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Self-publishing essentials: the purpose of publishing

When planning to self-publish, the first questions that most people ask usually relate to process. How do I turn a document into an ebook? What do I do about distribution? Who do I contact about ISBNs?

Before that stage, however, there are a couple of essential questions about purpose that an author needs to consider in order to work out which self-publishing path is the right one to take. Figuring out the answers to these questions will give you a stronger understanding of what you’re doing and how to handle the production process for your book—and it will give you a greater chance of success.

Why did you write this book?

We write for all different reasons—and not all books are written with the intention of hitting the New York Times bestseller list.

You may have written your book as a way of preserving family memories, or as a gift for a friend, or to inform or educate a specific audience, or simply to entertain and delight yourself and others. Figuring out the reason why you wrote your book provides much-needed insight into who your audience might be, and how to tailor your production, release and marketing for the book.

Did you write your book primarily for one person, or for your own family? That’s a great thing to do, but for a book with a highly specific purpose, consider whether you want to invest the money in a wider release—you might want to skip the ebook process and just create a handful of hardcover copies as personal gifts. Have you written a fiction book that people will find entertaining? Then make sure you’ve invested in a great cover that will draw an audience, and professional editing to help make your writing enjoyable. Have you written a nonfiction book to share your experiences of travelling overseas on a tiny budget? Then think about creating a paperback in a handy pocket size for reading travellers, and aim your marketing and promotion at people who might fit into that demographic (students, young people, budget/eco-travellers).

Make a list of the reasons why you wrote your book and what you hope people will gain from it. Working out the ‘why’ allows you to make sensible decisions about your book’s production that could save you money down the track.

Who is your target reader?

So, you’ve written a book about setting up a small business after retirement—congratulations! Now think: who is this book aimed at? You could produce this book and advertise it to a wide audience, including young people, or corporate business people, or parents of young children … in which case you’d be wasting a lot of time and money, when a little judicious tinkering with advertising and marketing could drive your book most effectively towards the people who will actually buy it.

Sit down and consider who you wrote this book for. Who do you think will really want to read it? How can you catch their attention, and what sort of marketing might appeal to them? What does the research say about how these people read—do they like ebooks? Prefer paperbacks? Only borrow from the library? What’s their budget like? Would they buy at a cheaper price more readily than at full price?

Marketing guru Dave Gaughran talks about researching and targeting your readership to narrow your focus. Rather than throwing your book out to be scattered to the four winds, concentrate on showing your title to the people who are most likely to need and appreciate it. Aimed squarely at its most ideal audience, your book has a much greater chance of success.

What are your publishing goals?

And now you mention it—what does ‘success’ mean for you? Defining for yourself what ‘success’ will mean with each book is a useful strategy to provide focus and direction. It’s important to have a goal in mind for your self-publishing ventures: it lets you see the larger picture, beyond the production process and release date.

How many books do you need to sell to cover production costs? How many books would you like to sell, ideally? Is this your only book? Or are you planning to write a sequel? Are your goals modest, or do you want to take a shot at bestseller lists? Is self-publishing a hobby or a career for you?

Making a plan for your self-publishing business and for each title you release also allows you to work out the costs of book production, budget carefully, think about release timing and what you might plan to produce next. Above all, it’s much easier to hit your goals if you’ve thought about them early and have taken the time to plan for them.

Good luck with your self-publishing, and don’t forget your purpose!

Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family, and her latest book, White Night (Allen & Unwin), was published in March 2018. Find her at or on Twitter or Instagram.



Category: Opinion