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4 ways to publish (or self-publish) a book — and how to choose

self-publish logosIf you’d like to publish (or self-publish) a book, you now have more options than ever. You also have a complex set of choices. I’ll walk you through them and finish with a flow-chart for the various alternatives, including Kickstarter.

This post is for potential how-to and business book authors. If you’re writing fiction or history, you’ll have to get help from somebody else.

This post stems from my 25 years of book experience as an author, editor, and VP of book production working with both traditional and non-traditional publishers. After answering this question for many of my colleagues and reviewing the varied other perspectives out there, I decided there would be some value in a direct and practical post.

All writers should start by asking why they’re writing. Writing a quality book takes many months of effort. If your primary goal is to boost your career or generate leads, then I think you’re making a mistake. (My friend and former editor David Moldawer thinks I’m too strict on discouraging careerist authors, but that’s where I stand. ) I hear all the time from people who say “I want to write a book,” but when I ask them what the book is about, they have no good answer. If this is you, you are not cut out to be an author.

If, on the other hand, you feel driven to share your powerful ideas, then you’re starting from the right place.

Are you ready to do 90% of the book promotion yourself? You need an author platform to succeed in your promotion, such as a social media presence, a column in a publication, or a sales force. This applies regardless of how you plan to publish the book. If you think publishers will do most of the promotion for you, please go back to 1985. They can help, but it’s your job.

Start by writing a sample chapter and table of contents. (If you can’t free up enough time, concentration, and drive to do that, what makes you think you can write a whole book?)

Now you have to make some choices. Ask yourself this question: is it essential to have your book available as a hardback in bookstores like Barnes & Noble? If it is, you’ll want to target either traditional publishers or a publishing services company. If not, consider either Kickstarter or self-publishing. Those four main options, which I describe here, correspond to the four columns in the chart at the end of this post.

Traditional publishing

publisher logosTraditional publishers are slow. If you start now, you won’t see a book for 15 to 24 months. But if you want to get paid an advance up front, this is the only way to go. Write a proposal to go with your table of contents and sample chapter.  While David Moldawer told me that business book publishers now look at plenty of proposals without an agent in the middle, an agent will maximize your advance.

Publishing services company

pub services logosIf you strike out with traditional publishers or are too impatient for them, there’s another path: pay a publishing services company. A publishing services company is not a vanity press; while a vanity press will just print your book, a publishing services company gets you into bookstores. Greenleaf Book Group (which published my book The Mobile Mind Shift) and Round Table Companies are two examples. You’ll need to pay at least $25,000 for printing, layout, cover design, and distribution services.

There are also hybrid/partnership options that fall between traditional publishing and publishing services companies, but to keep this post manageable I will not describe them here.


kickstarterKickstarter enables you to publish a book without laying out your own money. Instead, you’ll need to get backers to fund you. Even if you have a lot of generous fans, be aware of the work this entails. You’ll have to do the formatting and printing yourself. Your backers will expect copies of the book before it gets published any other way. When setting funding levels, be certain to account for shipping (and the hassles associated with getting people’s addresses right). While Kickstarter is the largest crowdfunding platform, it won’t allow self-help books. If you’re writing one of those or just want an alternative, look into IndieGogo and GoFundMe. If you want your crowdfunded book on Amazon.com, you can pursue that after you get copies to your backers.

Self-publishing on Amazon

createspaceIf you’re not stuck on the idea of bookstores, write your book and publish it yourself on Amazon.com. (The absolute best guide on how to do this is Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.) You’ll end up with a print-on-demand paperback and an eBook in the Kindle store. You’ll also need to find ways to do your own cover design, interior layout, and eBook formatting (and promotion, of course). Once you have published on Amazon, you can explore adding other online and eBook alternatives.

I created a chart to help with this decision. It’s complicated, but so is your decision. Regardless of what path you choose, do it for the right reason. Write a book because you want to share your ideas with the world.



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  1. Be prepared. Self publishing takes a lot of initiative and drive. Remember that it is your passion for getting the book out to the public that will carry you through the frustrations you will most certainly encounter along the way. That being said, self-publishing can be an exciting and profitable venture.

  2. Self publishing with Amazon and CreateSpace is relatively easy. It’s a step by step process and lots of help available.

    But of course there’s then the small matter of promoting your book once it’s been publlshed 🙂

    Your own blog, reader groups, gifting copies, Kindle promotions (free offers don’t work anywhere near as well as they did in the past but they’re still an option), maybe even a press release!

    Plus as you build up your library of self published books you can promote your other titles in them (much the same as real books do) but put that list near the start so that it’s clickable from the Look Inside feature.