September/October 2019


A Self-Publishing Revolution Changes the Game for Lawyer Authors

Greg Siskind

A lot can change in five years. In the May/June 2014 issue of Law Practice, I wrote a column titled “Is a Book the Ultimate Marketing Tool?” The column covered a classic marketing topic: the value of authoring a book in enhancing a lawyer’s reputation as a subject matter expert. I said in that column that writing a book had been the single most effective form of marketing I’ve done over the years, and that remains the case—actually more so since self-publishing came into the mix. (I’ve now published four book titles with traditional publishers and two by Alan House, the publishing arm I created for my law firm.) That column made a brief mention at the end about the emergence of new options for self-publishing. But little was said about the topic because, at that time, publishing with an established publishing house had a number of clear advantages, and the ability to successfully launch a self-published book was not something many lawyers had accomplished.

Today, many lawyers, including myself, have created their own publishing houses and successfully published books that they control entirely. In this column I revisit the topic of book publishing but focus this time on how lawyers and law firms can successfully self-publish.

Arguments For and Against Self-Publishing

When I wrote my first book in 1994 for one of the world’s largest legal publishers, there was a stigma associated with self-publishing. It was largely seen as the last option for an author unable to find a publisher, and the quality of the end product would often appear substandard and amateurish. Over the years I learned a lot about publishing as the author of books with four publishers and the chair of a large bar organization’s book publishing board. Some good things about traditional publishers are:

  • A prestigious publisher can lend an author credibility.
  • Publishers let the author focus exclusively on writing versus all the other aspects of publishing.
  • A publisher manages the book’s sales and marketing and may have a distribution channel to reach a target audience not readily available to the author.

The publisher takes the financial risks involved with publishing the book, particularly expenses associated with the book like editing, graphic design, legal work, marketing, etc.

But there are a lot of reasons why self-publishing may be the more attractive option:

  • You have total control over the project. You set your own deadlines, you write on what you want even if it’s a topic so narrow that traditional publishers lack interest, you choose the cover, you decide how the book is going to be marketed and you decide the price.
  • You may be more interested in giving away the book to clients and prospective clients versus selling books.
  • Without a middleman, you can price the book at a much lower cost and still make a lot more per sale.
  • A publisher will provide you with a small number of free books and then sell you books at a discount (with the understanding you’re not reselling the books). With self-publishing today, you can inexpensively order books in small or larger quantities for extremely affordable prices. (The books I publish through Alan House typically cost me $6 to $8 per copy to have printed.) Hence you can give away a lot of copies of your book without breaking the bank.
  • You can make mid-edition updates quickly and relatively inexpensively rather than having to wait on a new edition to publish. Because you’re printing small quantities of the book as they’re needed, you don’t have to worry about large, expensive quantities of the book going to waste.

It Isn't As Hard As You Might Think

What changed over the last five years can be explained in one word: Amazon. Amazon’s vast marketplace of both e-books and print books is open to self-publishing authors, and Amazon is encouraging authors to publish on their own through the company’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. KDP makes it possible for authors to get professional-looking books via print on demand (versus having to buy large quantities to get reasonable pricing) and, not surprisingly, KDP’s online software makes it easy for authors to create e-books for viewing on Amazon Kindle readers and platforms. Amazon also makes it possible for authors to directly publish audiobooks via its ACX subsidiary. Amazon is not the only game in town, but it’s dominating the field because its offerings are so good and affordable. By the way, I use KDP for my books.

If self-publishing sounds intimidating, there are consultants who can manage much of the process. One who’s been at it for many years is Tatia Gordon-Troy of Ramses House Publishing. (Full disclosure: I have been Tatia’s very happy client for several years.) Tatia left a traditional legal publisher and now helps her authors with editing, text layout and design, e-book formatting, working with outside cover designers, copyrighting, managing the print process, getting her author’s books onto Amazon and other online marketplaces, and the marketing of the book. Her authors’ main responsibility is to write, and they can take on as much or as little of the project as meets their level of comfort.

Once your book is finished, it does no good if it gathers dust on your shelf. And this is where being a self-publisher can really pay off. First, some legal publishers and bar organizations may be interested in reaching a distribution agreement to sell your book. The typical distribution agreement I’ve seen over the years in legal publishing grants the distributor 40 percent and the publisher 60 percent. My two self-published books are distributed by a large bar organization with needed content being provided to the organization’s members, the bar organization having no responsibility or risk in producing the book and providing a reliable revenue stream.

Second, because you can purchase unlimited copies of your book at just the cost of printing, it should be a regular giveaway for prospective clients. Our firm exhibits regularly at industry trade show events our prospective clients attend, and our books, which are relevant to attendees, are provided to people we meet. I frequently offer clients a complimentary copy of the book during a consultation and will often point out the chapter in the book that’s relevant to their situation.

Third, if speaking to groups is part of your marketing, use the book as part of that effort. For example, one of my books is on physician immigration law and is useful to both lawyers and nonlawyers. At a recent immigration CLE program, I worked with the organizer to have the book included as course materials, something that was an unexpected perk for attendees. And when I spoke to medical residents at a teaching hospital recently, I brought a stack of request cards, and attendees who wanted the book filled out a short form so I could have books mailed to them (in a nice custom-designed gift box the precise size of the book along with a handwritten note).

So if you’ve had a hankering to write a book, there’s really never been a better time. And being your own publisher may make it that much easier. 

Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer and a co-author of the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet, Third Edition.