Self Publishing – One Author’s Suggestions

This is a contribution from one of our authors, Gordon Kamisar “Maximize Your Writing Score on the SAT”.  Mr. Kamisar explains in detail the steps he considered leading up to his decision to publish his book with Dog Ear Publishing.  Here’s a list of the topics he discusses.

  • Is there a need for this book?
  • Does this book have an audience?
  • Is this my best work?
  • How much can I spend to publish and market this book?
  • How do I choose a self publishing company


                Several years ago I, together with a few other writers, put together a comprehensive study guide for the SAT* writing section. Although we ultimately decided to turn our study guide into a self-published book, Maximize Your Writing Score on the SAT, we did not reach that decision easily. We had heard that self-publishing could be time-consuming and expensive, that brick-and-mortar bookstores refuse to carry self-published books, and that most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies. We also knew that our SAT study guide would be entering a crowded market dominated by books from big-name test-prep companies. So, while we believed strongly in the quality of our work, we didn’t want to self-publish unless our book had a reasonable chance of success.

               We thought the best way to assess our book’s potential was to evaluate the book as critically as potential buyers would and ask hard questions about our place in the market. What we found out from that process and what we learned from other self-published authors applies to any non-fiction work. 




               One key to self-publishing success is to fill a need in the market. You shouldn’t spend time and money self-publishing a book if some other author has covered the same subject as well as, or better than, you have. At the same time, you shouldn’t be discouraged from self-publishing just because other books broadly cover the same subject. The test for self-publishing is whether your book offers something valuable that other books don’t.

               Before we decided to self-publish, we surveyed all the major SAT study guides available at the time. None of those study guides covered the SAT writing section as deeply or comprehensively as we had. Although most books touched on the fundamental principles of grammar, they ignored many specific grammar rules that students need to know to earn a high writing score. Our study guide offered detailed explanations of the entire range of grammar rules tested on the SAT, and used examples and sample test questions to illustrate how each rule is tested. We also prioritized the material, assigning a rating of one to three stars to each grammar rule based on how frequently that rule is tested. These unique features set our book apart from other SAT study guides and made it a good candidate for self-publishing.


               If you’ve read any blog posts or articles on self-publishing, you already know that niche books are some of the best candidates for self-publishing. Books with a tight focus are easier to market because they cater to a specific, limited audience. At the same time, self-published books, especially print books, shouldn’t be too narrowly focused because there may be too few potential buyers to recoup the costs of publishing.

               The target audience for our book is students studying for the SAT writing section, as well as parents of those students. Because thousands of high-school students take the SAT each year, our potential audience was large enough to justify the expense of print publishing, yet small enough to allow for targeted marketing. We also had the benefit of a replenishing market: as older students graduate and move on to college, younger students enter high school and start preparing for the SAT. Knowing that we had a target audience that would change every year was an important factor in our decision to self-publish.


                Readers won’t buy a book unless it’s good. A good nonfiction book is one that is well researched, well written, and fact-checked, a process that takes plenty of time and effort. When you work very hard on a project, it’s tempting to keep tight control over your work, but getting input from others is an essential step in producing the best book possible.

               Two steps we took to improve the quality of our book were to seek feedback from teachers and students and to have our manuscript edited by a professional editor. As potential buyers of our book, students and teachers were in the best position to evaluate our book’s usefulness, content, and clarity, and most of the changes they suggested were eventually incorporated into the book. An even more important step was to have our manuscript professionally edited. A professional editor has the skills to polish a manuscript to a degree that an ordinary writer cannot. We used an in-house editor at our self-publishing company, Dog Ear Publishing, and found her work to be outstanding, but you’re not required to use a publisher’s in-house editing services. You can shop around and hire an independent copy editor to review your draft before submitting it to a self-publishing company. Choose either an independent copy editor or an in-house editor, but don’t skip this step, no matter how good you think your manuscript is.


               Before you self-publish, you’ll need to know how much you can spend for both publishing and marketing. If you don’t set a budget, you’ll probably end up spending much more than you’ll ever recoup in book sales.         

               Self-publishing companies offer many different products, from barebones printing services to deluxe packages that include cover design, editing, promotional materials, and marketing services. Some of the services offered by self-publishing companies, such as copyediting and cover design, are available elsewhere, but you’ll have to weigh both quality and cost in choosing between in-house or independent services. Deluxe self-publishing packages can seem like bargains, but they often include services and products you don’t really need. If you are interested in using a particular self-publishing company but don’t need all the services included in its package, ask if you can build your own package or swap services of comparable value. Self-publishing companies, especially the smaller ones, want your business, so they are sometimes willing to negotiate.

               Finally, don’t forget to budget for marketing. Some authors think that once their books are listed on Amazon, their work is done and sales will start rolling in.  That won’t happen. Self-published authors must find creative, effective ways to inform readers about their book and persuade readers to buy it. Most self-published authors use marketing strategies such as websites, blogs, online advertising, videos, social media, and direct mail to promote their books. We created a website,, which has been critical to our book’s success, but a website, like a book, has to be promoted. Nearly all website owners have to use search engine optimization or paid search advertising, such as Google AdWords, to improve Internet search visibility. What you include in your marketing plan will depend in large part on your book’s subject and audience, but you can’t plan to do nothing. Have a marketing plan and set aside sufficient funds to promote your book adequately. 


                      The self-publishing industry has exploded in the last few years, leaving writers with many options for publishing their work. Although most self-publishing companies offer similar services, the price and quality of those services vary. A good way to narrow your options is to read online reviews and compare prices. Once you have narrowed your choices, you can dig deeper into each option.  First, take a look at some of the books the company has published. Does the book look professionally published? Is the cover well designed? Are there typos and mistakes? Second, try to contact authors who have used the company’s services. Ask the authors to rate the publisher’s responsiveness and professionalism, as well as the quality of its work. A good way to get to the heart of customer satisfaction is to ask an author whether he or she would use the same publisher again. We were very surprised at the number of self-published authors who said, “no.”

               We were set to choose a large, well-known self-publishing company until we talked to two authors who complained about poor communication, long delays, and spotty quality. At that point, we turned to Dog Ear, which was smaller but very well regarded. In the end, we were highly satisfied with Dog Ear’s services, especially the superb editing, and would certainly use Dog Ear again. But every author has different priorities and needs. You should do your own investigation and pick the self-publishing company that works best for you.

* SAT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which is not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, our book.


*   *   *   *   *

Gordon A. Kamisar is the principal of Blackstone Review LLC, which published Maximize Your Writing Score on the SAT in 2010. Gordon has a B.A. from University of Michigan and a J.D. from Duke Law School.

Dog Ear Publishing is an independently owned self publishing company in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Dog Ear Publishing offers editorial, custom interior and cover design and print on demand services.  Contact Miles Nelson with questions — 866-823-9613 or


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