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What Successful Self-Publishers Do Well

Some months ago, ALLi worked with Dr Alison Baverstock on her most recent investigations into self-publishing, the findings from which will be published soon. Here she gives us a sneak peek at what the research revealed about indie authors.

Dr Alison Baverstock

Dr Alison Baverstock

What I found [in my research] was in direct contrast to previously widely held assumptions about self-publishing authors. Our findings revealed that that their motivations were more often connected to completion and future discoverability than money; that they enjoyed the process; that they would do so again and recommend it to others.

And that self-publishing brings happiness.

Publishers have long assumed that only if nearing professional standards could a self-published product bring any satisfaction. My research has revealed the opposite. Self-publishers a) approach the process confidently, b) are well-informed, and aware of how much the process will cost and how long it is likely to take and c) emerge both keen to do it again and likely to recommend it to others.

I emerged from the process with many reasons for admiring self-publishers, but I will confine myself here to just five:

1.Self-Publishers Finish & Ship

If it’s true that a significant proportion of the population feel they have a book in them, or that getting a book published is the second most common New Year’s resolution, then it’s odd how few people seem to prioritize the writing bit.

2. Self-Publishers Take Responsibility

My definition of self-publishing is the taking of personal responsibility for the management and production of work. It doesn’t have to be for wider circulation, or even to make money, but the taking responsibility is crucial. This is brave. It’s also personally risky. Work made available is not always received in the same spirit as which it is shared.

3. Self-Publishers Are Resourceful

59% of my research cohort had used an editor and 21% had taken legal advice. Support has been variously obtained: from friends and colleagues; paid for support; some via the internet. Many of those dubbed self-publishers are in fact operating in small teams, buying in services as needed. 

4. Self-Publishers Identify New Readerships

Self-publishers have drawn attention to previously overlooked demand (memoirs, fantasy and soft porn being particularly good examples). But a new market does not have to be vast, or public, to matter. Many self-publishers have taken care of content they valued, and ensured it will be discoverable by their families and friends in the future, should they want to know. Worth doing, I say.

5. Self-Publishers Are Mutually Supportive

The motivations of self-publishers are various, and range from those who identify instinctively with the freedom (principally the lack of mediation) self-publishing allows, decide to proceed in this way because they feel bruised by continual rejection from the traditional industry – or have never tried to find an external publisher.

Whatever their starting point, they seem to be a remarkably supportive bunch. The personality of the writer has been investigated, and we are apparently notorious for jealousy; one person’s success necessarily being viewed as diminishing the opportunities of others – or as Gore Vidal so memorably put it: ‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.’

But attend a meeting of self-published authors and you will experience something quite different – the atmosphere of mutual encouragement is palpable. Self-publishers will share information on the process, freely offer the names of suppliers they trust, and seem genuinely pleased for each others’ success.


What do you think? Agree with this analysis? What research question would you like answered?

Author: Alison Baverstock

Dr Alison Baverstock, author of the self-publishing guide, The Naked Author, is Course Leader for the MA in Publishing at Kingston University. A former publisher, and widely published author, Alison has a particularly objective overview of the developments within the industry. Her second stage research into self-publishing is to be published in the ALPSP journal, Learned Publishing. In 2007 she was awarded the Pandora Prize for Services to Publishing. Tweet her @alisonbav


This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I could write a book…” And I think…”No you can’t…you don’t have a clue!” Self-publishers are a breed all our own. We have to be self-motivated and resourceful if we REALLY want to write AND publish a book. And I agree, it’s more than the money. Thanks for the great post!

  2. I agree that all 5 points hit the nail on the head. I was reading a profile of myself and finding validation. Thank you for distributing this article.

  3. I concur with all the wonderful comments before me. As a self-publisher, who usually calls herself a Small, Independent Publisher; it is good to hear a (quasi) objective observer say that we are basically good-hearted, hardworking, independent thinkers. That’s how I see myself…and, if we perchance create well-produced books that are both interesting and commercially profitable…then, that’s just icing on the cake. It’s not, however, what revs our engines, and makes up jump up each morning excited about another day.
    I love what I do, knowing full well it will never make me rich!

  4. Thanks for all the advice! I recently dusted off an old but very polished novel and am about to put it on Kindle. It began as a creative thesis for my Masters and I have always gotten strong reviews from ‘Beta readers’ but grew tired of charging the traditional publishing hill so gave up and focused on writing for friends, local magazines, or myself the past decade. Technology, though, has changed the game. Now I’ve launched a blog and am polishing my work test in electronic format. (Length makes it difficult to publish POD, per my research.)

    Anyhow, I’m rambling. Just wanted to say I’m glad I found this site. I AM motivated and independent. It’s good to know there’s a supportive community out there. I’ve saved for years while working in healthcare and am on a self-funded sabatical to jumpstart my writing. Expect I’ll have to go back to work when my year is over, but maybe I can plant some seeds via blog and self publishing that will grow and maybe some day find ways to at least support myself part time writing. Would love to hear more realistic success stories!

    1. I agree with this investigation. I have published three books as an indie author and i pay to have them proof read and the book cover sorted professionally. this cost me a lot of money. I don’t expect to make any money from my books, but i do want to see them in print and as an e-book and audio books. They are on Amazon and i could have put them on there for nothing, but i care about my work and think if people are prepared to pay for something like that, they should get a product as good as it can be.

  5. Lovely article. The thing I like most about self publishing is that when you DO succeed, you know it’s entirely down to your own hard work. And the opportunities for reinventing storytelling are limitless when you’re not constricted by market trends.

  6. Hello Alison,

    Thank you for writing such an encouraging article which I wholeheartedly agree with. When I first ventured into the world of publishing I really didn’t have many ideas on how to get my book into the hands of readers. I visited the popular online site ‘goodreads’ and developed some wonderful friendships with many self-published authors all wanting the best for each other. Fast-forward four years, these people are still great friends today. Personally, Twitter has been the most beneficial in reaching like-minded people, and new readers.

    Thanks again.

    Best, Stuart 🙂

  7. I love how upbeat this article is towards self-pubbed writers! It’s nice to hear that writers follow their ultruistic instincts to support and cheer on other writers, but not surprising.

    Maybe it’s because they know they’re bucking an old trend and have a vested interest in seeing others succeed. Or maybe they know just how damned hard and time consuming this writing gig is, and recognize another writer’s commitment. Although I’m currently traditionally published, that’s not to say I won’t self-pub future work. Whenever I hear another writer really succeeding, or sharing valuable information, I say “Go for it!”.

    Thanks for the post and the smile Alison.

  8. Thanks for an encouraging article, Alison. I agree with all five points, and will add that I’ve found traditionally published writers to be amazingly supportive and helpful as well. Successful people love to spread the joy!


  9. Thanks for the great post. It’s so refreshing to read something positive when there seems to be a lot of articles about at the moment bashing self-publishers. I’ve been self-publishing, and earning my living from doing so, for the past three years now and it would take a lot for me to sign with a traditional publisher again (I was trad pubbed for a couple of years beforehand).
    It’s a great community and I’m honoured to be a part of it!

  10. Great post Alison. I agree wholeheartedly about the summary of us indies being a supportive bunch. Even after 4 years in the industry, watching the indie revolution expand and grow, I’m still constantly bowled over by how we go out of our way to help each other and share news. It’s a network that few other industries can boast about.


  11. Great post, Alison, thank you – and I love your definition of self-publishing. That really hits the spot. I’m sure now that your research will play a pivotal role in reshaping the views of traditional publishers and anyone else who disparages or simply doesn’t understand what it means today to be self-published.

  12. Thanks for this. I am sure that self publishers do good things etc. but the biggest problem is getting editorial advice that doesn’t break the bank. That means that there is a strong incentive to go it alone, try your best, ask a friend etc. and thereby remain solvent. If only there were professional people who would take a look at my books and give some advice and feedback and not charge the earth……..

    1. Althea Hayton, what you need is beta readers! Revisit this blog on Thursday, because there’s an excellent post to be published that day on how you can use beta readers to refine your manuscript before you go to press. One of the many great things about beta readers is that they do what they do for free! Although it is only fair if someone beta-reads your ms that you offer to do the same to theirs.
      The article will be by the novelist Joanne Phillips who has used beta readers to very good effect with her first two novels. And what fine people they were…ok, I confess, I was one of them!

    2. I think that’s where being part of a critique group (or two!) pays off. Having several other writers periodically edit and advise is extremely valuable. And free!

  13. I’d not heard that Gore Vidal quote before! I guess it’s human nature. Personally, I find it interesting that I do tend to get more support from fellow indie writers than I do from other writing buddies. But not all of my traditionally published writing friends are competitive. Perhaps the more visible collegiality of the indie writing community will create a cultural change in the traditional space over time? Readers read more than one book.

    Having said that, I am somewhat less than happy when I go to read a successful book only to discover it’s poorly written.

  14. Absolutely agree with every one of these points….

    Interesting that just a couple of years ago there we were all beavering away largely in isolation on points 1-4; then along came the Alliance (a working example of indie authors’ resourceful nature – ) to help us carry out point 5 globally…! The online communities of CreateSpace and other publishing forums are also testament to this spirit of looking out for each other…

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