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Why Your Self-Published Book May Not Help People

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

Self-publishing a book is great. Helping people is great. But they don't always go together.

Self-publishing a book is great. Helping people is great. But they don't always go together.

Here’s an example of a post that I encounter often on social media or online author groups:

“I want to get my book into the hands of lots of readers. I just want to help as many people as I can. I’m not trying to make a lot of money off of it.”

Yet, they have their books for sale on Amazon and are disappointed with low sales, which means a lot of people aren’t reading.

The key phrase in their pleas for help is “not trying to make a lot of money.” By the act of selling their books on Amazon, they’re saying they do want to make money. Do they say they don’t want a lot of money because they think they’ll sound greedy if their goal is to help people?

I’m both fascinated and frustrated with authors who seem, on the surface, to have an altruistic mission for self-publishing, particularly for nonfiction. I don’t really know how to direct them to accomplish what they say (emphasis on “say”) their mission is because I think there are additional and conflicting motives, along with a healthy dose of naiveté about how books actually get read.

Why a Book?

I have to question—why a book? If authors are genuinely interested in helping others, they would already be having conversations on social media, posting YouTube videos, writing blogs, or doing volunteer work.

Selling a book on Amazon is the least likely avenue to reach large numbers of interested people. Having to buy a book, even at 99 cents, creates a barrier. As I’ve ranted about in many places, authors can expect that a mere one percent of their author platform, or fan base, will actually purchase their books, regardless of price.

An amazing example of an author who genuinely shared and cared is therapist Sarah Dosanjh. She offered her entire audiobook about binge eating issues, I Can't Stop Eating, as a 5-hour YouTube video. This is not only a generous act, but it's also one that establishes her as a go-to resource, making it a great marketing move, too. Plus, her YouTube channel is very clear about her mission.

Important: If Sarah decides to also self-publish this audiobook on Audible and Amazon via ACX, she’ll probably have to go with a non-exclusive arrangement and lower royalties since she is offering it elsewhere. But that might not matter to her since any ACX royalties may be just bonus benefits now that she’s built a strong YouTube channel that supports her practice and her clients.

The Memoir Mindset

I’ve also encountered many self-published authors who have experienced some health, business, relationship, or life struggles and want to share their story under the guise of “helping others.”

Many of these authors are in a memoir mindset. It’s technically an autobiography mindset, but these days, it sounds cooler to say memoir. They just want the cathartic exercise of spilling their life story onto the pages of a book, hoping that people will recognize them for their struggles and how they overcame them. Maybe their story will be so compelling that they'll get featured on talk shows and get speaking gigs. Maybe they’ll even make some money.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t mix up your motives. In this case, telling your story, making book sales, and gaining attention are your primary motives; helping people is secondary.

Helping People Takes Marketing

Do authors think that just because they want to help people, their books will magically land in readers’ hands? Do they really think that people who need help will first go to Amazon to buy a book? These days, people who need help go to Google to search for information and solutions. And do these authors think that just because they want to help people, their self-published book will be on the first page of Google search results? That's very unlikely to happen.

Here’s the big piece of the helping-people puzzle these authors don’t seem to understand. Helping people takes marketing, and lots of it . . . continuously. Competition is fierce in publishing. Larger traditional publishers have lots of connections and cash they can use to put their books in the attention stream of millions of potential readers.

Though many authors don’t want to hear this, there are other books like theirs already on the market—sometimes even tens of thousands of competing books. Standing out in this ocean of competition on Amazon takes a lot of advertising dollars and effort.

If your goal is to get your message into the hands, hearts, and minds of lots of people you want to influence, simply self-publishing a book might not be the best way to accomplish that. You need to constantly be building your author fan base to expand your reach and your ability to truly help people.

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


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 26, 2021:

Devika, I think it's a question of what you consider "better."

By better, do you mean:

* Make more money?

* Easier to self publish?

* Lower price services?

* Something else?

There are other options such as IngramSpark, Lulu, and BookBaby. But they often have fees. Amazon KDP does not. However, these other companies do offer some things that KDP does not, including hard cover editions. Look at them all and decide which one helps you meet your self publishing goals.

Another great question. Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 26, 2021:

Devika, niches are market segments that are parts of larger markets. For example, the market for business books has many niches for specialized topics such as entrepreneurship, management, advertising, etc. And even those niches have niches. On the fiction side, romance novels are a large market. But niches within romance include teen romance, paranormal romance, western romance, and many more.

Select a market niche that you have the ability to serve with your writing. Then narrow the focus of your writing and marketing to that niche.

Does concentrating on a niche mean your books will be successful? Not really. But it does improve your chances.

Hope that helps. Thanks for asking and have a great day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 24, 2021:

What are better options to publish books if not with Amazon?

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 24, 2021:

heidithorne I would like to know more about niches. It has been a competitive experience and hope to succeed in what I do.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 23, 2021:

Mary, I think you might be right in that authors may have one motive when they publish, but then switch gears once they're in the market. And being "self" published also means that you learn a lot about your "self" when you do it.

Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation! Have a great day!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 23, 2021:

You always make us think more reasonably about publishing. Often, we only see our real motives when the book is out in the market. It's good to go to this with the knowledge you have given.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 23, 2021:

Hello, Gyanendra! Thank you so much for sharing that story. It's a great addition to this conversation. And, yes, I think he does have quite a challenge. Appreciate your support. Have a great day!

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on February 23, 2021:

I've spent good amount of time sending congratulatory emails and praises to young fellow who has published a book on Amazon. Then later on I linked him up with a retired gentleman from UK who lives here in Kathmandu.

He also has spent good amount of time exchanging emails with him. Besides that he wanted me to write a review and later on he even approached the person.

Both of us ended up in the talks about the book publication world. He talked and I had to listen for hours. Because, firstly the person is a retired professional photographer. His photos had been printed in many books in U.K.

Secondly, he was born dyslexic. He has overcome it in his life.

It took hours for describing any words or ideas in minute details. Sadly, he was not aware of what I had visited him for.

Side tracked every time. However, the topic about that writer is closed.

I won't send him your article though. I feel he has to carry his own cross of being writer.

Your article reminds me of that event. Thank you Heidi.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 22, 2021:

Hi Rodric! Great question that I see often. I've probably addressed in some posts or videos on related issues. But I don't think I've addressed it specifically. I'll plan to do a post or video on that question soon.

I'm curious, what do you think you would gain from self publishing on multiple platforms (e.g., KDP and IngramSpark)? Knowing what you would want to achieve can help me better answer your question in this upcoming post.

In short, I recommend sticking with one platform that fulfills your self publishing goals. But there are many authors who would disagree with me.

Thanks for the great question and I'll look forward to hearing from you with additional info!

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on February 21, 2021:

If I have a book published on one platform, is it okay to publish it on another? I am sure you may have talked about this before.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Adrienne, it's true that posting information on the likes of YouTube and blogs is much more productive and expands the content's reach. But I agree that creating book content has to be a much more thoughtful and intentional act, making it more likely to be higher quality.

The fragments of info spread over the web is one of the reasons I do books in addition to my HP articles and YouTube. It's much easier for people to get more in-depth coverage of a topic. That's a great point!

Thanks so much for adding your insight to the conversation! Have a wonderful week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Hi Linda! You're so right. There's so much to consider when self publishing it's almost overwhelming. Just sharing what I've learned to help authors navigate the path.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Have a lovely week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Hi Bill! Yep, I tell it like it is. Glad you appreciate that.

And guess what? It's snowing again here. Yeah, another week of winter. That groundhog was right.

Have a great week and stay safe and warm!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2021:

There’s so much to think about when self publishing a book. Thanks for your guidance, Heidi. Your always discuss some excellent points in your articles.

Adrienne Farricelli on February 21, 2021:

I feel that in some cases, posting information for "free" such on YouTube or other media that offers ads can be more productive than trying to sell that info in a book. The web is so rich with info on just about anything that most people find it easily and therefore become demotivated and reluctant to pay for a book.

However, for some reason, I feel that those who commit to write a book take writing and fact checking more seriously as once the book is out, it's not like you can fix a mistake or update it as you can do with online content.

On top of this, if the topic is broad, it's easier to find it all in a book and stick to that rather than spending a lot of time searching for all that info on the web or Youtube. So I still purchase books from my favorite authors for these reasons.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 21, 2021:

Anyone looking for the naked truth would do well to read your articles about self-publishing. They are eye-opening, brutal at times, funny at times, and always worth the read.

Happy Sunday, Heidi! Guess what? It's raining here! Shocker!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Liz, you nailed it! Writing a book should be a soul searching exercise, along with being a writing one. That's where a lot of writers get messed up, and get disillusioned and disappointed.

Thanks for adding that great point to the conversation! Hope you're staying safe and well. Cheers!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 21, 2021:

Oh, Rodric! I know you have a good heart and good intentions. So don't be too hard on yourself. But I think we all kid ourselves to some degree about what it means to help people. Remember, too, that you will help people with your books... maybe just not as many as when you do give away your work. Also start thinking about ways you can share a bit of your message and mission, without giving away your book. YouTube? Blog? Be creative. I think you'll find ways to help that also bring you satisfaction.

Congrats on the book and I wish you all the best of success with it! Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Have a wonderful day!

Liz Westwood from UK on February 21, 2021:

I really appreciate the clear way that you take readers through your reasoning on this topic. It seems that writers would do well to examine their motives honestly before embarking on a project. That way they would have a better chance of selecting the correct route for publication.

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on February 20, 2021:

This is me. I lied to myself for so long trying to tell myself that I want to encourage people with my story. I do, but I want to make money or I would have it set out for free!

I will take this time to advertise my book Moroni Saw Me. I will do more adverts on my articles and for the website with like name. Thanks so much for bursting my self-righteous bubble for me.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2021:

Flourish, I thought that was really brave of her to do, too! She is a genuine therapist. So I hope that she's done her homework to protect her interests. I'm following her on social and will be anxious for updates. Given the pandemic, it was a generous act to help people who are struggling with these issues.

I definitely don't begrudge people wanting to make money. They should! But I do the eye roll, too, when I see the "I just want community, not money" comments. Yeah, right.

The example that triggered this article had posted on social media that he wanted to get his book (which looked kind of memoir-ish) to as many readers as possible. Really, dude? Sadly, I see similar posts all... the... time. They just don't get that getting people to read your book isn't magic. Bibidi-bobidi-boo!

Anyway, I figured you'd appreciate. Hope the weather isn't impacting you too much now. It was up to 30 here today. Yay! Thank you for adding your insight, as always. Take care!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2021:

Hi Pamela! You're right. If you're doing to invest in creating and marketing a book, why shouldn't you want sales? Glad to hear that the binge eating example was timely. We'll watch for your article on that.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2021:

Peggy, I agree. As long as your motives for helping are true, you'll find so many ways to help that aren't a book. As I'm sure you can attest with the weather issues you've been having in your area lately, helping ways that people really need is the best way to become known for being a resource and contributor.

Thank you so much for chiming in! Stay safe and warm!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2021:

Hi Steve! Agreed, it the main cost is mental sweat equity and commitment to doing it, give self publishing a go. I also agree that focusing on maybe one or two niches for which you have expertise is the best way to go. A lot of authors have interests in many genres and subjects, and just get overwhelmed by trying to pursue them all. Pick and stick!

Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 20, 2021:

That was a pretty brazen move for that therapist/YouTuber to offer her content for free like that. I wonder if she consulted a lawyer or marketing professional before she did it? Regardless, someone with deep expertise like that can afford to do so, as it builds their professional brand. What an excellent example.

People need to be very clear about their motives and not be embarrassed of making money. (We all have bills to pay!) Even on HP I roll my eyes when I see comments that people don't care at all about making money, they simply want community.

And if helping people is what they truly want to do, you're right ... there are many ways to do it. Volunteer work, donations, etc.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 20, 2021:

You make some valid points in this article, Heidi. If anyone goes to all the trouble to get a book published it is hard to think they don't want sales. They probably want to feel successful also.

It is funny that you used the I Can't Stop Eating video as I am working on a binge eating article. Yes, I like to help people, but I also like the connection with so many friends on Hubpages. You sure don't write here for the money if you are only writing 1 article weekly.

I enjoyed reading this article, and it made a lot of sense to me. Have a good rest of the weekend, Heidi.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 20, 2021:

I agree with your premise. If people truly want to help people there are so many ways to do it in person rather than writing a book. Donate time or money to one of many charities that aid people or pets. Help your neighbors, family, and friends. Put information on YouTube and other free-to-access sites.

Steve Mitchell from Cambridgeshire on February 20, 2021:

Great article, Heidi. I’ll be honest, I want to make money and love writing. I think I’m becoming a student of learning how to make money online through publishing. If I can work it out for little or no cost, other than hard work, time and commitment, I would like to be able to help people to do the same.

I started here 9 years ago and I think my biggest mistake was not committing fully and following a plan. I’ve had a go at writing for Amazon Kindle and Audible but still really don’t know where and what to focus on. I think I need to find my niche and stick to it. At the moment I just write about whatever takes my fancy.