I’m Self-Publishing: First Steps

Okay, it’s time to write the books I’ve always wanted to write. Here’s how it’s going to work.

As I mentioned recently, I’m now in a position to chase my long-term dream of becoming an author of serialized fiction and standalone non-fiction, both on Kindle.

I’ve been talking about doing this for years. I’m quoted in this book, ranting about the power of doing it. I’ve been thinking about doing it for half a decade. Now, at last, I have a 3-month window where I can afford to stay still and work on building some writing assets – and my Kindle projects are part of that plan.

This post is the start of me outlining how I’m self-publishing, and recording how it all works out.

Note: this isn’t “The Best Way To Make A Living As A Writer”. Anyone who uses a title like that is almost certainly full of shit. There are now loads of ways to make such a living, if you care enough and you’re prepared to put in the terrifying amount of work required to get really, really good at them. Meaning, there are loads of “best ways,” depending on the kind of writer you want to be and what skills you’ll develop.

To repeat: the combo of “I love doing this” and “I can do this” is everything. Passion is overrated – and it’s smart to build a valuable skill and spend a while steering it in directions that feel good – but ultimately, enthusiasm matters as much as ability. If you’re entirely lacking in both passion and skill, you’re wasting your time and should run for the hills.

Oh, and if you’re approaching this writing lark just to make money, hahahaHAHAHA. Ah. You adorable lunatic.

But hold on. I know there are plenty of you who want to make respectable money from your writing. I’ve talked to you in person, I’ve emailed with you, I’ve watched you struggle doing undervalued work you hate, or spending much of your energy building a blog without having any idea what it’ll lead to. You desperately want a solid business foundation for your writing. You want to get paid in a way that feels right.

Funnily enough, I do too.

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For all my talk of being passionate about the joy of storytelling, I’m also passionate about paying my bills and occasionally taking my girlfriend out for dinner somewhere that isn’t Burger King. Without a sustainable commercial model, I can’t do that. In fact without that, I’m not in business. Nobody self-employed is. We’d all be better off getting a job working for someone else. There have been times – miserable, self-doubting times brought on by a lack of direction in my work – when I’ve wanted to do exactly that.

Now I’m glad I didn’t. Now I reckon “getting a job” is much, much riskier, for me and a lot of my peers, in the long run – and I’m far from alone in thinking this (see “The End Of Jobs” below).

I’ve had a pretty good year as a freelancer and consultant. But from my research, it seems a much, much better bet for me to build a pile of things that each make me money every month, and keep adding to them. In other words, digital assets (“things you make once and sell multiple times”). These are the things that allow you scramble into upper napkin-space and really start getting somewhere.

So, alongside my existing commitments, I’m going to start publishing books and other writing assets where I get paid more than once.

Want to do something similar? Excellent, because in the best traditional of learning online, I’m going to share everything along the way: all the numbers, everything that works, and equally importantly, everything that doesn’t work. I’m sure there will be a lot that doesn’t. I’ll stumble plenty. (Have you read my travel writing? Yeah. That.)

If it’s always been your dream to get into self-publishing your own writing in a way that consistently makes money, if you’ve been running a blog for what feels too long and you haven’t monetized like everyone else because it just doesn’t feel right for you somehow, and you’re wondering how long you can keep going until you flame out, like 95% of bloggers still do

Maybe this journey of mine will help.

Maybe you can steal something useful from me and apply it in your own way, to get the sustainable, repeatable income you want as an online writer. I’d really love that. Steal away.

So, first up, here’s what I’ve been reading to get my head round all of this.


A Self-Publishing Beginner’s Reading List

Building Digital Assets

  • I wish I could point you towards the book that started me off on this path. It’s called “The Digital Writer’s Guide To Building Assets” by Sean Platt. It’s not on sale anymore, but you can see the cover here. Key quote:

“Creating enduring assets will always take longer than churning through a few moneymakers, but it’s also more sustainable, meaning your wealth can grow exponentially more in the long run.”

  • Sean’s now a writer of serialized fiction (see below), but before starting doing that, he bundled all his copywriting and asset-building advice into this book, which is great.
  • Remember I said there are now loads of ways to make a living as a writer? Atlas Obscura CEO David Plotz, a writer at Slate since its earliest days, published this list of 69 ways to make money in digital media. Many of these are the make-once, sell-multiple-times varieties of income. It’s a great list to get your brain working.

Self-Publishing Books

  • Fellow Brit Joanna Penn’s site is a wealth of information on this topic. You’ll be reading the archives for weeks, but it’s all worth it. As an independent thriller author with 350k sales and a few New York Times bestsellers behind her, she knows what she’s talking about.
  • Write. Publish. Repeat.” and the Self Publishing Podcast. I mention them both together because WPR is basically the podcast’s 150 or so episodes boiled down into a book. Both are the work of Sean Platt, David Wright and Johnny B. Truant, who are currently killing it on Amazon in the category of serialized Kindle fiction. I wrote about their success a few years back at Book Riot, and they’re doing even better these days. Their publishing model focuses on the following strategy:

Get lots of titles out. The more you have out, the more Amazon (and other platforms) will recommend your other work to readers. If you do it right, ten books will individually do better than one book all on its own. The more you have out, the more each of your titles benefits.

Bundles make the most money. They’re chasing a Netflix-style model of storytelling which caters for people who want to “watch one episode” (available for a micropayment) and also for the “binge-watchers”. The result is a sales funnel that’s designed to get people hooked until the end, and encourage them to buy the “season,” ie. the full book, for a full-book price.

Experiment. They’re always trying new stuff – which is smart, because reader buying habits aren’t static and there’s more and more competition out there every year.

  • The actual process of uploading your book onto Amazon is nicely outlined here by Mike Fishbein. Of course, that’s after it’s written, fiercely edited, and you’ve crafted a killer cover – plus, after you’ve learned how to “hack Amazon“, in the words of Tim Grahl.
  • Staying with Tim Grahl, his “Your First 1000 Copies” gives a solid overview of building an online platform as an author, particularly leveraging e-mail lists, by a highly experienced book marketer.
  • A superbly detailed breakdown of how new author Taylor Pearson launched his book, “The End Of Jobs” (which is terrific) and sold 5000 copies of it in 4 weeks, and that’s without using a huge e-mail list of subscribers – he had 700 at the time of launch.

Plotting & Storytelling

I’ve already listed a lot of recommended reading on my Storytelling Resources page, but here’s something brand new:

  • The Story Grid“, by Shawn Coyne – which goes deep into the beat-by-beat plotting of a book in a way I haven’t seen before. Accompanying it is the Story Grid Podcast, co-hosted by new fiction author Tim Grahl (yes, the First 1000 Copies guy, acting as the inexperienced mistake-maker asking all the right questions).

More as I find them. I’ll keep this list updated as I go. – M

Images: Mike Sowden, Robert.

  • You’re finally on your way Mike! I look forward to seeing how you get on, and reading your book. One of many I’m sure.

  • Britany Robinson

    How exciting! I’m looking forward to diving into this new adventure of yours through the many many words you’ll soon be publishing. I’m intrigued by this serialized, self-publishing path and while I think I’m a ways from giving it a go myself, I’ll be back to steal your knowledge when I get there. :)

    • Steal away! I’m going to be transparent with everything I learn as I go, so it’s all meant to be stealable. And when your plans are assembled, I’d love to know how you’re going to have a go yourself…..