Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
Dan Poynter, an Inspiration to Self-Published Writers
Dan Poynter, who is widely regarded as the “father of self-publishing,” is an inspiration to all aspiring self-published authors. His first book was a 592-page technical manual on parachuting, entitled Hang Gliding, which he decided to write after realizing that there hadn’t been many books written about the new sport yet. Poynter made the decision to print and market his first book on his own after realizing that no traditional publishers would be interested in his finished manuscript (Mother Earth News).
The success of this first self-published book led him to write his now famous Self-Publishing Manual, in which he taught other aspiring writers to self-publish their own manuscripts. He wrote over 100 books throughout his career and ran his own publishing company, Para Publishing. Throughout his career, Dan Poynter took advantage of the many changes in technology that have impacted the publishing industry, particularly the rise of the internet and the introduction of eBooks (Coker).
Poynter was a successful self-published writer as well as a successful businessman who was greatly invested in not only his own success but the success of other aspiring self-published authors as well.
How It All Started
Dan Poynter became one of the most successful self-published writers almost by accident. He decided to write his first book, a manual on parachuting, after noticing that there weren’t many resources regarding the then-new sport available. With no experience in writing or publishing, Poynter borrowed $15,000 from his parents to self-publish his parachuting manual.
Poynter started his own company, Para Publishing, to handle selling the book. This book became a bestseller, and other writers and publishers began turning to him for advice. He wrote his famous Self-Publishing Manual in response (Donelson). Dan Poynter had a long and successful career as a self-published writer.
Poynter’s most well-known work was Self-Publishing Manual, which has been in print continuously for over 30 years. Self-Publishing Manualprovides valuable information for writers who want to self-publish and market their own work (Mother Earth News). Poynter was prompted to write Self-Publishing Manual after many other publishers and writers began asking him about the secrets to his success in selling so many books as a self-published author.
Poynter and the success of his Self-Publishing Manual helped to legitimize self-published writers in the eyes of the writing community and publishing industry. Toward the end of his career, Poynter published a sequel to his Self-Publishing Manual entitled Self-Publishing Manual, Volume 2to reflect recent changes and innovations in the publishing industry, such as online eBook publishing services and online marketing using social media. Self-Publishing Manual, Volume 2 was first available via the eBook self-publishing and distribution service Smashwords two weeks before it was available anywhere in print (Coker).
Though Poynter began his writing career as an author of books on hang gliding, he owes the bulk of his success as a writer to his books on publishing and writing. Self-Publishing Manual not only advanced Poynter’s career as a self-published author, it also helped many other aspiring self-published authors to become successful in their own careers.
Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual
The success of Poynter’s early self-published books led him to start his own company called Para Publishing to publish and market his books. According to Para Publishing’s website, the company was originally founded to “process, publish and disseminate critical safety information on parachute design and skydiving techniques” and is often referred to as “the world's largest one-person publishing company.” His first book, Hang Gliding, took him four months of writing and researching to complete. After the success of Hang Gliding, Poynter eventually expanded his company to include other types of books and publications, including books dealing with self-publishing and writing.
Poynter also traveled the world conducting seminars and speeches to help teach other authors how to follow in his footsteps and become successful at self-publishing. Para Publishing now also publishes the work of several other authors in addition to Poynter’s work.
Poynter has won several awards for his success in self-publishing, including the Publishers Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award and the Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award for the best electronic promotion campaign. Poynter’s career as a self-published author led his company to become a legitimate publisher in its own right, whether or not he ever viewed himself and his company in that way.
Poynter’s Advice to Aspiring Writers
Throughout his career, Poynter was very interested in helping other aspiring writers succeed and often gave advice to help other writers in their self-publishing endeavors. He wrote many books on the self-publishing industry and conducted seminars to coach aspiring writers to become successful in their careers. According to Poynter’s Goodreads profile, he wrote over 100 books throughout his long career, including many books aimed at helping aspiring authors succeed, such as Self-Publishing Manual, Writing Nonfiction, and Publishing Short-Run Books (Poynter). Through his own success, Poynter was able to help many other aspiring authors reach their goals and learn to be successful self-published writers themselves.
1. Have a Good Marketing Strategy
In an interview appearing on Mother Earth News, Poynter stated that the most important factor in the success of a self-published writer is marketing. He stated that having an effective marketing strategy is even more important than actually being a good writer (Mother Earth News). In more recent interviews, Poynter said that social networking is the most important thing that self-published writers can do to market their work.
By utilizing effective marketing techniques, interested readers will find you by searching for books like yours via online searches and social media (Coker). Poynter spent about 25% of his time marketing and promoting his books, despite being an introvert. Though he described himself as a private person, he did what he had to do to market his books to become a successful self-published writer.
One of the biggest mistakes that many small publishers make, according to Poynter, is not spending enough time and money on marketing (Donelson). Marketing is just as important, if not more important, as the book itself, according to Poynter. If no one knows about your book, they definitely won’t buy it.
2. Write About Your Favorite Subjects
Another piece of advice Poynter gave to aspiring writers was to encourage them to write about their favorite subjects, not just ones that publishers see as being more marketable. He claimed that it is better for writers to write about the subjects in which they are the most passionate and knowledgeable about, rather than simply writing about the most popular and most marketable topics. Self-publishing offers greater flexibility when writing about niche subjects with a limited reader base, according to Poynter (Coker).
Poynter claimed that the best topics to write about are those in which the writer is a participant. In an interview with Linda Donelson of Writer’s Digest, Poynter said that “You can look in the mirror and see a reflection of your customer.” By that, he meant that it is much easier to know how to market to people who are similar to yourself. According to Poynter, traditional publishing companies are better at selling books in traditional bookstores, but not in specialty shops related to a niche topic.
Poynter used his experience in writing and selling books related to his favorite hobby of parachuting as a prime example of this (Donelson). By writing about subjects that you are very familiar with, according to Poynter, you will be able to develop the most effective marketing strategies for your particular specialty.
Technological Changes in Self-Publishing
Poynter has seen many changes in technology that have had a great impact on self-publishing throughout his long career. Poynter first started writing and self-publishing his work long before the advent of eBooks. In the early days of his career, he was responsible for everything from writing and marketing his work to printing and shipping his finished books and he took the process of choosing a printer and the right paper very seriously (Mother Earth News). Before eBooks, all publishing had to be done via printing physical copies and delivering them to retailers or directly to the customer.
eBooks Changed the Entire Process
In an interview with Mark Coker from Smashwords, Poynter described how he had fully embraced changing technologies in recent years and that he was a supporter of electronic publishing. With the invention of the internet and eBooks, the entire self-publishing process changed for self-published authors like Poynter.
Most self-published authors are choosing to publish electronically now, and electronic self-publishing is easier than ever with services such as Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing, which allow writers to publish their books with the click of a button. Self-published authors still need to do a lot of marketing themselves after publishing electronically, though networking through social media has made marketing easier.
Print Publishers Need to Evolve
Poynter believed that the entire publishing industry needs to evolve with current technology. He claimed that, though people still say that they prefer the feel of a real book, they will change their minds eventually because eBooks are more convenient for modern lifestyles. He went on to say that print books cost too much, especially when shipping and manufacturing costs are considered. Traditional publishers, Poynter claimed, haven’t updated their business practices since 1947, and physical bookstores’ sales have been rapidly declining, while sales of eBooks are increasing (Coker).
Though he began his long career in the days of print-only books before the rise of the internet and electronic books, Poynter believed that the future of publishing lies in electronic publishing and wasn’t afraid to adapt his business and published practices to keep up with new technological advances.
Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual, Vol. 2
Dan Poynter passed away November 3rd, 2015 at the age of 77. Though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on in his books. Poynter was a pioneer in self-publishing and has given a generation of new writers a chance to have their voice heard. Though he was self-publishing his own work long before the rise of eBooks, he believed that writers and publishers should embrace eBooks and electronic publishing.
Throughout his career as a self-published author, he removed some of the stigmas that once surrounded self-publishing and shared the secrets of his success with other aspiring self-published writers through his books so that others may follow in his footsteps. Poynter and his books on self-publishing have paved the way for future generations of authors who choose to move away from the traditional publishing industry.
Coker, Mark. "Smashwords." Exclusive: Dan Poynter on the Future of Books. Smashwords, 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 7 Jan. 2016. <http://blog.smashwords.com/2009/02/exclusive-dan-poynter-on-future-of-self.html>.
Donelson, Linda. "Para Publishing's Dan Poynter: "Self-Publishing is for 95% of the People"." Writer's Digest 08 1997: 37,37, 39. ProQuest. Web. 22 Jan. 2016 .
Mother Earth News Editors. "Dan Poynter: Self-Publishing Expert and Author." Mother Earth News. N.p., July-Aug. 1985. Web. 7 Jan. 2016. <http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/dan-poynter-zm0z85zhun.aspx?PageId=1>.
Poynter, Dan. "Dan Poynter." Goodreads. Goodreads, Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/46831.Dan_Poynter>.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Jennifer Wilber
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 17, 2017:
I am glad to be introduced to Dan Poynter. I read constantly but just not on this topic so I have not heard of him. I will certainly remedy this.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on December 17, 2017:
I read Dan Poynter's books (as well as John Kremer) way back in the mid-1990's. I have to thank them for encouraging my own publishing adventures. A great tribute to one of the pioneers of self publishing!