…helping you tell a better story

Before You Self Publish, Part 1: Think Like a CEO

We’ve all heard the success stories. The writers who rejected the rejection letters, took their futures into their own hands, and self published their books. The ones who shot to the top of the bestseller charts. Fame, fortune, and Hollywood movies followed.

Well hey. You’ve written a book. Is this self publishing thing for you?

Not long ago, I gave a talk about the 5 Things Writers Must Know Before They Self Publish. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take apart all five suggestions.

Let’s start with the biggest one, and the hardest for some writers to get their heads around:


Publishing is a business, and a self-publishing author is the CEO of that business.

Writing is a craft. Writing a book takes the focus and dedication of an artist. It’s personal, just you and the page in front of you, for months and years at a time.

But when you decide to publish your work, your book stops being a singular work of art, and starts being a product that will be mass produced, sold, and distributed to an audience of strangers, who will make the ultimate decision of whether to spend their money on it or not.

Are you wearing your business hat?
Photo by Kris Kesiak, via Flickr

It’s a business, and a successful self publishing author knows how to think like the CEO of that business.

When you self publish, you face a slew of decisions that will affect your success, and you will need to evaluate, research, hire, and act on each of those decisions. That includes handling areas like:

  • Market research
  • Graphics and design
  • Production
  • Distribution
  • Pricing
  • Accounting
  • Hiring contractors

And even…

  • Marketing

I don’t say that to scare you. These are all things that you can learn. (As one writer told me, “If I’m smart enough to write a book, I’m smart enough to learn how to use Facebook to sell it.”) People have been making and selling books for hundreds of years, and thousands of self publishers have gone before you. There are great resources written by experienced authors that can help you through every step of the process.

In fact, here are a few of my favorites:

Guide to Self Publishing by Robert Lee Brewer

APE by by Guy Kawasaki

Perfect Bound by Katherine Pickett

Self Publisher’s Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick

The Author’s Guide to Marketing by Yours Truly

Also, educating yourself doesn’t mean you have to do something like learn computer programming so that you can write the code for your own ebook. Being a good CEO means finding and empowering the right people to do the work.

But if you’re going to sell ebooks, you should understand what they are, how people buy and use them, and how they’re different from print books. You should use an e-reader (or an e-reader program on your phone or tablet) and know how to buy books and read them. After all, if you’re not reading ebooks, why would you assume anyone will read yours?

And reading other books will help you study and learn from the competition. This is your market research, and a good CEO understands the competition before they make major decisions. What other books appeal to the same readers that your book will? What do you notice about those cover designs, and prices, and content? What do you need to do to make your book comparable and competitive?

Don’t skip over this part. You need to not only know your product, but where your product fits in the marketplace.

Learning the business of publishing takes time, so start thinking like a CEO as soon as possible. There are a lot of decisions to consider, from editing, to cover design, to pricing, to where the book will be sold.

But I’m Going to Hire Someone for That!

Sure, there are businesses, ranging from independent consultants to sprawling vanity presses, that will make all of the decisions for you, for a price.

But as a wise president once said, The buck [still] stops here.

If your self publishing plan is to pay someone to handle all of the details for you, your responsibility is narrowed down to one big question: who to hire.

Not all services are alike. And making an impulsive or ill-researched decision can leave you disappointed. (Just ask the thousands of authors this week who were stranded by mega-press Tate Publishing’s implosion.)

Google any service provider you work with, and look for news and reviews of their services, as well as what their own website says. Do you like what you see? Do you trust them? Do you believe they will work to produce what’s best for you? Talk to some of their other clients. What has their experience been?

Here’s a series of questions that I recommend writers ask about any service company they’re considering bringing into their publishing practice.


Yes, this takes a lot of time, and it’s a lot of work. By the time you finish self publishing, you’ll have a new appreciation for what publishers do. But you’ll also have a book that you single-handedly control.

It took you a long time to master the craft of writing, so don’t rush this. As I like to say, probably too often, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. If you do this right, people will be reading your book for many years to come.


If you’ve self published before, what surprised you about the business side of the experience?

  1. Thank you for writing this. I await the next 4.

  2. Succinct, insightful, and entertaining as always. Thank you, Beth!

Leave a Reply

Sign up for Beth’s mailing list:

Subscribe to Beth's quarterly newsletter to get publishing tips, news about upcoming events and new releases, and more:

Latest Post

  • It’s Up to You to Get Noticed (Before You Self Publish #5)
    If you want to self publish, you will have to work to get noticed. Here we are at last, on the final point of this blog series “Before You Self Publish.” So far we’ve talking about the importance of thinking like a CEO, the danger of releasing a book too soon, the value of print, and the importance of the...
    Read more