Self-Publishing: The Journey to a Bestseller

I wrote a book. A real book. It sits on people’s bookshelves. It lives in their Kindle apps…


Now that the dust of launch week has settled, I wanted to share with everyone the journey to this point; from normal freelancer to published author (on a Bestseller List, eek!) I want to answer some of the most common questions people have asked, such as:

  • How long did it take to write?
  • How much did it cost?
  • How did you you publish it?
  • How rich will it make you?!
  • How did you market the book?
  • Should I write a book, too?

So let’s get started…

Writing a Business Book

I started writing the book over the holidays of Christmas 2015.

I know, that doesn’t sound like very long ago. But my iCal proves it:


Although it’s important to note that I have been writing industry articles on this blog since 2013. So I had a lot of base material to work with.

Of course, that doesn’t easily turn into a 164 page book.

But I had written a book before. A much bigger book (60,000 words). Few people know about that one because it was a fiction novel, and I wrote it one Summer as a Bucket List challenge simply to prove to myself that I could do it.

I had sent it as a submission to a book agent, one of my favourites, Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group. She had written back politely declining, but with a hint of encouragement that stayed with me:

“Many thanks for sending me your submission, which I read with interest. You do write well but I’m afraid, however, that I didn’t feel passionately enough about it to offer representation.”

So I knew I could write.

But even I wasn’t that passionate about my book. At least, not passionate enough to go through double-figure rounds of editing that I’d heard a publishing house would make you do before going to print.

As the manuscript gathered imaginary dust on my cloud drive, becoming an author remained on my to-do list. It appeared on all 3 of my vision boards (I’m a big fan of these. They work. Not by Black Magic, but by keeping you goal-focussed). All of mine have come to fruition – even the one where I found a great man and eloped like Kiera Knightly! I also got a grey corner sofa. Just saying…


Anyway, back to the book. It happened because of a mix of encouragement from my husband and finding myself in a position of freelancing for the first time in my life.

This knocked my career plan off course and left me anxious that I might not have a strong CV come the time when I would re-enter the in-house workforce. So I filled my time with lots of useful things on top of my work. I did a Digital Diploma. And I decided to write a book…


How Much does it Cost to Self-Publish

Well the writing was obviously going to take time. I could complete a lot of it during the Christmas holidays and later, with my son back at school in the mornings. As February drew to a close I realised I wouldn’t make my self-imposed March deadline.

So I declined all sub-contract work in March, except my one retainer client Utility Bear, in order to finish the book.

Time, then, is the biggest outlay in self-publishing a book.

And as a freelancer, my time is money.

On top of that, I wanted to ensure that certain things were done to a high standard, if this book was going to have my name on it.

So I hired a great local graphic designer – Oran Kane – to bring my cover idea to life. I was aware as an avid reader myself, that a cover can sell a book on its own. And my cover does.


I also hired a proof-reader experienced in editing documents with some knowledge of the PR and Digital industries, which led to subtle but important changes in the final copy.

Apart from that, little investment is required in self-publishing. I used Createspace‘s own templates to format the book, only paying for printed proofs at the production cost price (£3 per book) plus shipping from America.

I did this twice, after changing the font in the first book upon seeing it, so that did cost a little more than expected. The second round of proofing I noticed a spacing error.

After that the costs in production and postage are taken by Amazon/Kindle on a print-on-demand basis, so there is no outlay. They take the production cost from the sale price as each one sells.


You can pay for your own ISBN number (on the barcode) instead of taking Createspace’s free one – this would be encouraged if you write a novel that you may wish to translate or sell the rights to film, for example. It’s a few hundred pounds to do this.

If you take the free one, Amazon is your publisher. They own the rights. The only major downside to this is that book shops will not, as a general rule, want to stock your book. But that was personally OK with me, given my market and subject theme (digital).


How To Self-Publish a Book

As I’ve mentioned, I used Createspace.

This is the company behind Amazon’s self-publishing.

I also downloaded the iBooks Author app for the Mac, which allows you to format an eBook so that it can be sold on Apple iBooks.

The iBooks format is very different from Createspace’s for Kindle/Amazon though, so it does require some formatting to do both:


I am in the process of setting up Send Owl here on the blog, following my migration to self-hosting, so that I can securely sell the book direct from my website.

The only stipulation from Amazon, as your publisher, is that you don’t make the book available cheaper anywhere else.

But you can, through Amazon, offer promotions at various times to encourage sales.


How much Money do you make Self-Publishing?

Well this is what everyone really wants to know isn’t it!

The royalties you make vary, obviously, depending on what you charge. Amazon gives helpful advice on what to charge based on similar books in your field, the size of your book and whether it’s a download, paperback or hardback.

You set the price in US dollars and all other currencies are automatically converted from there.

If you charge less than $9.99 you get a slightly higher commission rate.

But overall I only make between £3-£5 per book depending on which version someone buys.

So no, it will not make me rich, unless suddenly half the population needs to PR their new small business!

It’s important to remember though, that for me, the main goal wasn’t to make money – it was to share my knowledge with the small business and startup communities, while also improving my profile within my industry to help my career development.

So in that sense, eventually it may lead to more success for me, and that success may include financial reward.

Do I believe it’s worth the price? That’s another important question. The eBook is £7 and the paperback is £12 (it changes minimally based on the $-£ exchange rate).

The way I worked it out was twofold:

  1. I charge by the hour. £25 an hour to be exact. I’ve spent many a meeting explaining the contents of this book to clients and friends alike. To tell someone the entirety of the book might take… a day, maybe, at least? 7 hours. That’s £175
  2. Likewise, if someone puts the book into practice, even just chapter 1 for example (media relations). Say they get just one piece of coverage in one of our local publications (even an online-only one), that’s worth £500 – I know because they tried to charge me for coverage when I sent a press release last year!

Let’s be honest, though. When all is said and done…

I have a book on my book shelf. With my name on it.

My 7 year old son told me he was proud of me.

My husband is proud of me.


I am proud of myself.



How To Market a Book

Obviously, once I’d written the book I felt the same anxiety that all authors feel: would anyone read it? What if lots of people did, and hated it? What if it did me more damage than good? Maybe I should just hide it and not tell anyone…

Remember, this is a business book, not a work of fiction. People would think they could judge my actual industry knowledge and skills, as though the sum total of my abilities lay within the pages.

I backed myself to face any criticism confidently.

More importantly, I needed to market the book to prove that I could practice what I preached. Many of the chapters tell businesses how to promote themselves, their products or their services, mainly online.

I wanted to show them that my system works.

And so I went about planning a digital marketing offensive:

  • I emailed my own friends, family, industry colleagues and those who had signed up to my blog email list (via the SumoMe app that I had been able to put on the website following the hosting move – it allows for pop-ups to collect email addresses). I gave these people the news of the book being available first


  • I allowed Amazon to show a good portion of the first chapter within the free sample text. The first chapter being the most attractive to readers because it tells them how to do their own media relations. This showcased the tell-all style as well as my no-fluff, tip-filled writing technique (if I do say so myself)
  • I hand-picked some PR/Digital industry people and some Startup people and contacted them to ask if they would review the book. Half of these people were strangers, to encourage honest reviews


  • I decided to launch the book formally during #BelfastHour – a local social networking event with 12k followers – which I had also mentioned within the book. I offered the only 2 free copies available anywhere as a prize. The chat manager (Sean Kelly) had a lot of advice for promoting it beforehand and afterwards. Both the hashtag #TalkIsCheap and my Twitter handle (@aCupOfLee) trended. And 3 people tweeted that they bought the book


  • I contacted every company included in the book as either a Top Tip or case study, so that they might promote it out to their own networks, like Geri from Chocolate Manor did


  • I ran a Facebook ad campaign targeting UK and Northern Ireland (because I could only choose one web link for the button and other currencies need to use not People targeted included those studying or working in the main fields covered in the book as well as anyone whose job description was listed as MD, Founder or Owner. Over 4 days I spent £51 and reached 42,830 people, with 464 clicking through the Shop Now button (NB: I’ve written this blog 6 hours before the ad finishes)


  • I did engage in media relations but, rather than want the ego boost of seeing my face in the paper which wouldn’t bring me sales (a mistake many businesses make), instead I targeted the online niche outlets where I look to for my news, where I knew my potential customers might be – such as Sync NI, Irish Tech News, and global outlets like Entrepreneur and Forbes. The latter are notoriously difficult to secure coverage in and required a lot of effort to create more than just press releases, but unique themed articles. This is yet to pay off, but I am working on a Belfast startup article with a UK small business publication and have syndicated a month of specialist content to Digital DNA in the run up to their (amazing) annual conference in June. All coverage required good PR photography which I did with Brendan Gallagher the day before the release


  • In time, I will also run a Share-To-Win campaign on Twitter (because I don’t find their ad system as good at targeting or as value for money as Facebook’s)
  • I’m also thinking through a pay-it-forward social media campaign based around my #KarmaCurrency principles. So watch this space…


Like a lot of people (women especially) I still find it difficult to ‘sell things’. Particularly something as personal as a book I have created. But I received a most excellent piece of advice from Dr Ciara Kennedy, guest speaker at my first Lean In Belfast event on Friday night:

“This book is not your brain. You are more than this book. But you created a product to bring value to the business community, to help other people succeed. It is a noble pursuit and you are passionate about it. Remove yourself from the book and sell the product you believe in, not yourself.”


Why You Should Publish a Business Book

I’ve been told by a lot of people that they have often thought of self-publishing.

Some have even dipped their toe in with free-to-download PDF documents to promote their businesses online or to gather sales leads through email addresses.

I wholeheartedly believe in this strategy for a number of reasons:

Firstly, I argue to anyone who will listen that the PR industry needs to innovate for the digital age, partly because we can never make big profits in a service industry unless we overcharge by the hour. I don’t believe the service is worth that level of money. Retainers based on hourly rates don’t allow for highly personalised service offerings. And big budgets exclude small businesses from accessing the service. Producing more products, to support the services, could reach global audiences and widen our client offering.

Secondly, the concept of Passive Income is already well-understood in the US. We’re a bit slow to take it up to be honest. It basically means creating value-added products so that you can make extra money while you work/sleep. I was inspired by a blogger I follow – Sarah XO – who had written an eBook (which I purchased) on how to create your own passive income products, be they templates, books, webinar training, etc.

“Talk Is Cheap” may not make me rich but it has given me:

  • an outlay for my writing
  • a tick off my Ambitions Bucket List
  • a boost to my professional standing and CV
  • confidence to potential customers that I have exposed my knowledge before they hire me
  • a back-up income to my service delivery

So yes, in a nutshell, I think lots of people should do it.

If you’d like to know how, do get in touch!

If you want to dip your toe in, buy the book!