08/03/2010 12:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Five Quick & Dirty Rules of the Author Entrepreneur

I was honored to moderate "The Author Entrepreneur" session during the National Association of Black Journalists 35th Annual Conference held recently in San Diego. I was quite impressed with the panel of successful self-published authors that included Versandra Kennebrew, Lorraine Cole, and Harold T. Fisher. Much like myself, they have all been duped at one time or another by the shady underbelly of publishing: Lorraine's original publisher folded with her books and distribution in limbo; Harold spent nearly $10,000 to bring his book to market; and Versandra's book was designed for homeless families, a niche that was difficult to cultivate, most likely because they do not buy books. So, most impressive is that all of them are making money in self-publishing.

Trust me, I know the miracles that can happen from publishing a book that you really believe in. Four years ago, I was suddenly unemployed and all I had going for me was my imagination -- and my battery operated boyfriend -- so I decided to write a novel about three "smart girls who trade bad boys for great toys." Nobody wanted to publish The M.O.O.D. Lounge, so I decided to publish it myself through iUniverse.

After just a few months in circulation, the book was acquired by Karen Hunter Publishing, a division of Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, the Rolls Royce of the traditional publishing industry. This book also paved the way for me to co-author Ritz Harper Goes to Hollywood with Wendy Williams; it was the final installment in the bestselling series. I've since re-acquired the first book and will re-re-release it in October under my own imprint.

I know how fickle the industry can be, and so I'm eager to share with you what we all had to learn the hard way.

№ 1.
You are on your own.

If you are signed with a traditional publishing house, you will receive a contract, royalties (less than 20%) of books sold, an advance check to hold you over as you finish your book, and a built-in marketing team to promote your title. The traditional publishing house earns money when your book sells, so they will help you at every turn.

In the self-publishing business model, your royalties nearly double, but you are in charge of everything, from the book's look, to the distribution service, to the marketing and promotion.
Self-publishing is a pay-as-you go industry and you will pay zero (as with Lulu or createspace), or up to $20,000 to bring your book to market.

№ 2.
Research the industry.

There are several self-publishing companies on the horizon, and the publishing process is simple: You submit a completed manuscript and for a set fee, ($299 and up, plus the printing cost of your books), an in-house team will design your book cover, format your book, and assign an ISBN (International Standard Book Number, and, voila, you're published. If you submit a completely formatted book, just shoot the PDF files to and they will make your book available for retail on their website for free, and for a small fee, additional distribution services are available. (A traditional published author will benefit from their publisher's distribution network and will have their new book featured in bookstores, libraries and online book club sites. Your books will be made available to order in similar outlets, once you invest in the distribution system.)

As a self-published author, you will be the author of a POD (print-on-demand title), which means a copy of your book will be printed only after someone orders it. Your publishing company will print, bind and mail your book one copy at a time.

On average, a self-published book sells about 150 copies, and thousands of new titles are published each month.

Authors are telling and selling their stories so quickly that the Print On Demand book publishers are merging and reorganizing just to keep up with the demand. Consider this: Author House (owned by Author Solutions, now also owns iUniverse, and Xlibris). Borders Personal Publishing has now partnered with Lulu. CreateSpace and BookSurge (On Demand Publishing, LLC, an company) have merged under one umbrella, CreateSpace. And some traditional publishers are also getting in on the act.

If you're interested in a particular company, I suggest that you purchase and review one of the company's books, perhaps even query an author about his/her personal experience with the company before signing a publishing contract.

№ 3
Think beyond the book.

The moment that you decide to self-publish your book, you are no longer an author; you are an author/entrepreneur.

Content is king, so take your time, read your contracts thoroughly before entering into an agreement with a company to publish your book. Don't zero-in on the royalties scale alone, look for the fine print that stipulate how long the chosen company has a right to publish your content; and what happens to your master files (book block and cover) after your contract ends.

Your book is not just a book, it is your platform as an expert,
it is an extension of your brand, it is your intellectual property that can be the basis of a product line or web episode series or a springboard for a speaking tour.

The book is now chopped up and re-purposed across multiple platforms, print, e-book, I-book (books for the I-Pad), web episodes, movies, television and now even the VOOK, the digital book with streaming video chapters.


№ 4
Invest in your business.

The success of your book relies on a number of variables, some that you control -- i.e. your content, your packaging, your distribution model and your hustle -- and some that you do not, i.e., the current publishing trend when your book hits the market.

Right now, the hottest trend is the young adults market, according to Regina Brooks, president of the Serendipity Literary Agency, and author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults. "The tremendous creative and commercial success of YA lit is improving opportunities for writers and readers giving the genre the respect it deserves," she notes.

No matter what your story is, tell a good one; engage your reader. Remember, your words are forever.

Scroll the masthead of the local newspapers or magazines to find a good pool of creatives to work with -- most working media folks are swamped, but will direct you to someone who is talented and willing to help you out. Also, MediaBistro has a directory of freelancers. Publishers Marketplace has a vast database of literary agents that can take your book to the next level as well.

№ 5.
Market your book before it is published.

Get a publicist, a good one, long before your book is printed. Be careful, do not hire a publicist whose idea of public relations is posting their own photos on Facebook; that's a self-promoter not a master publicist. The best way to evaluate a publicist is to observe how they market and position their clients, not what they say they can do for you.

A master publicist will zero-in on the key selling points about your project and will help you to craft a marketing/advertising program that will ensure that you stand out above the competition.

Additionally, a clean, informative author's website and active participation in niche-related social media groups and organizations are mandatory before you send your first author's review copy to the press.

Final thoughts: Setbacks will come. You will spend lots of money. You will have emotional highs and lows and you will experience the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with making your own money in a rapidly changing industry.

But every new day brings a new opportunity to make your mark.

Now, get to typing. Or, just start talking, and let the computer do the typing for you.

*Full Disclosure: This blogger has not been compensated or gifted by any company or person mentioned in this post; it's just a blog.