By Joe Goldberg

“Beware of advice—even this.” Carl Sandburg

Perhaps you find a few minutes each day (if that often) trying to bang out your work. You may be doing it just for fun. Or to prove something to yourself. Or you are sure the next great American novel lays just inside your figure tips. Any reason is a good reason because it is your reason.

You need an agent to say yes, and everything is gravy. You know the odds are against you, but you dream an agent will contact you. You want to be “traditionally” published for pride and satisfaction. You want the publishing industry to validate you (there is something to this). You can imagine the thrill of seeing your book on the shelves at the airport.

If your dream is to have a book published more than to get an agent, you might decide to self-publish at some point.

I am a self-published author. It wasn’t totally by choice. 

There is stigma, albeit lessening to a great extent, regarding “non-traditional” publishing. Since everyone can do it, there is a justified concern about the book’s quality—inside and out. That is one reason bookstores and libraries are hesitant to stock self-published books, even if they have a “local author” section.

Another reason is the dreaded “Amazon Effect.” Bookstores hate Amazon for its impact on the bookseller market. Many self-published authors use Amazon—the platform of choice for its cost (free) and marketplaces (just about everywhere). Ask a bookstore if they will stock your book. Forget it. Some libraries will accept after a review for their “Local Author” section—if they have one. If a self-published author wants distribution in “traditional” outlets, then be on IngramSpark also.

If you decide to self-publish, you know there are headwinds in a crowded market, and your efforts to overcome them can be daunting.

When I pulled the self-publishing lever, I performed the logical next step—I Googled. I researched and explored the resources and advice available to me. I found some fantastic and not-so-fantastic videos, podcasts (these are useful), courses, subscription services, etc. The amount to shift through is overwhelming.

I discovered many “tips for success” for self-published authors. For better or worse, I can summarize them into a non-exhaustive list that looks something like this. I call these the “general universal truths of self-publishing.”

  • Make time to do it all
  • Write what you know and write. Writers write.
  • Read. Writers read (or listen, as I do)
  • Know your market
  • Research everything
  • Network/Join communities/author groups
  • Market early/social media, the web, and all that stuff
  • Pick a platform/decide how to self-publish
  • ISBNs and things like that
  • Hire professional designers, editors, marketers, etc.
  • Market and advertise even more
  • Create an email list/blog/newsletters
  • Keep marketing
  • Keep writing

That’s a lot to do for one person. That’s the life of self-publishing. But, if done with some focus and energy, you are far ahead of many others. I have consolidated these tips and flavored them with my own experiences. Here are four of them.

All writing is personal. Tell stories.

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”—Tom Clancy

As I tell my college mass communication courses, everything is personal. You must think not just of the content and process to get your message across. Self-published or traditional, you have to tell a story. We are all storytellers in our own way. You want readers to connect with your story. How do they do that? You have hit upon something they that connects with them. Something personal. That can be the need to escape from their own lives for a few moments, or you have a message that resonates. It doesn’t matter why.

Don’t try to be perfect

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes the master.” —Ernest Hemingway

Let’s keep this simple. You feel that your book has to be absolutely perfect to compete in the market. So you edit and re-edit every page as you write.

When self-published, it isn’t just the words. It is the editing. It is the cover art. Blurbs. Your social media. Your web presence. The look and feel of your overall marketing. Review blurbs garnered from well-known authors. Begging for other reviews. Giveaways. Goodreads. BookBub.

You can’t be perfect in all this, and don’t try. Your book with have errors, even after multiple rounds of editing and beta readers (if you use them).

Just write. Do your best. Relax. Tell your story.

Be confident 

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”  —Harper Lee 

Tara Moss, the noir and crime fiction author, recently explained that when she first started, she was, like most authors, a neurotic writer. She lacked confidence in what she was creating. But, over the years, as she grew as a writer, so did her confidence.

I am sure this is common to all writers. However, having been there, the combined enormity of the creative and selling process makes it worse for self-published authors.

You probably have an inbox full of rejections. Maybe some of the dreaded, “I like what I read, but I just don’t think (a) it is right for me, (b) it is what the market wants, (c) it will require too much effort to make it a good book.” With that, you are on a lifeboat hunting for the “tips for success” mentioned above. Unfortunately, no one is there to help you—with anything.

You must overcome the doubt, rejections, and the cringe-worth, guilt-erupting, sincere question from friends, “how is the book coming” knowing you haven’t looked at it in days. It could take time, but if your dream is to publish a book for others to read, so what? Focus on making the best book possible and reaching as many potential readers as possible.

Write that book and market the heck out of it.

Connect with your readers and peers

 “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”― John Cheever

The self-published author can reach out to readers and peers on most social media platforms. Use it. Be confident.

Readers have choices, and when they choose to use their precious time/money resources to read my stories, I want to show my appreciation. So, I do my best to connect with them—every time. If they post anywhere about my book, I acknowledge their support. I comment in some way and always say “thanks.” Every time. When I send out books, I add a note. Every time.

What might readers do? Buy more books. Spread the word. Provide feedback. They’re sales generators. Many are now my virtual friends. I have used some to crowdsource ideas for the next book in a series.

I don’t reply to reviews—and I try to ignore them. Reviews are in a category I call “leave them the heck alone.” We welcome good and constructive reviews. One bad review can kill the confidence of the lonely self-published author who has reached the point of exhilaration and exhaustion. If they email me comments, I reply.

My connections process includes peers. Peers are important. As writers, we are all in this together. Many established authors are willing to help. Do they need to know if you are self-published? No. In my experience with them, it doesn’t matter. Comment on their posts. Celebrate their successes. Help them when they need it.

As writes (they do my covers): Self-publishing is a taxing profession, even for the most successful writers. Advice will be offered by anyone and everyone, and it’s important to take on the guidance that speaks to you.


Joe Goldberg has been a CIA covert action officer, corporate intelligence director, international political consultant, and currently is a college instructor and writer.

His work at the CIA garnered three Exceptional Performance Awards. In the private sector, as leader of Corporate Intelligence at Motorola, Joe received the Meritorious Award recognizing a single individual who has made significant contributions to the intelligence profession. He had consulted on numerous international presidential, prime minister, and legislative elections.

Joe is the best-selling Amazon author of two award-winning espionage novels: Secret Wars: An Espionage Story (2014) and The Spy Devils (2021). Get his latest book, Rebellious Son HERE.


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