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Seven Important Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing

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1. People may actually read your book.

Don’t laugh–my first book, The Humanure Handbook, is on such an off-the-wall topic (composting human manure) that I was sure no one would read it. I predicted a lifetime sales total of 250 copies (roughly one in a million U.S. residents), and I wasn’t too concerned about the off-color jokes and execrable humor because no one was going to read it anyway. That was eight years and 20,000 copies ago. I have shipped this book to at least 52 countries around the world. Always write your book as if everyone is going to read it! You just never know . . ..

2. If you think you’re going to get rich by being an author, play the lottery instead–you’ll have a better chance.

In the past eight years of self-publishing three titles, I have sold approximately $750,000 worth of books, retail value. My gross return, on average, is about one-third of the cover price for each book sold; so, in eight years, I have grossed about $240,000 in book sales, or $30,000 per year. By the time I deduct printing costs, advertising, artwork, promotion, office expenses, research, travel, and whatever else I have to spend money on in order to produce books, I have made about a dollar an hour for my time. So that brings us to #3.

3. Have a day job if you want to survive.


Call yourself an artist and join those of us who engage in our art (in this case, writing), but have a day job to pay the bills. Unless you’re Stephen King, you should probably have a means of income other than writing books. Which takes us to #4.

4. Write your books because you love to write, not because you want to make money.


Your books should be a vehicle for a meaningful message from your heart or your mind. You are saying what you want to say because it needs to be said. You are motivated first and foremost by the need to communicate, for whatever reason. When you write books from that perspective, it doesn’t matter whether you make any money with them or not. Which brings us to #5.

5. Conduct your publishing business as you would any successful business; don’t overextend yourself, stay out of debt whenever possible, and at least try to break even.


Unless you do the above, you will burn out quickly. You may love to write, but you don’t need to go bankrupt doing it. Unless you’re willing ahead of time to make a large charitable donation out of your own pocket in order to publish your information, follow a business plan that at least pays for itself. There’s nothing wrong with donating books–I do it all the time–but the books should at least break even in the long run.


This realization can help you create a successful business strategy. You can sell miscellaneous videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, supplemental information, products, and services (such as consulting)–all based on the book you have already published. Having published a book, you are in a unique position to look for these opportunities and to take advantage of them. A wise person will do so.

7. A book is a powerful tool that can change someone’s life.

Even though many people have turned to the mind-numbing entertainment of television, books are still a great way to really reach inside someone, give them something to think about, and maybe take them totally to another universe. Books can be powerful influences on society, both for the good and the bad. Therefore, it is a great responsibility to publish books, and you should take a very close look at your motives and aspirations before getting too far down the path of self-publishing.

With the human race, especially the American segment of it, strolling (stampeding?) away from global peace and harmony and toward unmitigated consumption and institutional violence, think about what you want to write and the impact it will have on this planet and all the people of the world. (For example, we have enough books on how to make bombs.) We self-publishers can be a strong force for the betterment of humankind and for a positive future for our descendants–as well as for the planet. That, to me, is what makes writing and publishing books all worthwhile.

Joseph Jenkins, who began self-publishing books in 1995, is the author/publisher of The Humanure Handbook, The Slate Roof Bible (his day job is slate roof restoration), and Balance Point, a book about the worldwide global ecological collapse that scientists are predicting for 20 to 40 years from now. For more info, visit www.jenkinspublishing.com or www.jenkinsslate.com, call 814/786-9085, or e-mail mail@jenkinspublishing.com.

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