Gini Dietrich

Self-Publishing vs. Publisher: Why You Should Do Both

By: Gini Dietrich | May 30, 2012 | 

Last night, Mark Schaefer was in town and we held a little TweetUp with 70 of his closest friends.

He and I were talking to Bob Reed about the book publishing process – Mark having just published Return On Influence and Geoff Livingston and me having just published Marketing in the Round.

I said people think the writing the book part is hard, but it’s really the promotion and book tour part that is hard.

He asked me if I was exhausted yet (I said yes) and I asked him the same question.

Bob asked some really interesting questions, which led to this: The rights for Mark’s Tao of Twitter has been bought by McGraw-Hill (his Return On Influence publisher) in order to get a second edition out very quickly.


Because a competitor is publishing a Twitter book and they want to beat them to the punch.

Is Publishing Dead?

And just when you thought publishing was dead…

It took a full year to get Marketing in the Round out, from signing the contract and writing the book to editing and actually printing it.

A full year.

In the blogosphere, we’re accustomed to instant gratification. If I publish this blog post by 7 a.m. CT, I’ll know by 9 a.m. whether or not it hit a nerve with readers. And, if it doesn’t, I always have tomorrow to write something better.

But, with a book, it takes a full year to get any sort of feedback on what you’ve written, which is kind of crazy in today’s instant, real-time world.

Enter publishers buying the rights of self-published books. Admittedly this isn’t something I saw coming, but it’s brilliant on the part of McGraw-Hill.

You see, the book is already written. It’s already selling. The author already has a built-in audience for this particular content.

In Mark’s case, he wants to extend Tao of Twitter beyond his own network. And the publisher wants to beat a competitor to the marketplace.

Suddenly a year is shortened to less than three months. No, it’s not real-time yet, but it certainly is a way to look at publishing that doesn’t take 12 months and almost reinvents the industry.

Why Should You Care?

At last week’s Ohio Growth Summit, Anthony Iannarino and I debated the merits of the publishing world.

We come at it from different perspectives: He self-published, “How to Crush It, Kill It, and Master Cold Calling Now!

I went the more traditional route.

He talked about how effective self-publishing has been for him. Not only does he make more money per sale, he gained everything I said was great about having a publisher: Instant credibility, increased speaking fees, more clients.

And now you have Mark’s example of selling the rights to a self-published book in order to widen his network and get out into the mass audience.

What About Next Time?

I’m not sure I’d do it differently next time. I have learned a ton about organizing a book, writing a book, putting your ego aside while your book is edited, publishing a book, and promoting a book.

I wouldn’t have that knowledge or expertise without it.

But I like this idea of self-publishing something that is ahead of its time in order to sell the second edition rights to a publisher that wants to stay ahead of its competition.

Of course that means your crystal ball has to be functioning and you have to be willing to take the risk. But perhaps it gives you the best of both worlds.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • This is incredibly helpful, and is good to see after our conversation of the other day about publishing. With several projects in the pipeline, I’m considering all of the above, with some going through a publisher, and others being self-published. It’s nice to have the experiences of folks like you and Mark as fresh examples, and know that there are a lot of options.
    You’re kind of like my royal taste tester. If you eat something and it doesn’t kill you, then maybe I’ll try it. Thanks for having my back!

    •  @KenMueller What’s going to happen when I die?!?

      •  @ginidietrich When you die? I don’t eat what you just ate. Then I’ll mourn for a little bit, and then I find someone else to be my taste tester.

        •  @KenMueller That’s what I meant…I die and then what do you do? But now I know.

  • Wow this is a great post.  I’ve been in educational publishing for years now, first with a major publisher, now in a niche market. We always used to claim that the role of the publisher was to create “vetted content”, and could guarantee the quality of what we publish.  As you’ve learned firsthand Gini, a lot of time and especially money is spent on the back end, getting the book to the point where it could be published.  Now enter self-publishing.  What a bold and wise move from McGraw! Picking up a second edition rights to a book which has already proven itself is brilliant.  Saving all of that time and money…genius. I’ve spent many hours thinking about how publishers need to move from these cumbersome “legacy industry” style monoliths to something more modern.  I really think this will be part of the way forward.  I’m going to keep a close eye on Pearson and Thomson-Nelson…

    •  @RebeccaTodd When I was looking for an image for this post, I found a cartoon that had the headline, “101 Ways to Boil Chicken” and it was followed by an image of 20,000 books. Which proves the point that publishers vet content. And, I would add, keep you on task! If I self-published, staying on deadline would not happen so I’m grateful for having had that task master.
      That said, I’m with you. I’m curious to see what the other publishers do or if Mark just lucked out because Tao was so popular. I’m with Pearson so I’ll be watching them carefully, too!

      •  @ginidietrich I worked with Pearson school division for years. I am going to forward this post to some of my colleagues from there…Now our publishing cycle is 7-10 days, so I’m in a much different world.

        •  @RebeccaTodd Wow. Yes, that’s a MUCH different world!

  • iannarino

    Thanks for the shout, Gini! I enjoyed chatting with you last week (and someday, a bike ride!). 
    I have been diligently writing for two and half years, and I am going to publish a more traditional book late this year. It’s interesting how those of us that write and traditional publishers are both struggling to find a model that works. 
    When I was young kid, I fronted a rock band. I remember the story of how Motley Crue couldn’t get anyone to give them a deal, so they found the money, recorded their own album (that’s what we used to use to listen to music for the young folks here), and they went out and sold 10,000 copies themselves. After the record companies got wind that they were hustling their own record, they were immediately signed. It turns out, the industry needed Motley Crue. Seems that even then the establishment struggled to allow money to be made without claiming their share. 
    Maybe that’s what is happening here? If you can do it yourself, you’re worth having. The value that publishers claim is out of balance with the value that they create. But perhaps we are finding our way here? 

    •  @iannarino The Motley Crue example is a really good one! In fact, what’s happening in the music industry is a great way to look into your crystal ball to see what’s coming for content. I’m going to think more on this…there is something to it!

  • I’ve “self-published” four DVDs and unless there’s a distributor willing to finance a production, it’s the only way to go. Simply put, the distribution process via Amazon, YouTube or your own website is preferable to the nonsense associated with signing a distribution deal to get a DVD in a brick-and-mortar store (or Netflix).
    Books are a different story (great post, BTW). There are fewer overhead costs involved so self-publishing doesn’t put you at a financial disadvantage… but it would seem that having your title in a bookstore holds more value than having a DVD in, say, a Walmart. After going through the hassle of shooting and distributing my own documentaries, I’d LOVE to self-publish a book and roll the dice on maybe having the rights purchased by a publisher.

    •  @fitzternet  I know others disagree with me, but there is still huge value in having a book in a bookstore. I’m telling you, the first time I saw my book at Barnes & Noble, I cried. When I was trying to decide whether or not I was going to do the book deal, I was talking with my mom about it. I told her I didn’t know because everyone is writing a book these days. She said, “Maybe in your world everyone is writing a book, but out here in the real world, it’s still a big deal to be an author.”
      Our clients are business leaders and those people still find huge value in a book. So I’m glad I did it the way I did it.

  • Having worked in the book industry and having published a couple of books the old way, I actually think one year is pretty short (in publishing years 🙂 ).  Of course, the situation is different from what it was when I was part of it because every blogger is a publisher of sort and, if you can write and organize yourself, you can produce an ebook.
    I like how social networks are pushing the book industry to move from a pace that could only be described as slow to one that is a bit less so.  
    Would I publish with a traditional publisher if I wrote another book?  Um…maybe.  The blogger part of me likes being able to write and publish myself whether shorter or longer form subjects.  What I’d want is a distributor to help sell it.
    And yes, book promotion is a job in itself – kind of like climbing a mountain. Many people just look to the peak and don’t realize how much energy is required to get down.  

    •  @martinwaxman So. Freaking. True. Your quads are so sore from climbing that they’re like jelly on the way down the mountain. Really, really, really great analogy!

  • I heard a competitor is coming out with Marketing in the Square next year so you and Geoff better get cracking to beat them!
    The business book world must be hard. Unlike Romance or Mystery or Sci-Fi most business books often are about ‘the new thing or idea’ and in 2-4 years that idea is either proven or debunked but then at that time there is a new thing or idea. Think of Twitter. It might be gone in 3 years. In 20? I remember hearing Joseph Jaffe tell Mitch Joel in a podcast that in hindsight Join the Conversation isn’t really what it is all about.
    You at least wrote a book not about a fad or an idea but about sound marketing principals and that will give you legs past they day we forget what Facebook was.

    • @HowieSPM Dammit Howie, I told you not to tell her about my square book!

    •  @HowieSPM That was the reason we wrote what we did – we didn’t want a social media book or a trendy book. We wanted something that is sound in marketing and communication practices, no matter what tools are available when you read it.

  • I can’t wait till I finish my book and experience this dilemma for myself! So far, I’ve completed the title… I’m on a roll. I think I side with you in this debate. Seems as if there are more benefits to having a publisher backing you.

    • markwschaefer

       @SociallyGenius There are some benefits, namely I was paid money to write the book!  I couldn’t have written a book as complicated as Return On Influence without the financial backing of a publisher. They have also got me into many new distribution channels. But self-publishing was a blast too.

    •  @SociallyGenius What’s the title?!?

      • @ginidietrich I was gonna say “guess” but that wouldn’t even be fair! The title is LIFElike SALES, or Life Like Sales. Depends if I want it to be more of a sales book or life book about how to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in daily life. It will likely be a combination of both!

  • Going through this myself right now. I think there is still room for both and I think that authors are wise to keep their options open as they go into this. I have an agent interested in my book, which, of course, makes it easier to snag a publisher. But then it’s often a 2+year process to get the thing published (unless your topic is very timely, or you are a celebrity—then you might be on the fast track.)
    My book is a memoir, not a business-focused book, so it may be different, but my writing coach/editor says she advises all her clients to go with traditional publisher on their first book. I’m not convinced on that point because if it’s successful, as you said here, a publisher will be interested in buying the rights, anyway. And of course why wouldn’t they want to ride the coattails of an already successful product. 
    I think that we in the marketing and social media world, are lucky because if we self-publish we already have a platform for our books. We have already been talking and making ourselves known on Twitter, Facebook,. etc. Many aspiring self-published authors don’t have that keen marketing sense. I think that we already have business skills and can effectively market and sell opur books.
    Great discussion here, Gini. 

    •  @JudyDunn You know, now that I’ve really thought about this, I agree with your writing coach…everyone should go the traditional route the first time out. I had NO idea what to expect…and it’s a lot!

  • Before I head off to another discussion on the future of fiction publishing and how we can make a biz out of what is needed, a few comments.
    Publishing is changing rapidly.  The value of a real publisher used to be first the editors and then the marketing arm.  Both are really thin these days – the editing process has been trimmed dramatically and most authors have to push their work on their own.  The value of a real publisher is pretty limited.
    That said, there are still advantages if you can swing it.  An advance is, of course, ideal, but few get that.  Most writers have to prove themselves first, and that usually means self-publishing.  Many people talk about “published” works now including self-published, a major faux pas just a few years ago.  So there is no reason to not go ahead and self-publish if you want to get something out.  
    My own fiction is its own thing, and I’ll self-publish as I see fit.  I have one self-published novel and another that is awaiting a final draft – a TON of work that I just can’t get myself to do.  It’s tough to get the energy up to do it.
    Non-fiction business books are a very different reality, especially in the market. It’s much easier to find an audience, even on your own.  If you know social media there’s no reason to not give it a go and make it happen – but you do have to stand out in some way.

    •  @wabbitoid The advance is nice, but it’s certainly not enough to live on while you write, which means you still have to work. Most of write books in our spare time. I beginning to lean more toward what @JudyDunn said…go the traditional route for your first book.

  • I am one of the many who are in the midst of trying to get published and I don’t see a reason to turn my nose up at either path. Ideally I would like to become an expert on both sides of the fence.
    Given all of the tools and resources that we have now it seems that there is a tremendous opportunity available to those who are willing to take it.

    •  @TheJackB I hope I didn’t come across as snubbing either process. I’m relieved to see traditional publishing taking a different approach to our instant world!

      •  @ginidietrich I didn’t see it that way at all. I am a big proponent of researching tools/resources but not ignoring the professionals. I have read about heart surgery but I wouldn’t claim to be a surgeon.
        If a traditional publishing house were to offer its services I would be very interested in taking advantage of their services because they have a level of expertise in certain areas that I can’t match.
        You could compare it to a discussion about why companies should hire a PR agency instead of just do it on their own.
        There are valid reasons on both sides.

  • I love that you wrote about this topic, Gini. I come from the book publishing world and with the advent of eBooks, blogs, and people building their own community, the idea of publisher’s value is tossed out the window almost before most aspiring authors have had time to really figure out what’s right for them.
    Writing the book is “easy,” and as you mentioned, the real work is when it comes time to promote. If you want to be successful and get those speaking events and be taken seriously by book stores, you have to hustle — whether or not you went the publisher or the self-pub route. Thank you for bringing that up.
    Scott Berkun is a writer based in Seattle who had a number of books published by a publisher and he decided to self publish his most recent book mostly for the experience of doing it all himself (and by hiring an editor, designer, etc.). Here’s his blog post on why he decided to self publish:
    I appreciate that he made the decision because he was curious, not like most people I see who self-publish and do so out of spite and because they feel like they don’t need the big publishing house’s help. Again, it all comes down to what your personal goals are with your book and what channel of distribution will help get your ideas out there.

    •  @lamiki You bring up a really good point. I don’t know that I have the energy or the connections to get a book into distribution. I know Mark sold Tao of Twitter solely through social media and his blog. That can work, if you have the online presence to support it. 

  • I had a meeting with a prospect last week that deals with a lot of clients who are authors. They were telling me about one author who self-published his novel and it’s now being picked up by a publisher. The publisher is expecting it to be a HUGE seller for them. They told me that if this guy had tried to go the traditional route that he’d STILL be shopping for a publisher. But, instead, he’s already had his self-published version out there, using it secure speaking gigs and get the attention he needed to potentially go big with this publishing deal. It’s pretty amazing what’s possible now through self-publishing that wasn’t possible before.
    I hope to write a book someday so all of these tips from you and markwschaefer are certainly helpful for when I’m ready to take the plunge!

    •  @lauraclick  I wonder if this person does not have a social presence online? I think it is pretty tough to get publishers to pay attention to you today if you haven’t already demonstrated you can sell content. I know Spin Sucks is part of (if not all) the reason I was able to get the book deal.

      •  @ginidietrich Surprisingly, I don’t think he has much of a platform online. However, the guy is a pastor, so he has a huge established in-person community already. I think this is a bit of an anomaly – you’re right that already having a platform in place makes you that much more appealing!

  • Gini;
    This is a very interesting conversation, and it’s far from over. Traditional publishing houses are telling folks, “We’ll publish your book if you can show us that you can sell it!” — Well if I can sell it what value are you adding? Ok, editing, cover design, digital formatting, inventory management, retail placement. It’s not nothing. But many self-publishing houses will give you all that for a fraction of the cost.
    Worth watching.

    • markwschaefer

       @blfarris The publishers are really becoming talent agents.

    •  @blfarris It is definitely worth watching. That’s why I was so interested to hear Mark’s story about Tao of Twitter. A publisher that gets the industry is changing and wants to take advantage!

  • TorontoLouise

    Congrats on the book Gini.  This topic came up at MESH 2012 and it seems many people are going directly to self-publishing because they’ve heard horror stories about the difficulty of getting anyone in the traditional publishing world to even take your calls.  And we’ve all heard the legends of big publishing houses who have turned down submissions which went on to become global bestsellers.  Upon hearing things like this, many people think, “What chance do I have?”  Like many industries today, it sounds like the traditional publishers are risk-averse but once they believe in something, will kick into high gear and make it a success.  Just another reason why building your own brand is so important.

    •  @TorontoLouise I like what Terry Fallis did with his book…and he went on to win huge awards. Without a publisher.

  • I had a publisher for my first book, albiet a tiny one, and then self-published my second book.  There is one reason I will continue on the self-publish route, for the foreseeable future, that nobody seems to mention. It is fun.  I loved the publishing part.  I did hire an editor and I will for all my future books, too, and some of them I will hire a cover designer, if I can’t get one that looks professional, but the actual layout, uploading, and such, that part is all mine.
    There is one downside to self publishing, that doesn’t get mentioned, either.  I hired a very good editor for Two Decades and Counting, spent countless hours going over it myself, too. Still, we missed some things. Every books does, but when it is self-published, people will make snarky comments like, “Maybe you should hire an editor, next time.”  On page four of the hard bound copy of the latest Dan Brown, “Lost Symbol”, there is a typo, but nobody accuses Double Day of not using an editor.
    Still, I love the book production part of the process and will continue to do it myself.
    For all the aspiring authors out there, who may be considering self-pub, I recommend, as it is good at catching a fair number of errors (especially comma mistakes).  This will save you money when you send it to your editor, because they tend to work by the hour.
    Great post.

    • markwschaefer

       @ExtremelyAvg I agree. It was a really hard decision to turn the Twitter book over to McGraw Hill. I love that little book!  But I think I have protected it and it will be even better in the second edition!

      •  @markwschaefer I’d love to read a post about your experience after it comes out in their version.

        • markwschaefer

           @ExtremelyAvg Great idea. You also might enjoy this report on self-publishing:

    •  @ExtremelyAvg For me, the self-publishing would be difficult because there isn’t anyone to hold me accountable to meeting deadlines. I’m great at deadlines for the business and for clients, but because of that, the stuff I want to do for me gets put aside. So I was VERY grateful to have a publisher that held me accountable to actually getting this done.

      •  @ginidietrich I have the same problem. With my Henry Wood Novels, they take forever, because I don’t have a deadline. Since Two Decades was being launched at the Penn State basketball game on Feb 4, I didn’t have a choice, the deadline was set.

  • Hmmm…got me thinking for sure. As my co-author, Jason Falls, said to me early on (and you reiterated here), writing the book is the EASY part. Yikes!

    •  @djwaldow Writing the book IS the easy part! That’s why I have NO idea how he’s doing it again so quickly. I would die. He has waaaaaaay more stamina than me.

  • I agree with you, it gives the best of both worlds and it can help to get a better contract; if you’re already selling by yourself it means you write well and so can have a deal benefitting both the publisher and you. 🙂