Indie Publishing Business Self Publishing

Self Publishing and Online Business Is Not Magic – But You May Be Missing Something

I think I have finally figured it out, I have finally understood not just myself, but all those other sad, lost, souls who find this blog by asking questions of Google like is Brett Mcfall a scammer, or is Empower Network a scam or is self publishing a scam. (With apologies to Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad).

I know what they are missing, and I understand why I have always reacted so badly to the scamming mobsters, and no you cynics, it’s not just because it brings me never-ending traffic from the Google Gods.

The answer? To why so many vulnerable people are looking for the answer to making a dollar online? The reason some of us try and fail for many years, while others are insanely successful at it? .…

Broken Hill, NSW, Australia, photo taken about 25 years later but nothing much had changed
Broken Hill, NSW, Australia, photo taken about 25 years later but nothing much had changed

Well first I need to tell you a story. Stay with me here. I know I should keep things short and bullet points, and relevant. But I feel like writing something different today.

I long time ago, in a different country, before the Internet was invented. I was a geologist working underground. I was a new graduate so I knew lots and lots of interesting theoretic stuff about geology; like how old the earth was (hint a little older than 4004BC), and why the dinosaurs went extinct, and even why Australia has lots of mines and New Zealand does not. I knew very, very little about calculating ore reserves. I was set to work to doing a lot of calculations which involved digitizers, maps and figures, on paper (Excel wasn’t invented either). I was supposed to be supervised by a senior geo – but he got busy. Months went by, in the end I helpfully finished the report,without him looking at the figures, and forgot about it. I took a transfer to a mine in  PNG. Around 9 months later the first mine was in the depths of a long and bitter industrial dispute. One day I got called into a senior manager’s office in PNG and said he had call for my previous boss in Australia. I took the call, and on a scratchy phone line, powered by an undersea cable, I was told there were serious flaws in my report.

I was asked to put my side of the story, I was asked to justify a highly technical document, which I had not seen or thought about for 9 months. Without a copy. Without warning. I mumbled something. I was fired. I burst into tears. I think my current manager finished the call for me. I was totally mortified, I was clearly a rubbish geologist, and worse, I’d cried. (I was the only women either of these guys had ever employed I tried very hard to make them forget my gender). I was beside myself that I had apparently made a serious professional mistake. I forgot that the guy firing me was also the guy who should have supervised my work at the time. I didn’t notice my current manager saying that he had no problem at all with the work I’d been doing for him for 8 months. That didn’t matter in my mind, I was utter and complete failure, as a human being, and more importantly in my profession.

Looking back I was the fall-guy for a department that needed to cut costs fast, I was out of sight, on secondment elsewhere, I was new, I was a girl, I was the only non-Aussie, I was an easy target. I was a victim of unjustified dismissal, not that I realised that for many years.

My bubble was burst. Up until then I’d been a good student, got a solid upper honours degree, succeeded at anything I put my hand to pretty much. But it was a front. I felt a complete and utter failure, my mother never knew I was fired from that job. I never dealt with the issue on my CV. Instead I spent a year retraining by getting another degree. I was good at that too. But every time there was conflict or issues in the workplace, I ran, not walked away. If I failed at anything I learned to hide the bodies and move on. I was thought that someday they would figure out that I was just making stuff up as I went along.

So The Secret Selling Your Books Or Making Money Online

Yeah I’m still telling my story. I know you are scanning for the bottom line, but stay with me. Basically, quite well hidden in my persona was the feeling that I was a fraud, that I would be found out, publicly humiliated and sent home. Imagine her, thinking she could do, well anything, really.

Imagine her, thinking that she could learn to be an entrepreneur and make money online, run her own business, or even, and this is pretty funny for someone who never took a writing class until this year, could write books.

So I decided to get one of my books translated. Into German, a language in which my comprehension extends to: ja, nein, Heil Hilter, schnell,  I see nuttin’ (Hogan’s Heroes has a lot to answer for), and apfelstrudel. I hired a translator. I fought a bit with the translator when a trusted friend disagreed with the translation. I got a translation. I put the book for free a few days. I promoted it on a Facebook page where I knew there were some commentators that were native speakers.

The first two comments were, and I paraphrase; the book sucks. Or at least the translation does.

And you know what my very first thought was? Shit, it’s not good enough, I should unpublish it immediately. I should apologise for having had the audacity to think that I could publish and promote a book in a language I don’t speak. Immediately I knew I wasn’t good enough.

That is precisely what I would have done a few years ago. But over the last few years I’ve noticed the people who have done alright with their online business and I notice the ones who have disappeared from the online world and back to the world of work. The ones that succeed, what do you think they have in common? Are they super-smart?, are they amazing writers?, incredible marketers, really, really talented in some other realm?

Some of them, but not all. They do however have a stubborn self-belief. They THINK that they can succeed. They don’t expect to fail, although they figure they probably will. They would prefer to succeed, but if they don’t they analyse the issues and adapt and move on. They don’t quite because they think they suck. 

They know there is not one way to make money online. They know that if there was no one would be sharing it with you for $97.95 or even $1997.75 with an easy payment plan.

And then I got a private message from Tom – he pointed out that the book was fine it was the blurb and the disclaimer that sucked. The disclaimer was not needed for the core of the book, I deleted it. The blurb, of course, is critical. So I wrote back to him, could he help – I’d be happy to pay. He didn’t reply for about 20 minutes – and then replied with a new translation of the blurb and refused to take cash. I updated the book overnight. Within two days of going free, I had a book ranked #2 in the free listings of Wasn’t it lucky I didn’t go with my first instinct, to pull the book from sale, pretend I’d never done, and/or to declare to the world, that getting books translated doesn’t work.

Except it wasn’t anything to do with luck – it was mindset. I managed to see through the unwarranted criticism, found  the real issue, and fixed it.

Running An Online Business, Or Writing Books – You Need One Thing Only

The thing is, the trick to making money online, no matter how you do it – has nothing whatsoever to do knowing how to format a book for Kindle, setup a WordPress blog, or whether you are active on LinkedIn or Twitter. Nothing. At. All. All of those are skills you can learn or hire as your budget and aptitude dictates.

Far, far more fundamentally, you need to know how to silence that inner critic that keeps on telling you you don’t know what you are doing and you have absolutely no right at all to be doing whatever it is you want to do. You see if you don’t believe in you, no one else will either.

Let’s face it; in a world where Dan Brown is a best selling-writer, you don’t need to be an amazing writer to succeed as an author.

So You Jumped Here To Find How The Hell To Succeed Online or To Successfully Self-Publish?

When I format books I get all sorts: I’ve covered erotica, Bible stories and children’s books. None of which offend me, some amuse me more than others. But once, and only once I’ve hesitated to say yes to a request for formatting. When Patrick asked me format a book titled “Making Your 1st Dollar Online “, my scam alert bell started flashing red.

So I stopped and I skimmed  the book. Then I slowed down and read it. Then I asked the author to let me know when it was on sale – it may be still free or it may be paid – doesn’t matter – buy it, and read it – particularly if you are just starting out. It covers the basic models of making money online; for the writerly types info-products are books, and no he’s not talking specifically about self-publishing – but the mindset is probably even more important if you are still looking for someone to tell you that your book is good enough. (NB I haven’t reviewed the affiliate program he is promoting in the book and can therefore not recommend it). 

It must be my week of inspiration reading because the second book I’m recommending today I had already downloaded, but not got around to reading. After Tom did me such a huge favour at short notice I thought I should read his book. His Secrets to Success in Writing and Self-Publishing is for authors who want to self-publish, but also again it’s far more importantly about your mindset, and has some actionable steps next time that voice inside your heads should out – just WHO do you think you are?

Again he’s not focused on Amazon algorithms or whether you should stay in Amazon Select or not – it’s the basic – how to do I deal with the stupid shit inside my head – highly recommended. And no it’s not just fluffy-feel good stuff, it actually has some actionable stuff I may even action! 

Book Formatting Online Business

How To Launch A Service Business Online

Wow it’s been a while, about a month, but finally my newest website is live: (yes I was surprised that such a  grammatical, 2-word dot com was still available to).

The thing is – it’s not just a website, it’s actually a business!  

Hanging out on a writers’ forums  I see an awful lot of authors who are not sure that they are, or if they want to be in business.  I have a lot of sympathy for the ones who say “I’m not in business I just want to write books”. I used to say something similar – my version was: 

I don’t want an online business. I just want to rank websites and make money from affiliate sales and advertising. I’m just an Internet Marketer, not a business-owner. 

Well the Google changes last year put pay to that. I figure that, although I could probably win in the short-term, medium-term the 1000’s of PhD’s that Google employs were probably going to win .

So I turned to books, which is exciting, but frankly I’m not building my backlist fast enough to make a decent wage. I’m not giving up on that, but I needed a more short-term cash boost.  So BookFormatter was born. 

Service Businesses Online 

I’ve thought for a while that my Kindle formatting services page needed expanding. For a start I don’t just format for Kindle I also do ePubs for other eReaders and pdfs for print-on-demand. 

Plus a separate site meant the I could focus on getting all the words in the right order, with commas, and all the other stuff the writerly people seem to worry about. (If I’ve missed some on  feel free to email: lis(at) 

It took a while, partly because people kept on contacting me to help format their books!  It’s taken me about a month to get the site live, along the way I’ve thought rather a lot about the process of launching a service  business online.  

I’m actually gone about this with some thought, and even, hold on to your keyboards, a bit of a plan.  So business planning by Lis 101 – who’d have thought? 


Well that’s easy – I need the cash flow. Books make money, but it takes a while, and is uncertain. Most books I can format within 24 hours and the clients pay 50% upfront and 50% on acceptance – the most I’ve had to wait for payment is about 24 hours after I sent the invoice. That’s a good cash flow business.  

It also has the potential to bring in more NZ$ – the US$ exchange rate is continuing to hurt like hell – my expenses are in NZ$. 

Then I discovered another reason – I rather liked doing it. I actually liked the interaction, the sheer novelty of starting with a book put together in a way I’d never have done myself, and making it work.  I’ve always liked troubleshooting too and fixing problems as they come up.  The interaction with clients was fun. It’s possible I’ve been in the back bedroom too long. 

Defining  An Offering For Sale 

I must admit I’ve never been a huge fan of having a service business online. Indeed briefly I did offer small-business website SEO and basic websites. I struggled with it though, because it’s a very open-ended offering. It’s hard to know when you are done, you need to be very clear what you are quoting for and how you and the client will know when the job is finished. I got burnt rather badly by a client who could never quite decide which pixel went where (I’m not exaggerating) – I walked away when I realised I was living the famous Oatmeal Cartoon

This time around I’ve learned a lot.  Basically book formatting is something I like doing, and because of  a very weird background I have in obscure programming languages (awk, grep, sed) and old-style software (vi, DisplayWrite) I’m pretty fast at it. I’ve also narrowed down my audience to several groups.  I think knowing who your audience is helpful, because then you know how to find them.  

If you are going to make a service business work need two things; demand, obviously, but also the ability to perform the service quicker, better, more-effectively and at a better quality than the average Joe. 


Pricing – that’s the hardest bit still I think. At least I’ve stopped apologising for asking for money LOL.  I’m lucky with book formatting there are a bunch of competitors, listed right on  Kindle Publishing’s help page. I checked them out. They were pretty expensive.  Clearly the bigger boys were carrying expenses that I didn’t have (I suspect they are outsourcing to a third-world country and having to manage both the client and the worker). A lot of the pricing was just silly – quoting in hours when a client had no idea how many hours a job would take or in pages for an eBook.  I also checked those advertising in places like Some of those were very low. 

In the end I kept records of how long jobs took, worked out my required hourly rate, and came up with some indicative prices. I fell between the low and high-end of existing competitors – so that seemed like a good place to be. If I get overwhelmed with demand, I’ll put prices up. 


Having worked out WHAT you’re offering, I started in a small way and when people approached me, I tried to remember to ask them how they found out about me. After a while  I saw some patterns. 

First – I had an abject failure by trying to market to my friends over at da Pond – most of them were fairly tech savvy, were writing non-fiction, and didn’t have a lot, emotionally or financially, invested in their books.  Cheap as possible was what they wanted to spend, and most had figured out how to do their own formatting which was “good enough”. 

Instead the people who actually found me and hired me were: 

  • authors who don’t have time  and/or the inclination to format their books themselves;
  • generally weren’t online in a huge way;
  • normally had full-time, well-paying jobs. 

But now it’s got more specific – I’m starting to see a pattern. I’m primarily attracting: 

  • those  who have bought my Kindle formatting book, understood the process, and decided they’d like to outsource (they make awesome clients because they understand what I’m offering them);
  • panic-stricken author’s who have just got a warning from Amazon that their Kindle book has problems. Because of my time zone I can often fix this faster than they’d believe; 
  • authors who have a book  published several years ago on  paper, but have put off  getting the eBook out as it was too hard.  


Having discovered the audience you then think about where they  hang out, or how they might find me. The readers of my formatting book are easy – there’s sign-up at the back for the sample files in the book. 

The panic-stricken seem to find me via Google from what I can work out. That’s the easy bit of advertising – the keywords shouldn’t be hard to rank for. 

The third group, existing authors, I’m thinking about. It may be more about personal contacts and world-of-mouth among not so much writer groups, but those that have a story to share with fans (think those with causes or messages to share).  

From the Great Minds Think Alike Camp

Completely by coincidence within days of my launch 

Basically a new author who wanted to self-publish but wanted to outsource as much as possible – between the three of us I’d say your entry price is around  $200 (budget cover $100, formatting $70, free book promotion $35) .  Compared to the many, many thousands most self-publishing “companies” charge….