How I Self-Published a Book, And How You Can Too

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

I just self-published a book called How to Be the Luckiest Person Alive! I published it in paperback form, Kindle form, and free PDF (see directions below to get free PDF). The entire process took me three weeks. Using an established publisher would’ve taken over a year.

I’ve written a prior post on my sales and advances on my first five books which were all published with major publishers. But I’m never going to publish in the morgue of the publishing industry again. This post today is about why I did it and how you can do it.

The book publishing industry is dead but they don’t know it. It’s like how the typewriter industry died. And the reason companies like Blockbuster and Borders can’t survive. And the entire music industry is dying. And broadcast television might be on the way. And the tablet industry is the first sign that companies like Dell might be in major trouble. And companies like Sirius mean the radio industry is dead.

Why did I self-publish?

Advances are quickly going to zero. Margins are going to zero for publishers. There’s no financial benefit for going with a publisher if advances are going to zero and royalties are a few percentage points. The publishing industry does minimal editing. The time between book acceptance and release is too long (often a year or more). That’s insane and makes zero sense in a print-on-demand world when kindle versions are outselling print versions.

Most importantly, the book industry sells books. What they need to do is sell their authors. Authors now are brands, they are businesses, they are mini-empires. Publishers do nothing to help 95% of their authors build their platforms and their own brands. This would increase author loyalty and make the lack of a meaningful advance almost worth it.

I’ll give you a quick example: I’ve published five books with major publishers. The majority of books now are sold through Amazon. Not a single publisher told me I can log into Amazon Author Central, create an author’s page, link my author’s page to my blog, upload a video, have my twitter feed in there, have a FAQ in there, and all the other basic tools Amazon uses to market your book. Why? This is the world’s biggest bookseller. Why wasn’t I told about a basic marketing platform I could use? I just learned about it last week after writing books for eight years. Now I have it all hooked up and have a feeling I’ve only begun to explore the Author Central area and what Amazon can do for me.

I don’t want to trash publishers. Again, I’ve written all about my publishing experience, complete with sales numbers. Here’s also another article about my reviews on one of the books I’ve published recently with a major publisher. I completely open every kimono (and its pretty hideous inside that kimono). They are all hard-working people and have done good jobs but it’s just not worth it to me to go that route anymore.

Despite my five books, I am sure zero publishers would’ve published How to Be the Luckiest Person Alive! It’s not in my finance core. Publishers, just like in any business, put you in your little corner and you have to stay there. They want to pigeon-hole you. If you try to get up and go to a different corner they slap you down. So publishers would ignore the topic of my book, despite the popularity of my blog which I would be able to demonstrate to them with the statistics. The statistics show that the less I spoke about finance, the more popular my blog got. People want more happiness, not more ways they can lose their money reading crap.

I recently looked at the Bookscan numbers for a bunch of very well-known finance authors. They were all close to zero. Know why? Because people know that reading these books won’t do anything  for them. Very few people make money on stocks. The stock market is largely a scam. Nobody makes money owning real estate anymore. Personal finance is a joke with zero percent interest rates. And, to be honest, most self-help books are written by people with no experience, and are just filled with meaningless platitudes.

Thinking about finance is the opposite of the true goal, which is being happy. In this book, I talk about my many failures. Going dead broke after making millions. Rising from the gutter. Getting fired from jobs, kicked out of school, losing a marriage, being at a crossroads in life and figuring out which way to go, and all the times where I could’ve used a book like this to figure out how to grow from the core inward to find happiness, success, and the other tools I needed to come out of the hole and find the motivation to achieve some good for both myself and the world. This book describes that and the specific techniques I used. I’m brutally honest, to the point of risking people hating me. I’ve lost friends (at least temporarily) over the material in this book.

But so what? It works. I don’t care about making money on this book. I don’t need to feed an entire corporate establishment. I want the ideas out there so I can help people. I want the ideas out there so, honestly, my name gets out there some more. Because this won’t be my last book. I have 10 more on the way!

And so do you!

Here’s what I did to self-publish:

  • I created an account on createspace.com. They are owned by Amazon. Great customer service. You have any question at all you hit a button that says “Call Me” and within 30 seconds they have a customer representative calling your phone.
  • I downloaded a Microsoft Word template they provided. This template took into account whether a page was a left page or a right page, it helped build the table of contents, kept the page numbers accurate, etc. In other words, the template used by any publisher in the world when they format your book.
  • I made a cover. Createspace had over a million options when you combined their templates with images, fonts, etc. I used one of their photos.
  • I saved it as a PDF and uploaded it. I let them pick the ISBN number.
  • I picked a price of $7.95. This was the minimum price I could go if I wanted them to distribute it to bookstores, libraries, etc along with Amazon. I get about a $2 royalty per book at that price. But if you chose a price of $20 then you would get about a $14 royalty. Much higher than any publisher will ever give you. I chose a low price because I’m trying to get as many copies out as possible. I have many books to go and want the audience to be happier and happier with each product.  Personally, I would prefer if you get the free book – directions below to get it.
  • They sent a proof. Once I approved it, it was officially published at createspace.com. About two days later it was on Amazon.com.
  • I hit a button to format it as a Kindle book. Up until now everything was free, but formatting for the Kindle requires some work and costs $69. Three weeks later they sent me the documents formatted for Kindle and I had to use Amazon Author Central to upload the Kindle version. Again, I priced it as low as they would let me. $0.99. Within 48 hours it was on Amazon.
  • I also created my Amazon page, linked the RSS feed of my blog to it, created a video and uploaded it, linked my twitter feed to it, etc.
  • I’m also giving out my book for free (the PDF, which basically looks like the Kindle version). As of today I’m setting up an automated email to get the free version, but if anyone wants to email me direct feel free to contact me through the Contact button on my blog at jamesaltucher.com and I’ll respond.

-          Here’s how to get a FREE version:

  • You’ll get an email within seconds. There won’t be an attachment but there will be a link to the full PDF on Google Docs. You can read it as a PDF there. OR If you want it as an attachment you can then click “Share” on the right and EMAIL it to yourself (or whomever) as an attachment. All for free.

That’s all you need to do. I would encourage every author in the world to start doing this. Like with any medium, the true, sincere, honest voices will rise to the top. Hopefully the entertaining ones as well. I think anything I put out there will be both. If you have any questions or concerns about this entire process,  email me through my blog.

I obviously have no self-interest by creating competitors. The more people who publish in a graveyard, the better it is for me. But I honestly want you to publish your ideas and words.

We’ll all do this together.

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  1. Eric says:

    Adam Carolla does a lengthy talk on how the publishing industry doesn’t get it. He offered them free money and they said no.

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  2. Brian N says:

    I love the idea, and I know that I could get the book for free and put it on my nook color– but did you know that Barnes & Noble does free book fridays? Give it to them to format for the NC (already done if it is PDF) but if it comes from their store, the reading features are nicer.

    Not a shill- just a guy who wants the free book, but on his nook for reading.

    And no, saying I am not a shill is not evidence that I am a shill.

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    • Hana says:

      Any publisher would be delethgid to publish your work *if* they thought they could make a profit by so doing. That means your stories have to stand on their own merits against published stories written by adults. Being merely good for your age isn’t going to cut it.As an aside, most of the major publishers (the ones who can get your book into bookshops) won’t consider your book unless you have an agent. An agent’s job is to sift through the thousands of mostly-unreadable manuscripts that wannabe authors send him every year and forward the ten or twenty that he thinks stand a chance to whichever publisher(s) he thinks will be most interested in them.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  3. Atilla says:

    For those who don’t want to pay the extra $69 for Kindle formatting, you can use the open source software Calibre. Details are at http://goo.gl/9NruI

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  4. Frank X says:

    I landed on this page by accident but really happy about it. I’ve wanted to write some books about various subjects and heard about Amazon publishing it but this is truely an easy to understand guide. Thank you James for sharing your ideas and I’m looking forward to getting out my first book.

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  5. James says:

    So we might say you self-published. Or we might say you found a really cheap online vanity press.

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    • Rolf Degen says:

      No, this is definitely no vanity press. I am a german science writer and I have also published the biggest part of my backlist at kindle. The classical vanity press wants you as author to pay them for publishing your book. Amazon is revolutionary different. They want to sell (your) books to the public and give you 70% and the right to define the prize. This is classical publishing, without all the in-between that makes books so expensive. This IS a revolution, and it makes you wonder how publishing companies can adjust to it. And these is a punch line: Now classical publishing is becoming vanity press, because vanity is going to become the most important motive for authors to publish at a classical publishing company – and, of course, the advance, if you need one!

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  6. Steve Darden says:

    I am guessing your free PDF download is purposed for building your readership. How can you assess how effective the free PDF is when it is entangled with the impact of your no-publisher strategy, low pricing, etc.?

    Anyhow, hope this channel works for you!

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  7. Great post – thanks. What did you do about editing, proofing &design?- get freelance people/friends? Thanks

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  8. Mike B says:

    Is it just me or is this just a veiled promotion for your book in the guise of a Freakonomics post? Yeah there’s some Freakonomics content, but I still got the distinct impression that this post is part of your book marketing campaign. Just like that pro-renting city guy, posts that have the secondary effects of promoting the author’s products only serve to de-value the content because of the possibility of bias.

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