Penelope Trunk’s Journey from Trade Publishing to Self-Publishing

authors cornerguest postPersonal BrandingSuccess Strategies

The story of Penelope Trunk’s journey from trade to publishing to self-publishing is a “must read” for anyone interested in writing a book to build their personal brand.

It’s an entertaining story of the frustrations she encountered after receiving an advance from a major trade publisher, and her decision to self-publish her book. In telling her story, she provides an excellent perspective on the pros and cons of self-publishing in 2012.

Her story resonated with me, reading it from the perspective of someone who has written 38 books that were trade published. The causes of her frustration may be different from mine, but the fundamental attitudes we experienced were similar.

Template for success

In addition to providing an inside look at trade publishing today, and how it stacks up against self-publishing, Penelope Trunk’s blog post provides an excellent example of how to create a blog post that not only educates readers but also promotes your book.

How trade publisher’s promote during the age of self-publishing

After receiving her advance from an unnamed, but “respected” trade publisher, Penelope discovered a major disconnect between how books are sold today and her publisher’s ability to promote her book.

At a time when 85% of books sold today are sold online, her publisher would be unable to effectively promote her book using the Internet. Her Brazen Careerist community and the community of over 128,000 followers she’s been nurturing through her personal blog is many orders of magnitude stronger than her publisher’s online brand.

The more she researched the realities of book publishing in 2012, the more she realized that the combination of typical year-plus delay encountered in publishing a book did not compensate for the lack of publisher support for online promotion.

In her final analysis of trade versus self-publishing, the sole advantage of trade publishing is creating books for sale in Barnes & Noble’s retail stores around the country…a market share that continues to decline each year.

Key lesson

One of the key issues that Penelope describes in her blog post is the fact that–at a time when Internet marketers–carefully analyze who is buying their products by tracking where website traffic comes from and the key words that buyers use to search for books–Amazon does not share this information with publishers!

Previously, book publishers could correlate book sales with the characteristics of the bookstores that sold them, i.e., “Is this being sold in urban bookstores, suburban malls, or specialty bookstores?”

Thus, to a greater degree than before, trade publishers are more in the dark about book buyers than before. Self-published authors with current Internet marketing skills, of course, have access to their own online marketing metrics.

Penelope Trunk’s New Rules for book publishing

In telling her story, Penelope offers 5 compelling and admirably-concise rules for self-publishing:

  1. Self-published books are the new business card.
  2. Non-fiction writers write books to get something else.
  3. Book sales are about community.
  4. Book sales are about search engine marketing.
  5. The only reason to have a print book is to be in Barnes & Noble.

It’s hard to argue with her rules, or her discussion of them in her blog post.

My primary concern with her rules is the “absoluteness” of the 5th point. I find quality 4-color art, design, and photography books printed on glossary paper are far more satisfying than e-books, and they don’t have to be purchased in a retail store. (I buy them all the time online from sources like PhotoEye.)

If you’re thinking about writing a book to build your personal brand, share your impressions of Penelope Trunk’s blog and the hundreds of comments it has attracted as comments, below.


I want to thank popular Personal Branding Blog contributor Jacob Share for pointing out Penelope’s blog post–which I had somehow overlooked . Thank you, Jacob, for bringing it to my attention!


Roger C. Parker is a multi-title author, book coach, and consultant who blogs daily about the questions authors need to address and who invites your questions about writing. Follow him on Twitter @RogercParker.