Lessons for self publishing authors, from the Apprentice UK


I am absolutely addicted to the Apprentice UK. I actually had started out watching the US version but quickly converted to the UK series instead.

For anyone not familiar with the series, I will explain the basics. Lord Sugar is a multimillionaire who puts candidates through business tasks. Each week he eliminates at least one candidate until he decides who will become his apprentice (in later seasons it is his business partner).

I do love the shows entertainment value but I also really love the business lessons I can learn by watching candidates make mistakes and watching Lord Sugar explain and correct different business principles. I think this is a pretty good series for self publishing authors to watch and it is available on youtube.

One of the tasks Lord Sugar frequently assigns is a “sniff out what sells task.” In these, the candidates are given stock and are expected to figure out which items are selling the best and to invest in more of those items. Amazingly, many candidates miss the mark on this one. It is not uncommon for the candidates to go back and buy random and new items or to buy items that are not selling well along with those that are.

The lesson authors should take away from this? Figure out what books sell and then write more of those.

Yes, we want to be true to our art. But, self publishing is a business and once and author knows what sells and produces it in enough quantity, they will be able to afford to write for the sake of their art.

On almost every apprentice season there is a task that involves selling a product to retailers. The contestants must make decisions about how to promote to individual retailers. They also must make decisions about exclusivity. Inevitably, candidates mess this task up in one of two ways. Either they offer exclusivity to a small store or they deny exclusivity and lose sales to a large corporation with hundreds of stores.

The lesson? Writers need to understand the retailers they are working with and the other players in the publishing game. And, not every sale is the right sale. Sometimes, what is being offered isn’t worth it.

I recently received an email from a small online company. They saw that my books had gotten pretty decent reviews and were interested in adding me as one of their authors. My natural first reaction was to be completely thrilled. Someone was seeking ME out! Wow. Of course, I wanted to jump on that (just like the contestants will drool over an exclusivity deal that will only create 100 sales from a small company). I turned off my happy artist brain and turned on the business brain. The information about what exactly they did was confusing so I looked them up online to see if I could get a better understanding from their website.

I wish I could say they were awesome and I desperately wanted to join them. But, that wasn’t the case. The site was amateurish and, in my opinion, just awful. My books are primarily romance and the site had only two other romances. Neither of those had a book description that indicated they were romances. Also, the books, though much smaller than mine, were priced almost double my current prices. I won’t even lie. I was shocked the guy had contacted me. I couldn’t see at all where my books would fit in on their site. I emailed the guy and told him my concerns and even offered to give some help in correcting the sites problems (since they obviously were brand new). As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well. Apparently, that was their old site. The site they were trying to interest me in wasn’t even up and running yet. The guy was fairly offended at my observations and needless to say I will not be working with them.

The point here is that as authors we have to be really careful to look at what a seller is offering us. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement when someone shows an interest in our work. Equally, if you are looking to traditionally publish, you shouldn’t necessarily jump on the wagon of just any company who is willing to represent your work.

On many of the apprentice tasks, candidates overspend and are unable to make up the losses. Sometimes, they even create a product that is wonderful but costs so much to produce that it wouldn’t work in the marketplace.

Lesson to authors? Keep cost down while still providing a great product.

This one in particular really hits home to me.  So many people think self publishing should cost hundreds of dollars. To publish a novel length work usually costs me about $60. I make about $2 per sale which means that my books become profitable after I sell book #30.

So many people online try to convince new self publishing authors that they need expensive services to produce a decent product. The problem is that if a new author spends hundreds of dollars on production, they will have to sell hundreds of books to make a profit. And, even though every author thinks their book will sell thousands of copies, that is not the norm for a first book. Their only other option would be to sell at a price above market which is not a good idea for new authors. Self publishing authors MUST take into account the costs of production. They need to look at places where costs can be cut without harming the product.

Many other business principles applicable to self publishing authors are also taught by the show. And, most important of all, self publishing authors will get to see other entrepreneurs make mistakes. The candidates are highly qualified business people. Seeing them falter and make mistakes should give hope for the emerging self publishing author.  And, I find myself having more faith in my own abilities. If these people can be successful than I can too. And, so can all of you!


About authorjanebnight

Hello. I am Jane B. Night. I am a writer and also one of the owners of BZ Publishing LLC.
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