5 top things to consider before you write and self-publish a book and why publicists should care

1. Why are you writing a book/ebook?

 If you are an expert in a field, are you writing a book to promote that expertise? If so, your reasons for writing may be different than for a person who wants to “make money” from book publishing.

To promote your expertise you will probably want the widest exposure possible, and this may mean giving away as many books as you can. This in turn implies using numerous strategies for getting your free books into the hands of your target audiences (see #2).

If you want to write a fiction book, is it a story that you just have to share? Something that keeps you awake at night thinking what happens next? Or do you dream of becoming famous?

That latter goal, as well as making a great deal of money by writing and self-publishing, may be very hard to obtain. You need to consider how you will feel if you do not reach this goal.

Publicists:  Understanding the reason(s) why people who have written and self-published books that they want you to publicize is very important. Specific goals require specific publicity strategies, and you want to use those strategies that closely align with your clients’ goals for their books.   If your clients are not clear about their goals, this muddies the water for your own efforts.

2. Who are the target audiences for your book?

Trust me, it is not the entire world.  In fact, frequently the narrower the definition the larger the market.  Why?  Because you are speaking to specific people — to their information needs or their entertainment interests.

Say you are a real estate lawyer with a very specific niche. If you write a book with information for that specific niche, that is who your target book audience is. It is not all people who want to buy or sell real estate.

And when we talk about book specifics (see #3), you want those to connect directly with your target audience and not with everyone interested in the general topic of real estate.

What about fiction books?

The more specifically you can define your target audience, the more specifically you can categorize your book. This is important because of the way search engines work — and Amazon is one big search engine.

From my own experiences (this is anecdotal), I have seen that the more specific category a book is in, the easier it is to be found. Thus my novel, MRS. LIEUTENANT, gets good reviews but it is hard to find on Amazon because the novel does not fit into any very relevant sub-categories for the kind of story it is.

On the other hand, my cozy mystery CAST THE FIRST STONE and my romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY are more easily found because both these books fit into relevant sub-categories on Amazon.

Before you start writing a novel, consider how the specific story you want to tell might fit into a popular sub-category of fiction — a sub-category for which people search. And if you cannot satisfactorily answer this question, you may want to tweak the story to better fit into a relevant sub-category.

Publicists:  Clearly these questions of target audiences are very important to the publicity efforts you might undertake for book author clients. If authors do not understand that the entire world is not their target audiences, they may not understand the strategies you are using. If your author clients have not already done so, helping them identify the target audiences for their books should be part of your pre-planning with them

3. Are you willing to spend the necessary money to have your book/ebook professionally edited and formatted as well as having a professionally designed cover?

Now there is a whole range of possible fees for each of these categories. But they are non-negotiable in terms of being done.  Obviously, if you are a professional editor, you can probably do your own copyediting. But if you are not, you need your book proofed, especially for spellcheck errors (such as sight for site).

And while Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, allows you to upload a Word doc for conversion to Kindle’s mobi ebook format, these ebooks often have formatting issues.  For nonfiction it is your professional reputation that could suffer from a poorly formatted book. For fiction, your book just might be abandoned — or get Amazon reviews dinging the poor formatting.

Cover design is a whole other ball of wax, as the saying goes. And because the book cover image is usually rather small online, the elements of good book cover design are more important than ever. Plus there are certain “looks” for different categories of books.

Warning:  Be careful when considering free or inexpensive book covers that are actually the same cover used for different books with only the title and author’s name changed. Also be sure you have the right to use a specific image or photo on your cover.

In addition, you might want professional guidance on your book’s title and subtitle, especially when you are considering what keywords in the title and subtitle will best attract the search engines.

Publicists:  All of these considerations are important for you if you are being hired to promote a book. The better each element is, the better book you will have to promote.

4. Are you willing to stay the course — to not give up after three months and move on?

Perhaps this is the most important consideration. Book marketing is a long-haul strategy – and it is even longer now that books can remain online forever rather than be yanked off bookstore shelves after a few weeks.

First, the publishing landscape is constantly changing these days. This means there may be new opportunities tomorrow for your book that are not available today.

Second, you will learn about other existing opportunities as you start book marketing. And many of these opportunities require staying power.

If you are not going to be willing to put in the passion – the time and the effort and probably the money – to promote your book, perhaps it is better not to write the book.

Publicists:  When prospective clients come to you about promoting their books, it is a good idea to ascertain whether these authors have the commitment to be your partner in promoting their books. If they believe that you will wave your magic wand and immediately sell tons of books for them, perhaps a reality check is in order.

5. Do you have realistic expectations for your book?

Yes, even if you are committed to the long haul, some books will sell and some will not for any number of reasons.

Will you be comfortable with knowing you have done a good job of writing the book and getting all the other elements (editing, formatting, cover, title, etc.) in good shape?  Will you be glad you went through this experience even if you do not sell many copies?

Or perhaps your goal is to spread information about a topic. Will you be satisfied if you give away tons of such a book in order to help your target audience?

The answers to these questions go back to your answers to #1 and are very important to consider before you start down this road.

Publicists:  This may be the toughest part of your job — getting clients to understand that there is no magic wand. So many variables go into a book selling well that it is impossible in most cases to predict how well any one book will do. But if authors understand this situation from day one, they should be better prepared for whatever does happen.

And then there is always tomorrow …


  1. says

    This is an excellent list for people on both sides of the situation. I also see a lot of authors whose idea of market is “everybody” and that just doesn’t work. Sometimes I explain this concept this way: One would think that the market for something like bottled water is “everybody” after all everybody needs water right? But in reality, there is still a specific market. People who don’t like to drink out of plastic, people who prefer well water, people who believe plastic effects the environment too much are not likely buyers or users of bottled water.

    Do they need water? Yes. Do they want to buy it in plastic bottles? Maybe not. The water companies would waste a ton of money and effort trying to convert those people vs. finding those who love the portability and are not concerned about the plastic. The same thing goes for your book. Sometimes you do go after the unconvinced, but that’s the hardest route.

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