Everything is out there waiting for you. All you have to do is walk up and declare yourself in. No need for permission. You just need courage to say, “Include me”. Providing you have the energy to pull it off you can do what you like. And the Universal Law, being impartial, will be only too delighted to deliver.
– Stuart Wilde, British writer.
On January 1, 2013, I knew practically nothing about publishing. While I was an early adopter of the ebook, the most profound thing I understood about ebooks was that I could pack hundreds of them on my Kindle and carry them with me as I galavanted around the globe. I’d never sold anything online, never formatted a book (ebook or otherwise), nor did I know a single thing about the publishing industry, besides the fact that it was in the middle of a colossal shift like everything else the internet has touched (See: Everything).
On April 23, I published Tales of Iceland, a book that’s currently hovering between the #1 and #5 bestseller in Amazon.com’s Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Travel > Europe > Iceland category for ebooks and the Books > Travel > Europe > Iceland category for physical books (come si dice, “holy niche!”).
On June 1, Tales of Iceland became profitable. Profitable in the sense that the budget used to produce and market the book has been covered, and barring any additional marketing or re-formatting costs, all future royalties of the book go to Stephen, myself, and the Icelandic environmental non-profit SEEDS, to whom we’re donating 5% of all profits.
To be clear, profitable does not likely mean we’re going to get rich off this book. It just means we’ve done a few key things right, people seem to like the book, we’ve gotten a lot of help from our friends (You!), and this has been a worthwhile invest so far.
Being my first rodeo, it was tough to define expectations from the onset. But considering the product had been on the market for 2 months, and 6 months ago I knew nothing about publishing, I’m pretty pleased with our progress. I’m mostly blown away that within six months, someone like me can go from lay-person to legitimate book publisher, competing with big names like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s.
Yet I shouldn’t undermine the intense focus and work it took to accomplish this — I spent many, MANY hours reading, pondering, applying, rereading, and reapplying to get this book out there, as smartly as possible.
And while we’ve achieved a small level of success, I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the topic of publishing. I do, however, claim to have learned a whole lot in a short period of time, due to my obsession. Just like the time I “got” Twitter as a mere mortal, I worked my ass off to “get” self-publishing.
Which of course, has all but perpetuated my very unhealthy obsession with self-publishing and the opportunities that lie within.
So in the spirit education, inspiration, entertainment, and obsession, I’d like to share what I’ve learned, all while trying to internalize the lessons myself. And if I’ve learned anything about keeping a blog, it’s that writing and teaching is fastest means to that end. I may do several posts on the topic, and these posts will be my attempt to convey my learnings in a no-nonsense manner to the lay-person, the beginner, and the curious mind. (If this is something that interests you, would you let me know? Or if it disinterests you, please let me know that as well.)
Why Self-Publish? (See: How to Choose Yourself)
The first question of course is why self-publish? Actually, no, the first question is: Do I have have something to say, to teach, or to share with the world? I’ll assume the answer to the first first question is ‘Yes,’ so let’s move on.
In short, you self-publish because you can.
Self-publishing represents one of the many ways the internet has enabled the act of Choosing Yourself. Seth Godin talks about it. James Altucher wrote a book on it. All the great entrepreneurs, visionaries, and doers live by it. It’s the simple act of taking responsibility for yourself, your life, your work, and your future. It’s about not waiting/hoping/wishing to be picked for a job, a team, a school, or a book publishing deal. It’s about picking yourself, flipping fear the middle finger, and getting to work.
Here’s what PR guru and Director of Marketing at American Apparel Ryan Holiday has to say:
"The record label, the Fortune 500 company, the college, the book publisher--these institutions are decayed and broken. They are not coming to sign/discover/hire/choose you. It's just not fucking happening. You have one option: choose yourself. Make your own way. Choosing yourself isn't some bullshit state of mind either. It means making yourself physically healthy, taking control of your own education, developing real and valuable relationships, cultivate skills and build your own business."
The Paradox of Choosing Yourself
The beautiful thing about choosing yourself is that it doesn’t exclude someone else from “choosing you” as well. In fact, you almost increase your chances of being picked because you cared enough to pick yourself in the first place!
In terms of publishing, just look at Hugh Howey, author of self-published series Wool, who recently received several 7-figure offers from traditional publishers. Or consider the origins of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades series, which started as Twilight fan fiction, then moved to 50Shades.com (the equivalent to self-selling out the back of one’s trunk), before being picked up by Random House imprint Vintage Books for a seven-figure deal.
Yes, these are the extreme outliers. You certainly don’t self-publish to score a seven-figure deal. You self-publish because in this age of hyper-connectivity and ultra-democratization that the internet has enabled, you don’t need to wait for someone’s permission to put your words into space. Finally, you can do it yourself! (Although I learned Henry David Thoreau self-published Walden in 1854, so I guess waiting for the internet was never a good excuse).
You self-publish because you want to share a message, teach a lesson, start a movement, pass along wisdom, or just want to learn a new skill. But most importantly, you self-publish because you freakin’ love yourself enough to choose yourself and create something you feel compelled to create.
The Fall of the Gatekeepers
When you hear about a new book, do you ever ask “Who’s the Publisher?” Unless you’re an odd ball like me, probably not.
As consumers of books, music, and other artforms, we don’t care much about who published the art. We just care about the art itself and the creator of the art.
I’ve noticed a term that indies and entrepreneurs like to use to describe the role of publishers today: Gatekeepers. Traditionally, gatekeepers have selected and told us readers what we were able to purchase and read. And of course, there was a reason for this. There were only so many resources to produce so many books each year, and only so much space on so many shelves to hold said books. So the gatekeeping publishers served a real purpose — to choose which books were allowed in, based on which books they believed would sell and keep the business in business.
But the internet has a repetitive history of disrupting and making the traditional gatekeepers less relevant across all industries (See: investing, music, news, video, etc). Book publishing is no different. The power to write, design, format, market, and sell a book is in the hands of the people. Resources are cheaper and easier for anyone with an internet connection to access. There is now an infinite amount of shelf space online. The gatekeepers still exist, but the floodgates have opened and they can’t hold the people back.
My Unhealthy Obsession with Self-Publishing
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m obsessed with all of this. I’m obsessed because it sits at the intersection of three things I love: technology, books, and entrepreneurship. Technology is helping more people to create books and helping to put more books into more hands around the globe. It’s also enabling driven and dreamy authors/publishers/entrepreneurs to enter this space if they so dare to enter. I also love that it’s impacting different areas of the world at a different pace, but that its eventual impact is inevitable.
But more so than the specific act of self-publishing, I’m obsessed with what it represents: it’s encouraging people to Choose Themselves — to imagine what they want to accomplish in their lifetimes, grab it by the horns, and go for it.
If you’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure) of talking to me in person about the topic, you’ve seen me get red-faced and excitable as I speculate about the opportunities to be had for anyone who feels compelled enough to enter this brave new world. In my next post, I’m going to dive into the opportunities in publishing as I see them around the world.
As an appetizer to that post, here’s what Piotr Kowalcyzk, “iPhone artist, digital storyteller and self-publisher” in Poland has to say about the opportunity:
"E-books have the power to increase readership, as they are better suited to the world powered by the Internet and digital content. This is a common benefit, and it can give positive results everywhere. Obviously, the results of digitization will have a different impact and speed in different countries."
Have you considered publishing a book? If so, I hope you’ll Choose Yourself, then join the club of the unhealthily obsessed. And just wait until you see the unhealthy amount of statistics I’ve compiled for my next post.