You are the founder and the creator of Self-Publishing School. You are really good about understanding this self-publishing game and I think a lot of speakers are interested in creating a book and having a book, but we have no idea how to get started or what to do, and this whole idea of publishing just seems mysterious. So first of all, let’s talk about this.
Let’s give some context to who you are, what you do. Why don’t you give us a snapshot of your business, what it is that you do, and how you got into learning about and teaching the land of self-publishing.
I got into it first. We run a company called Self-Publishing School. We teach people how to write, market, and publish their first book in 90 days. So it’s pretty fast-paced.
And then we teach people how to use that book and leverage it to grow into something else: speaking, coaching, or consulting leads for your small business, whatever that might look like.
I was an unlikely writer when I first started, so I tripped and fell into writing my first book. I was my English Teachers’ worst nightmares.
I think they liked to write up my paper for the fun of it and just pass it back with a ton of red ink on it. I hated it. It wasn’t fun at all.
I hated writing, but then I wrote my first book and it took off, and then I wrote another one and it took off, and then another one, and another one and now I’m five books in.
What were those first books you wrote?
The first book was called The Productive Person. Then the second one was with my brother, it was a charity project called Breaking Out of a Broken System, and then we got a couple other books.
Then we did a book launch, which is probably one of the biggest ones I’ve done today.
We’re going to publish the sixth book this fall. So that’s how it got started. I feel much better about speaking than I do about writing.
So it’s this huge insecurity, and so I think I’m just proof of that you don’t have to just be a speaker or you don’t have to just be a writer to get a book out.
You can take that next step. A lot of people think it’s like the paradoxical chicken in the egg. Which comes first, my first speaking gig or my first book? I’m sure that’s what we’ll talk about today.
I get that question a lot from people. I have a self-published book and people ask, “Did you have to have the book in order to get speaking gigs?”
Which you don’t. If you have it, great, and it can be icing on the cake and you can leverage a book in a lot of different ways to get speaking gigs and to build the business in other ways.
Let’s talk about this. So if someone has a rough idea for a book, but they are not sure where to go.
They are staring at a blank screen and have no idea how to even begin to write something Talk us through that.
I too suffered from dreaded blank screen syndrome, when you want to just bang your head against the keyboard because you are staring at the blank screen and you don’t even know where to start.
I talked to a mentor when I was writing my first book, because I was really intimidated.
I was worried the book was going to suck. I didn’t even know how I was going to finish it. I couldn’t even write a three page paper, so I really wasn’t sure how this whole book thing was going to work out. And so I said, “You’ve written a book, why don’t you tell me how you did it?”
And he broke it out into a pretty simple three-step writing process. This became the basis of what we teach. Now it’s going to sound so simple that you’ve probably heard it in the past or you’ve heard some modification of it, maybe even from a high school English teacher.
But I can tell you that it works. It’s worked for a ton of our students and it’s worked for me. So I know it’ll work for you.
I’ll just outline it here. The first step is the mind map. That’s really a brain dump. You get a blank sheet of paper and list out your idea for a book in the middle.
Then list everything that you can think of, every story, every experience you’ve had, every book you’ve read, everything that you might want to share. Nothing’s off limits. It’s going to be messy.
There’s going to be a lot on the paper, but just keep going with it. Take 30 minutes to do that. Then use that mind map and start to group ideas into sections.
You start to combine ideas and you get these overarching sections, which will form the outline for your book. Then you break those sections down into chapters. And the next thing you know, you’ve got an outline.
It’s a simple roadmap that you can follow. Now you are, all of a sudden, not staring at a blank page, but you are moving into step three, which is writing the book. This can even mean speaking, by the way. You can speak the book and there’s a lot of ways to do that.
That’s a lot of the same process that we teach for creating a talk, and this is why I think this works so well, whether you have an idea for a book, or you have an idea for a talk.
One of the first things you have to do is brain dump everything that’s just swimming in your head related to that topic.
Then you can start to see how some of the pieces fit together so that you are not just working from a blank screen there, but you’ve got something to go off of.
So once we have the mind map and then we’ve organized it into a possible outline, how do we know what should come first? What should come next? Like any thoughts on that, on how to structure it?
That’s a little bit different from person to person. Michael Ports actually has some really good stuff about this on how he crafts speeches and then also how he crafts books.
I did a summit last year and we talked about that and it just blew my mind. I loved it.
There’s different kinds of structures that you can fit in, but at the end of the day, everyone just has their own.
I like to start with the introduction. Then you go into some sort of story that sets the scene. Then you move into teaching points, and there’s all kinds of ways you can do it within that, right? You can use teaching point examples, story within a chapter.
You can layer those on top of each other, but at the end of the day, what I do is I take that mind map and I look at it and I zoom out a little bit and map the whole thing out. That shows you all the sections that you are working with, and then you have a roadmap for the chapters that you have to write.
Before I wrote my book, one of the first things I did was make a list of what those chapters are and organize it. That made it a ton simpler.
Instead of staring at a blank screen, I know that each chapter’s going to be a thousand or so words, I’ve got 50 different things to choose from.
So I can bounce around and figure out what I’m interested in and what makes sense to write about today.
It made it so much simpler to have something to go off of rather than staring at the blank screen.
I forgot one super important piece, which is that I repeat this process every single chapter.
So I have my chapter idea and then I’ll spend 10 minutes mind mapping. I’ll spend 10 minutes turning that into an outline, and then I’ll spend an hour writing or some equivalent of time.
And this is actually how me and my brother wrote our first book in a week.
When you start, it’s going to feel really rough. It was 12 minutes of mind mapping, 12 minutes of outlining, then an hour and a half of writing.
Then it worked it down to 10 minutes, 10 minutes, and an hour. And then we made it even shorter. So you just keep going, but that sparks all the ideas. And the same thing happens chapter by chapter.
So now that you have this outline you are staring at a blank page in this chapter, which is a little bit different than the whole book.
A little less intimidating, but still intimidating. So now you are able to break it down and each time you start the mind map process, your brain starts to fire and all these things come up so that by the time you start writing your first words on the chapter, you’ve already got a ton of momentum and your brain is firing.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a momentum writer. So if I get going, I’m in flow. That’s when it really starts. we can talk about a cool voice-to-text thing that I use later, that really helps get things going.
Let’s talk about it now. What is it?
A lot of people have probably heard of recording your book. You can use rev.com. They do audio transcription for a dollar a minute. There’s also an app, so you can just record it into your phone on the way to work. Send it into Rev.
They’ll transcribe it. It’s an actual person, it’s not automated which means the quality is higher, it’s a dollar per minute of audio, and they’ll turn it around in 24 to 48 hours. But then there’s a lot of other services now, voice to text is getting a lot better.
Google Docs just came out with that and I was testing it out myself, which I have a Southern accent. Then I also tested it with a friend from Scotland and it even understood him, which I was really impressed by.
We just lost our entire Scottish contingent.
With the accents, a lot of times, whether it’s an Aussie accent or a Scottish accent, the twist of text is just a nightmare.
It actually works pretty well. That’s one route. You can do the mind map and outline, speak the book and have it transcribed, and then form that into a chapter. But what I like to do, and the tactic that I was just talking about, is to record it and then transcribe it myself.
You may think that’s so stupid. Why would you do that when you can just pay someone to do that? I’ll tell you why. We’re going back to the momentum thing. It takes a little while, but I’m transcribing it myself, and what’ll happen is as I get in there, my fingers are moving on the keyboard.
So it’s tricking my brain into thinking that I am killing it right now.
Then what will happen is it will spark a thought. I’ll think, “I forgot to say this in the recording. I better write about this really quickly.” And I’ll go off for a couple paragraphs. Then I’ll come back and then I’ll go off.
The first time I tried this, I wrote 1,500 words in an hour. It was amazing. It works from there, and I found that it really sparks ideas and gets momentum flowing.
It gives you that muscle memory and gets you into that pattern, that rhythm. Even when you are recording yourself talking about it, it’s not necessarily you thinking in complete sentences or complete thoughts, but sometimes it’s spitballing.
But then, like you said, as you are typing it out you can not only clean it up, but you add on and move ideas around.
The biggest mistake I see people make here is that they just turn on the audio recorder and go.
That’s why I want to really stress that it’s important to do that mind map outline per chapter. Because if you do that, I know it takes longer upfront, but you are going point by point through your outline, speaking it out. Now your chapters will have a coherent flow to them.
So when you start transcribing you are not just editing junk. I feel like a lot of people hear this and they think “oh, awesome. Fire up the recorder.”
And then 30 minutes later they don’t know where they are or how they got there, but they are off on some rant and don’t know how to take it back home. It’s important not to skip over those first prep steps.
So we’ve talked about the writing process. I want to take a step back. One thing we didn’t really talk about is why someone should have a book.
There’s some people who really want a book and that’s their life ambition, and then other people just don’t know they don’t necessarily enjoy writing.
So what’s the value? If I’m a speaker, what’s the value of writing a book?
A hundred percent. So I’m obviously biased, but I think it’s the best thing that you can do for your business and the best thing that you can do for your speaking career, especially if you want to raise your fees, if you want to get booked more, if you want to make more money off of your speeches through backroom book sales.
There’s a lot of ways to use a book to fuel your speaking business, but the reality is a book is the new business card. Even get in the door, whether it’s a podcast, whether it’s getting booked at the organization that you want to get booked at, any of those things, you don’t necessarily need a book but let’s be honest, you need a book.
If you want to stand out from other people, having that angle and having something that you can hang your hat on that’s your signature thing, you are a lot more likely to get booked. Not to mention all of the other benefits of selling back of the room .
You definitely have the back of the room and the additional revenue stream. But you also have, like you said, the credibility factor.
One of the things that we teach our students is that a lot of times organizations, conferences, corporations, they are not just looking for a speaker, they are looking for an expert who happens to speak.
A lot of times, one of the best ways that you can position yourself as the expert is by having a book on that subject or topic. Especially when you are getting going.
Let’s get back to where we were about the book. Traditional publishing versus self-publishing give us pros and cons of both. Which path should we be headed down?
Oh gosh. So we could talk about this for hours. This is getting on my soapbox a little bit here and obviously I’m biased because the name of my company is Self-Publishing School, but, There’s pros and cons.
I would say for 99.99% of the population going with a publisher doesn’t make sense. It isn’t an option, I would say. And even if it was an option, it’s probably not a good one. You know how they say that banks only lend money to people who don’t need it?
Publishers only give publishing deals to people who don’t need them, and to people who have massive audiences and can sell a ton of books. So really it only makes sense for the Gary Vaynerchuk’s and the John C Maxwells of the world because they can negotiate one heck of a deal when they go in there.
Not only that, but they are looking more for raising their speaking gig to 50 grand or higher, and then they are looking to go international, they are looking for New York Times and all that stuff. So the whole New York Times, that’s a totally separate subject.
That’s a pretty screwed up list and they are in bed with all the publishers. But personally, I think for the majority of people self-publishing is not only an option, it’s the best option.
That’s my personal mission through self-publishing school. Our goal is to put the publishers out of business and to show people that self-publishing is the best option, because it’s kind of like the music industry.
My brother’s in the music industry with a major record label, I won’t say the name and they are very similar, publishers and record labels. They just screw over the artist and they’ve been taking advantage of the artist for decades now.
It’s just such an antiquated system because people they just get a publishing deal. They write the book, hand it over to the publisher and they are going to market it.
Next thing you know, you’re just bringing in the mailbox money. They do zero marketing for your book, it’s still your job to market the book. So I’ll spare you from the rest of that soapbox rant, but that’s the gist of it.
I’d say self-publishing, especially with the advances that Amazon has made, and since over 70% of all books are sold on Amazon. It just doesn’t make sense to go with a publisher.
I’d give you an amen on all of it because of what you said. And then also, one of the nice things about being a speaker is that you have a built in means to actually sell books.
I’ve said several times before that, I’ve sold over 30,000 physical copies of our self-published book. And the reason is not because I had a book deal, not because I was on any shelf of Barnes and Noble; I have never been in Barnes and Noble.
Nobody would go to the store to buy Grant’s book, but people bought the book because I spoke.
The audience liked it and people would line up to buy a copy for 10 bucks or whatever, and so when you have that built in system it works out really well.
The challenge of speaking is that if you go up and you crush it for 45 or 60 minutes, there’s just only so much you can cover. And realistically, unfortunately, the audience will forget a large percentage of what you said. But with a book on any subject or topic, you can go way more in depth.
You can give a lot more examples, case studies, exercises, et cetera, that people can take with them and allow the information to continue to permeate them and so that it makes an impact in their life, whether that’s, personally, in business, or whatever that may be.
But I would totally echo that the self-published route connected with being a speaker is huge, not only for credibility, but also for revenue.
I’ve seen that happen time and time again. You, Hal Elrod, tons of other speakers that go the self-published route, and they can package the books in with speeches.
They can sell the back of the room, tens and tens of thousands of copies. And the best part is you are keeping 60, 70% of the royalties, which is amazing.
I can give you some hard numbers. We got to a point where we’ve been able to print a book for about a dollar per book.
So if I’m selling a book for $10, I’m keeping $9. And you can do the math that if we’ve sold 30,000 copies at 10 bucks a pop, that’s over a quarter million dollars in revenue from a book that I’m keeping, 90% of, whereas if I was working with a publisher, it would be the opposite. I would keep 10% if that they would be getting 90%.
And so it’s just a totally different ballgame. So if we’re hopefully all on the same page that self-publishing makes a crap load more sense for a variety of different reasons, and I’m working on my book. I’m getting near the finish line, and now how do I get it off my computer and into something that’s physical that I can actually touch and hold? Where do I begin? What are my options from there?
There’s a lot of different options for moving from that. Now, obviously you are going to have to do some basic things. You are going to have to get a cover, you are going to have to get a back cover, you are going to have to get the book formatted.
Should I do that myself? Should I hire that? What? What are my options there?
Great question. Upwork is a fantastic resource for that. upwork.com. In my book launch, I go through templates on how to reach out to people and make sure that they are good, whether it’s an editor, a book cover, or any of that stuff. Those are some of the best ways that we found people.
We just have a list of all of our best people in our program, and that’s what we give to our people. And so that’s really helpful, doing the grunt work. But the important thing to note here is that it doesn’t have to be really expensive.
I get pissed off because there’s a lot of people that just take advantage of wannabe authors. There’s a lot of either book distribution companies, editors, or book formatters or all these things that make you think a book costs thousands of dollars. You instantly think this is going to be expensive.
People have no idea and they walk in and then they get taken advantage of. Know that you can get all of this done for less than a thousand bucks. You can get your book formatted, you can get it edited, you can get a cover, you can get all of those things for less than a thousand bucks.
Some of our people who are on a budget do it from 200 to 600 bucks. We’re not talking cheap work here. We’re not talking crappy quality. We’re not talking about 10,000 word books or anything like that. We’re talking about real books.
I would recommend outsourcing it, not doing it yourself, because it probably won’t be that good if these things are not a major skill set that you have.
I remember some of the best advice that I got, someone said, “Your self-published book shouldn’t look self-published.”
You don’t want to pick it up and think that it is someone’s fourth-grade nephew’s project. You want it to feel like a legit publisher could have done this. You want a reader to be able to flip through and be confused as to whether or not it was self-published or traditionally published.
It needs to look sharp, it needs to look like it would fit on the shelf of Barnes or Noble like it belongs there and not like something that you made in Microsoft paint. Whether we like it or not, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, or admit it or not, people judge books by their covers.
So you have to make things look sharp. You have to do things professionally, and oftentimes that means that you are paying for it, but there’s going to be that return on investment of something looking sharp and being perceived as credible versus something that just looks like crap.
So it’s assumed, then the inside of the book. The book content itself is crap as well, which may not be accurate.
That book cover is the best money that you’ll spend. Don’t cheap out on that. People judge books by their cover and that is your first impression with people. So don’t cheap out, spend a couple hundred bucks at least.
I’ll let you in on a little secret when people are browsing on Amazon there’s a small byline that says the publisher and in fact, if you are listening right now, you’ve probably never even seen that because you don’t care.
You just scroll straight past it to look at the reviews. It’s not in your face whether or not this is a published book. It’s all perception and your book cover is the best way to make it look like it’s a published book.
Because that’s where people judge on its quality. And I’ll give a shout out to Ida Fia Spinningson, she’s our designer. She’s done every book cover on every book that I’ve ever done. She’s amazing. She’s awesome.
But anyways, when you are looking to get your book printed, I like createspace.com. It’s the division of Amazon. It’s what they call print on demand, which means when someone buys your book, they click the purchase button on Amazon.
Amazon prints it, ships it, they cover everything; they just send you a check. So you are not a one man fulfillment center, which I would highly not recommend, printing all the books, sending them to your house, going to the post office or printing off a USPS label.
I recommend print on demand because the quality is really high. I’ve printed some crazy books, with some intricate design and all this stuff, and they knocked it out of the park. Then you don’t end up with a thousand books sitting in your garage.
I can speak to that personally. We first self-published our book several years ago before Create Space was a thing and when the print on demand options were not good. What we would have to do is exactly what you described.
We would print anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 copies at a time. And so we would have literally two or three pallets of books taking up massive space in the garage. Right now, I still have a handful of cases left. My assistant has two pallets worth of books that have been paid for. That’s inventory that’s just sitting there versus what you described with Create Space and print on demand.
If you have a speaking gig coming up and you think you are going to need 50 books, you can order just those 50 books to have them shipped to the event or to your house and you can turn around and sell them at the event. So it’s a huge difference versus what we’ve done in the past where we have those physical books.
I haven’t actually used Create Space. But the way we did it, the more you printed, the better the price break that you got, so if I wanted to get for around a buck a book, I would have to print thousands and thousands of copies, whereas it just didn’t make sense to print 10 books through a traditional self-publishing printer.
With Create Space are you getting price breaks per the number of books that you are printing?
I don’t think so. And there’s not much of a price break for bulk orders. That’s why I would actually recommend using Create Space, and then if you want to do a run of 1,000 or 2,000 books you can just find a printer and have them print them off. You’ll probably get much better pricing options that way.
So you pay for the convenience of printing on demand. But it pales in comparison. Depending on how many pages you have, it’s $2.50 a book, and I think it’s $3.15 cents to include shipping. If we’re talking a thousand books and you are printing those off, and so you might be saving a dollar per book, that’s $1,000.
In the grand scheme of things that isn’t a huge deal if you are selling them at $10 or $15 each.
That being said, if you are very confident that you can sell out 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, then it might be worth your time to look around and find a better printing option.
I would say, too, just from a cash flow standpoint, when we were printing them in bulk we would print enough to last us about a year. That means I’m paying for it on June 1st, and I’m not going to recoup that full investment for several months.
Even today, to this point, I still have inventory sitting in two different locations. It’s a sunk cost until we actually sell that product and move that product versus what you are describing where it’s print on demand.
So Create Space is the best option for that. So once I begin to print them, I can list it on Amazon. How does that work with Amazon?
You submit it through Create Space or through Kindle Direct Publishing, that’s for the Kindle side, then create space for the hard copy side, and then it’s listed on the site and you are selling within a couple days.
And it could give me a Kindle version as well.
Yes. There’s an auto submit feature there that, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, to also publish on Kindle. That’s hit or miss. So what I recommend doing is having it formatted for Kindle and submitting it separately.
We have just scratched the service and I know there’s a lot more we can go into.
But you’ve got a killer summit coming up, the Self-Publishing Success summit. Let’s talk about that.
This is the second year that we’ve done it. Last year was a huge success. It was just an experiment. You know how you try things and just hope people will like it. It’s like your first book. It’s like walking out on stage naked and you think “Man, I hope people like what they see.”
That is one unique example!
That’s kind of what it felt like last year and I was just blown away by the caliber of speakers that we were able to get. Legends that I literally looked up to for all of my life were on the summit last year.
We had over 30,000 people sign up, it was a free summit they watched, and it was really helpful.
So we’re doing it again this year. It’s going to be bigger, it’s going to be better. We’ve got even better speakers. We got Grant Baldwin, which is going to be pretty amazing.
It’s all about how to write, market, and publish your first book and then how to use that book to build your business brand or following.
So that’s what it’s about and it’s coming up real soon. The dates are top secret.
Okay, so for people that aren’t familiar with what a summit is: it’s all these speakers, is this like an actual physical location? Do I have to travel and go somewhere? You said it’s free. How does this all work?
It’s online; you get all the perks of going to a physical conference, but maybe you’ve got kids, maybe you’ve got a day job, maybe you’ve got something that keeps you from being able to travel, pay for a flight, pay for a hotel, and all those things.
Sometimes when you hear the word summit, you think of this low budget thing that really sucks and the interviews aren’t that good, but I can tell you that our summits are just on another level and that’s what we get time and time again.
So it’s very high production value and I think you’ll get a lot out of it.
It’s going to be a lot of fun. You are going to have 30 different speakers, high caliber, top-notch speakers, and then somehow you are allowing me to play in the sandbox as well.
The whole thing is online.
The whole thing is digital. So you don’t have to travel anywhere. You can stay home, be in your PJs and still really soak this in.
One of the best parts is that the whole thing is free. You can learn from 30 of the top speakers and people just in the industry about how to use a book for speaking gigs, for just selling more books, for coaching, for consulting, to build your brand, to build your platform.
Hey Chandler, if people want to find out more about you, what you are up to, self-publishing school, all that jazz, where can we go?
Just head on over to selfpublishingschool.com.
We’ve got a blog over there with tons of really helpful resources and that’s where I’m hanging out.