Heart Breathings

The One Thing You Need To Know Before You Self-Publish

February 19, 2018 by Sarra Cannon

A Writer's Life | Self-Publishing Tips

Let’s face it. Once you start thinking about publishing your book, things get overwhelming really fast.

There are a thousand decisions to make about everything from cover art design to ebook vendors. The more you research, the more you feel like you know absolutely nothing.

Deep breaths.

Yes, there is a learning curve when it comes to self-publishing, but if you stick with me here at Heart Breathings, I am going to help explain the different steps of the process in clear, easy-to-follow posts and resources. It’s important to learn the business side of things, but before you move forward on your journey, there is one extremely important thing you need to know.

What do you want?

I know. It sounds like such an easy question, but you wouldn’t believe how many people completely skip this step. They listen to what everyone else wants or they want whatever someone else told them to want.

Trust me when I say that taking the time to really think about what you want out of this career will be the most important thing you do before you self-publish.

Making The Right Decisions

I often say that being an indie author is like being a professional decision-maker. As authors, we are literally creating worlds out of nothing but our imagination. That means we are making every single decision about how our characters look, what happens next in the story, what each person says. Every word is a decision.

It’s fun and incredibly rewarding, but it can also be scary and exhausting at times. How do you know if you’re making the right decision?

Well, when you get to the business part of being an indie author, it’s exactly the same way. Should you use a pen name? Do you need a Facebook page or a group? Do you publish exclusively at Amazon or go wide? What price should you charge for your books? Which book do you write next?

This career is a constant stream of decisions. Honestly, having full control over your career is part of the fun of going indie, but it’s also part of the headache. What if you make the wrong decision? The pressure of that one very real fear can be debilitating.

If you take the time to answer this one question, though, I promise that it will make a lot of these decisions clearer and less stressful.

What Do You Want?

So, what do you want out of this career? What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

My emphasis here is on the word YOU. What do YOU truly want?

I know as well as anyone how easy it is to get wrapped up in the idea of what everyone else thinks you should want. When I first decided to self-publish, so many people in my life freaked out.

“But you’ll never see your books in Barnes & Noble!”

“How will you know you’re truly any good if you don’t have an agent or editor that chose your book from the pile?”

“You’ll never get an advance if you self-publish!”

Sure, things like walking into a bookstore and putting your hands on a book you wrote is extremely important to some writers. Having a well-known agent or being hand-picked by a Big Five publishing house is important to others.

But what is important to YOU? None of those things mattered to me, and that’s okay. We are all entitled to our own goals and dreams, no matter how big or small they may be. But first, you have to understand what those goals are.

This is the single most important thing I want you to think about as you start down your publishing journey. Go deep. Sit with your thoughts for a while.

What do you want?

Close your eyes and imagine your life five years from now. What is your ideal scenario? What do you care about more than anything else? Why are you a writer?

Don’t judge your answers. Don’t let the voices of others into your brain while you think about this question. It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.

All that matters is what you want, because in the end, you’re the one who is living this life. Don’t do it for anyone else. Figure out what you want and follow that path, no matter what.

The One Thing You Need To Know

Possible Goals And Desires

While you’re daydreaming about it, here are some things you might realize you want from your writing career:

  • To change lives and inspire readers with your books.
  • To make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible.
  • To build a large, engaged community around your story worlds.
  • To just keep writing. Maybe genre doesn’t matter. Maybe the specific content doesn’t matter. Maybe you just want to make enough money to keep writing, no matter what.
  • To make enough money to help pay for a few bills here and there to help your family out.
  • To write this book or story that just won’t leave you alone.

Your answer could be one of these, a mixture of these, or something else entirely.

For me, I wanted to become an author so that I could change lives and inspire readers through my fiction. More than anything else, I wanted to write stories about characters who were coming into their own. Characters who could inspire readers to be their best selves, no matter what they might be going through.

Because this is my “why”, my career has always been very reader-focused. When I make decisions about how to market my book, which projects to work on, where to spend my money or my time, I am always viewing that decision through the lense of wanting to change lives and inspire my readers.

There are people out there that shake their head at some of my decisions. They don’t understand why I don’t put my books into Kindle Unlimited to try to get a higher ranking, or why I have so many free books. And you know what? That’s okay. I don’t need for them to understand.

All I need to know is what I want from this career.

Knowing what I want and what my own personal values are allows me to look at every single decision I have to make and see it from the perspective of what option will get me where I want to go.

Because here’s the thing about self-publishing advice online. Many people out there want to give you “hacks” or one-size-fits-all advice. Write as fast as you can. Publish a book a month. Spend thousands of dollars on Facebook ads. Set your books free. Charge $4.99 for your books. Write romance, because it sells better. Don’t write romance, because everyone is writing it.

You could seriously turn yourself around in circles for months going through all the advice on the internet, but just because someone tells you to do it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. It might be amazing advice—for someone else. That’s why you need to know exactly what you want before you self-publish your books.

Let’s Look At An Example

Let’s say Writer A wants nothing more than to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. She hates her current job, and all she cares about is making a ton of money with her writing so that she can quit her day job. Because of this main goal, she may not care which genre she writes. As long as it’s a good money-maker, she’s all in.

Writer B, however, has a burning desire to write this one specific series she’s been thinking about forever. Yes, of course, she wants to make some money and gain some fans (all of us want this, right?), but her main reason for writing is not to make six figures right away. Her main focus is to write this series that keeps her up at night. She would love to build a fun community of fans who feel as passionately about her story world as she does. The money is really just a bonus.

Both writers have valid, but very different goals. Do you think the same advice will appeal to both Writer A and Writer B?

Should Writer A listen to someone who is telling them all about building a long-term strategy where they build slowly and organically? Or would they be better off listening to advice about how to grow fast and write to trends to make money as quickly as possible?

And think about Writer B. What if they listened to someone who was telling them about strategies for super fast growth and writing to trends rather than writing a more niche topic that might lead to slower growth?

If these writers never took the time to really think about what they wanted, they might listen to the absolute wrong advice for them. There really is no judgment here about what your goals are or what you want, but you better know what you want before you get started.

As writers, many of us are filled with self-doubt and questions. This career calls for us to be vulnerable and take risks. It’s so very easy to get scared and start looking around at other people, wondering if we are really going down the right path or not.

If you don’t know what you want, you’re going to end up stepping off your own path and following someone else’s dreams.

Figuring Out What You Want

With all of that in mind, do me a favor. No, wait. Do yourself a favor.

Click the link below and download the journal pages I’ve created for you. Take some quiet time for yourself and go through them, one at a time, with purpose and intent.

Download Your Free Journaling Pages!

Subscribe to download this free guide: "What Do You Really Want Out Of Your Publishing Career?".

These journaling prompts are designed to help you get real with yourself, shut out all the other voices and all of your fears, and just sit with your own desires for a little while. What do you truly want?

Your answers here will guide the decisions you'll make about everything moving forward! As a bonus, you'll also receive weekly updates from me with links to my new posts and YouTube videos.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Think about what it is you truly want to accomplish as an author. It can be as simple as getting this one story out of your head or as grand as wanting to be the next J.K. Rowling. There are no wrong answers here.

There’s just you and your desires.

What do you want?

And once you know, your answer will become the single most valuable tool in your decision-making process as an author.

From now on, every time you are faced with a decision from cover art to pricing to which series to publish first, you can think about it from a place of power and strength, rather than doubt and fear.

Stop, consider what it is you want most, and then make the decision that gets you further along that path.

Your path.

Your dreams.

Your way.

Thank you so much for visiting my new blog. I’ll be putting up a new post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with tons of advice and tips about self-publishing. I’ll also be posting videos on my new YouTube channel, so please check those out and subscribe to be notified when new videos go up.

If we haven’t met yet, please take a moment to read through my “About” page and reach out to me through social media or email.

And in the comments below, I’d love to hear your answer to today’s question. What do you want out of your writing career? What goals will guide your path?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Also, if you have some time, I’d love for you to check out today’s accompanying YouTube video on what you need to know before you self-publish. Please subscribe to my new channel, Heart Breathings, where I’ll be uploading a video every single day this week to celebrate my launch. Thank you so much, and I can’t wait to chat with you in the comments.

Sarra Cannon


  1. When I first started out in 2015, I had no idea what I really wanted, or in fact, what the heck I was really doing. I knew I had a story to tell, but as far as making money, I wasn’t sure how all of that would work out. Now, 3 years later, my goals have changed. I know more about the industry and what it truly means to be self-published. Going it alone is nerve-wracking, yet motivating at the same time. I’ve focused more on marketing this year so far, and along with selling more books, I’m looking forward to expanding my fan base. In the long run, I hope to make enough money so I never have to “work” another day again, while I write for a living.

    1. Sarra Cannon says:

      Yes! It’s definitely true that the more you know, the more your goals will shift over time. Once you see what’s possible and you can see a clearer path of how to get there, your focus is going to change. I think it’s so valuable, though, to at least think about what you want when you start so that you can hopefully find that focus sooner and not get blown off the path out of fear! So excited for you and glad to hear you are selling more books this year!

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Sarra Cannon

Hi, I'm Sarra!

I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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