How to Get Started Self-Publishing: 5 Questions You Must Answer Before You Start

Updated on May 26, 2020
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert and advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.

It's time to get started!
It's time to get started! | Source

With all the tools and self-publishing platforms we have available to us these days, it seems like self-publishing can be done by almost everyone and anyone. Technically, that's correct. But the real question is can it be done well by everyone and anyone? And that answer is a big NO!

It's not the tools that will make or break your self-publishing efforts; it's errors in the message, purpose, marketing, and risk management that will.

So before launching your book project, you need to ask yourself five key questions to determine if you're good to go.

Question #1: Why Do You Want to Write and Self Publish a Book?

The desire to write a book is strong with large segments of the population. I've even heard estimates as high as 80 percent want to do so. The reasons for wanting to write a book include the following:

  • Leave a Legacy or Express Yourself. We want to be remembered as someone of value and that our time here on this planet mattered. So many people feel that sharing their stories, insights, or art with the world is a way to keep their memories alive, even after their death. In itself, this is not a bad thing. The problem comes in when people confuse their life value with the value of their written work in the marketplace. Just sharing your thoughts or story isn't enough. Your work must have a purpose for your audience. We'll talk more about this under Question #2 below.
  • Create an Income Stream or Career. As with leaving a legacy, this is not a bad goal. Sadly, it can be tough to achieve a goal due to high competition in the age of the Internet and economic realities. If this is your goal, you need to become a businessperson and marketer, in addition to a writer, to be successful.
  • Promote a Business or Yourself. A more realistic goal than hoping to make a decent living from writing is to write a book that helps you make a living. These types of books are written to showcase your expertise, experience, and personality in a way that will draw sales leads and other opportunities to you. However, this opportunity is usually only available to people who are self-employed or own their own business. (See Question #4 below for issues that may prevent you from self-publishing.)
  • Provide Customer Service. A subset of books that are written to promote a business are books that help a business serve its customers. For example, a consultant may wish to publish a training workbook for her workshop attendees.

Tip: Pick your purpose! Some books may have multiple goals. That's fine. But be clear on what those purpose(s) are.

Question #2: Who is Your Ideal Reader Audience?

I am absolutely stunned by the number of prospective author clients I speak with that have no idea who will read their books when finished. If they say "everyone," I know they've put little or no thought into this important aspect. Others may have a vague idea of who their audience will be, such as women, young adults, business people, etc. But their targets are usually so broad that it would be difficult for me to figure out an exact market segment. Not being able to determine your primary target audience will derail all marketing efforts for your book.

Tip: Understand who your book's audience will be and then provide them with what they want to read.

Question #3: What is Your Book's Primary Message and Mission?

I see the most difficulty with this issue with "legacy" type books (as discussed earlier) and with authors who are attempting to write the "be all, end all" book within the category.

Some legacy authors are just interested in telling their stories, often with a laughable overdose of minor and irrelevant detail. There's no real message or mission. They just think that their experiences are so unique and so interesting that readers will—of course!—be enthralled. For some celebrity level authors, that might be the case. But for the rest of us, unlikely. If you are writing a legacy type book, you must ask yourself, "Why am I telling this story and how will it benefit my reader?"

In the nonfiction arena especially, I encounter authors who are trying so hard to write the final authoritative work on their topic. This is a tall order for any book and any author. So they overreach and under deliver. They also often don't finish their books because there's always something else they think they need to add.

Tip: If you can't distill your book's mission into about 25 words or so, you need to clarify your message.

Question #4: Are You Eligible to Self Publish?

Sadly, I often have to be the book dream killer for some prospective authors. There are some professions and topics that are highly regulated, high risk, or for which self-publishing may be flat out prohibited. Some examples (and there are others!) include finance and investments, law, medicine, health, multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), etc. Self-publishing without being aware of the limitations and potential liabilities can be dangerous and lead to lawsuits or worse.

Tip: Research limitations and laws that apply to you, your business, and the type of book you plan to write and publish. Seek legal advice for issues that may apply to your personal situation, profession or business.

Question #5: How Will You Protect Yourself from Media Liabilities?

In addition to the eligibility to self-publish, you need to be aware of what are called media liabilities. Media liabilities include issues such as copyright and trademark infringement, content liability, errors and omissions, defamation, libel, slander, breach of confidentiality, and invasion of privacy.

Don't think that just because you might be writing fiction or poetry, you're exempt! Did you ever see notices at the end of movies to the effect that the film's story does not depict any real people? Or if you give spiritual or religious advice in your book, do you think that you are not responsible for how your work might be interpreted or implemented? No one is exempt from these issues and appropriate disclaimers are a MUST HAVE for all types of self publishing.

Also, if you are employed, be aware that employers may restrict or outright prohibit self-publishing (including social media!). Make sure you are not violating any laws, company rules, or confidentiality agreements with what you publish. It's not worth risking your livelihood or financial future! If you are employed, seek legal guidance before pursuing ANY publishing efforts.

Tip: Educate yourself on media liability issues! Discuss all your publishing efforts with both an attorney (especially one familiar with intellectual property) and a commercial insurance provider (not your auto-home-life agent!) so that you know how to properly protect yourself with disclaimers, insurance coverage and preventive measures. Yes, there is such a thing as media liability insurance which may be expensive, but it may be worth it to protect your interests.

Bottom Line

If you can't answer these five questions, you have no business self-publishing.

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.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Cee-Jay! You're so right! It's so easy to get published these days and so easy to get into trouble. Thanks for reading and your kind comments. Have a beautiful day!

  • Cee-Jay Aurinko profile image

    Cee-Jay Aurinko 

    3 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

    Seeing myself as an aspiring indie author, I found this hub very helpful Heidi Thorne. I think some indie authors don't have a clue when it comes to the legal matters pertaining to self-publishing. Bless the lawyers lol.


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