Self-Pub Success

When people cite examples of successful self-published authors, they often draw from a short, oft-repeated list: Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, or more classic authors from William Blake to Virginia Woolf. Certainly these authors are all accomplished, but looking at a broader sample of successful authors can better equip today’s self-published authors to replicate others’ successes.

Here are the stories of an assortment of authors who have achieved a variety of kinds of success through their self-published efforts. Compare their characteristics, strengths, and goals with your own to plot your own track to success.

Robin Sharma used his book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, originally published through Haunsla Corporation, as a calling card for his leadership consulting business. With a cover designed by Dunn+Associates, he shopped the book around to major publishing houses, securing interest from five of the Big Six, according to Hobie Hobart at Dunn+Associates. Sharma accepted an offer from HarperSanFransico and has gone on to traditionally publish more books based on the success of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

Cook and restaurateur Pauli Halstead used her expertise to equip readers to make healthier diet choices, including how to minimize carbohydrates, which oils and fats are healthiest, and how to save money by eating sustainably. She used Jennifer Omner at All Publications to design her cover. “Jennifer did a spectacular job on designing my self-published book, Cuisine for Whole Health, Recipes for a Sustainable Life,” Halstead says. “The book was so attractive that it was picked up and distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. The book eventually sold out.”

Halstead’s next book Primal Cuisine, Cooking for the Paleo Diet will use another type of powerful partnership: it will be a companion to Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. “Nora was my nutritionist when I lived near Portland in 2009. We became friends, and when she republished her book through Inner Traditions & Bear Company, I was invited to publish my new book with them as well.

Educator Ruby Payne‘s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty took hold of readers, particularly in the education field. Through its unique insights and her speaking engagements, the book gained popularity and was adopted in college courses. Along the way, Payne enlisted Dunn+Associates to perfect the book package. A new cover gave the book a more professional look. According to Hobart, the demand for the book grew so much that Barnes and Noble approached Payne about stocking the book. In all, the book has sold about a million and a half copies.

Payne presented one of her follow up books, Crossing the Tracks for Love, to Dunn+Associates. The team worked to craft an effective title (it was originally titled When the Girl with the Silver Spoon Loves the Boy from Across the Tracks) and design to keep the book from looking like a cross between a romance novel and a reference book. They wanted the book to be authoritative but for the title to create an immediate emotional response in readers. The often-compound purposes (or even genres) of many self-published books make framing readers expectations a challenge. Payne used a professional team to prevent reader confusion.

Lela Davidson is a former CPA who left the business world behind to write humor. Her book Blacklisted from the PTA, a collection of comedic essays, has led to “healthy sales, speaking engagements, and new and improved freelance work”—she’s a commentator for TODAY Show Moms and a video correspondent for iVillage iVoices. “The key elements [to success] are approaching the book as a business, and working very, very hard and consistently to promote it. I had a fabulous launch party that drove sales and buzz,” says Davidson.

“The thing that helped me the most was setting measurable business objectives and then working backwards to think through the steps I needed to take to make them happen. For example, at the book launch we wanted to sell a certain number of copies and garner a certain number of press impressions.” Davidson’s business perspective never loses sight of its end customer: readers. “They aren’t going to buy my book just because it’s good. I need to keep giving them specific reasons to buy my book,” she says. As a result of her hard work and success, Davidson acquired a literary agent to represent her future work.

Steven Power was a sales trainer and consultant with well over a decade of experience in the document industry. His consulting took him around the country, teaching and training sales professionals. In an effort to minimize his time on the road, Powers wrote a book—Power Selling. The cover was designed by Dunn+Associates. According to Hobart, they chose to feature Power’s image prominently on the cover and tie the whole packed tightly to the branding on his website. This unified, author photo–focused approached helped establish him as an authority in the sales training industry.

Powers took the book further through intentional marketing efforts. Powers used the book itself as his business card. Hobart says Powers once found himself seated next to the CEO of Salesgenie on a plane. Powers gave him a book and scored two referrals through the encounter—resulting in $350,000 worth of business. 

About MAW

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.