The Born Freelancer Looks Into Self-Publishing

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


What freelancer has not dreamed the dream of self-publishing…. we think, oh, I won’t have the hassle of dealing with an indifferent publisher any more, I’ll just write my book and publish it myself and I will be free to carry on writing other books without any more interference or complications. Well, the reality of self-publishing turns out to be quite different from those lofty expectations. It involves a lot more time and a lot more work spent in ways most of us would never have suspected.

Self-publishing breaks down into three main areas – fiction, nonfiction and academic, each with its own unique problems and characteristics (although the latter two share many similarities).

I decided to ask one of Canada’s most successful academic/educational authors/self-publishers for some insight into her particular business and to shed some light into the possible transition from typical freelancer into successful self-publishing entrepreneur. And from her I learned that it takes a very special breed of individual to make it in this business.


Lisa Fraser is author of “Making Your Mark” and president of LDF Publishing Inc.

THE BORN FREELANCER: Tell us about your book, “Making Your Mark”. I know it’s sold over 1.5 million copies. What is it and what is your philosophy behind it?

LISA FRASER: “Making Your Mark” is a college success book designed to help students transition from high school to college more easily and to give them the tools to be more successful at college. It’s published, priced and targeted for all first year students. A lot of colleges look for “at risk” students in their first year, this book is intended to support all students so they can adopt a new mindset and look at college as professional development for their career rather than just as a bunch of courses.

TBF: So how did you get into academic self-publishing? I assume you knew your subject and wrote the book… then what?  

LF: I saved up all my money… and paid for the first print run. I sent out a copy [to colleges] across Canada along with some marketing materials and I started getting orders!

TBF: And immediately you lived happily ever after…?

LF: (laughs) For the first three years I did not even make a salary, I just kept putting the money back into the company. Almost to the day on the third anniversary I took my first paycheque out of the company. So it took three years until it became a viable business and a viable way of making a living.


Getting Started

TBF: What do you think is the biggest misconception among freelancers considering self-publishing?

LF: A lot of people go into self-publishing thinking if I just print it I’ll start selling books. Writing the book is maybe 5% of what I do. Once the book is done it takes constant marketing, being out there, making contacts, going to conferences, going to industry related events and constantly setting up, exhibiting, doing mail-outs, doing emails, it never stops. It actually is hard to find time to write another book, I’m using it all to sell the book I’ve already written.

TBF: What are the major advantages of self-publishing over the more traditional author/publisher relationship?

LF: The marketing. I was approached by a publisher after it started selling well, they wanted it as one of their titles. But they would control how much marketing I would be involved in. They didn’t want me to go out to colleges to try to sell the book, which struck me as counter-productive. The more we talked the more I realized that if I didn’t have control over how much time I put into this and how successful I could make it, it could just become another idle title on their bookshelves and not sell at all.

TBF: Say I have an educational book I’d like to have published. Would you suggest I try to self-publish it or go to a traditional publisher?

LF: I’d try both at the same time. A lot of people move from self-publishing. If it’s successful, a traditional publisher may take them on. The downside is you have to be very careful about your contracts. Often when you sign with a publisher they own the property and you don’t. You don’t have control over your book any more. So it’s absolutely critical to maintain your copyright. If I had ideas about more unconventional ways of publishing I’d want to be free to pursue them instead of having to check in with somebody first.

When colleges asked for more workshops based on the book, Lisa Fraser asked her husband Don to take an early retirement from teaching and go on the road doing college seminars to support the book.

TBF: Is it possible for a freelancer to self-publish on their own? Or do you need to do it with a business partner?

LF: You can easily self-publish on your own but you have to be prepared to do speaking, to be out there representing the book, talking about it, doing presentations, that kind of thing. Because my husband Don was a professor for thirty years he handles that part of it, and he loves doing it. I’ve tended to stay on the writing side, writing the instructor’s materials and writing the marketing resources, the teaching supplements. Because I love writing so much I’ve got the luxury of staying with it but most people who self-publish end up having less time to write because they are out there on the circuit trying to promote their work.


Print Vs. Ebooks

TBF: The trend these days seems to be towards ebooks and digital delivery platforms. How is that kind of technological development impacting your business?

LF: Two thirds of students surveyed recently said they’d rather have a hard copy book than an ebook. And yet because of costs and to allow students more accessibility to education colleges are trying to get more courses online and to offer online delivery. It will be interesting to see where it all ends up. I do have the book available on iTunes and through Vitalsource, an ebook delivery company. Those sales are steady but not as many as print at this point in time.

TBF: Do you plan a followup to “Making Your Mark”?

LF: Going in I thought I’d have more time to write more books. It takes all the time to support your work, support the colleges, run the business… there’s very little time to write new books. I thought I’d sell some copies and then I’d write something else. It sold more copies than I could have ever anticipated but it required much more support work than I realized. That’s where my time goes. It’s been so successful I haven’t had time to write anything else new… yet. The writing I do is not more books, it’s marketing, emailing, writing contracts, proposals – so I’m still writing just not what I thought I’d be writing!

TBF: Self-publishing seems like more than just a job, you make it sound like a way of life.

LF: Anyone who is self-employed knows that is their life. You are almost always working. The plus is, you’ve got free time when you want it. You can make your own hours so you can be with your kids in the daytime and then work to 3 in the morning if you have to. The bottom line is, if you don’t do it it doesn’t get done. It’s not a glamorous job but I wouldn’t change it. I love what I do. It’s very satisfying.

TBF: Aside from simply making a living what motivates you as a writer, as a creator, to continue self-publishing?

LF: I’d like to think that what I’ve written is somehow valuable. I picture each student out there starting school, nervous, not knowing what they’re going to be in for, not sure if they’ve got the tools to be successful. Hopefully if they use the book, they will be successful. I’d like to think I’m making a difference.



Many thanks to Lisa Fraser for making the time to help us explore the academic/educational self-publishing business. The LDF Publishing Inc. website is

And if you are interested in learning more about self-publishing in general, Lisa suggests checking out the following resource book: “APE” by Guy Kawasaki. His website is


Posted on January 31, 2013 at 9:10 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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