Gen Y Speaks: I’ve spent large sums to self-publish 2 books. Though only a handful have been sold, I’m not giving up


Despite these initial struggles with shame, in October 2020, I self-published, at great cost. The first was a book of quotes, designed with a local calligrapher.

Designing it cost S$1,005, whilst printing 500 copies cost me another S$1,500.

I tried everything I knew to market the book. I posted it on social media, ran workshops with it, and even gave it away for free.

Despite spending S$2,505 on publishing it, I earned a total of S$150 from it. Among the buyers? My aunty and my friends.

There was always self-doubt at the back of my mind. What would people think if I told them this was self-published? Was I that horrible a writer that so few wanted to buy it?

But eventually, I realized this: If I didn’t even believe in my own work, why should a publisher believe in it?

Then I wrote my second book, a book to support social workers through the administrative and emotional overwhelm of social work.

Again, I chose to self-publish because I wanted a particular design style to the book. I wasn’t sure that any publisher would achieve the style I was looking for. I paid a designer S$5,850 to design the electronic book.

This time, when it was launched in November 2021, I thought I’d learned my lesson.

I sent it to my mailing list, shared it with local associations, and tried to raise its profile by contacting influential people in my network.

It was worse. I had only two buyers. From spending a total of S$5,850, I recovered a total of S$17.80.

It was heartbreaking. I thought the book was beautifully designed, with a poignant message.

But no one wanted to buy it. I was close to giving up.

I comforted myself by telling myself that I was not failing. I was learning to be a better writer. This gentle reframe helped me to keep going.

Succeeding as a writer is a very long game. I’ve written hundreds of articles that have never seen the light of day.

There are times when you want to stop, and do something else. Translating what’s in your mind to words can be a visceral process, because you’re bringing out what’s not seen into a form others can understand.

Bringing ideas in your mind to paper isn’t the only thing. That’s easy. What’s difficult is packaging them in a way that supports readers to accept it.

In February 2022, I started working with a hybrid publisher for my third book on adulting and how to transition from school to work.

I’ve committed S$10,000 this time, which includes cost of copyediting, design and printing of 500 copies.

It sounds crazy. But I do it because I believe in the power of writing to bring out the voices and stories of others to touch people’s lives.

Curl up with your favorite book, and you will know what I mean.

I haven’t given up on my dreams to publish with the likes of Penguin. I continue to send manuscripts to that publisher, refreshing my inbox daily, hoping to see a reply from them.

But maybe it will never come. Does that mean I continue keeping my manuscripts in the drawers of my desktop?

No lo creo.

Writing is birthing. Every piece we write is a painful delivery of ideas to form. Self-publishing is a way to share our creations with the world.

But more importantly, it’s a way to share your creation, with yourself. Ideas and dreams die when you hide them away, killing them before others have had a chance to see them.

Sure, it may not be perfect. It probably never will be.

But bringing them into the light of day, to the eyes of others, even when few believe in them, is about bringing hope.

It’s taking a stand.

It’s saying: “However ugly and ruthless the world may be with my ideas, I will still believe. I will still persist. And I will still hope.”


John Lim is a motivational speaker and career coach for millennials and writes at


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