More on Self-Publishing

Check out my post on for more on self-publishing.


To Self-Publish or Not – 5 Important First Steps

Up front there are five important considerations to address when deciding whether you will self-publish.

1. What is the theme of your book either for fiction or nonfiction. The theme isn’t always obvious, sometimes you have to work on a project for a while before you understand and can state what you are writing about. However, you should have a general idea that becomes more and more refined.

2. What category is your book specifically–romance, historical, biography, sci-fi? This is in part determined by your theme and in part determined by your other writing factors. Both in fiction and nonfiction you need to be able to slot your book so that you better know how to promote your book and your reader can better find it.

3. Who is your audience? Although we want everyone in the world to read our work, not everyone will want to read it. By knowing your theme and your category, you can better define who your audience is and the best ways to approach them.

4. How will you distribute your book? If you don’t know who your audience is or how to approach your audience, how will you sell your book? While it’s nice when a book goes viral, that doesn’t generally happen without people knowing that your book exists. How will you make your book stand out from the thousands of other books published this year?

5. Create a “Book Business Plan.” Every successful business starts with a business plan. If you are going to self-publish you are creating a business with a book as its product. You need to have a solid business plan to produce and market it. A “Book Business Plan” will help you to organize. You need to start early, even before and continue while writing your book, so that when your book is ready to publish, you will be ready for a successful launch.

All of this takes planning and design, which takes away from your writing time. Or maybe you want to focus on your writing and then approach the traditional publishing path before you decide to take the leap into self-publishing.

Learning Case Writing

I spent a week studying case writing at the Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, Canada. Very interesting format to learn and a great intensive workshop taught by Professors Michiel R. Leenders and James A. Erskine who have collaborated on case writing and taught innumerable workshops for 30 years.

Case writing is about telling a story with facts. It is a different format than storytelling and it serves a purpose in that what you leave out is what you want others to figure out for themselves. The purpose of case writing is to educate students about business concepts, theories, and practices using actual events and figuring out how to solve dilemmas or how to figure out how to handle events from real life situations. Sometimes students figure out what they would do given the facts in play with a particular set of circumstances, and sometimes the student learns how the organization handled the situation, the decision, and the outcome.

It is a fascinating form of writing and I’m hoping to see how I can use tools fromThe Writer’s Compassto write better cases.

A Creative Tool For Developing Business Stories

Lou Hoffman invited me to write a guest blog for “Ishmael’s Corner.” The blog is a writing exercise to help people in business with idea generation using a story development technique. Check out the exercise and the blog at

Do You Want to Sell Books?

This question came to me quite unexpectedly. I was trying to decide whether to spend several hundred dollars to be a vendor at a conference for home schoolers. The goal is to open up my market to a larger audience, because of course, I do want to promote The Writer’s Compass. I had already decided to spend the money and was in the process of filling out the paperwork when I realized I needed to get a sales tax license for the state of California. Okay. So I started filling out that paperwork, which required placing a call to the Board of Equalization where I learned I had to continually update every location where I sold books. Say, what?

Then I realized–wait a minute: How am I going to get paid for these books? Cash. But this isn’t a cash world. Checks? From previous experience I know checks are risky–especially when every sale counts to recoup the money you’ve spent. This is a credit and debit card world. Even I rarely spend cash. Now I have to get a method for credit transactions. But my booth isn’t going to have electricity or internet, so how do I handle these credit transactions without taking the same risks I would with checks? And how often and how much time am I going to spend doing this?

It suddenly occurred to me–I was going into the book selling business.

The question came up again on Saturday when I did a book signing at a book fair. I sold a handful of books. I didn’t mind the few sales, I had a good time and liked the people at the fair. So, why wasn’t I more upset. For one the booth didn’t cost me anything because I was an invited participant, so I wasn’t dependent on the book sales to cover costs. And two, the people were nice and I enjoyed the crowd. I sold to 75% of the people I talked to, most of the rest only had credit cards, and I suggested they go online.

Then it hit me. I really don’t want to be in the book selling business. Even at the office when people stop by and tell me they want to buy a book, I always suggest they go online because right now there are some good promotional sales on my book. A few days later, when they bring me their copy, I’m happy to sign it.

I also remembered refocussing on my dreams just before I got an agent. I love writing and teaching writing–that’s what I want to do. Book sales transactions aren’t really part of that dream. Who wants that hassle? If you do, you might be a good candidate for self-publishing. Now it made sense why I went the traditional publisher route with a built-in distribution system.

Aha! I don’t mind being in the book promoting business, I just don’t want to be in the book sales transaction business.

Next year if the book fair invites me back, I think I’ll offer to do a free writing workshop and let a local bookstore handle the sales of my book.

Traditional or Self Publish?

If you haven’t tried the traditional publishing route yet, I would vote for doing that first. Make sure you have the best book you can write and that you also have a good editor go through your book. Good editing is key as a poorly edited book will do you more harm than a rejection as far as publishers, agents, and readers go. Everyone is turned off by a book that hasn’t been edited for typos, punctuation, and grammar. Especially if you opt for self publishing.

There are several types of editors, those who are freelancers, and those who work for publishers or magazines. Freelancers can be concept, line, or a mix, with varying degrees of each type and varying degrees of skills. In my experience, editors do not always know what their strengths are or when they don’t have any. You should ask for references and see if the editor you are considering will edit a few pages or a chapter so you can assess how they would approach your work. You want to be sure that you and the editor are compatible.

Next I would research agents and publishers and see if you can make a connection. If you keep getting rejected for reasons such as the book still needs work or too much telling and not enough showing or other valid comments, then the book needs more work. Comments such as “I couldn’t relate to the characters” is not necessarily a valid comment, rather an indication that this agent is not your target audience (unless everyone tells you they can’t relate to the characters). If the criticisms you are getting from agents and publishers’ representatives seem to have more to do with their own biases than with your book, then proceed with self-publishing (SP).

My first choice wouldn’t be SP unless you are the type who is somewhat of a perfectionist and a stickler for details, and willing to spend the money for great cover art, type-setting, and publicity. If you are entrepreneurial, than SP could be perfect for you. You’ll know when the work to find a publisher is more than the work you will have to do to self-publish. One of my best friends, C.B. Shiepe who wrote Cliff Falls, has gone the (SP) route, but he approached it as a serious business and not as a hobby. Promoting the book is a full-time job in itself, and as others will tell you, SP sucks time away from your writing.

And by the way, both traditional and SP are very demanding as far as self-promotion goes if you want your book to sell. Some feel if they are going to spend that much time and energy on a project, they’d rather it be SP and make more money per book. Some feel that they will make less per book, but possibly have far more sales because publishers have distribution channels, which is probably as important as the editing. Either way, the ability to market your book is imperative for success.

Good luck with your book.

What’s Next, Hollywood?

Audio Interview with Larry Tanz, President, COO, and Co-founder of Agility Studios

By Nancy Ellen Dodd, MPW, MFA

Larry Tanz

Larry Tanz

What is an MBA worth in Hollywood? Where do the most opportunities for newcomers lie? What’s in store as the entertainment industry undergoes a radical transition into the digital age?

On January 16, 2009, Graziadio Business Report Academic Editor Nancy Dodd spoke with Larry Tanz, president, COO, and co-founder of Agility Studios, to get the answers to these questions and more.

In 2008 Larry launched Agility Studios, an incubator investment fund that builds and runs entertainment-oriented digital franchises, alongside Scott Ehrlich and Keith Quinn. To learn more about Agility Studios, visit their website:

Previously, Larry served five years as CEO and President of LivePlanet, a multiplatform entertainment company founded by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Prior to joining LivePlanet, Larry was Director of Strategy and Operations at AOL Time Warner and a senior associate at Mercer Management Consulting.

Larry holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in behavioral psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and a B.A. from Harvard College. He is also a co-founder of H20 Africa, which has raised five million dollars for water projects to date.

Audio Files

To hear the interview with Larry Tanz, please click here and choose the “Full Interview” or the segment you would like to listen to.  Questions in the interview are listed below.

Questions for Larry Tanz

  1. What is the marketing concept of for Agility Studios? How is Agility’s business model different? (1:19)
  2. In a time when most investors are pulling back from “risky” ventures, especially in the entertainment industry, how did you secure financing? (3:22)
  3. Can you explain what Agility’s franchise opportunities look like? (5:30)
  4. The entertainment industry is going through a radical transition in terms of platform, new media, distribution, and target audience. What do you think the future of the entertainment industry looks like? (8:06)
  5. How do you think globalization is impacting the industry? Do you see more joint ventures with oversea firms? (10:44)
  6. What do you think is the future of the large studio system in Hollywood? (12:21)
  7. Are there new opportunities for small studios and entrepreneurs and what should they do to prepare? (15:06)
  8. Do you believe there is ageism in the industry and if so, in what form? Do you think that will change with the growing momentum of the internet? (17:39)
  9. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for newcomers to the industry? (19:41) How should an entrepreneur get started in the entertainment industry? What should they focus on in their business plan? How should they approach finding investor funds? (21:24)
  10. Did you plan to go into the entertainment industry? Did your MBA help you?  (23:22) In Hollywood, most people in the studios and agencies start at the bottom and work their way through many facets of the office before getting to the top. Is that true for professionals such as MBAs and lawyers? (32:13)
  11. What is on your mind these days as you establish a new business model? (35:00)
  12. If I am a creative-type and I have a project I want to bring to you, what should I know first, and how should I prepare to get Agility’s attention? (37:30)
  13. This town is all about pitching and getting someone interested in your ideas, like you did with the H20 Africa clean water initiative and your Running the Sahara documentary. What else excites you? (40:40)

Original article published in the Graziadio Business Review, 2009, Volume 12, Issue 4.

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