Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

The unfortunate reality with many otherwise great “get yourself published” or “do-it-yourself publishing” books is that they rapidly become outdated if they’re not repeatedly and regularly revised. Talking about e-reader technology as “electronic gizmos” that haven’t really “caught on in a big way” and how to market to now defunct booksellers will do that to you. I state that upfront for folks who might be looking for a book wherein the definition of “self-publisher” is probably going to *mostly* be about ebooks and POD. This is not that book.

What this book DOES offer, however, is a profoundly comprehensive (sometimes maybe a little *too* comprehensive) look at how every step in the self-publishing process – from the idea to write a book in the first place to collecting checks over a lifetime – actually WORKS. Now, I know you’re thinking … “How can it do that if it’s out of date?” To that, I would say, “Think of this book less as a place to find THE singular answers to your questions about publishing and more as a place to find A) the right kinds of questions to ask, because there are far more you need to ask than you probably think, and B) effective ways to think through, research, and strategize toward the answers you need.” The author has opinions, of course, and discusses a variety of his own experiences and those of his clients and friends, but ultimately it is very much a book focused on helping the reader develop a detail-oriented frame of mind when it comes to this process.

My major takeaways from this book:

Your #1 job is marketing and driving demand for your book. If you don’t want to do this, your possible routes to success are very small and likely come with significant trade-offs.

=== This doesn’t surprise me at all and it’s not new news if you’ve ever read any of the self-publishing blogs (or even the mainstream publishing blogs), though maybe it was news in 2007. It makes me wonder, however, if there isn’t more room in the marketplace for small publishers – not author services places, but sort of upstart indie non-self-directed publishers – who can take on some of the marketing/promotion weight from otherwise wonderful writers who just aren’t wired for or don’t have the time to figure it all out and do it consistently. I’m not asking this in lament of a publisher myself, but more because it seems like much of the discussion is in the extremes of the market – on the one hand, someone else does everything (badly or not at all, apparently, according to many traditionally published folks) and your royalties are minuscule or, on the other hand, you do everything yourself, but squeeze every penny from your own late nights NOT spent writing. Both edges are worth thinking about, but maybe so are middling spaces.

Your book is not just the words on the inside. Your “book” is a project that will need your focus, energy, and time even after all the words inside are finalized.

=== No matter how amazing your story or nonfiction exploration, your title, your cover, your description, your hand-plucked quotes from advanced readers and “influencers,” your reviews from everyday people, your packaging, and your price all contribute significantly to whether or not readers will ever even LOOK at the words inside your book! Think about your book more as a project of which the internal content is only one piece, like some proto-birthday-cake still cooling in the pan. It’s kind of a birthday cake, but how is anyone going to know it’s not just a hunk of weirdly shaped bread or that it’s even ready to be eaten without at least a decent sign, if not actual frosting and beautification? Want someone to try it? It would probably help if it didn’t look moldy and if you set out a knife, fork, and plate for them. Sure, you may think you made everyone’s favorite, but if the sign you put next to it just says “Tasty Cake,” then those folks who are allergic to nuts or who don’t like chocolate or who want nothing but pinapple-something-or-the-other right now won’t know whether the risk-reward ratio for this cake is worth their money, time, and tastebuds. And if you charge them 5 times what everyone else is charging? You will never know if your cake – or story or how-to guide – would be something readers actually want because, honestly? You made them work way too hard to be your customer in a market full of people willing to lay out the red carpet for them. You can’t just think of your book as this collection of words that can somehow in itself appeal to readers. You have to adjust your thinking. What’s your Bake Sale Strategy(tm)?

Nonfiction is probably the more lucrative of the species.

=== Don’t get me wrong. The book doesn’t say this explicitly (or, at least, not that I recall), but the ways in which nonfiction writers can parley their work into a wide variety of additional products and services to boost income is practically exponential. Fiction writers, particularly the many who have not had more than bare bones success, can mostly only increase their income (as he and several others explain it) by writing more books, or even short stories. I appreciate the insight, if nothing else, but I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t ways to create more supplemental income streams for fiction writers too, like through multiple mediums or podcasting or … I dunno. Something. *ponders further*

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What did that all help me do as an individual? Mostly just ask myself some hard questions about what I’m doing, what I want to be doing, and why, before helping me begin to lay the groundwork for achieving my goals – with neither unrealistic expectations nor doomsday imaginings. Thanks, Peter!

~A23

*”Bake Sale Strategy” is totally not trademarked but should be. *plants flag on TM mountain* “I claim this analogy in the name of A23!”

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