Gen Y Speaks: I spent a lot of money to self-publish 2 books. Although 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 expense. The first was a quote book, designed with a local calligrapher.

It cost S$1,005 to design, while printing 500 copies cost me an additional S$1,500.

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

Although I spent S$2,505 to post it, I earned a total of S$150 from it. Among the buyers? My aunt and my friends.

There was always a doubt in the back of my mind. What would people think if I told them it was self-published? Was I such a horrible 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 overload of social work.

Again, I chose to self-publish because I wanted a particular design style for the book. I wasn’t sure an editor would get the style I was looking for. I paid a designer S$5,850 to design the e-book.

This time, when it launched in November 2021, I thought I had learned the lesson.

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

It was worse. I only had two buyers. By spending a total of S$5,850, I got back a total of S$17.80.

It was heartbreaking. I found the book beautifully crafted, 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 become a better writer. This smooth cropping helped me keep going.

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

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

Putting ideas in your mind on paper isn’t the only thing. It’s easy. What’s hard is packaging them in a way that readers will accept.

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

I committed S$10,000 this time, which includes the cost of editing, designing and printing 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.

Relax with your favorite book and you’ll understand what I mean.

I haven’t given up on my dreams of publishing with people like Penguin. I continue to send manuscripts to this editor, updating my inbox daily, hoping to see a response from him.

But maybe that will never come. Does this mean that I continue to keep my manuscripts in my desk drawers?

I do not think so.

Writing is being born. 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, killing them before others have had a chance to see them.

Of course, it might not be perfect. It probably never will.

But bringing them out into the open, in the eyes of others, even when few believe in them, is to bring hope.

He takes a stand.

He says, “As ugly and unforgiving as the world may be with my ideas, I will always believe. I will still persist. And I still hope.


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

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