Self-Publishing is a Marathon

Self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

A former editing client recently sent me an email that I want to share with you. I worked on his book last summer, and it went to press in September 2012. Since that time, Dave Burgess, the author of Teach Like a Pirate, has experienced some impressive success as a self-published author. He offers some nice kudos for my work (Thanks, Dave!), but the truth is, writing and producing a top-quality book is only the first step in the self-publishing marathon. He has continued strong and steady in the race and is now enjoying the rewards. 

 Dave gave me permission to share his note and the marketing tips that follow. You’ll see that there are no shortcuts to his self-publishing success. He created a plan and followed through on it. And he is not finished yet! Almost a full year after his book launch, his marketing efforts are still going strong. 

Writing, publishing and marketing a book—although highly rewarding—can be exhausting. It’s time-consuming and sometimes life-consuming. But if you have a message to share—one that can improve or enrich people’s lives—the end result is worth your effort.

When you’re weary and feel like giving up, look to the coaches (like yours truly) and fans (your readers) who are cheering for you. Keep your focus on the goal ahead and be inspired by the people who are running ahead of you, people like Dave. Know that you, too, can win this race.


Hi Erin,

Just wanted to send you an update on Teach Like a PIRATE, since I feel its success is in no small part related to your amazing work.

The book is going viral on Twitter with at least five different hashtags and groups holding book studies. I’ve been running a weekly #tlap hashtag that has grown a steady following. I’m getting Google alerts for blogs on the book daily right now.

Schools and districts are ordering in bulk through me and many are choosing pirate themes for their yearly focus. The speaking business has never been better…I’m taking (trying to get approved anyway) a leave of absence for next year to travel and speak.

I signed contracts for the Korean and the Simplified Chinese translations.

Here are the current numbers as of right now on Amazon and B&N

  • B&N: Paperback is #196 out of all books, all categories
  • Amazon Paperback: #550 all books, all categories
  • Kindle: #3,299 (#1 in PD for Kindle. Both versions are in top 10 Pro. Dev. Books)

So glad I chose to go with my gut and self-publish…and so glad I chose you as my editor. Your work and advice along the way were absolutely invaluable. I’m enjoying the wave while it lasts.


13 Marketing Tips from a Real-Life Self-Publishing Success Story

  1. Tribe building before book. I was relentless about collecting emails every single place I went to speak. I offered access to a protected part of my site. Now I collect them and draw a name at the end for a free Teach Like a PIRATE T-shirt. At conferences where I can’t sell my book, I give one away like this at the end so that I have an excuse for showing it and talking about it. The giveaway has greatly increased the percentage of mailing list forms I get.
  2. Blogging. I don’t blog on a regular basis but I was blogging for a couple of years before the book and mailing to the email list, as well as promoting on social media.
  3. Twitter. I’m very active on Twitter and regularly participate in chats and hashtags where educators frequent.
  4. I participate in an authentic way. I post useful information, share great posts and blogs from others, and try to be seen as a helpful community member. I look at the feed of some authors and it is basically some form of “buy my book”, “check out my book”, “like my Facebook page” over and over again.
  5. I have my own hashtag for the book, #tlap, and co-host a weekly chat on the book and topics related to the book. I also support off-shoot hashtags that have been created to study the book by making myself available to join them. There is, or has been #tlapmath, #bltlap, #orangetlap, MMStlap, #tlapkaty and several others. I also support other hashtags that have chosen the book for studies, such as #MOedchat and #educoach.
  6. Be willing to show up. I have joined every school that has held private online discussions of the book through sites like edmodo. I add comments to blog posts about my book. Some of these I find through Twitter and some I find by having a Google alert set for my book title and my name. I have Skyped into live book studies and joined Google hangouts. Basically, if somebody wants to talk about my book…I’m willing to show up.
  7. Speak. Although most of my speaking is for a fee, I have been willing to speak at the major educational conferences for free to gain exposure and build contacts. Most of my paid speaking has come directly from people who have seen me present at a conference.
  8. Give it away. I use the book as a promotional giveaway and prize at educational events all over. One signed book costs me a couple of dollars but is then displayed in front of everyone at the event.
  9. The book is a business card. If I meet someone interested in the book or my message, I give it to them. It generates good will and gets your book in the hands of people who are influencers. I sent out books for free to many of the leaders in the field when it first came out, as well. I can’t even tell you how many free books have led to bulk orders for a whole staff or district.
  10. Say thank you. When someone promotes my book with a tweet or a post…I thank them! Sounds obvious but I’m not sure it is common!
  11. I have done ZERO traditional advertising. Word of mouth has sold the book. Money I initially spent on marketing was wasted, in my opinion. People talking to people has made this book.
  12. I encourage others to run “Teach Like a PIRATE” sessions at edcamps. Today, for example, I was in San Diego and a member of the #tlap tribe was holding a discussion of the book at a conference in Cleveland. I tweeted in to say hello and offered a signed book and a T-shirt.
  13. Branding. The pirate theme has really resonated. It has made sharing the book and its message easy and fun. The T-shirts help to spread the message as well. Teachers wear them to events and they start conversations. (As a side note, Erin, a publisher recently asked to buy the book. I offered a distribution deal which she declined saying that the book needed a new title and a new cover to make it fit in with other books in the genre. She said her sales team believed the book would not be taken seriously with the current title and cover. I basically told her I wanted the book to stand out and NOT fit in and referred her to Purple Cow. People LOVE the fact that it is unique, fun, and more conversational than most academic books. By the way, that dang matte cover has gone over HUGE, as well!)