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Self publishing… minus the burnout?

Self-publishing is both possible and in many ways, fun. But it’s also really exhausting. And I’m wondering if we can find a way to avoid going to a publisher for the next Anarchists in the Boardroom print run, without also burning me out… What do you think?

Me talking about the book at the Open Development Camp, Amsterdam

So it’s been just over 2 months since we self-published Anarchists in the Boardroom!

It’s been an amazing experience, and have made it down to the last 50 copies already!

It’s been a really successful experiment in what can be done without traditional institutions, though it has had some limitations.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I can keep up with the work involved in self-publishing. It’s been seriously exhausting and has at some level made it harder to enjoy the many amazing conversations that the book has opened up.

There are so many aspects to the work a publisher and their partners traditionally do, even after the book is printed: store distribution, individual book distribution, speaking tour bookings, web selling software, arranging reviews and interviews and finding publications for guest blogs and editorials…

I’m a big fan of DIY – when I was 17 I started a hip-hop promotion company to give myself stages to play on, and had self-produced a vinyl 12” on my own a few years later. I co-founded an international youth exchange without an organisation when I was 20. I really, really enjoy the learning process of taking on a whole new project, and figuring out the skills I need to make it happen along the way.

But this book is proving a massive task. And the time I’m spending with a range of the tasks involved is keeping me from a) doing the stuff in the process I know I’m actually good at and enjoy, and b) doing the paid work needed to pay rent.

It’s also been a significant part of my 60-80 hour work weeks for the past two months.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you!

Having sold almost 500 copies in the first two months, without institutional backing, I reckon odds are pretty good that I could go to a traditional publisher with this and see if they’d like to take it on. This would free up a lot of my time and hopefully provide a bit of institutional backing for some of the logistics of the process.

But it would also mean less control over the process.

Alternatively, I could not print any more and leave it as a Pay What You Feel It’s Worth ebook, and see where it goes in exclusively digital format. This wouldn’t address doing any of the publicity, but would take care of some of the practical and administrative logistics. It’s the lowest effort option, and one that would leave the book’s future in the hands of the universe and see what people do with it…

The other option is more collaborative: what if we collectively became ‘the publisher’?

Basically, what if we figured out all the things that needed to happen to keep this book growing (logistics, publicity, distribution, etc) and shared some of the jobs around?

If there were a small crew of people who wanted to get involved in helping with these things, I would happily share book income around accordingly (though wouldn’t expect this to be a massive amount).

I’m open to ideas, but wanted to avoid a totally traditional division of labour, instead seeing who might be up for sharing a bit of the various tasks involved.

Anyway… I’m just tossing ideas around, but wanted to see what others thought about the 3 possibilities I’ve put forward – or suggesting a new one, if you can think of an option that I haven’t. Here, once again, are the options as I see them:

1. Approach a publisher – lose some freedom, gain some time; get some publicity and distribution support
2. Offer the ebook only going forward – save time on logistics, still have to do publicity work, and miss out on having something to sell at events
3. ‘Collectively self-publish the next batch’ – share the load, may involve extra coordination, maintains freedom about the process, addresses some of the questions of scalability of self-publishing.

Anyway, I haven’t totally thought the details of the 3rd option though, but I’m keen to discuss if you’d like to add ideas to the comments below.

Thanks so much for being a part of the journey!


PS – if you order one of the last 50 copies, I’ll inscribe something personal in it, either for you, or the lucky recipient you choose to give it to for a gift this holiday season 🙂

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6 Replies

  1. Liam this is a subject very close to my heart, having been on both sides of it recently. My experience approaching publishers when I first had the IDEA to write ‘How to be a Productivity Ninja’ was that they were being presented with a massive gamble: an unknown author with an unfinished book idea and no track record of selling books. Hence the deals they offered were lousy, in terms of the money and lack of control and I plowed my own furrow – which was as fun and exhausting as you describe here! However, when they started to approach me about my actual BOOK that I’d self-published and sold well, the proposition for them was very different. They could see the thing they wanted, and it was a much easier conversation with a much better standard of deal in place. My book comes out in Jan with Icon books and I’m really excited to have a great publisher behind it – because the work of self-publishing is indeed gruelling, and particularly when it comes to getting taken seriously by major retailers without a publisher behind you (summary – be prepared to waste a lot of time persuing this!). My suggestion would be to send a few of those final 50 to a few publishers with details of how quickly the first batch have sold and see if you get any enthusiastic interest – you might be surprised at how much control you’re able to insist on if they’re confident they can make some money on the project (I even had final say on the cover for mine which incidentally is much better than my self-published cover!). I think the alternative is just limiting to e-book to give you the freedom without all the responsibility – you could use a print-on-demand service for those people who simply insist on a real book, too.

  2. Thanks Graham!

    Really valuable to hear this from someone who’s been in a very similar place!

    I’d forgotten the print on demand option… I’ve actually been exploring that for North America, but could work here as another fall-back choice as well…

    Glad you’ve made it to a better place through it all 🙂



  3. Regarding this paragraph:

    “There are so many aspects to the work a publisher and their partners traditionally do, even after the book is printed: store distribution, individual book distribution, speaking tour bookings, web selling software, arranging reviews and interviews and finding publications for guest blogs and editorials…”

    Most of this is on the author even when you have a publisher, particularly the items related to marketing (tour bookings, reviews, interviews, editorials, guest blogs). At least that was my experience. The publisher did send books to the people we identified as key influencers, which was nice. And the publisher deals with bookstores and amazon. But the author’s work of marketing is never done!!

  4. Hi Jamie –

    Thanks for chiming in on this Jamie!

    Yeah – I gather some of this varies a lot, from publisher to publisher. Some will hire agencies to handle bookings, arrange publicity, etc, others won’t…

    I think I would struggle less w/ that stuff if I wasn’t also doing all the admin and most of the distribution… But have a small scale EU distribution arrangement, and am going to see if they have any interest in taking on a little more of the process…

  5. Susanna Dec 3rd 2013

    Re model 3 and distribution side of things – what about approaching an independent book shop (like Housmans in London, October Books in Southampton or News from Nowhere in Liverpool) to act as a distributor of a sort…

    Im going down to Southampton this weekend – could take a copy to them and make an initial link (I used to be a member of the cooperative years ago…)

  6. Thanks so much Sus!

    It would definitely be worth at least opening up a relationship w/ October Books, if you were able to help w/ that!

    I’m not sure about Housman’s but will get in touch w/ them shortly to see how the initial books I gave them are selling…

    Any chance you’re around Thurs afternoon for me to give you a few books, to see if they want to stock them on consignment?

    Thanks! 🙂


More Like People is an association of freelance consultants, facilitators and trainers, working primarily in the voluntary, community and campaigning sectors in the the UK and elsewhere.

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