Publishing Is Easy


There are three primary tasks a writer must undertake to get her work into the hands of readers: writing, publishing, and marketing.

Out of those three, I respectfully submit, publishing is by far the easiest.


Writing a book is hard, and writing a good book is even harder – at least from the perspective of the inexperienced writer. Most people who think about writing a book never start one. Most people who start one never finish it. And most people who finish a book never polish it to the point where it’s ready for prime-time and/or never get it out the door for one reason or another.

To write a good book, you have to put in the time in terms of reading with intent, learning about the craft, gaining mastery of the tools at your disposal, and putting all that into practice with book after book (some of which may never see the light of day). It’s usually a long process and it’s understandable that there’s a high level of attrition.


Marketing can be tough. Most writers don’t come from business or marketing backgrounds, and creative types aren’t generally renowned for taking to those disciplines naturally. It also doesn’t help that many of the traditional methods for marketing print books are largely ineffective at selling e-books (publicists, press releases, newspaper interviews, radio spots, television interviews, book signings), and that what is actually effective at selling e-books can often be counterintuitive, or at least swim against that traditional approach (heavy discounts, giving away lots of free copies, building up buzz after release instead of prior to publication, using media to make social connections rather than broadcasting a message).

Part of the difference in marketing approaches is down to there being thousands and thousands of points-of-sale for print books, and pretty much four or five for e-books. And part of the difference is down to the formats themselves and the often different paths to discovery. For example, it requires a huge investment, key relationships built up over time, and the printing, storing, and distribution of thousands upon thousands of print books to be visible to customers across Barnes & Noble’s store network, but a basic, low-cost digital marketing campaign can make your e-book visible on Amazon.

When you add together lack of experience or natural aptitude with mixed messages about what’s effective, you can see why many writers find the prospect of marketing daunting.


But publishing is easy – in relative terms at least. It’s much, much harder if you take the traditional path, where all sorts of (often arbitrary) factors will decide whether you get published at all. However, that’s no longer the only path.

While publishing hasn’t quite yet become a button, the act of self-publishing a book in the digital world involves a relatively straightforward checklist of steps. That’s not to say that, for example, editing or cover design is trivial (they aren’t), or that those disciplines don’t add huge value to a book (they do), but that’s not expertise the self-publishing writer has to master. She can hire in help as needed.

But this isn’t the message that’s getting out to newbies. A mystique has attached itself to the publishing process. Newbies are told that publishing is hard, that it requires skills limited to the most rabidly entrepreneurial types – despite the hordes of writers from all sorts of backgrounds that are self-publishing. And they are told it’s expensive – despite the huge numbers of self-publishers that have released professional looking books on a limited budget.

The Wrong Kind of Help

This is why so many newbies get suckered. Because if they think that publishing is hard or that publishing is expensive then they will seek out a third party to handle that part of the process. Which could result in:

  1. Signing with a large publisher for a small advance, resulting in no nationwide bookstore distribution, little marketing, poor sales, and little or no royalties.
  2. Doing a deal with a small publisher which struggles to get their books into stores, and which doesn’t have the time or money to invest in digital marketing.
  3. Handing over rights to an agent-publisher with a poor track record.
  4. Spending a lot of money on “publishing consultants” who don’t know what they’re doing.
  5. Engaging a “self-publishing service company” – and these run the spectrum of mediocre to awful vanity presses like Author Solutions.

Before anyone gets too excited, I’m not saying that all small presses are bad, or that signing a deal with a large publisher is always the wrong decision, or even that all agent-publishers are terrible.

I’m saying that when a newbie has been convinced that self-publishing is hard or expensive the chances of them falling into the clutches of a third party which will result in a poor outcome increase exponentially. Because they’ll take any kind of deal, or sign up with any fly-by-night outfit, or engage one of the vanity presses masquerading as a self-publishing company.

So we need to get the message out. Yes, writing is hard, but these third parties will give you no help there. And yes, marketing can be tricky, but that’s probably going to fall on you no matter what path you choose.

Publishing, on the other hand, is easy.

* * *

NEW_Storm_Cover_SmallerMy South American historical adventure – A Storm Hits Valparaiso – has been reduced to 99c (save $4!) on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Today is the last day of the promotion, so if you are interested in checking it out, grab it while it’s cheap.

Apologies for not letting you know about the deal sooner, I’m packing and preparing to move house and things are a little manic. I’m moving to Prague next week, and blogging will be patchy until I get all set up on the other side.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

85 Replies to “Publishing Is Easy”

  1. While I don’y disagree with your analysis as such, the choice to define marketing as a discrete function rather than part of publishing is a bit of a big one, any good publisher should be a partner in the marketing at the very least (and much, much more at best).

    That said, I agree, the single act of publishing itself is relatively easy once you have the cash to finance it, what is hard is selling, getting shelf space, distributing, marketing and of course, choosing, pruning, editing and designing prior to and after publishing.


    1. From the perspective of a publisher, it might make little sense to separate out the functions, especially when much of the marketing they do happens before a title is released. From the perspective of a writer – particularly a self-publisher – marketing is something that tend to happen after a book is published. While we might do *some* marketing prior to release, that tends to focus on things like driving mailing list sign-ups etc. The lion’s share of the marketing is done after the book is live (because we don’t get pre-orders on Amazon and we aren’t marketing to bookstore buyers).

      1. Yes, you do. Look at any traditionally published paperback and show me the book that doesn’t sport at least two typos. They get reduced with new editions; however, new ones sneak into new editions too. Also, look at how many different cover versions there are for “Kafka on the Shore” by Murakami. Yes, back-list steady-burners get redesigned every so often.

  2. You’re always a constant advocate for helping writers avoid the sharks and find their best path – love it! So much, I’ve quoted (and linked!) to your article on avoiding Author Solutions and it’s many sharklets in my new book, the Indie Author Survival Guide. I blogged the book, so the content can be found free on my blog (or at the major retailers, if you want it all gathered into one place). I’m heartened how many friends I see spreading the word now about avoiding AuthorHouse vanity publishers – much more so than even a year ago.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  3. Yes. Publishing is not the same as distribution/marketing, as the Great Erotica Panic of 2013 so recently made clear. Compared to distributing your book, the act of formatting your book for publication is trivial. Writing it, however, remains a bit of a slog.

    Hope your move to Prague goes well. Will miss you, oh online mentor of mine. Looking forward to your return to blogging.

  4. I totally agree David, which is why publishers have to offer more than just the publishing bit to attract authors.
    I do have one caveat though, which is that authors need to educate themselves (but reading your books!) and then go through the process a couple of times before it becomes truly easy. Now on my 8th book, I have my team of professionals lined up and know the ‘buttons’ to press, so that bit isn’t hard at all. But a newbie author does have to go through that initial learning curve to get to grips with it (which not everyone is willing to do).
    When people ask me about this, I ask them whether they are willing to give 70%+ of their income away to someone else (i.e. publisher/agent) to do that step for them. Many authors are, it seems, and with the rise of agent-assisted publishing, as well as ‘vanity’ imprints, there are a lot of options.

    1. I think it’s a shame that newbies get suckered into the so called Self Publishing Consultant abyss. I agree that you have to go through the painful learning curve first before you really understand what’s going on. David has been a tower of strength in exposing what actually goes on behind the shiny edifice (or doesn’t as is more often the case)

  5. Reblogged this on Cindy Ray Hale and commented:
    I agree wholeheartedly. Anyone who takes the time to research the right way to self-publish can do it. It’s really much easier than it sounds.

  6. They all take a level of discipline to engage in. I just completed a 100 mile century ride, my first in 21 years. Riding a century or running a marathon won’t make you more prepared to write and publish and vice versa, but both activities take discipline to prepare for and then execute. I like to think that because I can write and publish and market my work that I can also ride a century and vice versa. Discipline is learned and anyone can become disciplined enough to achieve a goal. Publishing was the easy and painless part. Doing the other two not so much.

  7. Thank you for the advice. I’m finishing edits on my first novel and have been heehawing between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Blogging has been helpful in accessing information that might help me make up my mind.

  8. Thank you for this, David. We need to keep hammering it home: Hard work, yes–Difficult, no. I produce books professionally, but there is no one thing I do that any determined writer could not do themselves. I highly recommend to anyone who is considering self-publishing that they publish a short story or novella first, all by themselves, start to finish. The results might be less than perfect, but they will learn first hand exactly what goes into publishing and get a fair idea about how much it should cost. Hard cash outlay will be zero, the experience and knowledge earned will be priceless.

    1. I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say that I really like what you’ve mentioned here, Jaye. Doing various parts of the publishing process myself has given me a real appreciation of what those parts are worth, both to me and in relation to what others are charging for those services. Some services no longer look like the deal they once did, while other charges no longer seem as exorbitant as they may have first appeared. Great comment. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thank you David for your invaluable contributions to the New World of Writing.There are not that many people who would nail their colours to the mast as you have done..Always look forward to your posts. “Let’s Get Digital “should be required reading for anyone attempting to Self Publish. A brilliant book. I expect we’ll be getting “Lets go European ” before too long?.Good luck with the move to Prague.

  10. A friend once told me the same thing as your intro — people talk about writing a book, but 99% of them don’t finish one. He did me the biggest favour by telling me that. We still laugh about it to this day, because that one line right there insured I finished my books.

    As far as marketing is concerned, I consider myself one of the luckier ones, having experienced what it’s like to release something independently and push it in the social sphere (my music).

    We talked a bit on facebook, but I just wanted to follow up and say that your book “Let’s Get Visible”, inspired me to start my own blog about adventures in self-publishing. Your tips and pointers on the matter are invaluable! Thank you 🙂

  11. Thanks for all your hard-won advice, David, Good luck in Prague.
    I have put your books on the bookshelf of my Goodreads Self Publishing DIY group, with a link to this blog urging the members to follow it.

  12. I’ve just posted a link to this blog on Goodreads (I don’t think you’re on there?)… I’ve been reading your blog for a while – great, great advice! I’m on the cusp of going down the self-published route after feeling deeply dissatisfied with the way my publishers have handled things… Thanks for sharing so generously and best of luck moving to Prague!

  13. So glad you started with the writing. That’s the foundation. I agree that publishing is easy, I mean self-publishing, which I tried for the first time recently after having published six books the traditional way, with mixed results. Self-publishing has made me face marketing seriously for the first time. Yikes! Who knew?

  14. In general I could not agree more. However since I am currently on hold with the IRS (and have been for the past hour) trying to get my EIN, today publishing seems hard :-). But overall, publishing has been easy. I have worked with fantastic supportive professionals, who respond to emails in a timely manner, instead of the black box of traditional publishing that I tried to become part of for awhile. Writing though is hard and we would all be well advised to think of it that way. I guess I will find out about marketing very soon.

  15. That was a great article! I am preparing to release my first novel and its daunting trying to get everything squared away, such as blog sign ups for tours, doing the blurb, making sure the MS is in top shape! I love reading articles like this because it makes me realize I AM doing it right! I am doing it on my own! I’m still figuring out the marketing but I’ve come to realize I don’t have to have it figured out right now! Anyway, thanks for this article! I’m now following your blog so I can get more great tips! Good luck with the move!

  16. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    A great post. I agree that marketing is the hardest part. I’ve found that Amazon’s KDP Select is one of the best ways to market my books. In return for making your title exclusive to Amazon they will allow you to promote it free of charge for up to 5 days in any 90 day period. I would also echo David’s warning regarding paying large sums to companies which offer to publish your book for you. I spent almost £600 with a self publishing company when my first collection of short stories, The First Time was published. I would have been better self publishing myself (the path I have followed with my subsequent books).

  17. I agree that publishing an e-book is easy. I had finished a yaoi story series on a website, when it was finished I did not know what to do with the [like 50 chapter] manuscript. I mentioned this in a fan letter to an author and they told me to check out Amazon KDP. Well, like you said David, make a list, you can do it… I even put illustrations inside.
    But I’m a newbie so I think i’m a fluke. So I self publish 4 more books, but seeing all the “publishing site” out there, I still think maybe I’m missing something.
    So I contracted my books with a publisher, who has sold far less books and knew less about publishing than I do.
    So newbies, please, please, please, do not waste money… self publish… this is the easy part. you may need that money for marketing or to feed yourself while you plot out the next great novel. : )
    Thanks David.


      Physical publishing is getting easier and easier. Writing a book – well, I can only agree with what you said there, and it comes down to that some people are “born to it” and are prepared to make it a lifestyle and others don’t (they have other things to make a lifestyle of – it’s a fallacy to believe if you can operate a word processor, you’re born to write. If you are, you’ll know – or come to the realization; and it will not be dependent on what tools you have your hands on. Pen and paper would do it.)

      There is a beautiful machine around, the Espresso Book Machine, I covet one!

      David, I have to congratulate you on this post. I know I did comment it originally but it’s even better now. So much has changed from 2013, or even 2009 when I first put out a run of printed books. Leisure Books is gone! (That was one of our top 5 book sellers in South Africa.) Penguin and Random House have merged. My favourite brick-and-mortar bookshop chain (with about 5 stores back then) has gone bottoms-up, pushed out of business by a chain that is pushing just about all chains here out of business – on a Remainderer sales concept! Both my favourite book chain and this one had brilliant sales concepts (my fav used to put sales tables into the middle of busy shopping malls even if they didn’t have a physical shop in that mall, and that was how they pushed a lot of sales); turns out the Remainderer wins. And pricing here has become a war of wills. The printers now charge such a lot that digital runs have become unviable except for direct, out-of-hand sales. That means that digital runs here in SA can’t be sold to retailers any longer because of pricing. Clearly, our business model that worked for the previous years, has to adapt quickly, or die.

      Yes, self-publishing is a very good option for authors today. Still, given the financial power and the distribution capabilities of large publishers (they can print you a run of 10 000 books to start with and push it into 8000 physical bookstores, can you match that), I would want to advise a newbie to first submit to the large publishing houses. Especially a first novel. Don’t give up too soon – remember, publishing your book is a long-term plan. Set yourself a schedule, put at least 2 hours a day aside for submissions; keep your subs letter brief, to-the-point and upbeat, hopeful but not conceited. You are requesting a business deal and you have no reason to assume they would not want it. If after a time (I’d suggest, give it a year, yes a full year) you haven’t yet had success with submissions, consider self-publishing.

      Publishing with a small publishing co can be good or bad; some are fly-by-nights and struggling wannabes (some large houses are struggling wannabes by now!), some are predators out to “get” authors; some are only experimenting. Some are honest and tell you exactly what their plan is, etc. One thing a small house is definitely more likely to do for you than a large house: They fight for their authors, trying to get them publicity breaks. A large house gambles on numbers instead. You’re 1 out of 100 – how much publicity “love” do you think you’ll receive?

      One thing I have to agree with David on, 100%. Stay away from vanity presses. Their customers are the authors, not the readers. You’re the one who is paying them. Make the calculation. How many sales will it take to recover those “only $699” for polishing or whatever? Seeing that they don’t do marketing for you, you’ll have to generate those sales. That’s a lot of sales “lost”. You can invest in professional editing and cover design yourself by finding professionals in your area (that is a worthwhile investment!). It will cost you much less, and you get to keep the templates (i.e. the copy-ability), to take to whichever printer you like or publish on Amazon (or both!).

      David, I wish you the best with your books – they look interesting! Thank you for a great post.

  18. Thanks for another great post David. The one thing I want to add is that some people set out to be one-time-only authors. I know of friends who, after retiring say, want to put out that one book that has always been inside them. These authors do not want to invest the time and effort required to unravel the publishing process for their lone foray into self-publishing. Publishing may be the easiest of the three phases, but for an occasional self-publisher, outsourcing the task to credible professionals, while avoiding the vanity presses, may be preferable.

  19. Great post. I have one foot in the traditional publishing world and another foot out, so I can see both sides of this. I definitely think publishers need to be “better than free,” as Seth Godin would say, and offer much more than they have in the past. More power has shifted to the author. Publishers have needed to re-think their value propositions – always a good thing! As for self-publishing, marketing is definitely a challenge. Writers aren’t natural self-promoters and most don’t have business backgrounds.

    1. Indeed. Next to editing, marketing is the biggest challenge for the self-published author. With a burgeoning marketplace of slick-looking book services sporting wildly varying levels of credibility and quality choosing a marketing service to spend your hard-earned dollars with has become an ordeal wrought with risk and anxiety.

      I suppose that in time a handful of effective and reputable services will emerge in the marketplace. Therefore I’m resigned to driving my own rattletrap marketing vehicle for the time being–learning the ropes and gaining the experience to make solid marketing decisions.

  20. The distinction between publishing and marketing isn’t always clear. I’m fairly sure I can write, absolutely certain I can self-pub, but way off beam in the marketing department.

  21. Publishing is now easy – because every single step is both under your control, and requires no muse. Yes, you have to educate yourself. And yes, you have to trust yourself and your own judgment. But this is the only place in the whole process where you have complete control – and I find it mystifying that anyone would give that up.

  22. Nice, straightforward advice. Thanks for taking some of the mystique out of self publishing. There is a lot of false information out there to be sure. But I think the bottom line is that if a writer wants to self-publish that they need to accept the fact that they will make mistakes and learn from them and do better next time. Overall though, I think more than anything a writer needs to research how they want to approach publishing, come up with a plan (doesn’t have to be complex or fancy) and then just stick to that plan and follow through, no matter what it is. One of the things that drives me crazy is that is it so easy to be led off the path you are on by getting distracted with some ‘new’ or ‘amazing’ method – especially those that are so easy that you don’t have to think about it, just follow the steps.

    Unfortunately, the claims of easy and surefire methods never turn out to be true. And honestly, if you want to establish yourself as a writer, why would you want to take some shortcut? You don’t do it in your writing – you shouldn’t do it in your publishing either.

    Writer Chick

  23. Hi ,
    I feel that writing and publishing are completely different especially in some parts of the world where publishing and publicizing a book can cost a fortune .
    I have written many articles and book chapters , some were published in professional magazines and on line boks for fre but the idea of publishing a book of my own seems a far dream .In addition ,for many nations now ,reading a book has become an old fashioned way in comparison to on line resources .
    Anyhow I remain a great lver of books and writing ,I feel they are the essence of life ..

  24. Right now as I write this I think the best form of marketing is to actually tell people. Word of mouth, and have a business card with all of your details ready to whip out and hand over when you tell everyone. This is something I have not been doing, but that will be changing from next year once I get a few things sorted out.

  25. I completely agree. The publishing bit is by far the easiest and the vast majority can publish a novel with little assistance. It becomes harder where multi-level contents and scaleable graphics are involved but that still doesn’t justify spending thousands of dollars to get someone else to do it.

  26. Reblogged this on Scribbled Vines and commented:
    The Wrong Kind of Help lists some relevant points that any writer should consider before embarking on distribution and exposure for his creative product.

    For today, however, go outside and smell the roses and have a splendidly un-productive Sunday!

  27. Hi David! Great points. I’m doing everything myself for the first time and although its a lot of work, it’s not impossible and very gratifying!
    I just finished Lets Get Digital and it was such a big help and encouragement. I’m officially indie now and excited to take my future by the reins.
    Now on to Let’s Get Visible….

  28. Insightful article! I always assumed publishing was hardest after writing because I haven’t had much success getting my stuff out there. I’m thinking about the e-book route and your post offers some things to think about and avoid. Once upon a time I almost got suckered into one of the vanity self-publishing presses. Thank goodness that didn’t pan through.

  29. David,

    I agree that marketing is tough. Man, is it ever — sometimes I think it would be easier for me to build a robot than an audience, and I’m the kind of person who can hardly work a toaster without things exploding. 😉

    On a serious note, I included Let’s Get Visible and Let’s Get Digital in the Resources section of my online self-published book fair. Here’s the link, if you’re interested — and if there’s anyone you know of who I should add to the post, all the better!

    Your friend,

    Sarah J. Sequins

      Saturday Sequins — your source of sequinspiration.

  30. Thanks for the helpful post! It’s actually very reassuring because I’m using some of the methods you suggested to get my book out there! In fact I started blogging to help promote my book and ‘use media to build connections’ and all that.

  31. What a helpful post to all those who want to publish. I’m exhausted thinking about everything that’s involved. So tired that I had to refill my wine glass. Twice. 🙂

  32. Reblogged this on Insights and thoughts from Jordi Capdevila Espitia and commented:
    This is one of the reasons I chose to publish, starting from scratch a personal blog that i should have started years ago. Because writing is easy, and marketing is as hard as your goals are. It only depends on the reach that you want to achieve.
    Let’s start publishing then.

  33. Reblogged this on Insights and thoughts from Jordi Capdevila Espitia and commented:
    This is one of the reasons I chose to publish, starting from scratch a personal blog that i should have started years ago. Because writing is easy, and marketing is as hard as your goals are. It only depends on the reach that you want to achieve.
    Let’s start publishing then.

  34. I’d have to agree in the sense that hitting “publish” isn’t hard, but you tend to think about everything else as a part of the publishing process- the editing, the book design, the marketing,etc. If you don’t invest in any of these things, what you publish likely won’t result in the success that you hope for.

  35. I don’t agree that publishing is relatively easy or easier than the other two steps. Not unless you make a distinction between ebook and print publishing. Ebook publishing may be relatively easy. Print book design is another matter. Even if one would hire an ace designer (a substantial expense), an author needs to know enough about the art and craft to assure that the print book will represent the branding the author wants.

    Too often in articles (your own Basics article, linked above, included) the fine art art of book design is relegated to a short paragraph, and often called “formatting.” Yet this is where the heavy lifting is, in publishing. Make no mistake, nothing screams amateur like an even well-written book clumsily presented in print form. It’s as detrimental to one’s marketing efforts as a first-try homemade cover.

    1. Carl, the whole point of the “Basics” article (as indicated by the title) is to give a quick overview of the steps needed to publish your book. It’s a four-pager, and hardly meant to be an exhaustive account of everything a prospective self-publisher needs to know. I have written a whole book on the topic, but I also recognized the need for a quicker read for those who were on the fence about self-publishing, so they could see what it entails. And anyway, the Basics doc contains numerous links to additional material on each subject.

      With regard to your first point, yes, print book publishing is more complex, but not radically so. You can hire a print formatter for around $100 and getting a wraparound version of your e-book cover is possible for a small additional fee. However, for the vast majority of self-publishers, most (if not all) of their sales will be digital – and, thus, that’s where their focus should be, and that’s where the focus of any articles like this should be.

      I also firmly reject the notion that I don’t place any emphasis on the importance of production values. In all of my books and articles on publishing, in all of the workshops I teach, I stress over and over again the importance of only publishing your best work, and presenting it in as professional a manner as possible. If you are going to level charges like that, you might consider doing more than skimming someone’s site.

      1. Hi David, Thanks for the reply. I only intended to critique the premise of the one latest article and specifically the statement that “Publishing is easy.” I’m actually a regular reader of your blog, and in fact have purchased your instructional books and South American novel (very well written, btw.) Sorry for any offense given/taken. I do consider yours a wise voice for the newbie indie publisher. And good print design is worth more than $100, I’ll add, as a final comment. Carry on! Carl

  36. I just successfully self-published my debut novel, The Missing Five, on November 3, 2013. From my experience, self-publishing was easy and very inexpensive. My largest cost was purchasing my own ISBN, which I’m glad I took that route. But, I did a ton of research instead of just jumping in. I compared the traditional route, vanity publishers, and self-publishing. I read, re-read, and read again everything because I knew I had a great mystery to tell. I just needed to make sure that I followed the traditional requirements of producing an excellent book, which involved formatting, proofreading, and editing. I created my own very professional-looking cover and uploaded my manuscript (following Createspace guidelines and template). Then, I followed Smashwords instructions for uploading for ePub. As long as you follow the instructions, it’s time-consuming, but easy. Now, a week after publishing, I am already seeing the fruits of my labor through sales. I am definitely excited I went the self-publishing route and will do so again for my sequel in 2014.

  37. I disagree that Self publishing means not accepting outside help there are alot of great smaller publishing houses and presses out there just be smart and do your homework. Also publishing a book is like any other creative process. Make a quality product and taking ownership go a long way.

  38. Really well written and after seeing my father struggle to publish his first book and then it becoming a reality, I hope more people listen and achieve this! 🙂

    (Not sure if I can pop this here but please check out my Sex & the city esq type dating blog! Would love your input.)

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