The Self-Publishing Beatitudes

Augustine beatitudes

The Beatitudes are eight benchmarks given by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount that describe the perfection of Christian life. Not only are they points of reference for building virtue, they're also interrelated to build on each other.

Here are eight mental habits that I've found useful in my quest to perfect the craft of a self-published writer.

Blessed are the humble, for theirs is the fruit of self-knowledge.
Humility doesn't mean hating yourself or being weak. It entails accurate knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, which takes real courage to discover.

Knowing your limits; knowing which weaknesses you can improve, and which strengths to focus on is invaluable for budgeting your time and growing as an artist.

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall master the market and not be mastered by it.
I self-publish because at this point in time, the data shows that it gives me the best chance at a positive outcome (as I'm convinced that it does for the majority of writers).

At the same time, I try not to be militant about indie. Signing with a big publisher was the only way to make it as an author until very recently in historical terms. Self-pub is the best path to success right now. There's no guarantee that it will be in the future. The market can turn on a dime, and you need to be ready if it does.

Blessed are those who suffer now, for they shall receive compensation later.
The real secret to succeeding as an author is long time preference. The main reason that most people who try to become professional writers fail is their unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices.

I'll give it to you straight. If you want to be a pro author, then there is something important in your life that you will have to give up. It cold be gaming, watching TV, or even sleeping eight hours a night. The cold, hard fact is that writing takes time, getting good means writing every day, and to write every day you will have to stop doing something else--every day.

Becoming a professional writer is kind of like getting one of those Shaolin monasteries in kung fu movies to accept you as a student. But instead of waiting outside in the cold for three days without encouragement, you'll be waiting 2-10 years without much encouragement and with continual, heartbreaking criticism.

I'm taking this writing beatitude on faith, because I'm not yet at the point where I can make a living on my writing alone. I'm given to understand, however, that when you do finally get there, everything you suffered was totally worth it. In the meantime, I'm lucky I'm a masochist.

Blessed are those who stay hungry, for their fans shall be satisfied.
Feeling like you've arrived--that you can sit back and coast--is lethal to your art. As a writer, your readers are your bosses, and they deserve your best. Writing every day will keep your skills sharp.

Just as importantly, writers need to be lifelong readers. Reading in and out of your genre will keep you current on readers' tastes and fuel your inspiration. Heed the tragic lesson of George Lucas. Don't let the fire in your belly go out.

Blessed are the loyal, for they shall obtain loyalty.
This one should be self-evident, but in these wretched days, the charity of many grows cold.

There is no free lunch, and there's no such thing as a self-made man. It makes no difference if you grew up in grinding poverty, worked your way through school, and now run your own company.

You didn't get where you are alone, even if the only help you got was from the manager who gave you your first part-time job or the college professor who drew out your full potential. You didn't create yourself, and you can't maintain your existence by will alone.

Being grateful for what you have, however little, is not only the secret to happiness, but will stop you from becoming a miserable crank.

So remember: the readers who pay you to make stuff up, fellow writers who support you, mentors who lent you a hand; even aspiring authors who need you to give them a hand--don't stab them in the back. Be grateful and loyal. Not everyone will return the favor, but you'll quickly find out who your real friends are.

Blessed are the properly focused, for they shall see results.
Having been a kid in the 80s, I lost count of how many times I was told that I could "do anything I set my mind to", which involved "following my dreams" and "doing what I was passionate about".

Yeah, that's all bullshit.

Let's take another long, hard look at reality (the first step to maximizing your odds of success).

Everyone can't do everything, and there are some things that some people just can't do. I will never be a fighter jet pilot or successfully climb an 8000 meter peak. That's fine. I can cross off two pursuits that aren't worth my time and focus on more worthwhile options.

Things change so fast these days that even the once prudent practice of setting reasonable life goals is now almost impossible. That's why it's vital to focus your efforts in the right places.

Millionaire indie author Joe Konrath draws a sharp line between goals and dreams. A goal is something that's within your power to achieve, while attaining a dream requires a 'yes' or 'no' from someone else.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams takes it even further by saying that goals are for losers. He claims that the future is so uncertain, the only approach that makes sense is to cultivate systems that increase your knowledge and value whether or not they achieve concrete goals.

How does this tie into writing? By once again showing us the wisdom of writing every day--for its own sake.

Becoming a NYT best seller is a dream. It makes no sense to devote any significant time specifically to attaining it. Writing one more book this year than you did last year is a goal. It's probably within your power, but who knows what will happen over the next twelve months?

Writing every day is a system. Even if your daily word count doesn't add up to a salable book, you've honed your skills and raised your value.

Focus on attainable goals and on systems. Don't beat yourself up if you fail to meet a goal. At least you'll have gained something.

Blessed are those with no ego, for they shall have peace of mind.
In this business, vanity is a major stumbling block. And the size of the stumbling block is proportional to the size of your ego.

Heeding the calls to humility and loyalty above will equip you to subdue your ego. Divesting yourself thusly will bestow the following benefits:

  • You will handle rejection better. It's inevitable. Might as well deal with it.
  • You will learn to take, and benefit from, criticism.
  • You will stop fearing failure and will therefore come to learn from it.
  • You will stop comparing yourself to other authors, vastly improving your peace of mind.
No one likes a prima donna. Be like Mr. Spock, who had no ego to bruise.

Blessed are you when men slander you and troll you and publish all kinds of libel against you falsely on account of your principles. Rejoice and be glad for offending all the right people, who persecuted the International Lord of Hate before you.
If you're an artist with any integrity, but you're not taking flak from various detractors, critics, and trolls, then you're doing it wrong.

Being a self-published author automatically puts a target on your back. The publishing establishment and their sycophants in the media will alternately dismiss and ridicule you for "not having what it takes to be a real writer", i.e. giving up 85% of your profits and all of your rights forever to a subsidiary of an international conglomerate that will strip you of all decision-making power pertaining to marketing your work.

And if you have any principles at all, be prepared to take heat for them. Options for staying neutral in the myriad controversies of the day are rapidly vanishing, and the web being what it is, people will find out about your unpopular stance on X. And some of them will come after you.

Of course, if you play your cards right, even initially bad press can turn into a goldmine.

As a writer and a publisher, you're selling a product like any other entrepreneur. Your primary product is yourself, so make sure you're putting in time on R&D.


  1. I wanted to thank you, Mr. Niemeier, for these posts of yours. They are very inspiring without waving away all the difficulties of what it takes to write and improve. I very much enjoy reading them.

    Which reminds me, I should get off the net and back to writing right now. Thanks again!

    1. You're welcome. They say that criticism is a better teacher than praise, but praise is certainly more fun.

      Thank you for reading. Here's to your success!