Are your publishing fears valid? Yes. This is the solution.

sad girl

I got an email today from a wife helping her husband publish and worried about the book’s potential success. Putting your book out there is scary. Spending a lot of money and not earning it back is a very valid fear. There are ways around it, but it’s mostly a gamble.

You can mitigate the risk by producing the book like a product (not just styling it up after it’s done, but writing it with readers in mind). But your fears are valid: there’s a very real possibility that you will spend more than you earn on your first book. She writes:

Don is in the process of getting the first draft printed and as soon as he finishes, he will send you a short synopsis. One of the concerns is, can he truly be successful on Amazon?


As a kindle reader, I discover a lot of trash that would never be successful. How does one wade thru the trash and discover Don’s book? We have a choice, just do a cover for $200 or do your full service for $1000. Either way is good if you at least make the expenses back in book sales.


I suddenly feel sorry for Steven King, Ken Follett and Robert Heinlein in the beginning. I guess you step out in faith. Faith, I am having trouble with. I was a successful network marketer, at the top of my company, when the company stopped 900 of the top producers checks for no cause. I guess I am afraid to invest in something else and not have ROI.


I love my husband and my biggest fear is that he will get hurt. And if he spends $1000 and does not get his investment back, he will be hurt. And, I feel that with as many Indie writers as there are today, his odds can’t be that good.  So, I am looking toward you, a complete stranger, for some advice.

This is my response

Those are valid fears, and I often warn people against spending too much on a first book, because it probably won’t earn an ROI. Most successful indie authors put out several books, and improve their skills, before they figure out what works for them, and build their platform to the point where it will be successful.

A book can be a money earner if:
A) there is a big audience of readers who enjoy the genre and/or
B) the author already has a big platform to sell from.

Anything else will take a lot of work and time to build up a platform with smart content, guest posts, professional design, networking, etc. On the other hand, becoming an author is a lot like learning to drive: it’s scary at first, you don’t know what you’re doing, you may drive poorly and endanger yourself. But with time you get comfortable, confident, and things become easy.

You can’t expect to jump in the car and start driving like a professional racer, and you shouldn’t be hurt or disappointed just because the magic doesn’t happen the first time (it’s usually not so much about the book, but the lack of platform and unprofessional level of design, and the inherent barriers and challenges in trying to self-promote).

You want to do things right and learn what you’re doing, and do the best you can, but trying to protect yourself from getting hurt is like reading a lot of books about driving and then sitting in the car turning the wheel, without actually starting the engine and releasing the break.

You won’t learn and get better at publishing until after you do it. (Which is why I recommend micro-publishing shorter books, guides or articles at first, to get the hang of it and test the market, before putting out your major book).

Here’s the good news

Yes, a lot of indie author books are crap. But that means, actually, it isn’t as hard to stand out. A lot of indie books aren’t well written. If you are an amazing writer, and you have a good cover and get a handful of reviews up, people will start buying and then sharing your work.

You don’t need to have people “find” your book out of tens of thousands of others; Amazon is very good at promoting books to people that will like it. All you need to do is have a great book and get the ball rolling.

Here’s more good news: unlike a corporate job, which can fire you at any time, if you build up a publishing platform and learn to publish books quickly you can control your life and make your own income. Those skills (making a website, networking, online marketing) will be increasingly valuable and give you a lot of autonomy and freedom.

Is your first book likely to be successful? No – the odds are against you. Especially if you just put it out there and do nothing else. But if you spend the time to build a platform, write more books, learn from your mistakes and keep trying again and again, you’ll eventually get pretty good at writing and publishing.

That’s when things get fun, and easy, and the money starts coming in.

It’s a long term plan. Put the book out there but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t sell; maybe the universe is telling you it needs more from you than just one book.

Going Deeper

Somebody else recently asked this:

I’m not the only one who’s thought this: “What if I never make it big? What if I never make the impact on the world I want to make? What if this is the best it gets? What if this is it for me? Will I be satisfied with that?” Ever thought this? Have a cure for this kind of thinking?

My answer: It happens. It doesn’t matter if you make it big; it matters that you tried.

Put in the effort. Do the work. Launch the projects you say you are going to. Be ruthlessly and overwhelmingly helpful to everyone you can. Think up huge amazing ideas that benefit tons of people and get them involved. Try, try, try.

You fail a lot, you learn a lot, you do things poorly, you do things better. Each year you’re in a totally new place of expanding empowerment. “What if I don’t make it big?” is like saying “What if I die?” There’s nothing you can do about it.

The answer is abstract and without meaning. You just live as if death / failure don’t matter. They are out of your control, so you ignore them, you do what you can – which is the work. Produce more. Build more. Connect more. Solve needs. Figure out business, blogging, marketing and sales. Make awesome shit. Be a hero and champion for everyone else. If you change the lives of a handful of people, who cares if you rack up the huge numbers you covet?

However: I wasn’t always this confident, and went through periods of depression. My cosmological questions led me to study philosophy and religion for a decade.

I’ve come to learn that:

A) believing your life and work have meaning and purpose helps, even if it isn’t really true.

B) long term depression, crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem are often less personality traits and more imbalances of brain chemicals (especially if you “used to” feel happy or confident, but now you don’t). Experiment with St. John’s Wort or light positivity boosters (I take a tiny bit of amitriptyline for migraines, and also keeps my mood balanced).

I’m a firm believer of using whatever means necessary to keep yourself at peak productivity – including drugs, diet, exercise, etc. Sure you need dark and sad periods, rough and crazy periods, and experience with mourning, loss and questioning the universe to be a really great writer. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer all the time. And don’t let your doubts or fears slow you down from finishing the work.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Great post Derek. I realeased a book on Kindle, and it sells 1 or 2 a day, but I keep trying and fiddling with it to try to improve sales. I have a 45000 word book almost finished and am forcing myself to concetrate on that , rather than spending too much time on the previous one.

    Do you think the best way is to put together a publicity plan for all books, posting to twitter, facebook groups etc. Map it out into a daily action plan for the weeks leading to publication, and a couple of weeks after. Implment it, then forget it and get the next book up there asap? Obviously cross promoting will help a lot in the future, but what I am terrified of is writing 40 books say, and still making no money 🙂 I guess if that happened, I would not have been learning and progressing along the way, which would be kinda silly.

    I agree that just doing it, learning, developing, getting better as a writer and publisher needs action, not paralysis by analysis!



    • Don’t wait until later, but don’t expect too much now. Platforms take time to build, and in a year or two, when you have 40 books, you’ll really appreciate having an established blog that gets traffic. Bringing traffic to your blog is the best marketing, but you need to write articles that help others, and have a lot of great content. Keep writing, but keep blogging and growing your platform as well. Promote your books, seek blurbs and reviews, try to keep them relevant with new blog posts, once you are getting sales try to see where they come from and how to increase them.

      • Excellent advice, I also removed some typos from my comment, I know you spot those from a mile away 🙂

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