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Playing The Self-Publishing Game A super biased argument to bet on yourself and self-publish your next book

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My Goal I want to inspire more internet-native writers to publish their own books earlier in their journeys and see the upsides of self-publishing

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Who I am? 👋 Hey, I’m Paul Millerd I’ve been a solopreneur since 2017, sharing my ideas and thoughts online, playing a long game I want to keep playing In 2021 I decided to self-publish my book, The Pathless Path. Along the way, I figured out everything on my own. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t that hard either. What follows is my way of making sense of what I experienced as well as why I ended up turning down a big fancy publishing deal after my book started to succeed.

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How I see the world… People are underestimating digital scale & distribution via owned audiences Self-publishing tools & capabilities will continue to improve globally I believe there will be increased opportunities to repackage books in new audio & digital formats that we can’t predict I value creative control much more than most people I like figuring things out and sharing them with people

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I explored for three years, with increased attention in 2020 from everyone working from home… 2017 - 2020 Writing About Work Had hundreds of conversations with people about my ideas Wrote 100+ essays and newsletters on the topic Thousands of tweets Made friends curious about similar themes At end of 2020, had three people in one week say: “If you wrote a book, I would read it”

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So, I decided to write a book 2017 - 2020 Writing About Work Had hundreds of conversations with people about my ideas Wrote 100+ essays and newsletters on the topic Thousands of tweets Made friends curious about similar themes 2021 2022 Book was #1 priority entire year Continued doing all the same things Launched book when done after 14 months

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Decide to Write Book = 3,328 followers I had a very engaged, but not a massive audience in Dec 2020 when I decided to write

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Published Book And it continued to grow throughout the writing process as I shared what I was doing = 7,491 followers

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0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 Jan Feb March April May June July August Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb March April May June Book Sales By Month I quietly launched the book to my existing subscribers and was ecstatic at my early success Read More: “I accidentally launched my book”: “I broke even!” 5k books!

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The early response were a VERY strong indicator of potential success

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And they kept coming…I “felt” something good might emerge but I honestly didn’t know…

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0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 Jan Feb March April May June July August Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb March April May June Book Sales By Month …and underestimated that the book might still have a much bigger audience! Read More: “I accidentally launched my book”: 28k Books!

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Why (I think) It Took Off • Wrote a book people liked and wanted to share • Had cultivated real relationships with hundreds of people around my ideas for years • I poured my heart into the book and didn’t compromise anything creatively or editorially: it is easier to share something your heart is 100% behind • I had book-lifestyle fit: I approached the book similar to how I approached my life, learning everything myself, sharing along the way, avoiding chasing vanity metrics (best seller) and gifting generously once launched

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Genuine Sharing From Other People With Audiences (I’m sort of crazy and didn’t ask anyone to share or review)

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My book topic & my personality were perfectly wired for long games • Not “done” with the topic: My curiosity has not waned on exploring how people live unconventional lives • I want to keep going: I have a ton of fun writing a weekly newsletter, talking to people, and sharing on Twitter • Giving is easier & cheaper: I have practiced generosity for years and am delighted to give my book away for free. This was made easier by the low cost to print & ship on Amazon KDP ($4.50 a book) • Timing & speed: Getting to market early was an advantage. I caught the early waves of the zeitgeist (Covid WFH, Tech Layoffs, Creator Economy) that emerged in 2020 by publishing in early 2021.

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My original belief: launches matter Reality: launches matter but long games can win too Launch Energy 🚀 Long Game Energy 🚶‍♂️ I’m wired to play this game (I hate launches)

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What do you have? Launch Energy 🚀 Long Game Energy 🚶‍♂️ “By the time the book came out, I had already recorded 75 podcast interviews and had asked all of them to release within the first two weeks of the book coming out. Then I had another 25 that I recorded the month the book launched. We had 100 podcast interviews come out within the first month of the book being out - but you need to reach out to 300 to get on 100”

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Lessons Learned 1. I underestimated the potential for books for internet-native writers that are playing long games and plan to continue to share around ideas they care about 2. I underestimated the intrinsic rewards: it raised my personal ambitions, helped me be a better writer, and gave others a clear token to show their support

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Is the book you want to write in the flow of your natural curiosity & sharing? (then what are you waiting for?)

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Traditional vs. Self-Publishing is a falsechoice that keeps too many from actually writing Traditional Self-Publishing VS.

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The reality is there is a spectrum of options & models Traditional Self-Publishing Hybrid “Standard Deal” 100% DIY 50/50 Royalty Split No Advance Pay-for-services 100% Royalties Fixed fee ($2-5k) 90% Royalties By Submission 15-20% Fees

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While you can buy back rights from publisher, it rarely happens. Self-publishing preserves optionality Traditional Self-Publishing Publisher Owns Lifetime Rights Sell to publisher Stay self-published Sell global rights only Future creative options

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A top publisher offered me a two-book deal 15 months after I self-published I turned it down because I could see the value of my book and the economics & trade-offs didn’t make sense Source: Paul Millerd : "Last month, Portfolio (part of 🐧) reached out and ended up offering $200k for the rights to The Pathless Path and a 2nd book I said no

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People were shocked by $200k but the math often doesn’t make sense no matter the number once its selling Case example: Hal Elrod Hal: “I think we were up to 10,000 copies a month, so it was earning like, I don't even know, $40,000 a month, or something. I did the math and I'm like, "All right, love you, it would be a really great check to get in the mail," and then I would regret it for the rest of my life, right?” Hal: “We met with 13 New York publishers. We got nine offers. I'll be very transparent, so the top two offers were for $250,000 advances.”

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After Penguin reached out, I explored a couple of other options, I was surprised at the leverage I had in the market More negotiating power: A Top UK publisher offered to republish print-only in Non-North American Regions (they take all printing and cost risk) for a 50/50 royalty split. I decided to say no to this as well Global Opportunities: I signed a global rights agent to sell Indian English rights and global translations. Foreign rights agents typically are happy to represent self- published authors with good sales trajectories. They only take 20% of commissions and royalties. This is typically seen as “found money”

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Five Key Considerations #1 Prestige #2 Process #3 Creative Control #4 Distribution #5 Royalties

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#1 Prestige: Does it (still) matter? How to accurately price the glow of prestige

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Prestige is a mental model for what other people care about This is a hidden force that shapes the modern world more than we like to admit But when it comes to publishing, I believe the value of this prestige is overpriced

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The most powerful way traditional publishers “sell” prestige is promising to send your book to other authors they publish Famous Author Influencer Famous Author Famous Author Famous Author Media Representative Your book Publisher’s network Thoughts • This can be amazing, but a lot of this isn’t going to magically help your book succeed • You have to put in a lot of effort to pursue these relationships and even still, this will only help with a big launch • People will always share what they think is good, you don’t NEED a publisher to access big names

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My experience: Ali Abdaal posted a video about my book Almost 500k views drove a spike of about 10k books (all channels) over 90 days. Reflection: People with large, high-trust audiences that are aligned on topics & interests can sell a lot of books Also, I think people overrate channels like radio, media articles versus YouTube – these relationships with audience are highly personal

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Traditional Publishing ✓ Reputation (but weaker than its apex) ✓ Take upfront cost & inventory risks ✓ Up-front payment ✓ Clear timeline and process ✓ Understanding of mass market ✓ Retail & global relationships Self-Publishing ✓ Absolute creative control ✓ Royalty long-term upside & incentives ✓ Rapidly growing market & new opportunities ✓ Can make updates & improvements without permission ✓ Cheaper gifting of books

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Traditional publishers used to have distribution edge with retail But retail has declining sales… …despite increasing print sales Source: U.S. print book sales 2022 | Statista Source: U.S. book store sales 2022 | Statista

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I sense the prestige and stigma will continue to fade as established writers pursue alternative paths Steven Pressfield Self- Published His Memoir

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#2 Process & Timeline Are self-published books crappier? (They can be)

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With a traditional publisher, you get access to an editor, but you are also competing with hundreds of books in production We publish over 1,500 titles every year across a wide range of categories and genres, including fiction and non-fiction, adult and children’s, and commercial bestsellers and literary classics. Your attention within a publishing house will be directly correlated to the size of your advance

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The traditional timeline is needlessly slow because of a fixed process, lots of books, and too many meetings Book proposal 3-6 Months Writing & Approval 9-15 Months Pre-Production & Launch 6-9 months 1 year 2 year Writing, Editing & Design Upload & Approval 3-5 days Traditional Self-Published Published Chooses Launch Date

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But, self-Publishing can be overwhelming because you make all the decisions Traditional Self-Publishing You Editor Publishing Staff Writing Everything Else Editing Design Marketing & Pricing Strategy Distribution

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Case Example: I did a 99 designs contest and was not quite happy with any of the covers

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Lesson Learned: I hired a pro designer on 99 designs who’s work I liked and ended up getting two covers

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I made lots of little mistakes (so I could share!), like not knowing you could pre-sale a kindle on amazon up to a year before launch (oops) Source: I (accidentally) launched my book a year ago and then it magically sold 10,000 copies (

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Recommended self-publishing steps ❑ Just start writing before thinking about publishing options ❑ See how you feel about the book before making any major decisions ❑ When you are 40-60% done with a solid draft, start thinking about exploring hybrid and self-publishing options ❑ Hire an editor ❑ Acquire your own ISBNs via Bowker (or other) ❑ Hire a designer and have them format documents to upload to various sites (most will provide templates) ❑ Put book on Amazon Kindle pre-sale (can’t pre-sale printed copies) ❑ Work with editor to finish book ❑ Work with proofreader and typesetter (or use Reedsy) to finish book ❑ Upload to Amazon and send yourself a proof copy

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#3 Creative Control Are self-published books crappier? (They can be)

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In traditional publishing there is a playbook. This may include: ❑ Certain page count minimums (60-80k typical) ❑ Will cut parts that you want to keep ❑ Will insist on titles and cover design ❑ Decisions made as part of committees ❑ Launch date At an institutional level, this may make sense for a big publishing house. But they are maximizing shareholder value, not your creative spirit.

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Process & creative control drives most of the dissatisfaction: anonymous complaints I’ve heard “My editor is great but the staff they are working with is not very good.” “The process is painfully slow” “I have to fight them on too many trivial things, it is sucking my creative energy” “(Top publishing imprint) asked me to blurb a borderline MLM scheme” “I feel like I can’t tell people about my real experience because I need to be a ‘good author’” “I stopped promoting my book because the royalties are too low and I won’t earn out my advance.”

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I had fun making tiny decisions that delighted me like choosing block paragraphs This is what 95% of published books seem to be I couldn’t find a good reason other than “this is the way it’s done” This is what I chose in my book Why? I liked it

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I did different paperback and hardcovers Why not?!

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Hybrid Example: Jenny Blake worked with a hybrid publisher because she wanted to create a very high-quality hardcover Her first two books were with traditional publishers, but she worked with a hybrid publisher for her third because she wanted to control the creative process and create something that delighted her Cost ~$10/copy with Ideapress Source: 162: Should You Self-Publish? (Part One) — Free Time with Jenny Blake — Book & Podcast for Heart-Based Business (

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People do judge self- published books Embarrassingly, I'll admit I was blown away from the book quality. Not because you hadn't done a great job in your previous writings, but I guess I was thinking a self-published book would somehow be lesser - A reader to me, in an email

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But self-publishing just has a wider variance. There are great looking self- published books Don’t do this

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Taking yourself seriously is what matters most. Spend on design & editing Spend Before Launch Production Costs Editing $3,400 2 Editors Coaching $500 1 Coach 99Designs Contest $275 Failed! 99 Designs Pro $67 Success Publishing $250 IngramSpark Audiobook $1,280 Mastering of audio Total Spend $6,172 Marketing Spend Gifted Books $5,000 ~1000-1200 books Ads $5,200 Mostly amazon Marketing Consultant $325 Total Spend ~$10,325 Spend After Launch

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Going from text to book is easier than people think This is a free book editor that exports to print-ready PDF, MOBI, and EPUB

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…and you can level up using additional cheap or free tools Better Formatting More Printing & Binding Options Better Covers Freelance designers & editors Book Printing & Fulfilment

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Key creative control decision points ❑ Don’t worry too much about anything until 30-50% through (just write!) ❑ Start noticing other people’s books in bookstores, including sizes, paper, print, and colors ❑ Start previewing designers on sites like 99 designs (I recommend spending at least $300) ❑ With self-publishing you can make changes AFTER launch ❑ Don’t settle for a cover that you don’t LOVE ❑ Use reedsy and Amazon’s portal to print proof copies of different sizes and page counts. Try matted vs. glossy., white vs. crème paper – see what you like!

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#4 Distribution How much do you make? (It depends)

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Traditionally published does not guarantee bookstores “For the authors whose primary goal is getting into bookstores, you may sign over lifetime ownership of your art for a mere three months of spine-out visibility.” Hugh Howey

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Book stores aren’t stupid: they’ll stock stuff people want (Like David Goggins book) “I wanted to own all of Can’t Hurt Me, and I wanted to own all of my own life story” David Goggins 5+ Millions Sold Published with Scribe in 2018

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Some people have been playing long-games with self-publishing (and winning!) Hugh Howey has been self- publishing for years, with one of his books becoming an Apple TV series in 2023

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You can get into local and indie bookstores (but it requires a lot of manual work) Selling my book at BookPeople in Austin (recently sold out and they requested more)

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One of my favorite things to do has been to give away my book for free and leave it around Austin

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You can also pitch places like Barnes & Noble and Hudson Booksellers

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Seth Godin has published 140+ books and has self- published and published “What we're left with is this if you're willing to do the work and show up and show up and show up with generosity for years at a time, people are going to read your book. And if people read your book and they don't like it, you should write another book. Because this act of putting it down in writing clearly for people who want to learn about you, who want to learn from you, is fun and generous and ultimately productive for everybody” The “easy” but ultimately, hard approach

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Seth has a great podcast episode talking about WHY you should self-publish and how to think about it 1. Start talking about the book 3+ years before publishing (fit with my experience of writing about the same topic for 4+ years) 2. People WILL judge it – Do a great cover, hire a copy editor, proofread – take it serious 3. Don’t sell to everyone: The best-selling book in any one year only reached 2% of the population 4. Books that are shareable are the most valuable: Write a book people want to share more than 2+ at a time 5. The bestseller list is a scam (see link) Great podcast episode: Akimbo: Publish Yourself

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#5 Royalties & Pricing How much do you make? (It depends)

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Royalty Comparison Jenny Blake: Penguin Advance: $150k Type Sold Royalties Per Book Hardcover 13,500 $37,000 $2.74 Paperback 21,200 $19,800 $0.93 eBook 10,000 $23,400 $2.34 Plus $40k Foreign Rights Total Books = 44,700 “Earned out” = $120k Source: 164: Let’s Talk Royalties re: Publishing Options (Part Two) — Free Time with Jenny Blake — Book & Podcast for Heart-Based Business ( Type Sold Royalties Per Book Hardcover 425 $3,040 $7.15 Paperback 7,631 $53,716 $7.04 eBook 12,523 $58,981 $2.34 Paul Millerd: Self-Published Upfront Costs: $6k VS. Total Books = 20,579 Total Royalties = $115k

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Traditional Publishing Has A Standard Deal This is my offer from Penguin

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Royalties can be confusing because of sales, discounts, and global pricing. But this calculator is helpful To “earn” out the 70k they were offering me for my book, I would have had to sell> 25k books On my own I could sell 10k paperbacks on Amazon

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My Detailed Self-Publishing Royalties 29k sold, $142k total royalties, Avg $5.08 a book Channel Units Avg Royalty Type Units % Kindle 10,707 $ 4.61 Ebook 12,750 45% Audiobook (ACX) 6,795 $ 3.87 Print 8,492 30% AMZN Paperback 6,394 $ 7.82 Audio* 6,795 24% IngramSpark ebook 1,153 $ 2.67 *25% since July release India Publishing (Pothi) 894 $ 0.02 IngramSpark Paperback 764 $ 5.14 Channel Units % Gumroad 392 $ 8.70 Amazon 17,358 62% Apple iBook 374 $ 6.71 ACX 6,795 24% AMZN Hardcover 257 $ 8.77 Ingram 2,230 8% IngramSpark Hardcover 183 $ 4.29 Other 1,654 6% Google Books 124 $ 6.24

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You can’t compare royalties 1:1 because they are different games Jenny’s book got a massive order into Target, which is much harder AND lowered the average royalties

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Traditional Publishers price eBooks Inefficiently

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Publishers used Apples entrance into eBooks to literally fix prices for eBooks at $14.99 Source: The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came. - Vox

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Authors should care about this because research on book sales from 2014 showed that $14.99 is NOT a sweet spot for eBook sales Source: Data Guy on Price Points - Hugh Howey

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Amazon is the most important player because they own the customer BUT big authors will likely leverage tools like Shopify and Kickstarter for pre- sales and special edition

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Opportunity: Brandon Sanderson did a Kickstarter pre- sale and found that bundles drive more sales Source: Some FAQs You Might Enjoy | Brandon Sanderson

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Reach Out I want to inspire more internet-native writers to publish their own books earlier in their journeys and see the upsides of self-publishing [email protected] @p_millerd