Writers: Don’t Self-Publish; My Blogging Advice Bites

In response to my recent post, Overcoming The Harsh Realities of Book Publishing, a reader (hello, “Jim from far away Berlin”!) wrote to ask, “Do you think it is worthwhile to self-publish or write e-books for a new writer who doesn’t have a platform and wants to build a base? And do you have any tips about how to build a blog following?”

Jim, those are questions about three pretty distinct realms of endeavor. But the answer to all three of your questions is no.

Thanks for writing!

Ha! I still got it!

And no, it didn’t come with a receipt, so I can’t return it. Stop asking.

No, but seriously, lemme run down my quick answers to Jim’s query—and if anyone later wants me to expand upon any of these answers, of course I’d be happy to do so for cash .

First, as to whether or not I think an unpublished or new writer can effectively use an e- or self-published book to build for him or herself a platform significant enough to then attract the attention of a mainstream or large publisher. My quick answer is, in fact, no. It’s hard to get attention for doing what virtually anyone can—and anyone can self-publish or mount a book of theirs online. So the fact that you’ve done that can’t mean anything more to a publisher (or a potential reader who doesn’t know you, for that matter) than would the fact that you love lasagna or did some laundry. Who cares? Everyone loves lasagna and does laundry (often in that order).

Now, if you sold 2,000 copies of a book you produced yourself, you would, ipso facto, become of interest to publishers. In that sense, e- and self-published books can do you a world of good. The problem, of course, is how do you sell 2,000 copies of your book? That’s a lot of people forkin over however many bucks for something you wrote. But if you can get 2,000 people to trade their money for your self-produced and self-marketed book, you just got invited to the party. You just made the party.

But if you’re capable of writing a book good enough to get 2,000 strangers to buy it, then you probably could have gotten a regular publisher to publish that book in the first place. So there’s … that quick loop back to square one.

As to how to build a significant blog following: I have no idea. Again, how do you get people to care about the fact that you’re doing what virtually anyone can—and is? I believe the only two people left in the world who aren’t blogging are my father and John McCain. There are well over 100 million English-language blogs in the world right now. How do you deal with odds like that? How do you even begin to rise above a crowd of that size?

There’s all kinds of advice everywhere about how to build a blog following. And they all say the same things: Write exclusively about one thing people care about—run a niche blog, in other words, so that your appeal is deep rather than broad, if you see what I mean–post at least once a day; make your blog search-engine friendly by being sure to include Often Searched words and phrases in its post titles and texts; and be sure to visit and leave comments on lots of other people’s blogs.

Okay, I don’t do any of those things. So I’m the wrong guy to ask about how to build a blog following. I’m a total Blog Bum. I hardly ever visit anyone else’s blog, and rarely comment when I do. I write about literally anything that snags my attention: I post poems, photos, polls, play dialogue, humor, serious essays. I have no idea if search engines point to my blog, and have done nothing I know of to improve the chances of them doing so. The only thing I do on my blog that I know I’m supposed to is post fairly often. And I only do that because I like to write—and because I flatter myself that I actually have a relationship with my many tens of readers, and like to keep those relationships going.

Beyond the four standard Chunks o’ Advice above that you could have gotten anywhere, I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about how to buff up your blog. Of course I know the most obvious thing of all, which is that by far the most important asset any blogger can have is the ability to write well. But duh.

 

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://ww.sheppardministries.com Greta

    Hey, John…that was a good question from Jim and great answers from you! I have self-published and sold 7000 copies…but then I was travelling and speaking on the content, recovering from childhood sexual abuse….when you are writing your own story in order to help others you are being effective. I am sold out on that book and am presently doing a re-write. You have been more than helpful in your comments, John

  • http://ww.sheppardministries.com Greta

    Hey, John…that was a good question from Jim and great answers from you! I have self-published and sold 7000 copies…but then I was travelling and speaking on the content, recovering from childhood sexual abuse….when you are writing your own story in order to help others you are being effective. I am sold out on that book and am presently doing a re-write. You have been more than helpful in your comments, John

  • http://holidaylonging.wordpress.com Longing for Holiday

    John: I thought you had stopped by my blog once. But if you haven't, I would be glad to assist you in getting off your blog-behind by visiting mine. Stop on by and leave a comment. It'll do you good.

  • http://holidaylonging.wordpress.com Longing for Holiday

    John: I thought you had stopped by my blog once. But if you haven't, I would be glad to assist you in getting off your blog-behind by visiting mine. Stop on by and leave a comment. It'll do you good.

  • Jim Johnson

    Jim in far away Berlin thanks you and loves your no non-sense answers. I'm flattered you thought I had great questions and a bit sad the answers were not more hopeful. BUT, one thing I'm doing right – visiting blogs and commenting. Hey, maybe I can build a following from your readers!? HEY EVERYONE, visit my new blog!!! It's the best thing since sliced bread (just kidding). Actually I just started it and only have 4 articles. It's called The Jesus Path. Here's the address http://thejesuspath.blogspot.com/

    THANKS John. I really love your stuff!

    Jim in far away Berlin

  • http://www.JimDonovan.com Jim Donovan

    Hi John,

    I liked some of what you had to say about this, however, you may want to check your numbers. I self-published my first book in 1996 and proceeded to sell 100,000. That got the attention of a big publisher. Of course, most of my sales were direct and not in bookstores.

    My second books has sold over 250,000 in Japan alone and is in 23 countries and I'm still trying to get a bog publisher to look at my next one. It's never as easy as "sell a few thousand books and you're all set" plus having a big publisher doesn't really mean all that much when it comes to marketing and sales. The average non-fiction book from a big publishing house doesn't sell out its first printing.

    The figure I've heard around the business to attract a publisher is 20,00 in bookstores.

    The reality is it's all about marketing.

    BTW- The way you get known with a blog is to write something people want to read and make sure your using SEO and social media.

    Be well and God bless,

    Jim

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Um. I can't even imagine how to begin addressing your comment, Jim. But … way to sell books!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Um. I can't even imagine how to begin addressing your comment, Jim. But … way to sell books!

  • http://www.authorsonthenet.com/component/option,com_jd-wp/Itemid,84/ Philip Davis

    It is a very good strategy to set out to sell 5,000 copies to capture the attention of a mainstream publisher. Maybe it's 5,000, maybe it's 100,000, but this is a real process and not some hocus pocus gimmick like trying to get your book to an artificial number one spot on Amazon. I also believe authors should expend all efforts on finding a publisher. In fact, authors should do both, in my opinion, because at the end of the day, success is up to how well an author can sell his/her book, whether to strangers or to a publisher. And once a publisher buys it, the author is still going to be the book's best salesperson.

  • http://www.authorsonthenet.com/component/option,com_jd-wp/Itemid,84/ Philip Davis

    It is a very good strategy to set out to sell 5,000 copies to capture the attention of a mainstream publisher. Maybe it's 5,000, maybe it's 100,000, but this is a real process and not some hocus pocus gimmick like trying to get your book to an artificial number one spot on Amazon. I also believe authors should expend all efforts on finding a publisher. In fact, authors should do both, in my opinion, because at the end of the day, success is up to how well an author can sell his/her book, whether to strangers or to a publisher. And once a publisher buys it, the author is still going to be the book's best salesperson.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Yeah, 2,000 is just a number. Depends on how QUICKLY you sell that 2,000 to, of course. There are all kinds of variables. And, as you say, in the end, you, and no one else, are the marketeer of your book. That's true now more than it's ever been. If you don't sell your own book, no one else will. So you've GOT to seriously believe in the value of what you've written. I know I personally can't really sell or promote anything that I think can be even almost approximated anywhere else.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Yeah, 2,000 is just a number. Depends on how QUICKLY you sell that 2,000 to, of course. There are all kinds of variables. And, as you say, in the end, you, and no one else, are the marketeer of your book. That's true now more than it's ever been. If you don't sell your own book, no one else will. So you've GOT to seriously believe in the value of what you've written. I know I personally can't really sell or promote anything that I think can be even almost approximated anywhere else.

  • http://www.kellykirbyfisher.blogspot.com Kelly

    Great advice, John.

    Being fortunate enough to have some connections (if you want to call 'em that…lol) – I have been told that another way to "jump into the writing world" is to sumbit articles, devotionals, etc. to magazines and even online magazines. Even being a "guest blogger" on various blogs can get your name out there. I have recently had the opportunity to participate in some book reviews and "blog tours" of new books coming out…and not only is this a great way to get your blog and writing noticed…but, hey….I get free books, too! I mean, what more could a writer and book lover want, huh?

    By the way, are you guys all settled in your new home?

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    Ohhhh John I seemed to be the only one flattered to think you have a relationship with us. And yes you can be flattered to cos I think the same about you!!! Strange this inter-web thingy (and cue the chorus of "It's A Small World After All").

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    Ohhhh John I seemed to be the only one flattered to think you have a relationship with us. And yes you can be flattered to cos I think the same about you!!! Strange this inter-web thingy (and cue the chorus of "It's A Small World After All").

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    Oooo and to add to the blog list to visit, chaeck out mine http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Visit if you wanna

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    Oooo and to add to the blog list to visit, chaeck out mine http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Visit if you wanna

  • http://www.websavvywriter.com Patrice-Anne Rutledg

    I definitely agree with John that a platform is critical for all authors, both traditionally published and self-published. As a bestselling author and online book promotion expert, this is one of the most common questions I receive. The mere fact that you have a blog isn't the huge platform-builder that it once was considering today's crowded blogosphere, but a highly focused blog can still find an audience. It just takes more to stand out from the crowd.

    My advice to Jim: to build your blog base, you should create a feed, sign up for Technorati and FeedBurner, social bookmarkyour best posts, and post worthwhile comments on related blogs and forums to get started. Also look for ways other than a blog to build your platform. Web video and social networking/media are hot right now and great promotion tools for authors.

    Patrice-Anne Rutledge
    http://www.websavvywriter.com


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