It’s out of the ordinary for me to do a book review on my blog, but my good friend Ben was kind enough to send me a review copy of his self-publishing book, Shelf Help, and I’d prefer to write something a little more in-depth than an Amazon or Goodreads review.
Let me preface this review with a comment about my guidelines for reading how-to books on writing and publishing: as an indie author, my time is a precious commodity. I believe you can only read so many how-to books before you’re wasting time that could be better spent actually writing a book (or reading something else for entertainment/relaxation purposes).
With that being said, there are a few books about writing and self-publishing that I would label must-reads for anyone interested in this business. In no particular order, here’s a few of my favorites:
- Write. Publish. Repeat., Sean Platt and Johnny Truant
- Writer Dad, Sean Platt
- On Writing, Stephen King
- The Anatomy of Story, John Truby
- Million Dollar Outlines, David Farland
- Let’s Get Digital, David Gaughran
I’ve also got a new addition to the list: Shelf Help.
There are a lot of fluff books out there that are little more than a distraction from writing. I’m pleased to say that Shelf Help isn’t one of those books. Ben runs the gambit of self-publishing and still manages decent depth for the breadth of topics he covers. As Ben himself admits in the book, self-publishing can be a steep learning curve, but with Shelf Help, a brand new indie author can quickly bring him or herself up to speed.
Shelf Help presents the reader with three pillars of self-publishing: affordability, professionalism and technology. The sections of the book are also laid out in three: Polish It, Publish It and Promote It. Overall, I found this format to be simple and effective. The layout of Shelf Help also made it easy to jump between sections, making it a handy reference guide down the road (and right now as I’m doing a refresher to write this review). Summaries at the end of each chapter and section also further distilled information into bite-sized chunks. This isn’t a book that you’ll have to search long to find what you need — it’s a fantastic reference guide for the self-publishing industry as a whole. “The Pocket Guide to Self-Publishing” is an apt description.
I had very little complaints with this book. I felt like a history of publishing was a little unnecessary and I would have liked to hear more of Ben’s personal journey. I was also a little bugged by the formatting or lack thereof on some of the sub-headers, but on the whole, Ben gets right to the chase and doesn’t fluff what it takes to succeed as an indie.
While Gaughran and Platt and Truant may delve deeper into the nuts and bolts, Ben fills enough niches with Shelf Help to make it a worthy addition to the ranks of the books I’ve listed above. His strategies and tactics are also different enough from the self-publishers listed above to lay claim to his own space in the market.
Particularly useful to me were the sections addressing some old-fashioned practices. I think too many of us place our sole focus on e-books and forget that printing physical books, making appearances and scheduling signings are also valuable, viable ways to spread the good word about our work. As an added bonus, there are interviews in the back with Hugh Howey, Polly Courtney and Joanna Penn. It’s always a great motivator to hear the stars in this game talk about how they found success.
On the whole, Shelf Help is a handy little book to have around, whether you’re just delving into self-publishing or have been around for a few years.