self-publishing – winning!

Readers know that I decided to self-publish The Grad Skool Rulz ($2 – cheap!). It’s an advice manual for people in PhD programs. It also contains advice for assistant professors as well. I want to share what I have learned about self-publishing.

First, you need a decent plan if you want to succeed at self-publishing. Any decent editor will tell you that your book depends on getting the message out to the right people. So, when I decided to make the jump and self-publish, I only did so after realizing that the blog provided a great advertising for the book. The Grad Skool Rulz had a consistent following and three of them have been reprinted on the website “Inside  Higher Ed.” I had an audience and a product that people liked. As long as I gently reminded people about where to find the book, I knew I could get people to consider getting the book.

Second, if you are used to executing your own self-managed projects, self-publishing isn’t so bad. To publish the Rulz, I had to do the following: produce a text, edit it, format it, create a cover and open an account. This, it turns out, is a fair amount of work, but still way, way easier than getting tenure, writing my dissertation, or dealing with the crises that pop up in my life. In other words, if you can actually write and you have self-direction, it isn’t that bad. There are even books and websites that tell you how to do it. And of course, I had lots of help. A friend designed the cover, orgtheory fans helped me edit the text, and so forth.

Third, self-publishing can be profitable. Once I realized that the Rulz had a notable audience, then all I needed to be profitable was for a small handful of people to shell out $2 a pop. Orgtheory links really help there. It adds up.

Fourth, self-publishing can be more successful than regular publishing. At the current rate, which is much lower than the weeks after initial release, my self-published e-book will likely sell more copies in one year than my physical book has in almost five years. Some of it is due to content. An academic monograph has a much more limited audience than an advice manual, but it shows that with the right product and strategy I can get a better outcome from self-publishing than traditional publishing.

Five, this is a format for retaining control over the content. The Grad Skool Rulz are opinionated and not suitable for peer review, but I knew from reader response that the Rulz were valuable, Thus, self-publishing is a good choice.

I don’t recommend it for everyone and it isn’t suitable for all texts, but I can say from personal experience that self-publishing works.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz


Written by fabiorojas

January 26, 2012 at 12:06 am

11 Responses

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  1. That’s cool – congrats.


    Philip Cohen

    January 26, 2012 at 12:20 am

  2. You are at the positive end of the distribution. 1) You already had written the material, you just needed to repack as a book. This is still work, but less than starting from scratch. 2) You already had an audience. There were a lot of us who had already been recommending your blog who switched over to recommending the book.

    There’s a lot of discussion about self-pub among fiction writers. There are a few people who have made a killing in self-pub, at the same time as the modal number of sales for a self-pub book is zero. Zero. The successes are a) good writers who have something to say and b) people who already had an audience before self-pub, either from traditional publication or blogging or something that got word of mouth buzz. (My husband’s cousin, who is a not good writer, sells self-put stuff on the basis of having once been married to a very famous sci fi writer with a cult following.)

    Financially, the author gets more money from a self-pub at $2 than the author’s share of a traditionally published book. What traditional publishers offer is vetting and editing which makes the consumer attach higher probability to the product being good.



    January 26, 2012 at 12:44 am

  3. The content doesn’t hurt, nor does the price! I’m using the Rulz in my Senior Seminar required for all of our Majors. Since I only have 13 students this year, I coordinated to gift all of the students a copy (I’m not hurting and students at my humble university are). It’s an incredible value! I would have made the students buy it individually for this price, but I was really afraid that some of them wouldn’t, and I really want them to read it. GSR puts the ASA materials to shame, and, gee, as I recall from teaching this course in years past when I used an ASA published work….I think they are more expensive….



    January 26, 2012 at 2:52 am

  4. Kinda off topic but related: Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has talked about showing displeasure with publisher Elsevier for their underhanded ways by calling for all academics to avoid publishing in their journals, as well as noting that Elsevier sucks but that THIS particular article is OK whenever citing an article from an Elsevier journal.

    A bunch of Elsevier journal editorial boards have done mass resignations, found new journals for much cheaper, etc.

    I noticed that “Social Science & Medicine,” which is popular among medical sociology/public health folks is published by Elsevier. Has there been a similar move among sociologists re “Social Science & Medicine” ?



    January 26, 2012 at 5:17 am

  5. Thanks everyone for the support. It’s humbling.

    1. @ow: I actually did start from scratch in an important sense. The blog itself is a form of self-publication and marketing. So there were two levels of self-publishing. And yes, the GSR represent a tail end of a distribution.

    At the same time, traditional publishing represents a tail end. Most books are never published by a regular publisher and many that see print do not break even. That is why mainstream publishing is edging toward a Hollywood blockbuster model of publishing that focuses on a few big hits from people with pre-existing reputations. For many authors, fighting for scraps at that table isn’t worth it. For people who are good at the craft and can generate content, self-publishing is a strategy that makes more sense.

    2. Andy: Elsevier takes the cake in many ways. Absurd costs, crazy fees, giving nothing back to authors (e.g. for on Elsevier journal that I published with, I didn’t even get a free print copy of the journal).



    January 27, 2012 at 5:17 am

  6. Congratulations on your success. As noted, most such ventures fail. Your was successful for non-mysterious reasons. Generally, the Theory of One Price holds. You do all the work; you get all the profits. If you contract out parts of a project, you minimize your risks, but lower your returns. I wonder what the org theory view is. You created an enterprise that otherwise would have required large organizations – publisher, printer, distributor, retailers.

    Self-publishing has been rediscovered many times. In fact, perhaps, it is publishing that is to be explained. In the 19th century advances in transportation and printing made possible what existed only in rudimentary form. Were there any publishers in Greece or Rome? All works were self-published then.

    The printing press was a huge capital investment, completely apart from the skill of handwriting. Distribution remained to be invented, as did advertising. The invention of newspapers spurred a medium that could advertise books. All of this took centuries to evolve, but, essentially, like the novel and the newspaper, publishing was a novel institution. It eclipsed self-publishing, with “vanity presses” taking a lower rank in the perceptions of critics. Now, perhaps, we have come not so much to a new paradigm as to the re-invention of an older mode.


    Michael Marotta

    January 27, 2012 at 5:34 am

  7. Love this, but I HATE the smashwords sign up process. I don’t want to create an account with a cutesy webpage to buy your book, I just want to buy your book.


    January 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  8. I actually had the same reaction as anon. I don’t want to write a book, I just want to buy yours.



    January 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm

  9. @anon and ow: Sorry if smashwords is cumbersome. You can buy GRS from Barnes and Noble or iBooks with just a click.



    January 27, 2012 at 9:38 pm

  10. “Third, self-publishing can be profitable. Once I realized that the Rulz had a notable audience, then all I needed to be profitable was for a small handful of people to shell out $2 a pop.”

    So Fabio, will you be releasing your tax returns prior to the ASAs?



    January 28, 2012 at 8:10 pm

  11. Re: the discussion about Elsevier, the issues go well beyond fees. The biggest issue is Elsevier’s publishing journals-for-hire for drug companies. See this recent post on Crooked Timber:



    February 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm

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