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Interview with Self-Published Author Shel Horowitz

In today’s interview, we talk to the author of four, self-published books, Shel Horowitz. Shel is a “green marketing expert,” and here’s what he had to say:

Tell us about your self-published book.

Four of my eight books are self-published. The most recent one is “Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers.” Direct orders at include my e-book, “How to Write and Publish a Marketable Book,” as well as another e-book called “The Missing Chapters,” which covers social media. I've also helped several people set up their own publishing companies and successfully self-publish.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Each book has its own story. For this one, I felt that I was well known in the niche and could market it more effectively. It's not that much of a bookstore book; it lends itself better to direct marketing.

The previous self-published book, I actually had nibbles from other publishers and turned them down. Even though I knew I'd want to sell it to a larger publisher eventually, I wanted to have that conversation fro a position of strength.

And in fact, I did sell it to a large publisher; Wiley published a greatly expanded and updated edition under the title “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet” (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson).

What was your biggest challenge to overcome in self-publishing your book and why?

After self-publishing four times, I've gotten a lot of the bugs worked out. Still, I'd have to say that finding markets can be challenging.

How did you overcome that challenge?

I market very assertively and also go after credibility-builders like awards and testimonials. And a couple of times, I've actually sold out to a larger publisher. This most recent time, when the self-published, “Principled Profit” transformed into the commercially published, “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green,” I was able to negotiate from a position of strength, and had a very different experience than I'd had as a nobody author with Simon & Schuster 17 years ago.

All four of my self-published books have been profitable, because I keep costs down and thus can make money on a print run that a big publisher would laugh at.

What has been the best part about self-publishing your book and why?

Complete control. This was particularly an issue for the earlier book, “Principled Profit.” I was writing about some concepts that were very much against conventional business wisdom, and I didn't want any editor trying to water that message down.

What resources do you recommend to new authors?

The more you know, the better your chances of success. In addition to my own “Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers,”, I regularly recommend John Kremer: “1001 Ways to Market Your Book,” Fern Reiss: “The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days” (she has a whole series of them); Dan Poynter: “The Self-Publishing Manual”; Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier: “The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing” (and incidentally, all four of these authors and several others have endorsed my book marketing book).

I also recommend joining at least one, online self-publishing discussion group. I personally participate in two on Yahoo Groups and one on LinkedIn, and yes, I still learn things. And perhaps most importantly, whether it's myself or someone else, I strongly recommend working with an experienced book coach/shepherd.

While it adds to the cost, it also saves you from very expensive mistakes – and a good portion of the fee gets returned to you, because an experienced shepherd knows good, cheap vendors. I've saved my clients thousands of dollars and gotten them a better product than they could have on their own.

What advice do you have for other writers who are self-publishing their books?

Remember that you're competing for attention with 750,000 other books published this year. That means...

  • Your book has to be as good as or better than commercially published titles: in its ideas, content, execution, editing, and both cover and interior design.
  • You MUST budget sufficient time and money for marketing. Don't spend it all on production.
  • Be realistic. In most cases, you won't be on Oprah, you won't be a New York Times bestseller (though you could crack Amazon), and you won't have a line around the block for your book-signings.
  • Don't be seduced by low unit costs for big, print runs. Spend more per book and print smaller numbers, but make the numbers work. If it takes off, you can easily go back to print. If it sells slowly, you won't have the problem of tying up huge amounts of capital and floor space in slow-moving inventory.
  • For most of us, alternative channels are far more important than bookstores.
  • Your ISBN matters a lot. If you are working with a so-called (falsely labeled) "self-publishing company" that buys warehouse quantities of ISBNs and provides you one, you're not a self-publisher. You've published with a subsidy publisher. That decision will have repercussions for the entire life of your book (mostly negative ones). There are some books that are suited to subsidy publishing, but don't delude yourself that you're a publisher if you go that route. When you get your own ISBN block from Bowker, select your own editors, designers, and printers, and control all the rights, THEN you're a publisher.
Is there anything else you would like to add?

Even if you're traditionally published, most of the weight of marketing falls on you. By self-publishing, so do the profits.

Fantastic advice Shel. Thanks so much! To learn more about Shel’s books, visit

And if you have questions about self-publishing, or want your book featured on this blog, please write to me here or at I’m here to help! Thanks!