Pick Two: What Self-Published Authors Can Learn From Project Managers

If there’s one thing project managers know like the backs of their respective hands, it’s that every project can be good, fast, or cheap…but between those three, you only get to pick two.

This three-way tug-of-war is commonly known as the Project Management Triangle or the Iron Triangle, and it’s usually drawn out visually, like this:

Image source: Stakeholder Mapping

What does this have to do with self-publishing a book?


For one thing, in a Captain Obvious kind of way, every book is a project. It’s not just something that happens by accident or gets thrown together — or at least it shouldn’t be! Writing and self-publishing a book, both as a process and as a result, can be good, fast, and/or cheap — and as with any project, you get to pick two.

Let’s take a look at what picking the various options can look like for your book.


If you want your write and self-publish your book fast, you probably either have limited hours (your schedule is very full and you don’t have a lot of writing time) or limited months (you’re on a deadline or otherwise in a big hurry). Saving time or working within limited time usually means writing faster, writing less (that is, a shorter book), spending less time on revising and editing, working within strict schedules and systems, and having an ironclad cutoff point after which the book, for better or worse, is just done.

There’s a good way and a bad way to write and self-publish a book fast. The good way is to pick “good” along with “fast” and spend more money to get good help. Rush jobs cost more in every industry, and book creation is no exception. Getting good quality editing, design, and marketing assistance on a short schedule will not be cheap, but it will be worth it. The bad way is to pick “cheap” and let the chips fall where they may. Rush jobs also lead to mistakes, and if you aren’t taking the time or paying the dough to fix them before you hit “Publish,” well…you get to lie in the bed you made.


If you want to write and self-publish your book inexpensively, you may have a small book budget, you may have no book budget, or you may simply want to save money where you can. Saving money on a book project usually means DIYing a lot of the work so that you don’t have to pay someone else to do it for you, or else finding creative ways to get help in trade or at a discount.

Saving money is the flip side of saving time, because if you don’t want to (or can’t) invest money into a book project, the best way to make up for it is by not being in a hurry. Giving yourself more time allows you to save up more money, for one thing, but it also lets you focus on writing a quality book without making the mistakes of a typical rush job. (The worst way is exactly the same as above: picking “fast” and “cheap” together and winding up with a lackluster product.)


Quality in a self-published book is more an attitude than a resource. It’s a choice that says “no matter how much time or money ends up being needed, I’ll be flexible with both and do what it takes to make my book the best it can be.” There are actually three ways to pick “good” in your book project, because the first two are the “good/best” steps from Fast and Cheap:

  1. Pick good and fast, and pay more
  2. Pick good and cheap, and take your time
  3. Pick good. Period. Fight it out on that line, and balance the other two out as best you can.

Any of those will serve you well, but I suggest Option 3. If you want to talk more about how to do that, hit me up at themasterwordsmith.com.

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