Book Review: “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual”

Self-Publishing Manual Cover Image

Dan Poynter is a very well-known self-publishing guru. Of course, the word guru is overused all of the time. Poynter has had much success as a self-publisher with his company Para Publishing and there is no denying he has a level of expertise in the field that not a lot of people have. This is why I picked up his Self-Publishing Manual, which has had several editions and numerous updates.

First, an overview. The book is laid out nicely and is extremely easy to read. It brings you through the process from conceiving of a book idea all the way up through production and distribution. Lots of imagery and examples are packed in here along with some quotes for good measure. Now onto the guts.

One of the falling points of most books that I have read or at least looked into in regards to self-publishing and/or marketing make the claim that these techniques are applicable to both fiction and non-fiction, but they are specifically written for non-fiction. That, of course, is a load of garbage. Marketing fiction has some major differences from marketing non-fiction. Fortunately, Poynter indicates up front that he is not an expert in the fiction market, which I appreciate. Being a fiction author myself, I will review this book mainly from that point of view.

The recommendations Poynter uses for researching and writing a book are pretty much geared toward non-fiction. There are a few items that may be of interest to a fiction author, but this is an area to skim. If you are a non-fiction author, this will probably work great for you as Poynter is obviously very organized and thorough. One technique any author can try, fiction or non-fiction, is to send query letters to agents and publishers, just to see if anyone thinks the book is viable. This is good, even if you plan to self-publish as their feedback could be quite valuable. Who knows, someone may end up offering you a huge advance that you didn’t expect.

Book production is a good section for any author to read who is planning on having an actual printed book. It gets highly technical but is good for you to know. Keep in mind, this edition is a few years old and was really written before the rise of print on demand (it’s getting less and less taboo, especially since some large publishers are planning on utilizing it in the wake of the eBook boom). He makes the assumption that you are going to have your own print runs, which you may do, but it will be costly. If you use a service like CreateSpace, even if you have your own publishing company, a lot of this is taken care of for you with an easy-to-use interface. Again, it is still probably a good idea for you to understand how the technical side works, just so you can understand industry standards and insure that your book looks and feels like a traditionally published book.

The marketing section is great for a non-fiction author but is only worth a skim for a fiction author. There are some marketing techniques that carry for all authors, but remember this book is specifically for non-fiction authors. Many of the techniques to rope media coverage are based off of expertise, which will not have the bearing on media for a fiction book as it does for non-fiction. Matter of fact, it’s the “expert author” angle that helps with a variety of marketing techniques for non-fiction. Readers of fiction, at least in what I have read and seen, don’t care what you’re an expert in. Matter of fact, Poynter indicates that it is, for the most part, easier to market non-fiction than fiction (ugh, too bad he’s right about that).

The section on reviews is quite thorough also. Again, there is some material specific to non-fiction but reviews are important for fiction also. Matter of fact, empirical research has been done on the effects of reviews on book sales and it does indeed have a huge impact. There is quite the extensive list of reviewers in here so have a look. Like any other book related to marketing or publishing, take opinions with a grain of salt. There are some points in here that I don’t necessarily agree with but others that I do. Actually, he specifically mentions avoiding paid reviews. In the last couple of years, paid reviews have been on the rise (within reason, see my posts on the mysterious review or getting reviews), especially since some of the big reviewers now charge money for their reviews (like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly).

The biggest downfall of this book is simply that it needs another update. With the rapid changes in the industry, some of the viewpoints are a little old fashioned. You’ll probably be able to tell what those are. An example is distribution and booksellers. First, there are book selling chains listed that are not in existence anymore. Though Poynter does not overly harp on the importance of bookstores (even in 2007 he recognized the downfalls of brick and mortar bookstores), there is still a lot of information on getting into them, information you can probably skim if you are a fiction author (although if you’re curious on Barnes and Noble, see my earlier post on how I got my book carried by them).

Another issue here is one that is in most non-fiction. The viewpoint is skewed to what the author is trying to defend or is the main subject of the writing. That’s fine, just make sure you allow yourself to look at multiple viewpoints. A specific example is his opinion of the traditional publisher. He discusses an Indie author who ends up going traditional as “selling out” to a big publisher. Obviously, he’s an expert in self-publishing so that’s going to be his forte. There are ups and downs to each type of publishing and that includes traditional but there are plenty of people who have made a good living in the traditional world, as well as in the self-publishing world so don’t feel bad if you end up garnering the interest of a traditional publisher and going that route. Do what works for you, considering the argument over of traditional publishing vs. self publishing is not going to have a conclusive winner anytime soon.

There are supposedly some updates in the Self Publishing Manual Volume 2, which is a condensed book that goes side by side with this one. I haven’t reviewed it yet but I will and let you know. Regardless, this one still needs an update.

Conclusion: This book is worth picking up if you are self-published or are considering your publishing options, regardless of your genre and regardless of whether you are a fiction or non-fiction author. A non-fiction author will get more out of it but a fiction author will get a lot too. It gives you a look into the publishing world and provides some inside information that may help you in your decision. There is a ton of information and lots of examples you can use and it’s reasonably priced.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual”

  1. This was very helpful and just what I needed. I just finished my first book and am going through several revisions before I decide which route I take. Thank you very much for this post!

    • No problem, glad you found it helpful. There are parts of it that are outdated but those are easy to pick out. The industry has changed so drastically in less than two years that this is not a surprise.

  2. I’ve never heard of him, but you did say his book is geared toward non-fiction, so that would explain it.

    I’ve published fourteen books traditionally via Berkley and Silhouette, and two–soon to be four–as an indie. There’s no contest. Give me indie any day!

    • He is definitely more well known in the non-fiction world but there is definitely some good info on the industry in general. The more time that goes by, the more it seems that going Indie is the way to be.

  3. Thanks for this! I may have to add it to my to-read pile. Unfortunately, with the speed at which the business is changing now, I find I am pulled toward books written more currently. Unfortunately, when you do this, there are many gems from past authors that can be missed. I appreciate hearing from a trusted voice on whether it is worth the read!

    • Thanks Erin! There are parts you’ll be able to skim through (and I name them in the review) but there are other parts that are good to know.

  4. I’m looking at my small library of “Get Published Today” type of books and they all need to be updated.( One of them even has a big negative description about e-books because of a fiasco with Stephen King. That specific book was written in ’06 and times are a changin’. Many writers are very successful with e-books.) Great review, I don’t get too much into non-fiction except in my blog, but I will keep that book in mind. Poynter is easy to remember, because he makes some good points!

    • Many of the “get published today” books are nothing more than personal anecdotes and really aren’t even applicable to fiction.

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