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Do You Really Need to Write and Self-Publish a Book?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


You don’t need to write a book. There, I said it.

Whatever your reason for wanting to write and self-publish a book, you better have a reason. If just having a physical manifestation of your writing in your hands is the only goal, there’s truly nothing wrong with that. Do it and check that off your bucket list.

But I’ve observed authors who get all hyped up about launching their book and then seem let down and frustrated not too long after the launch. It wasn’t the high they hoped for. Maybe they didn’t recognize or didn’t want to admit that they had goals beyond the book. Maybe they thought magical things would happen once the book was in the world. At the bottom of this issue is that they didn’t clarify what they really wanted from doing a book, or even if a book was the right vehicle for what they wanted to achieve.

Let’s discuss what self-publishing a book won’t do for you.

A Self-Published Book Will Not Automatically Make You Famous

We can point to many celebrity authors who are famous because of the books they’ve written. But they are in an elite club that most authors will never be able to join for a variety of factors, including intense and increasing competition, marketing skill, the nature of your target market, and just plain luck.

Consider, too, that lots of famous people have written books. But many of them weren’t famous because they wrote books. They were famous for the work they did or the lives they led. Think of Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, they wrote books. But it wasn’t their books that gave them notoriety. It was the amazing work they did that made them famous.

A Self-Published Book Will Not Make You Lots of Money

I’ve harped on this over and over again. But self-publishing is a hard road to wealth. You’ll probably make money with your self-published book if “make money” means that you have some sales. But, if you define “make money” as “make enough net profit to cover my lifestyle so that I can quit my day job,” then you have a huge and difficult road ahead of you, with absolutely no assurance of any level of success.

You’ll have costs to self-publish, even if the self-publishing platform you use is free. You’ll have costs for editing, layout, formatting, and advertising for your books, as well as business expenses such as website hosting and internet service. These will often be upfront costs, possibly for years, until royalties and profits from your book can cover them.

For entrepreneurs-cum-authors who are self-publishing books to promote their business adventures, a book represents a marketing expense that must be covered by revenues. Years ago, the “business card” book was a marketing tactic that could work to bring attention and eventually sales to your business. Now that there are few barriers to self-publishing, anyone can do it. So many people do it that it’s lost its impact. It no longer makes you stand out from the crowd.

Entrepreneur-authors may say that they aren’t self-publishing to make money off the book, but that’s not exactly true. Many of them secretly want the book to become another business profit center.

Be honest about your motivations and expectations.

Self Publishing a Book Isn't the Only Creative Thing You Can Do

Is a book really the way to reach the audience you want to reach? Books are just one, but challenging, avenue to reach the people who would care about your message or story.

Would you be better off creating YouTube videos talking about things you care about? I’ve seen a number of really talented people who are crushing it on YouTube. But then they worry that they should have a book, too, as a next-level offering for their fans, as well as an additional earning opportunity.

Maybe offering your content on social media is an easy way to the hearts and minds of those you’re targeting? How about creating online courses? Would you contribute more to the world by volunteering your time and talent to causes you care about? Are you really just looking for a different day job than the one you have now? Or are you looking for a side hustle to scratch your creative itch?

Remember that people have to buy books in order to consume your content. I estimate that only about 1 percent of your author platform, or fan base, will purchase your book. That means you have to invest heavily in attracting and engaging those fans before they’ll even consider buying from you. Or you’ll have to spend on advertising your book on Amazon. That can be a significant investment that has no assurance of success either.

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.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne