Interview: Dan Poynter

When I was tossing around the idea of starting my own publishing company, I read a lot of books. The one that helped me the most was Dan Poynter’s Self Publishing Manual. I was amazed at the depth of information. Where other books just touched lightly on the subject, Poynter laid it out all in detail. There is good reason why he is called the “godfather of self-publishing” and that’s because he teaches publishers how to approach it like a business.

Pinning Dan Poynter down for an interview was no easy task! He travels more than any other writer I know and his schedule is insane. Still, he runs a successful business and publishing company, and kindly took time while on the road to answer my questions. There are a million lessons in Dan Poynter’s books. I’m happy that he shared some of them here. Enjoy this interview.


Your company, Para Publishing marked its 40th anniversary this year. Did you do anything special to celebrate?

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I hadn’t really focused on a 40th anniversary.

So to answer your question, no, I’ve been too busy to celebrate.


The story of how you started as a self-publisher is very exciting. I love the fact that you took a passion and turned it into a book. You self-published Hang Gliding in 1973. At that time, did you think you’d go on to publish more than 70 other books?

I discovered early on that the secret to successful book publishing is write what you love itself to your industry. Turn your passion centered into your profit center. In my case, I turned my avocation into my vocation. My only long-range plan has been to do what interests me. The industry has changed over the years and now the changes are accelerating. One must adapt to the changes. It is hard to plan accurately too far out.

You’re called the “Father of Self-Publishing” for good reason! I, like so many other people, read The Self-Publishing Manual cover to cover when I was kicking around the idea of starting my own publishing company. The Self-Publishing Manual was the single resource that helped me the most. What are some of the mistakes people generally make when starting a publishing company?

The most expensive parts of publishing on the mistakes. The greatest mistake is not learning enough about the book industry. Most people are experts in their own field and they must realize that publishing is a business. They should purchase books and attend seminars. They should learn as much as possible about the industry they are entering.

Where do you see the mainstream publishing market headed?

The large publishers have not changed their way of doing business since 1947. Consequently, they are consolidating, downsizing, and going out of business.

Some of the changes that will occur very soon are: the rise of eBooks, the elimination of literary agents, the disappearance of magazines and newspapers, prepublication reviews, four selling seasons per year, a huge reduction in brick-and-mortar stores, and so on.

We like some of these changes and we are anxious about some others.

But it doesn’t matter, because we can’t change what is occurring. We can only adapt to the changes.

“You can’t direct the wind but you can trim your sails.”

Para Publishing has evolved to a company that helps writers through books, tapes, reports, disks, seminars, speeches, consulting, and more. What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the work you do?

You’ve heard of the foreword? Well, in the back of The Self-Publishing Manual there is an afterword.

I ask the reader to send a copy of their new book once it comes off the press. I get more than 15 books in the mail each week. I know people are not just buying the book and reading the book but they are following through and producing their own book. This is satisfying confirmation that my method works.

As you say, that makes me a godfather to thousands upon thousands of books.

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about writing?

Self-employment in an audience that loves you.

Is there a specific time of day you like to write?

I’m often asked this question by new writers as though there were some secret to finding time to write. The answer is the binder. Make the project portable. Carry it with you at all times. Then you may take advantage of little bits of unexpected time that occur naturally throughout our day. Time that is currently wasted and we don’t even know that we are wasting their time.

You may find that you have a few minutes after lunch, or riding public transportation, or waiting the office for appointment. Then you can take out the binder go to any page and add to it. This has a stimulating effect. You can’t wait to get your computer, input the new information, print out the page, three hole punch it, and insert it in the binder. This is a stimulating effect because you can feel and see the progress.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

That is hard to say. In nonfiction that might be the most recent book because facts and situations change. I read a great deal of historical fiction. I fly more than 6000 miles every week. Today, I leave on a 35 day trip. The speaking tour will lead me to Australia, New Zealand, Shanghai, Singapore, Amsterdam, London, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix. Consequently, I spend a great deal of time in airports and on airplanes. I get to read a lot of eBooks on my iPhone.

Favorite authors?

Again we have to divide fiction from nonfiction. In nonfiction, I like Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat) and others. In fiction, I like WEB Griffin, Ken Follett, Brad Thor, Bernard Cornwell, Lee Child, Dan Brown and others.

Book you’re currently reading.

I just finished the latest Dan Brown book and am currently reading two books on the end of World War II.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

Writers block is simply a lack of organization. Most people sit down at a computer with a lifetime of information and a large pile of notes. After a few lines, they grind to a slow halt. They simply do not have a plan, do not know where they’re going, do not have an outline, etc. The secret is to break the project down into easy to attack bite-like chunks — we call them chapters in book writing. Attack one chapter at a time.

Do not start with Chapter 1. Skip around. Don’t think of your book is one long tunnel. Break it into many small tunnels where you can see light at the end of each one. These tunnels are chapters.

What’s the measure of a successful writer?

In nonfiction, readers who follow your advice.

Advice for other writers?

Buy books on writing and publishing, attend seminars on writing and publishing and subscribing to the forums on writing and publishing. Get as much information and feedback as possible. You’ll find that authors and publishers are helpful, friendly, supportive. When authors get together and when publishers get together we often discuss each other’s promotional plans. It’s a good mental exercise for each of us.

People are very open because our products do not compete. Every book is unique.


InfoKits. Detailed information on book writing, production and promotion.

There are three free targeted information kits. One on writing, one on publishing, and one on promoting books. Get the one you need.

Where can we learn more about you?


Anything else you’d like to add?

I never said writing your book would be easy. But I do promise it will be worth it.

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