What I Learned Publishing My First 2 Books

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Receiving the first print version of my new book “The Personal Brand Blueprint: A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Branding in the Age of the Creator” was a surreal moment.

It made me realize I’ve learned lessons related to book publishing that I had no idea I’d come across when I first set out two years ago to give it a go self-publishing books.

In this article, I’m going to share those takeaways with you.

I am not an expert. I am not a famous author. However, I am self-taught, and have stumbled my way through this process twice now—a process I can help you navigate by sharing what worked and didn’t work.

TLDR: That said, here are the 5 key lessons I learned writing my first two books:

  1. Set the Goals for Your Book Upfront
  2. Research Publishing Logistics: Book Publishers and Self-Publishing, Marketplaces, Copyrights, and ISBNs
  3. Consider Sourcing an Editor
  4. Don’t Overlook design
  5. Get Ready to Create One of the Best Personal Brand Assets You Can Have

1. Set the Goals for Your Book Upfront

This one sounds too basic to even include on this list. You always start with goals, right?

I included it because aligning on the reason(s) you are publishing a book in the first place will inform your strategy, and can save you time and money down the road.

You are likely considering publishing a book for some combination of these reasons:

  1. To establish your thought leadership platform—Books help people stand out in their field and expand their personal brands.
  2. To make money—Building products that yield passive income is a popular trend.
  3. A lead generation tool for a business — Think about the lead magnets you see where companies trade you a free ebook for your email address.
  4. For the feeling of personal accomplishment.

For me, all of these were true, but the first reason was my biggest priority. I knew selling books to my relatively small audience online at the prices books go for wasn’t about to pay my bills.

The bigger career value that could lead to making real money was continuing to grow my thought leadership footprint. Knowing this upfront informed my decisions during the process.

Here’s an example:

  • For my first book, I hired an editor and designers to help me refine the copy and visual aesthetic of my book. These expenses ate into my profit margins to the point that I still haven’t broken even on that book.
  • I was perfectly fine with that outcome, because my original goal was to give the best impression I possibly could to my network. Investing in design and the quality of the copy was aligned to that goal.
  • However, if my goal for that book was purely to make money, I would have skipped or reduced those expenses to maximize my profit margins on each sale.

I also decided part of my publishing strategy would be to create and giveaway free PDF versions of both of my books on LinkedIn:

  1. Marketing in the Metaverse Free ebook
  2. The Personal Brand Blueprint Free ebook

That decision was aligned to my thought leadership goal because it turned my books into pieces of content that could be shared freely, expanding their reach and my personal brand’s reach.

You can see how primary goal of thought leadership shaped my decision making during the book production and publishing process.

For my second book, I still had the goal of thought leadership as my top priority. However, having seen the significant time investment making a book requires, I wanted to make more money the second time around to cover the opportunity cost of writing one.

For example, if I had spent the same amount of time I spent writing my first book writing articles here on Medium instead, I would have made more money.

To adjust that equation, I did not hire an editor on my second book and also did most of the design work myself. This reduced my costs, increased my profit margins per book sale, and enabled me to make generating revenue a close secondary goal.

The key takeaway from these examples is to decide what matters to you most about publishing your book, and then base your decisions on that primary goal throughout the process.

2. Research Publishing Logistics: Book Publishers and Self-Publishing, Marketplaces, Copyrights, and ISBNs

Getting yourself to actually write the content for your book is a huge start, and a majority of the book publishing battle.

However, there are other logistics related to book publishing you need to consider. These were all new to me, and required upfront research. These considerations include:

  • Publishing — Will you self publish, or work with a publishing company?
  • Marketplace selection — Where will you sell your book?
  • Copyright submission—Decide whether or not you will submit your work to a copyright office.
  • ISBN — Decide whether or not you will register an ISBN for your book.

Let’s go over each of these logistical components of the publishing journey.

Self-Publishing vs. Working With a Publishing Company

This is the first big decision that will inform the rest of your publishing process, like where you will sell your book.

Working With a Publisher

Working with a publisher has advantages like:

  • Book production support for things like editing and book design.
  • Book publishing logistics support—Publishers take care of most of the steps in this section.
  • Marketing support—Book publishers work to give your book the most exposure possible, including submitting it to marketplaces where it will be sold, and working with you on marketing campaigns to promote the book on different channels, like social media and events.

These can be big advantages for an author, and take a lot of work off of your plate so you can focus on writing.

Self-Publishing a Book

This is a screenshot from the user interface of the Kindle Create book editing tool. I used this tool in the self-publishing process for my book.
This is a screenshot from Kindle Create, one of the tools I used during the self-publishing process. Image created by the author.

For my first two books, I elected to self-publish with Amazon. My thinking was:

  1. This is my first time publishing and I want to take the simplest, scrappiest approach I can.
  2. I was not sure how many books I would sell and I predominately cared about sharing the book with my existing network vs. net-new customers. Working with a publisher as an unknown author seemed like a lot of extra support and marketing that I didn’t need.

The self-publishing process at a high level involved:

  1. Writing the manuscript for my book. I used Google Docs / Microsoft Word.
  2. Uploading my manuscript to the free Kindle Direct Publishing tool, Kindle Create. Kindle Create allows you to import your book manuscript in common file formats, like a PDF. From there you can use the tool to format the book layout for different outputs, like Kindle or print. This includes formatting sections like the table of contents and chapter title pages. This tool can then export an Amazon publishing file format that can be uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing portal.
  3. Setting my book up on Amazon. This included uploading the manuscript and book cover, writing the book’s product description for its listing on Amazon, and setting the pricing for different versions of the book, like print and Kindle.
This is a screenshot of a product listing for one of my books on Amazon. I am sharing it to demonstrate a part of the self-publishing process.
Here is an example of the product listing for one of my books on Amazon’s marketplace. Image created by the author.

This is a relatively straight forward process. Doing it for the first time took longer because I was learning as I went. The second time was much easier, since I knew what I was doing. This is not to say these steps aren’t a lot of work, but it is mostly busy work vs. complex problem solving.

Now that I’ve done this a few times and see what it’s like producing, self-publishing, and promoting a book on my own, I may consider working with a publisher in the future. For now, self-publishing has been great and suits my needs.

Marketplace Selection

Choosing the marketplace where you will sell your book is an important consideration.

In order to sell a book online, you need tools like an ecommerce solution to handle the actual sales transactions, a mechanism for uploading and distributing the digital documents or physical products that represent your book, and marketing tools, like a product listing landing page, that you can use to promote your book.

Luckily, major marketplaces like Amazon and Gumroad have all of these tools and make the process of listing and selling books straightforward.

For my own books, I have chosen a three-pronged approach to marketplaces:

  1. Amazon — This is the primary marketplace for my books. I sell both print and Kindle ebook versions of my books here.
  2. Gumroad—This is a secondary marketplace I am going to experiment with for my second book. I will offer an alternative PDF ebook version on Gumroad. Here is an example of an ebook Niharikaa Kaur Sodhi, a writer and entrepreneur whom I admire, sells on Gumroad.
  3. LinkedIn—Now LinkedIn is not a marketplace in the sense that I can actually sell books there. However, I use LinkedIn to distribute free PDF versions of my books to my network. LinkedIn has a social media post format enabling you to post PDFs and have people find and download them in their newsfeeds as they would other social posts like images or text.

Given that my main goal is thought leadership and helping my network, as opposed to making money, I took this unique approach to marketplace selection. Ironically, the actual book publishing marketplaces are secondary in my mind because my primary aim is gaining exposure for the free PDF.

However, many of you may be pursuing this with the intention of making money — which is a great goal, and one I fully support, considering the considerable effort required to write a book

These marketplace considerations demonstrate how important it is to have your goals in mind from the start, as they will inform where you sell or distribute your book.

Copyright Submission

Another key consideration among book publishing logistics is considering copyright protection for your work. Registering a book with a copyright service establishes legal ownership and protection for your work, giving you exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and change the book’s content.

For example, if you are in the United States, you can register your book with the US Copyright Office. This process serves as a public record of the author’s claim to copyright, enhancing the ability to enforce copyright and seek damages in case of infringement.

You can use services like this to register your intellectual property and safeguard it, ensuring you retain control over it and can monetarily benefit from it through royalties, licensing agreements, and other forms of revenue.

For my first book, I took this extra precaution not fulling understanding what waters I was wading into. It seemed like a good idea and it made me feel confident about publishing my book and putting it out into the digital world where copying people’s work is unfortunately a common occurance.

However, for my second book I skipped this step for now. I may change my mind in the future, but my considerations were:

  1. I am giving away a free PDF version of the book with the exact text on LinkedIn anyway. I actually want people to share it without my permission.
  2. My audience as an author isn’t big enough to increase the chances of my book being illegally reporduced. On the flip side, my relatively small audience also means the royalty opportunities that can come from a copyrighted book are also less likely.

My take on the decision to submit a book to a copyright office: If it will make you feel safer and more confident publishing, then submitting your work to a copyright office is a good idea. It is also worthwhile if you have a big audience, and anticipate additional risks and opportunities to arise when you publish your book because of your brand’s reach.

If these items do not apply to you, a more guerrilla approach where you skip this expense and extra work stream will save you time and money, and presents a relatively a low risk profile.

ISBN Registration

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique numeric identifier used worldwide to catalog books and simplify their distribution and sale.

This unique code that gets assigned to each book registered with an ISBN allows for the identification of a book’s edition, publisher, and physical properties, streamlining the management of book inventories for book marketplaces and libraries.

Most marketplaces selling print books require them to have an ISBN for these reasons. Ebooks on the other hand do not require ISBNs on marketplaces like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or Gumroad.

When you are self publishing, your options for getting an ISBN include:

  1. Bowker Publishing Services — They are primary US ISBN agency. I purchased the ISBNs for the versions of my first book from Bowker.
  2. Amazon—Amazon offers optional free ISBNs if you publish your book with Amazon. Note: Selecting this option requires that you exclusively sell that version of your book on Amazon. I chose this for my second book. I do not have intentions of selling it elsewhere, so it was worth it to save on the ISBN purchasing expense.

In terms of ISBNs, my recommendation would be to either go without one if you are selling an ebook, or to utilize Amazon’s free ISBN assigning service for print books. This should cover the needs of most first-time publishers.

However, if you are working with a publisher, or intend to sell your book in multiple marketplaces, investing in purchasing your own ISBN will give you that optionality.

3. Consider Sourcing an Editor

I hired a good friend of mine who is a PR professional to serve as the editor for my first book (side note: anyone in need of a great editor or boutique PR agency, hit me up. I’d be happy to refer you).

I did not hire an editor for my second book. The primary reason being the cost I mentioned above and wanting my second book to be profit-generating as a secondary goal. I saved money, but I noticed the difference and it was a significant tradeoff.

  • Having someone to bounce ideas off of was a huge asset. My friend offered alternative perspectives, pointed out areas where I could elaborate further or cut extra word salad, and played the devil’s advocate where needed.
  • The other major benefit was having someone to help proofread. I still proofread my first book a ton (I think I read it cover-to-cover 15–20 times), but having someone else helping to catch obvious typos and refine copy was super helpful.
  • I didn’t have that luxury on my second book. Without an editor, I ended up proofreading a higher number of times—I read my second book, which is 168 pages, cover-to-cover 20+ times.
  • For my first book I would say the editing and proofreading phase was 10% of the project. For my second book, I would estimate not having a 3rd party editor increased that percentage to 20%.

I am sharing this detail so you can do your own cost-benefit analysis. Hiring an editor will cost money and eat into your profits. Not hiring an editor will save you money, but cost you more of your time.

If you are considering getting editing help, perhaps you have a friend who is a good writer that you could call for a favor. Or perhaps you can hire an editor for a single review using a platform like Upwork or Fiverr.

These could be cost-effective solutions to getting editing support without adding a larger upfront monetary investment to your book project.

4. Don’t Overlook Design

This graphic has two images of the covers of each of my books. They are there to compare and contrast how the designs turned out for each since I took different approaches.
I hired designers for the design of my first book (right). For my second book, I did most of the design work myself and outsourced design support for some aspects (left). Image created by the author.

I am not saying you need to invest heavily in design like I did.

However, investing some time, money, or both in design can go a long way toward presenting your book in a professional manner and attracting more interest.

Design plays a key role in marketing, and can influence how many people end up purchasing and reading your book.

Hiring Designers

On my first book, I hired designers I worked with previously in my marketing roles. I worked with them to design the cover and interior graphics for my book.

This was an awesome experience because they brought the key messages and vision for my book to life. It was also easy for me, because I could work on other aspects of the book and knew the design was taken care of.

  • Pros of outsourcing design: you save time, and have professionals designing your book art assets if you aren’t a designer yourself.
  • Cons of outsourcing design: It can be expensive and reduce the margins on your book sales.

Designing Your Own Assets

For my second book, I created a majority of the graphics myself, including the cover design. I outsourced the design of a few interior graphics and the layout of the free PDF version of my book.

My goal was to see if I could save money by doing as much of this as I could myself. I wanted to augment my own efforts with getting support from a designer for some aspects that would take me longer and have a higher opportunity cost in regard to my time.

  • Pros of creating your own art assets: You save money and have full control of the outcome.
  • Cons of creating your own art assets: It takes more time, and you may end up with lower-quality design assets if design is not one of your areas of expertise.

A Hybrid Approach to Book Design

The hybrid approach I outlined for my second book is one I will take again in the future.

It was more cost effective than outsourcing all design aspects of the book, while still giving me the ability to outsource aspects of design I’m not personally skilled in or do not want to spend time executing myself.

5. Get Ready to Create One of the Best Personal Brand Assets You Can Have

Whether you are writing a book to grow your personal brand, make money, or both, it’s a huge value-add to your career.

Putting a book out there with your name on it demonstrates your expertise, writing skills, and ability to stay dedicated to a significant, complex project.

Writing a book will offer benefits like:

  • Improved visibility in job searches and a stronger resume.
  • Credibility among customers if you are running a business.
  • Networking opportunities with your industry peers. For example, I made invaluable contacts with fellow marketing professionals I met via the book publishing process. The value of those relationships outweighs any monetary gains by far in my opinion.

If you are able to persevere and complete a book, it will be a huge accomplishment and pay multifaceted dividends in your career.

Final Thoughts on Publishing Books

I’m no expert on book publishing. I’ve done this twice, and what I know and learned is 100% self-taught. However, I learned a lot along the way and could see the difference in how well I executed my second book project compared to my first book.

I hope the lessons I shared here from that experience are valuable as you consider your own book publishing journey. Best of luck and happy publishing!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Justin and I write Brand Credential.

I started Brand Credential as a resource to help share expertise from my 10-year brand building journey.

I currently serve as the VP of Marketing for a tech company where I oversee all go-to-market functions. Throughout my career I've helped companies scale revenue to millions of dollars, helped executives build personal brands, and created hundreds of pieces of content since starting to write online in 2012.

As always, thank you so much for reading. If you’d like more personal branding and marketing tips, here are more ways I can help in the meantime:

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