The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing a Book

Questions to Ask Before Self Publishing

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

The Hilarious Art of Book Design (TED Talk by Chip Kidd, famed Knopf cover designer): Since we’re on the topic of book design and production this week, I thought it was worth resurrecting this classic (and truly hilarious) talk by Chip Kidd. Even if design isn’t your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Chip.

How Do I Write My Book and Build My Platform at the Same Time? (Chad R. Allen): “Many of us want to get our books into the world, but we also understand the power and importance of a significant platform. We understand that if we write a book without a platform, we will have difficulty reaching an audience. We not only want to write a book, we want some people to read it!”

Local Flavors: Cookbooks Spotlight Fall 2016 (Clare Swanson for Publisher’s Weekly): “From Iron Chef to MasterChef to Top Chef, there’s no shortage of national media attention for kitchen rock stars and those clamoring for the title. Food Network personalities, big-time bloggers, and now YouTubers continue to dominate the cookbook bestseller list. But cookbooks by regional chefs from across the country are also climbing the charts and winning awards along the way. We spoke with publishers about how they put hometown culinary heroes on the map.”

The Ultimate Literary Ten-Course Meal (Evan Hanczor for Lit Hub): “…we’re consistently amazed by the power—creative, nostalgic, emotional—of translating text into food. If you’ve never cooked and eaten a dish from a favorite book, do it. Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?”

The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Jarrett and I are notorious for taking on more than we should…but I haven’t even told you the half of it.

We decided—in the midst of planning every detail of a DIY wedding sans professional planner PLUS crazy busy work schedules—that we should write, photograph, edit, design, and print our own cookbook as a wedding favor.

Actually, it was Jarrett’s awful idea. (This is how marriage works, right? Blame your partner for all the bad ideas?)

But really, I’m the one who should have known better. I’ve walked dozens of cookbook authors through the publishing process, and I know it’s no stroll in the park. It’s more like a two-year slog up a mountain, with a full team to help you reach the peak of quality you have in mind.

But I (very stupidly) thought: Hey, it’s only 10 recipes. Only 32 pages. Only a bit of design work. We can do this. And it’s better than cheesy “Maria & Jarrett Forever” koozies.

Oh, boy, am I a sucker.

Creating a book is a tremendous amount of work, especially if you’re trying to hack it out on your own. No matter how many books you’ve read yourself (and in my case, edited or agented myself), you’ll still be surprised at the level of detail that goes into creating an exceptional book.

Although we survived the process, got it done, and—dare I say—honed our teamwork superpowers, it could have been a much smoother process if I had wrapped my head around a few important considerations before jumping into self-publishing a book.

So now I want to be sure you don’t make the same silly mistakes I did! Whether you’re contemplating a self-published novel, an ebook bonus giveaway, or a four-color print book, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before you even think about Step #1 of the process.

And don’t worry–I’ll give you all a look at the cookbook, so you can judge for yourself! Scroll down to the bottom of this post to take a peek at our Eat, Drink, and Be Married cookbook.

I do want to say: I’m proud of the final book. I am glad we did it. It did serve its purpose of being a special and personal wedding favor for all the wonderful people who traveled from near and far for our wedding. And I do know it will be a keepsake in our home for many, many years. It’s a book that fully serves its purpose as a personal item, if not a commercial one.

So here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself before jumping headfirst into producing your own book:

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How to Get a Traditional Book Deal if You’ve Self-Published

how to get a traditional book deal if you've already self published

I hope you all had a chance to catch a few lessons from the Profitable Blogging Summit last week! I was following along from the beach in Punta Cana while working on new and experimental kinds of sun poisoning. (Seriously. My skin hates me right now. And yes, yes, I should know better. I have already given myself many demerits.)

I love answering questions at summits and conferences, but the difficult part is that I have to answer questions in 30-60 second spurts. And anyone who knows me knows that I do not excel at brevity. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything but a 6-part answer to a question.

But it’s not because I like to hear myself talk! (I actually very much think my voice sounds ridiculous when recorded.) It’s that publishing is very complex and has so many facets, exceptions, and tangents that there’s no way to provide an honest, hard-and-fast rule about anything.

So today I wanted to give you guys the long, 4-part answer to one of the questions Kirsten asked me: What does it take for a self-published author to get a traditional book deal?

When we chatted about this on camera, I grabbed my copy of The Joy of Less to illustrate a shining example of one author who successfully went from self-published to traditionally published.

The Joy of Less had sold 70,000 copies in just over 4 years by the time I took it on, so clearly Francine had created an incredibly successful and powerful book on her own. But she was ready to see her book in bookstores both nationwide and worldwide. And luckily, we were able to place the book with Chronicle, a wonderful publisher, as well as sell foreign rights in 17 countries.

And because I love ya, I’m going to be giving away 2 free copies of the book to 2 lucky readers today!

The joy of less francine jay book deal

The new edition is gorgeously redesigned, streamlined, and a great example of how a self-published book can live a whole new life with the help of a traditional publisher. I think you’ll love holding it, reading it, and sharing it with other clutterbugs in your life!

To enter to win a free copy of The Joy of Less, scroll down to the bottom of this post!

In the meantime, let me take a big breath and better explain how the self-pubbed to traditional-pubbed process works:

As we all know, the job of an agent or acquiring editor is to make an educated guess about how a book will perform in the marketplace. We all have our own hunches about how marketable a concept is, how well an author’s platform will translate into sales, and how much readers, reviewers, and the press will like the book.

That’s what our jobs come down to: making bets based on hunches. If we make good bets and take on good projects, we do well. If an editor signs a breakout author, she can start getting promoted up the ladder as she works on the author’s next (hopefully as successful!) books. If an agent signs a breakout author, she can negotiate an even better deal for the author’s second book, and then her third and fourth book after that. That’s the part that thrills us to our cores: building lasting careers for authors we admire.

But any agent and editor will also tell you that it’s nearly impossible to predict with total accuracy whether a book will do well in the marketplace. With one big exception: self-published books.

Because self-published books have already had their debut in the marketplace, editors and agents will know exactly what to expect, and they’ll have many more data points when they run their P&Ls.

This can be a great thing if you have a highly successful self-published book, because you’ll be able to show editors and agents that investing time and resources in you will be fairly low risk. But it can also make self-published books with middling sales look like an especially high risk.

So the very first thing I ask myself when assessing a self-published book is:

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