My Honest Review of Self Publishing 101

Updated April 2, 2020

Are you a writer who wants to make a living selling your books? Would you consider taking a self-paced course to learn how? If so, Self Publishing 101 is definitely an opportunity to consider.

I paid for this course and have consumed its content. Therefore, the links below are my affiliate links. If you click through and purchase it too, I will earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Table of contents

Why this review might be different than others

I bought Self Publishing 101. I bought two similar courses — both priced higher — at the same time. It was immediately clear Self Publishing 101 is the better choice, not only in price, but quality.

I became a self-published author in 2010. I turned down a traditional publishing deal in favor of self publishing and have never regretted it. As such, I have consumed a huge amount of information about self publishing since.

I have watched or read the transcripts of all the main sessions in Self Publishing 101. I have not watched all videos in the Tech Library (they are supplemental).

I bought this course to learn, and to vet for my readers, many of whom are writers and want to know what I think about the course. I did not buy this course to make a living as a writer. My goal is to provide a realistic picture of what’s inside so you can make an informed decision. I think it’s right for some, but not all. I’ll tell you why.

I take reviews seriously. Even though I haven’t personally applied all the information I consumed, I stand by my opinion this is the best course for indie authors who want to make a living from writing.

If you’d rather hear the opinions of authors who have taken the course and applied it, take your pick from these testimonials:

Alright, let’s get into it.

What is Self Publishing 101?

Self Publishing 101 is a self-paced, online course + community that teaches writers how to turn an already-written manuscript into a sold book. Then it teaches writers how to turn that sold-book momentum into ongoing, steady income.

What it doesn’t cover

Authoring a book involves two things: writing and marketing. Self Publishing 101 is about marketing. The actual writing process is not covered.

If I lost you at marketing, keep in mind, as an author, you will have to be involved in marketing, whether you’re traditionally published or self published.

Don’t traditional publishers take care of marketing for authors?

No, not any more. Unless you are well known (i.e. already a successful author, a celebrity, a head of state, etc.), marketing typically falls on the author’s shoulders.

Traditional publishers assume authors will use their own platforms (blogs, social media channels, email lists, etc.) to market their books (source & source).

In many cases, publishers do not provide a marketing budget either.

How much does Self Publishing 101 cost?

$549 if you pay at once. Or $54 for 12 months, for a total of $648. Future updates are included. There is a 30-day money back guarantee.

In addition to the cost of the course, you might incur incidental costs. These are paid-for tools and services suggested by Mark throughout the course. However, I appreciate Mark’s obvious effort to guide students to free options when he can.

Is it worth it?

Yes, if you’re willing to do the work, it’s absolutely worth it. Yes, if you want to maximize your earnings from writing, aren’t sure where to start and are not married to traditional publishing.

I take the “Is it worth it?” question very seriously. When I purchased Self Publishing 101, I also purchased two similar courses (at $600 each). I do not currently promote either of them. Self Publishing 101 was the clear winner.

Courses like this are best compared to a college course. Better actually. The amount of information you’ll receive — from someone who is actually doing it himself not just teaching about it — is extensive.

And it’s not just theoretical. The information is practical and step by step. Plus, you’ll have access to a large and thriving community (Facebook Group) of other like-minded writers off which you can bounce ideas, glean tips, ask advice and get encouragement. The Facebook Group alone is invaluable.

Note: Much of the course is dedicated to setting up your own author site (a must these days, for both self- and traditionally-published authors), social media accounts, a mailing list and more. If you already have an online presence or have done any research in the space, some of the information will be familiar. It was for me. However, unless you are very familiar with book marketing, I suspect much of the information will be new. It was for me. I learned enough to say I would easily pay for it again.

Who’s behind Self Publishing 101?

Mark Dawson is a former traditionally published author who struggled to sell books. According to his About page, things began to turn around when he started publishing them on his own.

How does this course compare to ___?

There are many similar products and courses. I’m familiar with some but not all. My advice is to ask these questions when evaluating:

  • How many books has the creator published (unrelated to his or her product)?
  • What kinds of reviews do his or her books have? I find 2- and 3-star reviews most enlightening.
  • What is the quality of those books? Many authors offer free copies on their websites. Or, use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to get an idea.
  • How much does the product / course creator make from actual book sales?

How much does Mark Dawson make from actual book sales?

Some have wondered whether Mark makes the bulk of his income from selling books, or from selling courses like this one, teaching others how to sell their books (i.e. profiting from others desperately trying to make their way in writing).

It’s a fair question.

In 2018, Mark was kind enough to answer in the comments below:

Book sales make up most of my income. I’ve done six figures each of the last two months, and will this month. I post extensively about it in the SPF FB group.

I can vouch for his statement about sharing his income stats in the Facebook Group. He does.

In 2018 and 2019, he made over a million dollars in book sales alone.

When is Self Publishing 101 available?

Enrollment typically opens twice a year (spring and fall) for a few weeks at a time. It will open again in late 2020. Get on the waiting list here.

What’s in it?

  • 8 main modules, each with multiple sessions (lessons). Each session has a video (slides, as opposed to a talking head) and most have a video transcript and a printable cheat sheet.
  • Tech Library with 15 step-by-step tech tutorials. As new tech opportunities arise, Dawson adds lessons to the Tech Library.
  • 2 bonuses about author networking & writing Facebook Ads copy.
  • Private Facebook Group

Here’s an overview of the modules:

  • Module 1: Build Your Platform
  • Module 2: Pre-Publication
  • Module 3: Amazon Exclusive or Wide?
  • Module 4: Go Exclusive
  • Module 5: Go Wide
  • Module 6: Generating Traffic
  • Module 7: Advance Teams & Launching
  • Module 8: Getting Reviews

My overall thoughts

This course is impressive. As book marketing goes, it’s very thorough and filled with ideas.

It flips a lot of common assumptions about publishing upside down. (Should your Table of Contents really be at the beginning of your book? Why not make your book free forever?) Rightly so, because we are in upside-down times.

While I appreciate and respect traditionally publishing, I’m sad it’s not an option for more people. There are so many gatekeepers and hoops. I love how self publishing levels the playing field and gives anyone a shot. Mark maps it out.

Who is Self Publishing 101 best for?

Authors who want a proven roadmap for marketing their book(s). Dawson offers good reasons and proof for his approach. It has worked for him, and for many of his students.

Authors who will write multiple books. This method assumes you are in this for the long haul. The more books you write, the better results you’ll have.

Authors who want to make a living writing and don’t care about getting traditionally published (or want to move away from it). Assuming you write compelling books, this course will provide you with the tools to make good money as an author, no traditional publisher required.

Authors who want to take control of the final product. I’ve heard the frustrations of traditionally published authors who don’t like their book cover or disagree with final edits, but in the end, they have to relent. If you’re prepared to tackle the book publishing process yourself in exchange for complete control over the final product, consider this course.

Authors who want to keep more of their book profits. Because you set your own pricing, and because you don’t have a traditional publisher (and perhaps a literary agent) taking a cut, you will likely keep more of your per-book profits.

Authors who don’t necessarily want to blog. Writers are often advised to build their platform through blogging. For some, the thought of writing books + creating content for a blog is overwhelming. Dawson doesn’t think regular blogging is necessary.

Who should pass?

Authors who want writing advice or tips. This course does not cover the writing process. It covers marketing.

Authors who don’t plan on writing multiple books. If you only plan to write a book or two, you will definitely learn excellent tips, but I don’t think it would be worth the cost of the course.

Authors who dream of being traditionally published. A traditional book deal is a legitimate dream and one I support. The stigma attached to self publishing is nearly gone, but the type of credibility traditionally published authors enjoy is hard for self published authors to duplicate currently.

Authors who want to segue into something larger, like a speaking career. If speaking is a dream of yours, I recommend pursuing a traditional book deal. The credibility will definitely give you a boost.

Authors who want to be widely known vs. being happy to just write. Some writers hope to use their writing as a platform and gain exposure. Other writers simply love writing and are content to know there are readers enjoying their books. If you hope to gain wide recognition, traditional publishing is probably a better bet.

Authors who want someone else to spearhead the publishing process. The steps in Self Publishing 101 are detailed and straightforward, but they will definitely take work. Some authors don’t have time for this. If you are willing to relinquish final decisions about your book in exchange for professional help in the areas of editing, design, distribution, etc, then traditional publishing is probably a better fit.

Is Self Publishing 101 only for fiction writers?

No. Given the sales page, I wondered the same thing. But once I got into the course, it became clear most of the material can be applied to writers of all genres. In addition, there are multiple places in the course where non-fiction examples are highlighted specifically. Again, watch the testimonials.

I’m traditionally published. Can Self Publishing 101 help me?

If you are a traditionally published author and your publisher has put the marketing reigns in your hands, you will likely benefit from this course.

Pros of Self Publishing 101

Mark’s experience & style. Mark is a former lawyer. He’s also authored many books, and marketed them successfully resulting in millions of dollars in book sales. He’s thorough, detailed, sensitive to the ethical / legal aspects of the process and knowledgeable.

A focus on building your list. Everything Mark does revolves around his email list. This is smart and something a lot of traditionally published find tricky to build because they are several steps removed from their readers.

Community. SP101’s Facebook Group has over 19,000 members at the time of this update. It gives you a chance to ask questions, get ideas, share ideas, ask for advice, get support, provide encouragement and interact with other writers who “get” you.

Success stories. There are many students SP101 has helped. Here is small a sampling:

In-depth information. The course is packed with information. There is a lot of information in this course. Have I said that?

Packaged well. It’s hosted on the Teachable platform which is easy to navigate and familiar to many.

Lifetime enrollment. You’ll have access to current and future updates of the course.

30-day money back guarantee. That’s just good customer service.

Cons of Self Publishing 101

Cost. For some, the cost is prohibitive (although there is a payment plan). But again, if you are willing to invest in a college course to further your career, this would be comparable.

Potentially overwhelming for some. There are a lot of moving parts to Mark’s plan. That’s both good and bad. It’s super thorough, but also might be overwhelming for some. The good news is, he offers several timelines, checklists and to-do lists throughout.

An ever-changing landscape. There’s no doubt this course will need updates as online things change (they always do). Mark specifically said he will keep things updated which I appreciate, but it seems like it might be a monumental task. Update: He has added a section before Module 1 which lists course revisions and additions.

Conclusion

I’m generally anti-hype and I lean in the direction of skepticism, especially with online courses. (I’ve seen plenty that are little more than a glorified ebook costing hundreds of dollars.) 

However, I am impressed by this course. If you meet the criteria in the “Who is Self Publishing 101 best for? ” section above, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The amount of information is vast and deep. Get all the details here.

18 thoughts on “My Honest Review of Self Publishing 101”

  1. Hi Amy – Thanks for the informative post. I’ve followed Mark’s free webinars (plus, Joanna Penn & others) for years and am currently on the edge of signing up for Advertising for Authors BUT as money is tight these days, I have a question I hope you can answer:

    Approximately how much extra money is needed monthly/annually in order to maximize potential (best bang for buck) from the course – cost of good website, ads, etc? Thanks in advance.

  2. Hi Amy,

    That was an insanely clear and structured post. Pretty much after reading each point, you answered the next question in my head with your next point.

    There’s a great tempo too.

    On Mark, he’s built a great process for selling a book. I would just make a point to people about building evergreen funnels. They really only work when you have got a very large volume of people on your email list.

    The software used to run them is also pretty complicated to master.

    So, if anyone was taking Marks course and looking to self-publish I’d keep it simple before trying to replicate his funnels.

    Just execute a simple open this day closing that day funnel. Everyone wants to automate but take simple steps up the ladder till you get there.

    Tks again for the post Amy, well written.

  3. I self published and it was the most grueling creative endeavor I’ve undertaken. I proofread my book three times because it’s hard to find errors in your own written work. Formatting the book was work. Numbering pages was laborious. It was hard to make the cover to specific guidelines and dimensions. Now I know why publishers want so much money. I don’t make enough in royalties to pay for all the work I did.

  4. Thank you so much for this review! I have been quite impressed with Mark so far (I attended his FB live session). I am seriously thinking of buying this course–and I will use your affiliate link.

    A little about me: I am a traditionally published author of 2 cookbooks. My publisher is one of the bigger and more well-known ones. I feel quite lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them.

    But it’s true–you don’t have a lot of control over a lot of the process. And while my publisher does a good job of getting my book out there, it really is up to me to really do the nitty-gritty marketing. Up until recently, I had no idea how to do this effectively. I think the traditional publishing realm needs to get on board with educating its authors on how to market well–versus just spamming their friends, families, and readers and hoping something will stick.

    I am now looking at self-publishing because I want more control. And I realize that I know “my people”–and they aren’t the ones that my publisher wants to hit. So, I want to create content for my readers that they want and need.

    Thank you again!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Jeanne! It is definitely in line with what I’ve heard from my other author friends.

      For a long time I assumed—and I still talk to people regularly (this morning in fact) who assume—a traditional publisher handles marketing. I’ve come to learn this just isn’t the case for a lot of authors.

      I’ve also had multiple conversations with my author friends who have lamented the loss of control over the project they poured their blood, sweat and tears into. (In my circle of author friends, the book cover design seems to be a theme. Oh my goodness, I have had a LOT of discussions with authors who really, really, really don’t like their book covers and do all kinds of gymnastics to convince their publisher to change it! I am part control freak, so this kind of thing would make me a little nutty, LOL.)

      I’m so glad you’ve had a good experience with your cookbooks. All the best as you explore the self publishing option!

  5. Gosh, Amy, even your response regarding *where the bulk of his income–likely–stems from*, is very good. Thanks for your useful insights and valuable information, as usual.

  6. I’m sought of in-between buying Mark’s or Steve Scott’s Self-publishing Academy course. How would you compare the two and which do you recommend is the best for a novice? I know they take different approaches since Scott blogs and Mark feels the oppositive.

    Also, does Mark ever discount his Self-publishing course during holiday specials or Black Friday to make it affordable? It’s a little pricey. Should I get on Mark’s subscriber mailing list to get future discounts?
    Thanks.
    Andrew

    1. Hi Andy,

      I know I’m late to respond here. (I’m just now reviewing my post in preparation for doors opening again.)

      Last year I bought Steve’s course too, along with a third one.

      I didn’t go through the others as thoroughly as Mark’s course, but I did get far enough in to know I prefer Mark’s. His is the only one I promote.

  7. I’ve been familiar with Mark (and Nick and Joanna) for several years now. I do wonder how much of Mark’s income is from his books, however. I think the majority of his income comes from selling courses to authors, not from book sales. I can’t know that number, but I suspect based on the psychology he uses to sell this course in particular (exclusive, only available for a limited time, creating a masterful buzz, etc.) most of his income is from courses. If I could make $497 per person, I’d be making six figures, too. 🙂

    1. Update: Mark jumped into this conversation below and confirmed the majority of his income comes from book sales ($100K+ per month).

      Hi Cari, I think you have an excellent point. I’ve wondered the same—how much of his income comes from book sales vs. how much comes from course sales. We can only piece things together. From what I can gather, I think it’s safe to say a lot (if not most) of his income does indeed come from book sales. Here was my thinking process:

      I started with the article in Forbes. The title indicates Amazon paid him $450,000. If that’s accurate, those would be book sales not course sales.

      Second, the article was published April 17, 2015, almost three years ago. I’m not sure when he first launched his courses (I’ve only been aware of his work for a year or so), but I wonder if his courses were developed & sold much earlier than that? In other words, at the time he (apparently) made $450,000 a year, were his courses popular enough to be a significant portion of that?

      Third, the article mentions he had sold 300,000 books in his Milton series until that time. I think it’s safe to assume some of those were free or discounted, a point mentioned in the article. But even if half of them were given away or discounted, that would still mean he profited on 150,000. And again, the article was written in 2015. He has added more books to his repertoire in the last 3 years. I imagine he has also grown his list significantly in that time, and he says his list is the main driver of sales. All that to say, if he sold 300,000 books in 2014-2015, I’m sure the number is much more today.

      As I said, that’s just me piecing things together. There’s no way to know for sure, but it seems to me it’s very likely he’s easily making six figures on book sales alone.

      And about this course in particular…

      I don’t know how many courses and ebooks I’ve gone through or read in the last year, but it has been at least 3 dozen. The vast majority of those are not worth the cost, usually because of one of two reasons: (1) the content is not nearly worth the price (i.e. a “course” on Pinterest I went through by a popular, established blogger who charged well over $100 for little more than a handful of really basic slides), or (2) the creator does not have the expertise or experience to validate their teaching (i.e. a new blogger writing an ebook about how to be a successful blogger).

      This is not my experience with Mark Dawson.

      As I mentioned, it seems clear he has the experience and expertise. Additionally, the quality of this course is, as compared to many others I’ve taken, actually quite impressive. Not only is he detailed and thorough, he also pulls in professionals to teach parts of the course he doesn’t personally excel in (i.e. a professional cover designer teaches a 45-minute session about design, and a professional copywriter teaches an hour-long session on book descriptions). There are hours of video and he seems to cover every conceivable nuance of getting your book in front of readers. In a few lessons, he provides templates he has developed to use as your own. It’s clear he hopes to equip his students with the tools necessary to replicate what he has successfully done himself.

      Regarding your point about him being a masterful marketer, there is no doubt about that. The marketing techniques he uses are not new. They are the same ones used by thousands of companies and individuals on a daily basis. We are subject to them constantly, whether we realize it or not.

      True, not all marketing tactics are equally palatable (I keep a running list of marketing practices I particularly dislike in my Knowtbook, LOL), but I’m not sure if Mark uses any that border on unsavory? I’m willing to be challenged on that.

      The price is significant for sure. But given its scope, the built-in community, and especially the hours it will save authors from researching, developing and systematizing the marketing side of authoring books themselves, I honestly think it’s reasonable.

      Thanks so much for your feedback. As I said, I’m more than willing to be challenged in any of my thinking here. I just really want others to be able to make an informed decision.

    2. Book sales make up most of my income. I’ve done six figures each of the last two months, and will this month. I post extensively about it in the SPF FB group.

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