Self-Printed 2.0: Self-Publishing And Marketing Tips With Catherine Ryan Howard

Authors who discover the power of self-publishing often turn into evangelists for the medium.

cath ryan howardI’m clearly one of those, and so is Catherine Ryan Howard, who has a useful blog with a comedy slant on the self-publishing business as well as a series of humorous travel memoirs – Mousetrapped and Backpacked. She has just re-released Self-Printed, her book about how to self-publish so today we talk about some of what she has learned. Click here to download the audio in mp3 format.

In this video, we talk about:

  • How Catherine started with self-publishing after rave rejections for her travel memoir, Mousetrapped. She decided it would be better to publish it then leave it in a drawer but she is also still seeking a traditional publishing deal for other books, aiming to be hybrid in the same way I am. It went so well she released Backpacked and Self-Printed. On writing with humor and how it’s part of her natural voice.

On whether printing your book is a good idea

  • I personally think print is fantastic but only as a vanity option, something you have to do for yourself, and not for sales. Catherine explains why her book is called self-printed and how really indies make money with ebooks, and not print books. Print books are really for your benefit, not for the benefit of your business or your bank account. It’s a lot of work to make a really good quality paperback. All the indie success stories are with ebooks. The advantage of ebooks in terms of updates as well as the fact we both still think print is done best by traditional publishing with distribution to physical stores. Catherine advises new self-publishers to focus on ebooks primarily.

What are people still getting wrong about self-publishing?

  • (2) Don’t think you’ll be rich by next week. Catherine worked hard for a year and only sold 100 copies a month until things started taking off. Yes, it happens for some people with no marketing, but you can’t model yourself on the outliers. This is hard work so you’ll need to budget time and energy into your equation.
  • (3) Editing and how critical it is to bring your book up to even a minimum standard. You can’t skimp on it. MS Word spell-check cannot do editing for you. You need a professional editor because you don’t know what you don’t know, and your book has to be the best it can be, whatever you are charging for it.

Marketing that has worked for Catherine

  • Blogging has been the most successful thing for Catherine, but her blog is the same voice as her non-fiction travel memoirs. Twitter is also critical for traffic but also for meeting other writers and the opportunities that come because of the connections there. It is about imagination – how many ways can you think of to get people to notice your book?
  • Facebook is also good e.g. Mousetrapped is about Disney, Orlando and gap years. So Catherine can network with people who like those and people share within those groups. Very useful if your book is about a specific thing on Facebook.

How to sell self-published books

  • Catherine has looked back and reviewed the journey and she has a theory about this. Finding the first readers is difficult. You can’t go from nothing to the top of the Amazon charts. You need that small group of fans to help you, and they will often do it to support you if you develop a following online who know you. You can then multiply that initial interest.
  • The importance of building a list so that you can sell the second book when it’s time. It’s also important to have a list because the social networks rise and fall. You need to own your mailing list so you’re not left high and dry if they fall apart because you don’t own that digital real estate.

Do you have any specific tips from your self-publishing experience? Do you still print books (and if so, do you make significant income from them?) Please do leave a comment below.

Self printedYou can find Catherine at and on twitter @cathryanhoward

Self-Printed is available at Amazon.

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  1. says

    Oh you do chat just how you write, Catherine! Self-Printed is such a valuable resource for those of us new to self-publishing (or should I say self-printing?) and I have gotten so much value from the first edition of the book that I didn’t even have to think twice about upgrading to version 2.0. I definitely agree with your comments on cover design and editing. Why do self-publishers think they can ignore these things?!

    • says

      I really don’t know what makes them think it! I suspect it’s more to do with not knowing a lot about books/publishing and/or being so bowled over by the sight of their book — THEIR BOOK! — that they fail to see it bares little resemblance to, um, all the other books. But in a world where most sales are made from thumbnail images, cover design couldn’t be more important.

  2. says

    Great video. I think there is another good reason for a print version of your book, other than vanity. Putting a $12-16 trade paperback on Amazon helps make your $3-8 ebook look like a great deal. Amazon even shows the discount the buyer gets with the Kindle version over the paperback, so its a nice bit of sales psychology there. Whether its worth the effort of production though is up to you!

    • says

      Yes, this is Dean Wesley Smith’s argument as well – and I can see some point to that BUT/ I don’t want to put out a mediocre product so I can’t be dealing with all the hassle and expense to get something that may or may not impact sales. As someone who reads 99% on the Kindle, that price comparison means nothing to me – as I buy only ebooks I compare like with like.

      • says

        I’m with Joanna; I don’t see the point in producing a paperback just for a favorable price comparison. Too much work and no guarantee that the “discount” effect is having an impact.

  3. says

    This is very inspiring for those of us sitting on that book or with a story in the drawer wondering what’s next. I wonder if I’m the only one who didn’t realize that E-pub is really ‘it’ now for indies? I don’t think I really understood that until now. Thanks again Joanna for the great information.

    • says

      Hi Shelina – I think that is a realization you have when you are taking this seriously as a business. With your first book, it’s all about wanting something in print but then you realize that you make so much more money with ebooks and it becomes a little silly to keep doing print (unless you love it of course!) All the best with your books.

  4. says

    I, for one, am delighted that the future of books is “e!” I was so dreading the process of having to make a print book. And now to find out I may not have to? Heavenly! I would hate to bust my buns putting out a second-rate product. This was a crucial post for me–thank you, Joanna! And thanks to Ms. Howard for “guesting.” She is always a practical and funny lady. :-)

  5. says

    Firstly, it was great to see Catherine “live”! I’ve only ever read her blogs and books so it was great to put a face and a voice to the words. Secondly, I was quite surprised by the anti-paperback stance. My first novel has been out for about 9 months, I’ve sold about 400 copies and the paperback/ebook split is almost exactly 50/50. I write historical fiction about life in Hollywood during the golden age (1920s to 1950s) so perhaps my audience is more “old school” but it’s certainly been very much worth my while. I do think that for your first book it’s probably worthwhile to do both formats to see where your own particular market is and what it favors, and by what margin. I have the 2nd book in the series coming out next month (with help from “Self-Printed 2.o”!) so it’ll be interesting to see if it follows along the same path.

    • says

      This isn’t about having an anti-paperback stance; it’s about business, which is what is should always be about if you’re planning on making a living from your books. Paperbacks just don’t yield a return that’s in any way relative to the effort it takes to produce them, or to keep them around. For instance I’ve unpublished the first edition of Self-Printed and created an entirely new paperback for the second one, leaving the first one out of print and for sale on Amazon for around a thousand dollars. People are emailing me accusing me of setting that price (??!?!?!) but it’s the third party sellers — there’s nothing I or even Amazon can do about it. Then there’s the issue of losing all my reviews; I’ve had to start from scratch again. If I’d just produced an e-book, all I’d have had to do is swap one file for the other.

      But having said that, some books do do better in paperback that others – Self-Printed being my example. Most people want that in a physical book to refer to because it’s so long. And in your case your readership might prefer the good old paperback. But your paperback Vs e-book split changes over time and I’d be very surprised if this time next year you weren’t selling a heck of a lot more e-books than print.

      • says

        Yes, perhaps “stance” wasn’t the right word. Everything you say makes perfect sense and it will be interesting to see where my figures stand this time next year. As for the time it takes to make the paperback, I found the process making the paperback FAR easier than the ebook (and kind of fun, but that may just be me!) I followed your instructions to make an ebook (in “Self-Printed 1.0″) and it worked about 95% of the way. But I had a problem with margins that I spent a horrible two weeks trying to fix but I just couldn’t figure out for the life of me and I ended up paying someone to do it for me while I laid weakly in the couch like Camille and begged for medicinal chocolate. (That’s actually not too much of an exaggeration, I’m embarrassed to say.) This time around, for my next book, I have Scrivener so it’ll be a breeze. Thanks for everything you do, Catherine. Sharing your wisdom and experience with such humor sprinkled with a huge dollop of reality-check-ness is a huge help to use newbies!

  6. says

    I love the interview too. However, I don’t agree with the printed version. My print book on amazon sells twice as much as the kindle version. The printing process was not painful either. I did it through CreateSpace and it was similar hassle like getting the Kindle formatting correct. The cost of creating the print version is very low, and it’s good to have another option for all those people who don’t Kindle.

    • says

      I’m so glad you have had success with print Suzanna, but in terms of selling twice as much – are we talking into tens of thousands? I’d love to hear if you are as neither of us know any indies who are making significant income from print books – most are making $thousands from ebooks.

      • says

        Johanna, far away from thousands of books. Marketing is my weakness—I don’t do any, so the books are selling just kind of on “its own.” However, it’s been 2 years and consistently over the two years, it’s 60-70% paper books, 30-40% Kindle books. My book is self-help, how to prevent pains and aches in the body and become fit without a gym membership. So I guess people want to have the physical copy for further reference to exercises? I just want to say that paper books are still worth printing, but maybe not for novels.

        • says

          Excellent point Suzanna – I think non-fiction probably performs differently to novels and in fact, I am doing a barter arrangement with someone to coach them in marketing in exchange for formatting my non-fiction book for print.
          I don’t want to do it myself but equally, I think self-help is useful in print – and in fact, the only print books I have nowadays are non-fiction :)

        • Doug says

          Bingo! Non-fiction self-help does much better in a printed format. Self-help computer books are similar. Ever try to read a self-help book on a Kindle or Nook? Not fun! I converted two of my print books to Kindle because I thought I was missing out on thousands of dollars. After two, I found out it wasn’t worth the effort. You really have to look at your own situation and decide what your readers want. If I was publishing fiction, it would be ebooks all the way.

  7. says

    I loved the video and it made me think about when I wanted to produce my paperback version. It’s my first novel and I want to hold it in my hands by this chrismas (my own little big gift).

    So thanks so much and yes Catherine, Joanna is right, you are so funny.

  8. says

    Two of my favourite bloggers together in the one post. Excellent. Having followed you both separately for a little while now, one thing I think your posts have in common is the positive, practical and friendly styles you have. Loved the video too. Thanks heaps.

    • says

      Thanks Steven and I am certainly a fan of positivity – I’d hate to live in the negative world of people who see this exciting time as the end of publishing – when it’s just a new beginning!

  9. says

    Catherine, Caffeinated! One of the first blogs I started following. I wasn’t making the connection. Catherine seemed like someone out on a limb right from the get-go, and I like that, as do most people. The audacity of all that pink. Wow! And in the midst of subdued templates around every corner. Instant connection.

    If you want to learn a business inside out, it’s a good idea to work in that business at a grunt level, which I did at B&N. I learned about power aisles, where the majority of profits are made in the corporation, when and why you change floor plan, and what the people buying different genres looked like and what else did they buy. (Romance readers were quick with impulse buys of chocolate at the register, and they loved cute bookmarks. Those buying self-help march straight to the customer service desk and ask for help finding the book, which is why self-help is placed close to the customer service desk.) Best was the backroom and seeing which publishing house had the most returns. All of this can translate into indie publishing with a little imagination and a whole bunch more grunt.

    For instance, the “living room.” That’s the area in B&N where comfy chairs are in place and patrons can sit down to cruise books. They NEVER returned the books to the shelves, and those books ALWAYS caught the interest of others who took their seat. That’s why I do POD and order up a box load. They’re swiftly crumpled, dog-eared, dirtied, inscribed as a gift to someone, then inscribed as a “must read” loan to someone else, and left about town–c0ffee shops, doctor’s waiting rooms, shopping carts. The idea is generating interest amongst readers, not other writers who can only support you and other indies until their credit cards are maxed out. No matter how large the city, people do love stumbling upon a real book written by a real person in their very own city. Often they’ll get the eBook because the paperback is so mangled and put the original out in a garage sale.

    Catherine is spot on the money about book covers. Indie publishers have upped the game dramatically. I remember one instance at B&N of two major houses publishing two separate books, both released the same month, with the identical iStock photo on the cover, which was quite plain. Now a walk through a bookstore is eye candy galore. No more minimalistic shots with a stock font. Because eBooks have to dazzle the reader on a flat screen, cloth books now have to jump off the shelf and chase the reader down the aisle.

    But I disagree about editing. I’d worked as a editor myself and and do just fine on myself. Why should i pay someone else to do what I what I can do on my own?

    • says

      Thanks Cyd – and there are clearly no rules about any of this anymore – each author has to weigh up what they want in terms of print, cover design and editing – I prefer to spend money on design and editing and skip print – but each to their own! That’s interesting hearing about the ‘living room’ at B&N but what % of books actually sell that way given that most books are sold online now?

      • says

        B&N has dramatically cut down the size of the “living room” because people made a horrible mess of it and read their periodicals for free, so that option has dwindled. Their Nook display now stands in front of the power aisle and non-book items are well over 50% of the store. With most retailers, including B&N, over 50% of sales come from “back of store” which applies to what Doug has commented about his non-fiction sales. His books, unless they’re true crime or travel, are at back of store. Just as WalMart puts photo, milk, frozen foods, & (yay!) books at back of store (all are either loss leaders or essentials), the idea is to walk you past lower sales items at least twice and break down your resistance. Apply these marketing principles to eBooks and, yep, you want to write a how-to of some sort as well as a loss leader. A lot of authors are putting the 3rd or 4th book of a series up for free as a loss leader, but many are saying the “bounce back” for other books in that series is slowing down. The fundamentals of sales and marketing remain the same but the specifics are like a deck of cards thrown in the air at the moment. I think it’s both fascinating and endlessly fun. There’s also a lot of risk and uncertainty involved. Blow on the dice for luck and have fun:-)

  10. Doug says

    Wow, be careful making general statements like ” Print books are really for your benefit, not for the benefit of your business or your bank account.” That makes me laugh. In my non-fiction niche, ebooks just don’t work well. Meanwhile, I collect a high 5-figure income on my print books. For a lot of non-fiction, print books are still king.

  11. says

    Great to see Catherine featured on your podcast!

    I agree with some of the other commenters above that the success of print vs. ebook is quite genre-dependent. I’ve heard from agents that women’s fiction (I hate the term and find it useless, but most consistently it’s defined as the sort of novel one might discuss in a book club) is far more successful in print. Same for literary fiction, in which audiences are notoriously slow adopters of e-readers and adore print.

    For genre fiction, though, I think your recommendation is right on the money.

  12. says

    I’m a first time author. I just published my first novel – “Sensuality”. I’m currently working on converting my novel to ebook. Ebook is good for sales, that’s where the world is now. However, I love books and there is nothing like seeing your book in your hands, looking at the cover and spelling the newness of it. Everything looks so much better in person. Plus when I go to a hotel to write, I have hard copies of my book with me so I can give them to the front desk clerks. Printed books are good for promotional purposes.


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