Self-Publishing Books: An Interview with Peter Bowerman

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on January 26, 2010 in Ghostwriting / Books
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Note: This interview was conducted in July 2009, originally for The Query-Free Freelancer blog. Due the merger of these two blogs, I chose to change the publish date to send it live as-new for AFW readers who may have missed it. Tomorrow I'll be posting a new review of Peter's The Well-Fed Writer (one of the books this self-publishing interview was about), so check back then to learn more about his work specifically for freelancers.

Publishing a nonfiction book can be an excellent addition to your writer platform, whether or not that's the reason you've written the book. Even if a published book doesn't directly help prospective clients find you, it can make you a more attractive hire. Why? Because publishing a nonfiction book in your area of expertise makes you more credible than the competition.

Peter Bowerman

Given that I still haven't decided whether I'll pursue traditional publishing avenues or self-publish The Query-Free Freelancer, I thought it might be fun to learn more about self-publishing. Today we'll do that, and from the man to literally wrote the book on the subject--Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer and The Well-Fed Self Publisher. Here is our recent interview:

When did you first decide to self-publish, and which was your first self-published book?

I decided to self-publish my first book, The Well-Fed Writer (2000), after only half-hearted attempts to attract a publisher. Guess I’m a control freak at heart!


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What convinced you to self-publish rather than seek traditional publishing outlets?

Not sure what gave me the sense that I could do it (since I had zero experience in publishing of any kind), but what I was sure of was that the “deal” being offered by conventional publishers was no box of chocolates: You give up the rights, give up control of the creative process, control of the timetable and almost all the profits. And then you’re still expected to do most of the marketing yourself. And if anything, that scenario has gotten worse for authors since then.

An author with a $20 retail book might make $1 a book through a publisher. Even on the low end (i.e., through the bookstores and Amazon, where you’re giving up 55% of your retail), I’ll still make 4-5 times that. Sales on my own site? I can net $14 or so. And that doesn’t even count the potential to market companion ebook products to web site buyers – that they’ll purchase along with the hard-copy book, and which represent pure profit – often $20-30 more, on top of the profit on the hard book.

I know you're at least on your fourth book now (through the Well-Fed Writer series). How has the experience made the self-publishing process easier for you (or more challenging)? Do you feel more pressure now that you have an established series, or has the process become more comfortable?

Good question. Having just released my fourth book, the process is easier. I know what I’m doing, and what things need to happen when. Plus, I have an established group of people out there in my industry – call them the “key influencers” – who know me and my work, respect what I’m doing, know I put out quality products, and are happy to promote my work to their communities. So, that’s made it easier.

But yes, there is some pressure to keep feeding the machine you’ve created. It’s like being on a train that’s already moving. It takes on a life of its own to a certain extent. As long as there are things you could be doing – new products, teleseminars, coaching programs, etc. – but aren’t yet, you’ll feel some pressure. But I guess it’s good pressure. Bottom line, it’s a nice feeling being in a place where you’ve established yourself, and know that whatever you create next, there will be people who’ll happily buy it.

What kind of an effect has self-publishing nonfiction books had on your writer platform, and your ability to attract clients?

Hard to gauge. I know I’m respected by clients who discover I write books as well, and I’m sure it’s translated to some work, but it’s not something I shove down people’s throats. Maybe I should more. But being an author doesn’t prove that I can write good copy for my clients, and that’s what they’re paying me to do. I certainly didn’t write my book mainly to enhance my platform for my copywriting business, but it hasn’t hurt.

If other freelance writers are considering self-publishing as a part of their writer platform, what do think their biggest challenge will be with the process?

Well, whether you’re self-publishing or conventionally publishing, everyone starts in the same place: coming up with a topic that’s marketable. Using my books as an example, I knew there was a market for a book (The Well-Fed Writer) offering a complete blueprint for starting your own lucrative writing business (as opposed to another simply straight “freelance writing” book – most of which discuss avenues of dubious financial potential).

Ditto with The Well-Fed Self-Publisher, a book offering a complete blueprint for profitably self-publishing your book. Not just telling you how to self-publish, but (as my subtitle – accurate, mind you – promises), how to indeed turn one book into a full-time living. And that’s the key – you have to make sure you separate yourself from the pack somehow.

And of course, for many writers, the biggest challenge will be “MARKETING.” The very word is enough to terrorize writers, but having come from that background, I have been able, in my books, to demystify those often-scary concepts so they’ll work for you not against you.

Do you have any favorite self-publishing resources that other writers may want to consider?

Well, the book that inspired me (and thousands of others), of course, is Dan Poynter’s, The Self-Publishing Manual. This guy is the godfather of self-publishing, started doing it back in 1977 (hard to imagine…), and has updated the book a zillion times since.


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John Kremer’s, 1001 Ways to Market Your Book, is another classic. A ton of great ideas. But know that John will be the first to tell you that you can only do 4-5 really well!

Brian Jud – Beyond the Bookstore, for those books that have “special sale” potential (i.e., can be sold in large quantities to different entities).

Shel Horowitz’s Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers.

These are the ones that come to mind.

Peter just released his fourth book in The Well-Fed Writer series, which combines the information from his first two books. I asked him to share some information about his latest release:

I just released the updated edition of my original book, The Well-Fed Writer, which includes the heavily updated content of BOTH original WFW titles, the original and the 2004 companion volume, TWFW: Back For Seconds. The book is a comprehensive “how-to” guide to starting your own lucrative “commercial” freelancing practice – writing for businesses, and for hourly rates of $50-125+. The downsizing of the economy has created a lot of opportunities for talented, creative, strategic-thinking writers to execute projects for companies whose marketing departments are either gone or scaled, as well as for smaller companies who never had large communications departments, but instead, have relied for years on freelancers to pick up the slack. It’s not a cakewalk of a business, but compared to most “freelance writing” directions (i.e., magazine writing, short stories, newspaper freelancing, etc.), it’s a surprisingly accessible opportunity and one that pays far better than most other writing directions.

For more details, visit http://www.wellfedwriter.com, where you can subscribe, free of charge, to my critically acclaimed monthly ezine as well as my blog.

About Peter Bowerman

Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer, speaker and business coach, is the author of the award-winning 2000 Book-of-the-Month Club selection, The Well-Fed Writer; its 2004 companion and triple-award-finalist, TWFW: Back For Seconds; and the 2009 updated compilation of both (under The Well-Fed Writer; http://www.wellfedwriter.com) – all self-published. His books have become how-to “standards” on lucrative commercial freelancing – writing for businesses and for rates of $50-125+ an hour (something he’s been doing successfully since 1994). He chronicled his self-publishing success (52,000 copies of his first two books in print and a full-time living for seven-plus years) in his third book, the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. http://www.wellfedsp.com.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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7 Comments

  1. Shel Horowitz July 7, 2009 Reply

    Peter, it’s great to learn some of the backstory about you and your well-earned success. And thanks so much for listing my book Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers as one of your favorite resources.

  2. Layla August 25, 2009 Reply

    Great interview!!

    I’ve read lots of good things about the Well-Fed Writer & am now tempted to check it out – together with the other books, of course! :)

  3. Sir Emeth Mimetes January 26, 2010 Reply

    Very interesting. I will keep tabs on this for future reference.

    Would publishing your book online first help gauge the market and get a reader base?

  4. Jake P January 26, 2010 Reply

    Great interview, JM–glad you re-published it since I didn’t catch it the first time.

    Buying a copy of the Well-Fed Writer is ALWAYS my first recommendation for new freelancers or experienced FLers who are suffering a lull in business. (It was the best $20 I’ve ever spent on my career.) In particular, Peter’s cold-calling method is exceptionally easy to follow and effective.

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