design options.
I followed this up with Tennis Matters which I found easier to produce, having edged further up the design mountain. I also found delight in making multiple revisions of the ‘final’ version, discovering that the self -imposed deadline was worth breaking at the cost of a few extra days to market. That’s another advantage of self -publishing.
Making a decent looking index is tricky but not impossible. I used Microsoft Word. I also found that at my level of (in)experience, mini books were best for making minor changes.
Just this week, I received copies of Mourinho Matters. This had been the third self-published book since I started the project approximately eighteen months ago. It is my most ambitious in length (just over 200 pages) and I am still going up that lengthy learning curve in producing print and e books.
In hindsight, I just thought of another advantage. I selected topics I wanted to write about, and which were close to my interest and skills core. And I had a large number of researched and tagged research items available (including the thousand Leaders We Deserve posts) to draw on.