How To Succeed With Self-Publishing

As a self-publisher in various different markets, I'm going to share what I believe to be the 7 critical keys to self-publishing success online.

Self-publishing is a business, and should be treated as such. Those that don't treat online publishing as a business tend to see their revenue drop, and possibly even die off, as a result. The reason is because publishing online is dynamic and the competition is growing.

Here's how to stay ahead of the game...


Anticipation is the ability to see the road ahead.

The truth is that the world is changing so fast. We live in a very crazy time right now where change in inevitable. The world is changing constantly. Technology, business, and industries are changing constantly.

If you aren't able to anticipate and prepare for the road ahead you're going to be in trouble, you're going to be left behind.

Something is going to change or happen that you weren't prepared for and destroy your entire business. 

So anticipation is power. You got to be prepared, and constantly adapt. This is true in self-publishing and business in general. When changes do happen you have to, at the very least, expect it and adjust. 

I have a lot of books on Amazon. Amazon is always changing. The trends on Amazon is always changing. Amazon makes changes to their websites constantly for publishers. It's critical that you see the direction that Amazon is heading towards in order to anticipate. 

Years ago I was getting frustrated with Amazon because they were always changing things that was significantly affecting the self-publishing business I was building. At that point of time I was quite reliant on Amazon for my income and I'll be honest, it was scary. I realized that I needed to be able to anticipate where Amazon is going, so I started studying Amazon, learning their history and vision of the company. This helped me get into the psychology of the company. Understanding their vision, culture and direction enabled me to anticipate the road ahead and be on the same page with it.

A lot of publishers start an Amazon business because they want to take advantage of Amazon. They just want to take from Amazon, they see Amazon as an opportunity to provide for themselves. 

Amazon on the other hand doesn't see it that way. Amazon views it the opposite, them taking advantage of you. They make their platform available to publishers like you and I so that we can publish and sell on Amazon, so that we can help grow Amazon and help build their business.

So wouldn't it make sense to make sure you're align with that?​

They aren't worried about providing for your family, they want to grow their business and will do whatever they can to ensure that happens and protect their company.​

So I went on a journey to learn and study Amazon. One of the things I did was I read books. One of the books I read was, "The Everything Store" by Jeff Bezzos, the founder of Amazon.

The book explain how Jeff started Amazon, how he built the Kindle publishing industry, and how he upset all the traditional publishers. Jeff spoke about how he created a lot of drama in the publishing space. The book went into is ultimate vision of building the everything store. Amazon is the one-stop-shop to buy everything. Whatever you need, you can most likely buy it on Amazon.​

This book taught me so much about Amazon​. For Amazon, one of their most important values is to ensure that they have raving fan customers. They want to make sure that customers that buy from them become lifelong customers.

Knowing this and understanding this was very important information that would enable me to be able to anticipate. I realized that in order for me to prosper in Amazon long-term I need to make sure that my content is quality.

This is what Amazon wants. They want a positive experience for their customers.​

I also realized that I have to make sure I'm promoting my Amazon book because that's what Amazon wants. Amazon wants to grow and get big. They want to attract more people to their platform. The reason why Amazon makes publishing available so easily on their platform is because they want publishers to publish on their website, but then go out and promote Amazon via your Amazon book listing. 

Amazon knows that by you promoting your product on Amazon it's going to help build and grow Amazon. Amazon knows that they get long-term customers from your free traffic that you send to their site.

Many sellers and publishers on Amazon don't know or realize this. They just try to get all their sales from Amazon via Amazon Search and categories. They don't realize that Amazon will reward you more if you promote them and drive traffic to them. Amazon will reward you more if you help build them too, instead of just being a taker.

I used the information I learned from my research and changed my ENTIRE Amazon business. I anticipated and prepared for the changes coming up, and sure enough they happened. My publishing business survived while many other publishing business didn't.

Most of the problems and challenges in your life occurred because you failed to anticipate them.

To anticipate, step outside of yourself and focus on the bigger picture. You need to understand the trends and what's happening in the world. You need to figure out what direction your industry and world is heading. 


I know this sounds overly simplified, but I want you to associate quality at a higher level. 

Quality is one of the key ingredients for succeeding in self-publishing.

First and foremost, you must publish quality books. If you publish garbage than you may get sales in the short-term but you won't be around long-term. This is obvious to most publishers, but not all. So I wanted to mention this.

Quality means different things to different niches and people. If you publish non-fiction books, you have to understand the needs, problems, and desires of your particular market. What are they trying to get or solve from purchasing products in your market?

If you can understand your customer and enter into their world than you can effectively meet their needs better than anyone else. Your goal should be to over-deliver, because that's how you generate RAVING fans.

The way to get raving fans is to give them more than what they expected, paid for, or dreamed of. Along with writing exceptional books, you can also give your customers surprises and bonuses.

Once you do this effectively, people will keep coming back to you for more. You'll have a customer for life. They won't go to anyone else. You'll be able to play the long game. I see far to often online publishers just play the short game. They just focus on getting the sale, and nothing beyond that.

As a self-publisher you have to realize that you're in business, and in business you always want to try to maximize the customers life-time value. Selling your book is great, but in order to thrive long-term you have to think and become a marketer. You need to develop a back-end sales funnel.​

Quality to me also means constant never-ending improvement. You want to always be improving your books, and making them better and better over time. 

With that said, I think it's important to understand that you don't need to be Stephen King at the beginning. Quality is a process, and you can't let that hold you back from publishing in the first place. Just be sure that you're always improving your writing and books overtime. ​

Nobody started out as an amazing writer. Nobody started out​ as a best-selling author. Just get started and have the mindset of constant improvement and growth.

If you publish a Kindle book on Amazon, it's not like it's set in stone forever. That's the great thing about online publishing. You can always go back and re-update your work.

Quality can be a double-edge sword. You need to produce quality but at the same time you can't be a perfectionist. You can't spend a year writing your book. As the old saying goes, "time is money."

You need to be strategic. I often tell my coaching clients just to get a book up there. Do the best that you can while not being a perfectionist, and then improve the book over time. When you're first starting out you don't have a certain level of expected quality. Nobody knows who you are. So just get something up their that meets your market's needs and then make it better over time. 


Online businesses and self-publishers need to diversify their income streams. You can't just depend on one income stream online.

For example, I coach a lot of publishers that are just publishing on Kindle. I always ask them what are they doing to diversify? You can't depend on one book, or Amazon solely. It's super risky and insane.

What happens when Amazon makes a change in their algorithms and your book rankings drop? What are you going to do if something happens to Amazon as a company? Or your market? Or you lose some reviews? 

I've been through this myself. I've learned this lesson that hard way.

Having multiple books and income streams helps protect yourself and your assets.

Say you're a Kindle publisher and you want to diversify. How would you do this? Well, you could create multiple Kindle books; turn your Kindle books into paperback books; turn them into audio books, etc. Now you have multiple books in all these different platforms. So if the trends change and Kindle books start to decline but audio books are on the rise your business doesn't crumble. 

Another important element of diversification that was touched upon briefly earlier is developing your backend. When I acquire a customer, I want to get the person's email and followup, build a relationship with the person, so that he/she can become a life-long customer.

You can email your customers and offer them either your own product/services or other peoples products/services for a commission, and generate additional business that way. 


Marketing is one of the most important skills you can have. 

Don't just think of yourself as a publisher, but rather a marketer. The revenue potential for a marketer is drastically higher than just being a publisher. 

Marketing means that you're taking advantage of all the different platforms and channels that are available to you to be able to effectively market and attract customers to you.​

There are many ways to market a product online. If you can understand that, your business will be more likely to stand the test of time. ​

Many publishers neglect marketing. You can anticipate, create great quality books, and diversify​, but if you're not marketing, you're hindering your revenue potential significantly.

Often times the best selling books aren't even the best books. They're the ones that are the best marketed. ​

You want to learn the most relevant ways to market your books online as possible. Powerful marketing channels for publishers include Facebook marketing, YouTube marketing, blogging, SEO, to name a few. 

Like your income streams, you want to be diversified in your marketing. Don't rely on one marketing channel. It's too dangerous. ​

Marketing takes times to learn, but once you learn it your business will be able to thrive long-term. ​


Building a brand is the ultimate competitive advantage in business. Building something more than just a product. 

What is a brand?

A brand is just a name.​ It's a name that a mass number of people recognize and associate an emotion to.

People will pay more money and are more likely to buy from a brand. Apple can create anything and have no problem selling it, because they've built a brand.

You build a brand through Quality and Marketing. If you provide Quality to your customers they will associate that positive emotion from it to your brand.

If you watch TV commercials often times you wonder what the purpose of that commercial was. Often times what they're trying to do is illicit a certain emotion and then tying that emotion or state to their brand.

That why you see pretty girls in parties dancing to loud music. Then when they illicit you to a certain state they flash the product, and then you start to build that neuro-association to that product. Now you're going to be more likely to buy it.

Brands aren't affected as much by change as other business, which is why building a brand is the ultimate competitive advantage.

A brand is a name. So you can't just sell a product. You have to have a name that sells the product. Get the domain name for the name. Setup a blog. Setup the social media channels etc.


The most valuable asset you have in your business is the trust and relationship you have with your customers, followers and audience. 

If people know, like and trust you, they're more likely to do business with you as opposed to anyone else out there.

So building up that trust and relationship is really important. Once a customer buys your book you want to make sure that sale is something that turns into a relationship. We live in the hardest time today to get someone to part from their money, to buy from you the first time, but we live in the easiest time to get someone to buy from you again and again.

In order to develop a relationship, whenever a customer buys your book or consumes some piece of content with you, you should always provide the person the opportunity to continue the relationship with you.

One of the best ways to enable a customer to continue the relationship with you is to enable them to subscribe to your email list. Now you have the ability to communicate with that person over a period of time.

Focus on the long-term relationship that is mutually beneficial. 

Amazon doesn't give you the customer information, because Amazon views it as THEIR customer not yours. Amazon understands how valuable relationships are, and the concept of life-time value of a customer.

To have a sustainable thriving business, YOU need to continue the relationship the customer as well.

Like any relationship, at the beginning you often have to give more than what you receive back.


Get help means several things.

Firstly, you hopefully now understand that you need to treat your self-publishing as a business. A business needs a team. You can't build a business by yourself because you're going to be limiting your growth and freedom.

You want to be in the position where you're working ON the business, not IN the business.

Often times when you first start a business, you need to do the work yourself, but once your business starts getting traction, you should reinvest back into your business so that you can build a team.

You should outsource and delegate certain things to different people and automate your business. You want to free up your time so that you can just focus on the highest leverage activities, like writing another book or diversify into another publishing platform. 

Getting help also means getting help in terms of knowledge and information. I don't recommend you try to reinvent the wheel and try to figure out everything on your own. Instead, be intelligent and realize that you can learn from other people that have already been there  and done it. These people already have the answers.

Seek people that have been where you want to go. They've paved the way for you. You can learn from them: what to avoid and what not to do. This is the fastest and surest path to success.

There are books, seminars, coaches, and courses out there that can help you compress time and increase your chances of success.

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About the Author Stefan James

Stefan James is a digital marketer, life and business coach, fitness enthusiast, and world traveler. Stefan is passionate about helping people achieve their true potential.