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How to WIN at Self Publishing


This is not about what I have done with my career choices (which is sort of like taking a dandelion and blowing all the seeds off to see what happens :) ). This IS about how I have seen some few authors become very successful at self publishing. And if you take a ten thousand foot view, it’s actually pretty obvious how they’ve done it.

(I’ll do another post on the pros and cons of self publishing versus traditional publishing later. This post is strictly on how to win at self publishing.)

Let’s define success for the purposes of this piece: An author selling millions of books.

Step 1. Become a good writer

I don’t believe you need to be an amazing writer. Good to very good will do nicely.

Step 2. Become a good book publisher

You need to follow the same steps of a traditional publisher including developmental, line, copy, and proof editing. Your book needs a professional cover and to be well formatted. Traditional publishers do a lot more than this, but these steps will give you a good product. A self publisher needs a good product.

Step 3. Stick to a Genre and Choose Wisely

Do not write in every single genre imaginable. Do not write for kids and adults and young adults. Pick your audience. This is about building a brand and a fan base. You want to be known for something. One thing. Ideally this is in the thriller or romance genres. Romance writers in particular have been very successful self publishing.

Step 4. Write a Series

This benefits the author in two ways. You gain a following for you the brand, and you gain a following for characters in a series. Readers love to know what they are buying and by writing a series you make the choice easy for them. It also gives you a number of marketing tools such as being able to offer the first in the series for free, or selling box sets. The more ways you have of reaching out to your readership and finding new readers the better. Successful self publishers publish A LOT of books.

Step 5. Build a Mailing List

The single most important author marketing tool aside from writing a lot of great books is the development of an engaged mailing list. Books do not have long to ‘make it’. Sure, you may get lucky and someone will find your book long after it was published but your best chance is to send news of your recent release to your mailing list and urge them to buy. This will increase your reviews, increase your sales, and improve the book’s placement in Amazon and other distributors’ all important algorithms. With a big mailing list success becomes self fulfilling. A book in the top 100 sales rank, in any category, attracts new readers, new sales, which moves the author higher up that same list.

Are there exceptions? Authors who write a single quirky book that breaks out. Sure there are—but from what I’ve seen in authors such as Amanda Hocking, Michael J. Sullivan, Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, Mark Dawson, Hugh Howey, John Locke, and Colleen Hoover: This is how it is done.

ATTENTION: The submission window for critiques is open! If you’d like your work critiqued, please submit no more than 2 pages (double spaced, 12 point font) via email to

Michael Stewart is OPL’s  first official writer in residence for teens and tweens. Michael likes to experiment by combining social media with storytelling. He's both traditionally published and indie published. He writes middle grade through to adult novels, graphic novels and new media projects across many genres.

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