Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Post by David Gaughran

David sez: Joe features a lot of great writers on his blog who are selling insane amounts. I always get a kick out of those stories and learn a lot. I’m not one of those guys, but maybe I can address the question of whether to self-publish from another angle.

I tried the traditional route for eighteen months – collecting over 300 rejections – before deciding to take control of my career. Self-publishing had been on my radar for a while. I was reading the heretical thoughts of Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath who said we didn’t need a publishing deal, that we could publish ourselves.

Some critics say that people like Joe are repetitive: banging the same drum over and over. I don’t know about anyone else, but I needed that. I was so wrapped up in various myths that the message had to be repeated again and again before it got through to me.

Eventually, I confronted my assumptions and found them to be flawed. I decided to self-publish some shorts to see if I could sell anything (and if I enjoyed the process), but held that novel in reserve as it was still being considered by a few NY agents.

I still had a lot of doubts. While I was convinced of the viability of self-publishing, and had serious concerns about the sustainability of the traditional model, I was less sure about my own abilities to handle things like promotion and platform-building: I had no blog, no Facebook page, I didn’t even have a Twitter account (something I swore I would never do).

Well, it turned out that I enjoyed all that stuff and was kind of good at it. After five months I’ve sold over 1,000 books, I’m getting 20,000 visits a month to my blog, and I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. Not bad for an unknown, unpublished writer.

I don’t take this as proof that the Gatekeeper was wrong. For starters, I still haven’t released the novel that attracted all those rejections. I pulled it from the last agents that had it after I sold 150 copies of my two short story titles in my first month.

I was having lots of fun, enjoyed connecting with readers for the first time, and found an aptitude for promotion which surprised me. But that wasn’t why I decided to self-publish the novel. It was because I was convinced I could sell more and make more on my own.

My logic was this. I hadn’t snagged an agent yet, but I was pretty sure it was only a matter of time – I was getting closer and closer. I don’t know if an agent could have placed my book, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they would have got me the average advance: $5,000.

When I release it in December, it will be priced at $4.99. It’s a long novel, and I think the genre (historical fiction) allows higher prices, and I like the idea of earning $3.50 per copy. To beat that average advance, and to cover production costs and some promotion, I need to sell around 2,000 copies.

Joe likes to say e-books are forever, which sometimes draws a reaction. But if you are self-publishing, you will own the rights to that content for as long as you live (and your heirs will own it long after that too). Maybe it will be consumed as a holo-novel or something we can’t conceive of yet, but you will still own those rights.

But to avoid clouding the argument, let’s assume I only earn off it for ten years – maybe tastes will change or I will forego the internet and pushing my books for a simple life. Can I sell 2,000 copies in ten years? Well, if I can’t I shouldn’t be in this game. That’s less than one book a day.

In fact, I would say that any writer good enough to attract the average advance could do that too. Even if you are pricing your book at $2.99, earning $2 a copy, you only need to need to sell one book a day over ten years to beat that advance.

There are lots of nice things about a publishing deal (from the outside at least, I’ve never had one). You get your book published for free and they throw in a little promotion. However, the only real selling point, for me, is access to bookstores.

Let’s be honest here, on a $5,000 advance no-one is going to be walking into Barnes & Noble facing a wall of my books. I’ll be lucky if they don’t have to order it. And it’s probably going to be the last money I see from that book, at least until I get the rights back – if I ever can.

As I said above, I easily beat that deal if I can sell a book a day for ten years, which is more than doable. In fact, the way things are going, I might even beat that advance before my book would have hit the shelves by the traditional route.

In short, I can’t afford to take a publishing deal.

Some writers are worried about how much writing time they will have to sacrifice if they decide to strike out on their own. But I can tell you that I am writing more than before. Self-publishing is immensely satisfying, incredibly motivating, and my productivity has soared.

But there are other considerations. Just recently, huge formatting/editing/proofing errors have been spotted in major releases from Neal Stephenson and Terry Pratchett. If this is the level of quality control the Big 6 have for new books from their big writers, I shudder to think what is happening lower down the food chain.

I can’t afford to take the chance that could happen with my book or that I would be stuck with a crappy cover. I know that if I do it myself, the formatting, editing, and cover will be top quality because I work with experienced, committed professionals of my choice, and I have final approval of everything.

When you enter a business relationship with someone (which is how I look at a publishing deal), there are going to be issues if the two parties have divergent views. During the London Book Fair in April, publishers were defending their paltry royalty rates, saying they needed a bigger share of the cover price to help them combat piracy.

At the last Frankfurt Book Fair, the story had changed. Now they say they don’t need to raise royalty rates because authors are doing fine because they charge so much for e-books.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that this is all backwards and speaks nothing to the money going into their pockets at those higher prices. It’s also shows contempt for readers forced to pay that premium so publishers can get a juicy cut. I can’t afford to grant an exclusive license to sell my products to someone who has such an outdated view of the marketplace.

Even if snagging a traditional deal was one of my career goals (which it no longer is), I would still self-publish. Then, with some solid sales numbers, I could approach a publisher from a position of strength, instead of one of desperation.

I’m not going to tell anyone to self-publish; that’s a very personal decision. But if you want to take back control of your career, if you like the idea of connecting directly with your readers, and if you think you deserve more than the smallest slice of the book’s profits, then you should know that there are thousands of us ready to help you take your first steps.

Joe sez: David says a lot of really smart things in this blog entry, which doesn't surprise me because his blog is also very smart. His ebook, Let's Get Digital, is a must read for anyone considering self-pubbing. I recently bought, and read, his story Transfection and I'm happy to say it is terrific, and well worth the 99 cents.

Of the many memes being parroted by writers, one of the most destructive is "Most self-pubbed ebooks don't sell."

When you are arguing a point involving a new technology, such as ebooks, it is essential to make sure your argument also encompasses the older technology. The fact is, most legacy-pubbed books don't sell. Why do newbie writers continue to believe that signing with a publishing house is a guarantee of success? It isn't. You may get a modest advance--$5000 is still considered the average--but in today's publishing climate that may be the only money you ever see. And you can do far better on your own, even if you're selling modestly.

I've recently blogged about how ebook sales are far outselling paper sales. Bookstores are closing. The midlist is disappearing. David has a smart post about how declining paper sales aren't offset by rising ebook sales for legacy publishers, which points to Big Trouble for the Big 6.

So getting a legacy deal isn't about getting into print anymore. Which means you'd be signing with a Big 6 publisher in order for them to release your ebook.

Guess what? The Big 6 suck at releasing ebooks. They charge too much. Their royalties are too small. Often their formatting is sub-par (I've gotten into fights with my publishers to force them to reformat ebooks of mine riddled with errors.)

But exactly how bad a job do they do compared to self-pubbers?

I'll show you, with my numbers.

Hyperion has published six of my novels as ebooks, and Hachette has published one of my novels, and so has Berkley. That's eight novels, going back t0 2004.

On my own, I've published six novels, going back to 2009.

All totaled, my eight legacy pubbed ebooks have sold a little over 100,000 copies on Kindle.

All totaled, my six self-pubbed novels have sold over 235,000 copies on Kindle. And I made twice as much money per copy sold as I did on my legacy ebooks.

So my legacy pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 12,500 copies each, while my self pubbed ebooks have sold an average of 39,100 copies each.

Think about that. Ebooks that have had the support of three major publishers have only sold 1/3 of what I've done myself through KDP.

David is making a wise move, pulling his novel from submission and self-publishing it. Here's a quick recap of some of the reasons why.

1. Getting a legacy deal is difficult, and often doesn't happen even if the book is good. (All the novels I've self-pubbed were rejected by legacy publishers.) You can spend a looooong time looking for a legacy deal--time you could have been earning money via self-pubbing.

2. If you do land a legacy deal, you will get lower royalties.

3. If you do land a legacy deal, it will take 6 to 18 months before that book is for sale.

4. If you do land a legacy deal, the publisher has total control of price, title, and cover.

5. Ebooks are outselling paper books, bookstores are closing, and ereaders keep getting more advanced while coming down in price.

6. If you do land a legacy deal, you likely won't ever get your rights back.

7. If you do get an advance at a legacy deal, it will take a long time to earn out, if ever. Higher ebook prices mean fewer sales, and lower ebook royalties mean smaller checks.

So why are you still looking for a legacy deal? I can think of a few reasons.

Vanity. You want the prestige (whatever it may be) of signing with a legacy house.

Validation. You want the gatekeepers to tell you your book is good enough.

Dreams. You always wanted to see your book at a library, or on the shelf at a bookstore, and those dreams die hard.

Less work. You want a publisher to take care of things like promotion, editing, and cover art.

Money. You're getting a big advance that will amount to a life-changer.

Of those five reasons, the only one that makes sense from a business standpoint is money, and the chances of you getting a large advance from a legacy publisher are about the same as you being struck by lightening. This is a lottery dream, and not a smart business plan.

And as for those who believe legacy publishing is less work than self-publishing, you need to go back to 2005 and read my blog. I worked much harder as a legacy published author than I do as a self-pubbed author. I also make a much better living now than I did then.

If you're reading this, you're probably a writer, and these issues matter to you. Which means you need to gather as much information as you can, and think long and hard about your goals and how to reach them.

As David asks, can your really afford to take a legacy deal?


Bob said...

The key is doing math. Too many people are railing emotionally about this topic. I prefer to run a business. I do think some big name traditionally published authors are going to be doing the math as they see their royalty statements, see what a large percentage their ebooks sales are of total, see what a low royalty rate they are getting for their ebooks and do the math.
And then guess what's going to happen?

Anonymous said...

"…you only need to need to sell one book a day over ten years to beat that advance."

Sorry, to be the downer again here, but selling one copy a day is not nearly as easy as you make it sound.

There are tens of thousands of authors out there who do NOT sell even one copy a day - and that includes myself.

Good to hear you're so successful, though, David.

JA Konrath said...

And then guess what's going to happen?

I agree, Bob. I've already talked to several big name authors about this, and it'll be fun to see how many give it a shot in 2012.

There will be holdouts. Advances are so huge for some authors that they can keep cashing advance checks without worrying about sales or royalties. But a handful of bestsellers won't be able to sustain an industry.

Some newbies, however, keep holding out for a legacy deal, thinking it is the only way to go. That's a shame, because in order for them to learn what we've learned, they're going to have to experience it themselves. Which means a lot of disappointment in their futures.

Jim Kukral said...

You totally nailed it again. It's vanity, validation and dreams.

By the way, it's ok to have those feelings and have that thought process. But, just own it. Don't come on this blog and leave comments with unsubstantiated facts and other b.s. reasons. Joe has debunked every other argument.

Just own it. Nobody will try to convince you anymore if you do.

Or maybe the reason you don't want to own it is you know those are pretty bogus reasons. Reasons you know you'll regret down the road. Don't blame Joe if you ignore his message. Blame yourself.

Mari Stroud said...

As heated as the rhetoric can get sometimes, one thing I have always like about this blog is that statements are unfailingly backed up with numbers. Thanks, guys.

JA Konrath said...

There are tens of thousands of authors out there who do NOT sell even one copy a day - and that includes myself.

Then you have to keep at it, Guido.

I spent 12 years trying to get published. Then I spent another 8 years in the legacy system, struggling to keep my head above water.

It has only been in the last 18 months that I've begun to make a good living at this.

Stick with it until you get lucky.

Barry Eisler said...

David, thanks for the great post.

I do find your tone offensive, though.

Kidding, kidding! Couldn't help myself. Seriously, thanks for the consistently clear and sound thinking. And congratulations on how well things are going.

Justin D. Jacobson said...

I'm curious why you think "less work" empirically doesn't makes sense.

I posed this question on twitter, and you didn't respond. (I understand and am not complaining about your failure to respond to one random tweet in the digi-sea.):

"If writing is my hobby, I write 1 novel with no real expectation I'll write another, is self-pub necessarily my best option?"


"The brouhaha seems exclusively focused on established/full-time authors. There are a great many of us not in that boat."

Is there an unstated assumption in your continuing commentary that it is only addressed to full-time authors?

I am a lawyer. (And, unlike Barry, not ready to give up the day job to pursue writing full-time.) I have a novel that took me a couple of years to finish. I tried the trad route and even landed an agent, but we couldn't get it picked up by a publisher. In retrospect, I think the book isn't as good as it could be; it's my first book after all. So I started a second book that I'm much happier with.

But, back to the point, are you saying I'm hitting myself in the head with a hammer by not self-pubbing? I literally don't think I would be able to self-publish the book even if I wanted to.

JA Konrath said...

"If writing is my hobby, I write 1 novel with no real expectation I'll write another, is self-pub necessarily my best option?"

What are your goals? That's the first question to ask yourself.

David Gaughran said...

Thanks for having me along Joe. Before someone else calls me on it, I just want to address this:

"Then, with some solid sales numbers, I could approach a publisher from a position of strength, instead of one of desperation."

The desperation I speak of, before anyone take offence, is my own. When I was in all those slush piles, I was so desperate for a deal, I probably would have taken any kind of deal.

These days, it would take a lot for me to sign any deal - probably a lot more than I would be worth to any publisher.

That's not because I have an overblown sense of my value. Rather, I'm at the beginning of my career and I really want to see what I can achieve on my own first.

Now I'm off to read what Joe wrote...

Adam Pepper said...

David hit on a couple of points that new and unestablished writers should think about. The first is business related. Even if your heart remains in finding a traditional deal and seeing your book in the stores, if you can succeed self publishing, you'll have a much better shot at standing out and you'll be able to levage that to a better deal.

The second is more psychological in nature, but every bit as important. Pursuing publishing is so debilitation and frustrating. The apathy and rejection at every turn. Having your hopes and dreams built up and dashed. It takes its toll and can really have a negative impact on your productivity and motivation. I've had some prolonged lulls where I was sulking when I should have been improving my craft and producing new work. Those lulls are no more because I feel so optimistic and hopeful with self publishing, I'm getting instant feedback from readers and I know my work will get out there and have a chance to reach an audience.

Matt Iden said...

If this is what a raging f**kwad sounds like, I'll take it.

Justin D. Jacobson said...

What are your goals? That's the first question to ask yourself.

Good question. For me, it's not about making a living; thankfully I do that with the practice. I would like for as many people as possible to read my book.

Darlene Underdahl said...

I'm happy for your success, David, good for you.


The Sociopath of Carson City

Sam said...

Great stuff. David's blog is a must-read...

If writing is my hobby, I write 1 novel with no real expectation I'll write another, is self-pub necessarily my best option?

Absolutely! If your first novel was good enough to land an agent, polish it up and get it out there for sale. Don't think you can do it? You can find folks through this blog who do Kindle formatting (like Guido above) and cover design.

Robert Bidinotto said...

David, I've been enjoying your blog for months now -- just as Joe's blog, Bob Mayer's, Robin Sullivan's, and Dean Wesley Smith's are part of my daily reading, both for information and inspiration. I welcome all your perspectives and I've garnered great value from them.

My own late-June indie launch -- starting with a single title, HUNTER: A Thriller -- already has produced results beyond my wildest expectations. If $5,000 is a standard advance these days, then my book exceeded that sum within its first few months of publication. I didn't have to wait years for that money, either -- years for an agent, then a publisher, to say "yes." Then months more for the first check to arrive. Then one to two more years for the book finally to reach bookstores (assuming many bookstores would be left by then).

At age 62, I simply didn't have time to waste. You pioneers -- David, Joe, Robin, Bob, Dean -- showed me what was possible, how to do it, and encouraged me that it would be worth the try.

I'm not selling at the stellar levels of the best of you. Yet. But selling well enough to make the mortgage payment, just four months in. And happily at work on installment #2 in the adventures of crusading vigilante Dylan Hunter.

THANK YOU for showing me the way.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you that I haven't seen an answer to, yet.

How do you think your average self-publisher's book is going to stack up next to the sort of enhanced e-books the big publishers are starting to put out?

Moving covers, Easter eggs, sound, video, etc. These are designed for iPad and other tablets at around a $10 price point (from what I've heard), and are going to have a lot going for them compared to a static e-book.

JA Konrath said...

I would like for as many people as possible to read my book.

You can keep querying publishers, and hope one will publish you. This can take weeks, months, or years.

If you do land a deal, if will take a year for the book to be released.

When it is released, there may not be any bookstores left to stock it. The sales will be primarily ebook sales.

So you can release the ebook yourself now, after paying for cover art, proofing, and formatting. Then you can set the price low, and low priced ebooks sell more copies.

Or you can wait at least a year, possibly several, possibly never, for a publisher to give you a small advance and release the ebook for $9.99 to $12.99.

Those are your choices, as I see them.

Blake Crouch said...

"How do you think your average self-publisher's book is going to stack up next to the sort of enhanced e-books the big publishers are starting to put out?"

Very tall....if publishers are incapable of attaching a good price to a plain ebook, what do you think they're going to charge for something with all the bells and whistles? All the enhanced ebooks I've seen are like $17...still a novelty I think, although one that very much interests me.

Great post, David!

JA Konrath said...

How do you think your average self-publisher's book is going to stack up next to the sort of enhanced e-books the big publishers are starting to put out?

I've been thinking about enhanced ebooks a lot, and will be self-pubbing some, hopefully in 2012. And I will charge less than $9.99.

David Gaughran said...

I just read Joe's part of the post. I agree with all of that, but there is something I would like to add which I think is important, especially for new writers.

Querying is a grind and it can really get you down. I know all the advice is to keep writing, and that's good advice. I tried it and it worked, but only for a while.

After one bad experience with an agent who wanted to represent me, then didn't, I nearly gave up altogether. A month or so later, I rallied, and started another novel. I had a really, really good idea and the first couple of chapters were strong - I nailed the voice right away (which usually takes me a while). But I was questioning everything I was writing, and eventually got stuck altogether. In short, I didn't believe in myself anymore.

Querying wasn't a uniformly negative experience - there were a handful of agents and editors who were extremely helpful and offered useful feedback which improved my novel. But the constant cycle of rejection, rudeness, and bad behavior (which most writers have experienced), takes its toll.

When I started self-publishing, a weight lifted. More than that, writing became fun again. And if you are going to choose a career that's going to damage your back, your liver, your wallet, and your eyesight, you really should be having fun while you are doing it.

And self-publishing has been a blast.


That section of my argument may have been a little glib, so let me expand. I've gone many days without selling one copy (sometimes a few in a row) and I've had days when I sold 20, 50, or 70.

The latter only happened around the time of a new release, or when I got a lucky break like getting featured on a popular readers' site or a review from a big book blogger.

I think a writer will eventually get lucky if they keep releasing good books and keep getting their name out there. And I think I will get lucky enough to sell a book a day on average over ten years if I can write stories that people will respond to and work hard to get people to read them. I will need a few breaks along the way, but I think if I keep pushing hard, keep looking for opportunities, chances are I will get them.

I know writers who published after me and have sold several thousand books (i.e. in the last three months!). I know others that published well before me that have written great stuff that hasn't taken off yet.

I think those other writers will eventually get lucky and get the audience they deserve if they keep plugging away.

Chip Anderson said...

More good info.


Veronica said...

How do you think your average self-publisher's book is going to stack up next to the sort of enhanced e-books the big publishers are starting to put out?

Seems to me that indies have the ability to change quickly and adapt to new opportunities far faster than the big 6.

We will learn how to incorporate the new bells and whistles or hire people who already know how.

Then, and this is the cool part, we will tell each other - through this site and others - how we did it.

It's amazing really.

Merrill Heath said...

Nice post, David. I read your blog and have enjoyed your stories.

In regard to enhanced ebooks, at this point I think the vast majority of readers simply want a good book to read. The voracious readers want LOTS of books to read. Although the enhanced ebook may catch on at some time, there will always be people who just want to read an entertaining novel.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

David Gaughran said...


It's all about the math. I was really on the fence about pulling my novel, I couldn't think rationally about it - the whole subject was too charged for me. But when I ran the numbers, they only pointed one way.

@Robert Bidinotto

When my novel (finally) comes out next month, if it can make half the splash yours did, I will be a very, very happy man.


I'm skeptical about enhanced e-books. For adult fiction, that is. I could see them being big for kids, for non-fiction, for reference, but when I read I novel, I want an immersive experience. I don't want video, games, or music that jerk me out of the narrative.

But let's say I'm wrong, and they become huge. Granted, that will play into the hands of the large publishers as most indies won't have the capital for investment. However, don't discount the possibility of indies coming up with a creative solution - the same way Scott Nicholson cracked the translation problem by profit sharing with his translators instead of paying out up-front fees.

@Adam Pepper

Yeah, I was a sulker too. And a pouter. What I love about self-publishing is that I have no-one else to blame if I screw up or sales are crap. It's all on me. I like that, because that makes it easier to fix. I don't have to wait for someone else to do their job, or to seek their approval. It's all down to me - for good or ill.

Merrill Heath said...

David, I'm curious. How do you pronounce your name? I'm talking about the last name. I think I got David figured out. ;-)

JA Konrath said...

Querying is awful. I've gotten over 500 rejections. Each one was like a slap in the face, and many times I thought about giving up. If you've ever met me in person and know my widely-circulated tattoo story, you know what I'm talking about.

Being on submission is just as bad, if not worse, than querying. Once you get a good agent, and have a few book deals, waiting weeks (or months) to hear from an editor about a book they requested is hellish.

Afraid took seven months of submissions before it sold. And when it sold, it was for half of what I was making with my Hyperion books. It was disheartening, to say the least.

JA Konrath said...

What I love about self-publishing is that I have no-one else to blame if I screw up or sales are crap. It's all on me.

Yes. And no.

"Blame" is too strong a word.

I've been learning this business for 20 years, and I still have no idea why some titles outsell others. They just do. You can rewrite, change titles, change covers, change prices, change descriptions, and none of it translates to clear data that can be used to guarantee sales.

Publishing is an unreproduceable phenomenon. Luck is always a factor. I have books that I think are my best which don't sell as well as books which I feel aren't as strong. Or one week one book will be my bestseller, the next week it is another book.

Dunno why. Can't explain it.

All I can to is keep writing.

David Gaughran said...

@Merrill Heath

Heh. I've heard it mangled in some funny ways.

First part rhymes with Spock.

David Gaughran said...


I guess what I'm saying that I feel like more stuff is in my control by self-publishing. I'm not depending on others to do their jobs who may or may not be as invested in the success of my books.

JA Konrath said...

I guess what I'm saying that I feel like more stuff is in my control by self-publishing

You are 100% correct.

But sales are not within our control.

We can make sure we have a great story, great cover, great formatting, great description, great price. But then we still have to hope for luck.

What I'm saying is that if all your ducks are in a row and you still don't have good sales, don't blame yourself. Just keep at it until luck kicks in.

William Ockham said...

I have a question for the folks who participate here. I'm not a writer (well, at least not the kind that hangs out here, I write software). I am an avid reader with money to spend on ebooks, but I don't have the time to wade through all the dreck (trad and self pubbed) to find stuff I like.

There seems to be a huge need for a service that matches authors to readers. I buy my ebooks from Amazon precisely because they have a decent recommendation system. But I know that their system doesn't really work well for self publishers.

Imagine a system that works like this. Authors submit their manuscript to an online system. The author describes the work (genre, target audience, etc.). The system analyzes the manuscript to identify which authors' work this manuscript most resembles. This information is reported back to the author, but more importantly it is reported to a community of readers who have indicated an interest in books similar to those in the report.

Assume for a moment that this system really works, do you think this would interest self publishing authors? By the way, I don't anticipate charging anyone (readers or authors) for this.

Dee DeTarsio said...

Great post, David--thank you! Good luck with all! I've had 3 different agents, been close (but no cigar!) on the submission dance, decided to throw my ego out the window and pulled the trigger last year to self-publish. What an amazing world of readers and writers I discovered!

David Gaughran said...


I think about this a lot. The novel coming out next month will be my first, and the fourth title in four different genres (counting the how-to). As such, I really have no idea how it's going to go. I can put the whole package together as best I can, but I really have no idea if it's going to sell.

I try and focus on things I can control (like the sweat I put into it, how many advance reviewers I can line up, or promo ideas for the launch).

And when I get this one out, I'm straight into something else. Something fast.

Although, I can't say I won't be checking the sales. I'm not made of stone.


Thanks everyone for all the comments - I hope I got everyone. I'll be checking back later after the match.

Ireland are playing Estonia in the first leg of the Euro 2012 play-offs and it kicks off soon (soccer, for my American friends). It's going to be an awful game, I can just feel it. Ireland always break your heart.

Sharper13x said...

Add one more to the list praising David's blog. Thanks for the good work!

I think it's important to note that whether you are querying agents, taking your project to publishers and all that entails, or you are doing it yourself - either way is a huge task that must be done when you could be writing.

If you've got a day job you can't quit, in order to do either one you're just going to have to sleep less.

I spent only a small amount of time querying before I began to see that the odds were badly stacked against success, and that the industry seemed to be increasingly dysfunctional. And even beyond that, from my first forays into conferences and "pitch-fests" and all the peripheral money-makers directed at the hopefuls... it just felt "wrong" to me, a bad vibe like you get from a smiling stranger on the street who is waiting is trying to sell you something.

So when doing it yourself became a viable option beyond what I had always taken as "vanity publishing," I jumped.

The big difference as I've seen it so far between the process I had just begun and what I'm doing now? This is very hard, but it's also fun as hell. It feels really good, every day.

Joseph Campbell talks about how each of Arthur's knights went into the forest from a different spot where there was no existing trail. Because they knew that the path to the Grail could not be one where others had already gone.

This new way is very different from the old. There, the path to success is clearly laid out, but really hard to navigate. You know what you are supposed to do, and you either fail or succeed doing just that.

But here? Every indie author is standing in front of an unblazed path through the forest.

Almost every writer will say "all I want to do is write." Realizing that this is just a silly thing to say is one of the things I've learned by self-publishing. It is not viable for any independent and not for the vast majority of the traditionally published. Both paths require a lot of non-writing work.

But there is a difference. I am inspired everyday by everything I learn about the parts of this business that aren't writing. I feel free. Whether I fly or not is in my hands and will happen or not by some combination of my talent, my sweat, and the goodwill of people who like what I do. Never by the whims of someone else. There is no machine for the hem of my jeans to get caught up in.

Sarah Woodbury said...

"When I started self-publishing, a weight lifted. More than that, writing became fun again." This is a great post, David, along with your additional comments because your story sounds so much like mine except I queried for 4 years to get my hundreds of rejections, had two agents, but never a contract.

I indie published my first book in January and sold 13 copies. If I'd kept it with my agent and he'd sold it the next day, I'd still probably be 6 months out from publication. And none of my other 6 books that were mouldering on my laptop would have even been shopped around yet. So I'd be sitting here with a $5000 advance (or even $10,000) ... when I've made $20,000 just on Amazon since May.

I don't feel like I did anything different or special and know dozens of other indie authors just like me--who've done way better, actually. As Bob Mayer says, 'the key is doing math'.

Jan Hurst-Nicholson said...

Thanks for this, David.

The truth is that most books, trad or indie, turn out to be damp squibs. But thanks to indie e-books the stories can at least be offered to the reading public instead of sitting unread on a computer.

Many indie authors would initially be happy just to have someone read their stories.

Todd Trumpet said...

Another great round of comments today.

Last year, I was watching the Michigan Wolverines lose yet another football game with a group of buddies, when one announced that his novel had just been bought by a small Northern California publisher - his first sale ever.

I was effusive in my praise and congratulated him on a rare feat.


A year later. Another gathering. This time, I'm conversing with a former Navy SEAL and professional poker player who thinks he has some stories to tell, and would like to write a book. I immediately point him to this blog and tell him there's a revolution going on in ePublishing - and that he should hit the beachhead while the odds are in his favor...

...without a word of praise for traditional publishing deals.

What a difference a year makes.


Cheryl Bradshaw said...

Excellent post, David. Loved it!

Debra Burroughs said...

I really appreciate what you're saying, David. I read your book, Let's Get Digital, and gleaned a lot of good stuff from it. The most enjoyable part for me, though, was the last third that was stories from indie authors describing their journey and experiences. It's always good to see how indie authors are succeeding - it gives the rest of us hope.

Michelle Muto said...

I'm with David - I self publishing is the way to go these days. While I'm not making a fortune, my lifetime average (6 mos) works out to average between 5-6 books a day. Not too shabby for someone who has never been published before and has no connections.

All I need now is to get more books out there.

Kiana Davenport said...

David...Thanks for a really thoughtful and incisive posting. I'm not sure you said anything Joe hasn't already covered, but we need to hear these arguments over and over from different points of view, and from individual experiences. It confirms most of Joe's theories.

This need for 'validation' that aspiring authors seem to crave is understandable, though not rational. They don't yet possess the confidence to under-stand that validation will come from their readers.

But there is something else that needs to be repeated, ad nauseum. Along with the 'validation,' of a legacy publisher, aspiring authors keep saying they want to see their books in bookstores, they want to have the experience of giving readings in bookstores.

My answer to this is, look at the disappearing landscape across America, then ask yourselves

David Gaughran said...

It's half-time. Ireland 1 - 0 Estonia. Plus they had a man sent off. This is the point where we usually throw it away.


I had a similar experience with a friend. The last time we spoke was in February and I was giving him tips on how to find an agent. I met him last week and had some slightly different advice :)

@Debra Burroughs

Thanks Debra. I think that section makes the book too. I emailed a huge bunch of self-publishers from different genres - most of whom I never had any contact with before - and asked if they wanted to contribute.

I thought a handful would say yes, but virtually all of them did and straight away too. I think Bob Mayer was first and mailed his contribution in an hour or two later, and then the rest started pouring in.

I'll always be grateful to them for that, and it really makes me feel like self-publishing is a community of writers who take the time to help others.

@Michelle Muto

Me too. This latest one has taken way, way too long. The next one will be much faster. Well, I'll try :)

David H Fears said...

I remember Joe back in the AFO days before 2000. My argument for self-publishing (my first collection of short stories 2001 "Tree House Tales" under the pen name of DH Henry), is mainly due to my big sister, who bossed the pants off me as I was growing up. As a result I don't like being told what to do. I like the control of SPubbing; and I'm selling slightly over a book a day in my Mike Angel Mystery Series, since Xmas 2010.

C.J. Archer said...

Dave, thanks for a thoughtful post. As usual, it's full of solid, useful stuff.

I absolutely agree with you in that self-publishing has helped get my writing mojo back too. After being dumped by my agent (yep, that hurt), my confidence was way down. If I hadn't self-pubbed earlier this year, I probably would have given up completely. If $5,000 is the average advance (and I know some romance publishers offer less than that) then I earned that for a single book in August. I earned it again in September.

Good luck and keep up those informative blog posts.

Adonis Marrero said...

"Just recently, huge formatting/editing/proofing errors have been spotted in major releases from Neal Stephenson and Terry Pratchett. If this is the level of quality control the Big 6 have for new books from their big writers, I shudder to think what is happening lower down the food chain."

And yet many say that these errors are more common in self-published books. If anything, this should be more motivation for self-published authors to edit and proofread the hell out of their manuscript.

Unknown said...

David/Joe: Excellent post as always. Did I tell you it would be a wet dream to post on your blog but then I would get writer's block and wouldn't know what to say!

David has explained the pain and frustration so many of us as indie authors feel. Despite the slow start of Death Wish: Book I, I still think I am doing it better than if I had gone the trad pub route.

I did everything right: I got my book properly edited (using the absolutely wonderful and talented Felelia Sullivan who also works a lot with Permuted Press) and I had my cover designed by the remarkable Athanansios (aka Tom)... the concept was mine but he made it a work of art.

I know there is an audience for my book but it isn't going to happen overnight. I would love to have a push of publicity but ironically, I want it to come from Amazon and one of their in-house publishers, not from legacy. I love their model: it vaguely reminds me of the Vin Diesel-Pitch Black series about "you keep what you kill".

Think about it: our work is blood, sweat, tears, frustration, art and so many other concepts all rolled into one. Why must we prostitute ourselves just to get it read? Easy, we don't.

If legacy publishing is the pimp, indie authors have proven we can sell our wares even better as independent contractors; we decide when we work and how often. Freedom ain't free but I still love the concept all the same.

Long live choice and long live the indie author! ;-)

David L. Shutter said...


Greatly looking forward to 'Storm' and your post just reminded me to bump Transfection to the top of my TBR.

Started following your blog just as I discovered Joe's and watching someone go through the process from the ground up has been both fascinating and inspirational.

It speaks volumes to your insight and analytics that "let's Get Digital" is repeatedly referred by the seasoned vets as one of the "go-to" guides on the subject, especially consdiering you wrote it while relatively inexperienced at the time.

No two self-pub effort's will by identical but if you're moving in that route and haven't checked it out, then as we say in the military, you're wrong.

All the best Dave.

Ellen O'Connell said...

I'm really glad to see something that doesn't focus only on the highest or lowest end of the indie revolution. Assuming an author has written a good book and does what's necessary to get it out decently, the chances of landing somewhere in the middle are much higher than immediate entry to the 1%.

However, I don't think it's right to compare sales for an indie book over 10 years to the famous $5,000 advance. That advance is going to be in the bank in 18 months to 2 years. Even so, a moderately successful indie book is going to bring in $5,000 in that time frame and the extra it brings in up to and after 10 years is gravy in the comparison.

I also think most of us have to look long and hard at that $5,000 figure. IMO neither my cozy dog mystery nor my western historical romances would bring that kind of advance. RWA recognizes an author as professional for selling a book with a $1,000 advance. I know people who got no advance from small pubs. Each of my middling niche books earned over $5,000 in 18 months or less, the romances several times that.

When evaluating self-publishing and doing the math, I hope authors consider that there's a lot of very comfortable room between 1 book a day and hundreds a day.

B.C. Hill said...

I've been following these posts for a few months. And as a newbie, unpublished writer it makes sense. I've seen other posts where new writers have spent a chunk of change to self-publish. From what I've seen, I'm not sure that this is even necessary.
As a non-English major, I can't tell you how far behind the rest of the pack I am. I'm just a (quasi) writer trying to get some words out there. But I've done some things that I feel have helped me learn so much that I feel I have to post a comment to those other newbs.
I've joined a critiquing website. Critters to be specific, but there are others like Hatrack River. The point is, that I get to critique works by other writers. I've read stories that I thought were brilliant. I've read stories that made me want to fill some swimming goggles with Draino and put them on. But critiquing such a wide variety has improved my own ability by leaps and bounds.
I have posted a couple chapters of my own novel and the critiques that I've gotten back has helped me see my own writing flaws. To quote Joe, "Your book is your child. You can't recognize its shortcomings, any more than a proud parent can consider their child dumb and ugly." This also has made me a better writer. Another friendly foam-baseball bat from Joe; "Praise is like candy. We love it, but it isn't good for us. You can only improve by being told what's wrong."
There are a couple other corners I've cut to save me money in getting my own book out there.
First off, I've found a gifted 'starving artist' to do a cover for me. I'm sure that nearly everyone knows at least one artist that is underpaid and under-appreciated that would be willing to take on a side project for less than a weeks worth of groceries.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of ebook publishing companies out there trying to get writers to work through them. You can shop around and find exactly what you need. For me, I'm already going through proofread #20 and I've got a couple 'designated readers' from Critters who are also going through my book. And I've offered 100$ to my starving artist for the cover art. So all I really need is for one of these web-based companies to format my manuscript into the most common ebook forms and put them on the sites.
So aside from a whole bunch of time, I'm out 250$.
I've read some posts that say that e-readers are getting more discriminatory about what they download and pay for. One post mentioned that 2.99 is a better price than .99. I have to agree with this imagining myself at Salvation Army rummaging through boxes of donated books, sure the price is right at 25 cents apiece, but will I spend the time to read them? I've got a Kindle full of old classics that I intend to read sometime. So maybe my cover art will sell a few books, but the only thing that is going to make readers come back and search for any of my other books is if they actually read them. So I can do all I can by writing a good story, putting a good cover on it, and writing a good description. Then (according to Joe) all that is left is to set it afloat through the digital stream and watch it slip through rapids, tumble over waterfalls and get snagged on weeds before getting bumped back out into the ether.
So the only things that I'm not positive about are the price (.99 vs 2.99), and whether I really need an editor to line-by-line the manuscript.
Thanks for all the wonderful advice.

Monica Shaughnessy said...

@Kiana wrote: This need for 'validation' that aspiring authors seem to crave is understandable, though not rational. They don't yet possess the confidence to under-stand that validation will come from their readers.

Thank you for this very smart, very astute comment in a discussion primarily focused on numbers. Validation is the tallest tree in the forest (my forest, anyway) and the most difficult to chop down.

Theresa Ragan said...

Great post, David. And lots of great comments, too. I wrote many books over the past 19 years. I signed with two agents and I garnered many awards, which told me I was close. But being close for so long was not fun.

Once I decided to self-publish, that was it: goodbye ego, goodbye dreams. Seven months later, with five self-published books, I have sold over 128,000 books. I have made more money than I ever dreamed of making from my novels, and now I have new dreams, bigger and better dreams.

Yes, I am one of the lucky ones. But for 19 years I thought the only luck I had was bad luck.

And selling one book a day or one book a week or even one book a month is better than selling zero books, year after year, while watching rejection letters pile up.

Keep up the good work, David!

JA Konrath said...

Validation is the tallest tree in the forest (my forest, anyway) and the most difficult to chop down.

For me, validation used to be a stamp of approval by industry gatekeepers.

Later, it was a nice review or a fan letter.

These days, I get all the validation I need from my bank statement.

Deb Maher said...

David Gaughran guest posting on Joe Konrath's blog...heavenly. Two of my must-read writers.

You ask (and answer) "So why are you still looking for a legacy deal?....Vanity. You want the prestige (whatever it may be) of signing with a legacy house."

So does that make traditional publishing the new "Vanity" Publishing? ;)

Jodi Langston said...

What if no one ever sailed to the 'end of the world?'
Simply because we are told it can't be done doesn't mean it isn't worth the risk or the effort.
I may never achieve the world's definition of success being self-published but I achieved a dream of mine and that is enough.

Selena Kitt said...

The desperation I speak of, before anyone take offence, is my own. When I was in all those slush piles, I was so desperate for a deal, I probably would have taken any kind of deal.

These days, it would take a lot for me to sign any deal - probably a lot more than I would be worth to any publisher.

This switch is AMAZING to me. Writers considering whether or not they would take a deal with a publisher instead of the other way around. That's so exciting. Thought-processes are reversing. The paradigm is really shifting. Love it.

These days, I get all the validation I need from my bank statement.

There's that. :) There's also validation, I think, from peers. People you trust, who enjoy what you do and will tell you the truth. That's valuable to me. Maybe more than the numbers in my bank account.

Maybe. :)

David Gaughran said...

@CJ Archer

Hey CJ! Yeah, that mojo comes back fast. Maybe it's different for different people, but I found learning about all this stuff - what makes an effective cover, what goes into an enticing blurb, formatting, promo - really exciting. And the thought of seeing my book on Amazon gave me such a thrill. Little things like that give you such a boost when I'll you have been doing is getting blasted with rejections non-stop. Then there are the nice reviews and the emails. There is no better way to start the day than an email from a reader. It puts a bounce into your step. It has been such a positive experience, light years away from the drudgery, negativity, and insecurity I felt while querying.

@Adonis Marrero

I don't know how I would handle being an author whose publisher had screwed up my book. I imagine I would hit the roof. I know that when the book is in my hands, the formatting will be good, because I hand-code all the HTML myself. This also means that if there is an error, I can fix it immediately.

Everything is self-edited (multiple times), beta-read (multiple times), edited by a pro, proofed someone else, proofed again by me while formatting, proofed by me after formatting, tested across the board, then uploaded. I don't even tell anyone the book is up there for a day or two while I buy the book myself, download it, check it for errors, and do the same with all the Smashwords versions. Only when I am satisfied there are no errors do I tell the world it's there.

Despite all that, there's always one that slips through the net. I think Transfection was the only one without one (although I have probably jinxed it now and someone will email me with a list).


Some books take off like a rocket, but most don't. Even writers who have had astounding success needed the second or the third book in the series to go live before they saw any meaningful sales. You are doing all the right things: a professional product at a great price. If you keep doing that, the sales will come.


Thank you very much, that's very kind of you.


There are all sorts of ways to run these numbers. This was strictly from my perspective with this novel. Others would have to input their own values. Indeed, others may have dramatically different goals and my framework may be of little value.

And yes, there is a lot of very comfortable room between 1 book a day and hundreds a day. I think it was Scott Nicholson who said that he always aimed to sell 10 copies of 10 titles a day rather than 100 of one title a day. For one, it's easier.

@BC Hill

Best of luck with your book, it sounds like you are making all the right steps. As soon as you get the first one published and give it a little push, get working on the next - that will promote the first better than anything you can do at this stage.

On editing, I probably spend more than most indies (maybe I need it more!). You will probably get a range of views depending on who you talk to, but I wouldn't flinch at spending $1,000 on editing a 60k book.

Well, I would flinch; it's a lot of money. But I think it's a fair price for a qualified, experienced professional (I have a great editor) who is putting in a lot of time. I see it as an investment rather than an expense.

In fact, it was the only expense for my last release, and I made it back in just over a month.


Wow. Just... wow. Hugely inspiring.


Ha! I'm not even going there...

Mike Cooley said...

Great post David and Joe!

One thing that is great about self-publishing that I think gets overlooked quite a bit is the FANTASTIC
support we get from other writers. I really could go
on and on about how different the attitude is from many traditionally published author experiences I have heard about (backstabbing and clawing their
way to the top all alone -- winner take all).

There is a powerful sense of camaraderie that I just love so much. I know great writers all over the world now and I am humbled by the talent all around me.

Mike (author of Traditional Publishing Is My Bitch!)

David Gaughran said...


What amazes me are the writers self-publishing for the first time this summer who say they didn't even bother querying - they didn't see the point.

Shelia A. Huggins said...

I've been following David's blog for a while (one of my many favorites).

On the traditional publishing side of things and after much research, I queried a few agents. One requested the whole manuscript. Boy was I excited. I sent the manuscript per his instructions, but I didn't hear anything back. I sent a follow-up email months later. Still didn't hear anything. I mean, really, is that what it's all about? Don't get me wrong, I plan on keeping all options open. It just seems a bit unprofessional.

So in the meantime, I get to work directly with readers on my own. Not such a bad thing...but yes, a lot of work.

Nathan said...

Legacy deals are for people who are happy with legacy deals. There's no right or wrong; writing is largely for self-satisfaction. If a legacy publisher makes someone happy, fantastic. If self-publishing and making more money makes someone happy, even better.

David Gaughran said...


Hey. Yeah, not replying on requested fulls is a nasty development. I've no issue with an agent not responding to a query. But a requested full? Come on.


I think a writer should choose the path that brings them closer to their goals.

I want to make money, but more importantly, I want to build a career. Right now, for me, self-publishing is clearly the best path to pursue those goals. There's no contest, not for me.

Others may come to different conclusions.

JA Konrath said...

There's also validation, I think, from peers.

It's always nice to get an 'atta boy' from a respected peer, but even that begins to pale after a while.

Peers are hugely valuable to help me catch mistakes and problems. But praise? I need it less and less.

The only one whose opinion really matters to me is my wife's. When she's reading something of mine, and starts to laugh (which, luckily, is often) I need to interrupt and ask what she just read.

But I may be biased, because I'm nailing her. :)

JA Konrath said...

Others may come to different conclusions.

Indeed, David.

Those people are called 'masochists.'

Adonis Marrero said...

...I don't even tell anyone the book is up there for a day or two while I buy the book myself, download it, check it for errors, and do the same with all the Smashwords versions. Only when I am satisfied there are no errors do I tell the world it's there.

That's great advice that I'll be doing once I self-publish my first novel

Shadonna Richards (USA Today Bestselling Author) said...

Wow! Excellent post, David! Thank you (& Joe) for your insightful message. I have no regrets about self-publishing my first novel. It's a blessing to be able to share my story with so many wonderful readers--I didn't know this was even possible for me (without the backing of a traditional publisher). I'm thankful that writers now have an alternative route to publication.

Alan Tucker said...

David, congrats on the beginnings of a promising career and a great blog post. In addition, congrats on your Ireland boys not breaking your heart — at least today, there's always Tuesday! ; )

I published my first book in April of last year after deciding I'd go it on my own instead of chasing the traditional goose. I'll be the first to admit I've made a lot of mistakes along the way and haven't seen the sales I'd like yet. I published the second book in the series this past January, and I'm finishing the first draft of the third in the next few days. After that, I'll be working on fixing my shotgun self promotion approach. It's been a tremendous learning experience.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, can match the joy I've had in receiving the comments of excited teens who've read the books and want more. Kids I don't know and have never met before. That's validation.

Gatekeepers? We don't need no stinking Gatekeepers!

David Gaughran said...

Hey Shadonna!

You've sold 10k in your first three months, right? That's pretty amazing - well done.

David Gaughran said...


4 - 0! I can't remember the last time we won by that margin in a competitive fixture. Every dog has his day, I guess. We live to get our hearts broken another time. And they will be broken, but not before they make us believe again first. Oh, the humanity!

I'm sure your sales will get a boost when you release the second book. Just make sure you make enough noise that those first readers here you. And get the third up soon after that - capitalize on the wave of the second before it subsides. Best of luck with it!

Shadonna Richards (USA Today Bestselling Author) said...

David Gaughran said...
Hey Shadonna!

You've sold 10k in your first three months, right? That's pretty amazing - well done.

Thank you, David! Yes, I did sell (actually close to 11,000 copies now as of this evening). Today marks exactly three months (from August 11) of publication. My novel was rejected (with nice comments) by a major romance publisher and because I wrote it specifically targeted to their audience (category romance) I thought there was nothing else I could do with my story. Thankfully Amazon Kindle provides a wonderful alternative to reach out to readers. I hired a professional editor and well, I was very nervous at first, but I felt a strong connection to the characters in the book and the message and I really wanted to share it with others. So I know I definitely made the right choice. I think if I had been successful in securing a contract in the traditional route my book would still be in the cue to be published (perhaps sometime next year). Not to mention that I wouldn't have any control over the cover image or the title of the book--which I took full control of. It's wonderful that a writer can have more control over their work in a self-publishing environment. I have nothing against traditional publishers, I'm just so glad that I have other options to publish my work.

I look forward to reading your book very soon.

James Scott Bell said...

Some writers are worried about how much writing time they will have to sacrifice if they decide to strike out on their own. But I can tell you that I am writing more than before

David, I like what you say here. I am writing much more, too. I like the pulp writer metaphor, and it's nice to be able to have a venue now that you can supply as you will. Well done. Good luck. Keep writing.

Dan Meadows said...

The one thing self publishing seems to be producing is more prolific writers. Almost every writer I see who has any level of success is having it with a catalog of books out there. It seems to be the nature of the business. I know as I've published some things, the volume of work I'm producing has increased almost organically without my really being conscious of it.

I don't think the traditional publishers really respect the long tail aspect of ebooks. They are still caught up in the short print sales life cycle, and may even be approaching ebooks from that point of view. To me, its one of the strongest reasons to do it this way, along with total rights and creative control, and the fact that I can sell a book for a third of the price of a Big 6 ebook, and make more per copy than the author under contract in a lot of cases.

Having more books out there only amplifies that effect. I can say the traditional route is very disheartening in a lot of ways. Self publishing is just the opposite, and seems to be generating happier, more productive writers. I strongly suspect the next few years will be a major renaissance for books, almost all of it digital while print continues to lose ground. There's really no reason not to do it. It's a great time to be a writer, especially if you're independently minded.

Anonymous said...

Good piece again David.

Although the constant doubt that we weren't going to beat Estonia was disappointing to read. Go on the Boys in Green!

Glad to see your break from the blog hasn't been too much of a break as well, Joe. Mighty words of wisdom as usual.

It was a bit odd to see so many people being irate with yourself and Barry over a phrase or the tone used though. You should really refund them their money.

Better yet, seeing as they claim that anyone who agrees with you and your logical way of thinking seems to be brainwashed, might as well start a cult.

Joe-ology on!

David Gaughran said...


And a very striking cover it is too. 11,000 - that's just great. Phenomenal in fact. I think you can be pretty confident you made the right choice :)


I'm still not the fastest, but I'm writing more. I think the stuff is better and I'm writing smarter - less dead-ends, more stuff that actually ends up in the finished article. Drafts now are more about layering than rewriting whole sections.

I'm still a binge writer when I want to be a regular writer. That's something I'm still working on. Productivity is way up, but there is still a hell of a lot of room for improvement. (I used to be very slow.)


I think we will see more prolific writers. I think we will see more writers doing well. But I also think we are going to see more interesting stuff. Writers are free do write and publish whatever they like. People are writing all over the map. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but it's exciting, and it's vibrant. I think we will see a wider range of voices. I also think there is room for a lot more levels of "success". A writer can sustain themselves, via self-publishing, on a much smaller fan-base. Over time, I think this will mean more sub-genres and more niche titles. And maybe, happier readers. People are experimenting with form too. Shorts are becoming more popular. Novellas are back. More writers are partnering up more than ever, collaborating, putting out anthologies, writing serials. That probably excites me more than anything.

Blake Crouch said...

"Legacy deals are for people who are happy with legacy deals. There's no right or wrong; writing is largely for self-satisfaction. If a legacy publisher makes someone happy, fantastic. If self-publishing and making more money makes someone happy, even better."

People come to this blog for information on a challenging publishing problem. There is some gray area right now, but there's a lot of black and white. A lot obvious smart and stupid choices. Many of those have been illustrated here with cold, hard numbers and the sharing of past experience. I'm sorry but this hippie let's-hold-hands-everything's-cool outlook on the situation is naive and useless.

JA Konrath said...

Hippies had some great idead, like no war and free sex and legal drugs.

Making sure no one ever gets their feelings hurt... lame.

Selena Kitt said...

Joe said: Peers are hugely valuable to help me catch mistakes and problems. But praise? I need it less and less.

The only one whose opinion really matters to me is my wife's.

I'm a girl. We thrive on praise! But I know what you mean. My husband gets personal readings (it's a great way to edit). I write in a different genre, so laughter isn't necessarily the response I'm looking for, but the same principle applies... :))

Blake said: I'm sorry but this hippie let's-hold-hands-everything's-cool outlook on the situation is naive and useless.

Yes!! Thank god someone said it.

And it applies to sooo many more things than just publishing.

I'd definitely want you on my team during a zombie apocalypse, Mr. Crouch.

Merrill Heath said...

David, congrats to your team's victory. Incidentally, my niece attended Limerick University last year. She loved it. My brother and his wife went over to see her and traveled all over Ireland. They loved it. I'm sorry I couldn't go with them. But I hope to visit your country someday.

Merrill Heath
Last Known Position

Walter Knight said...

On the issue of vanity, I would love to see my books on a bookshelf, the Big 6 control access to bookstores.

It is nice to sell thousands of E-books, but there has to be a way of having it all. If my books are successful selling online, shouldn't, they be marketable at bookstores, too? I feel locked out of the paperback distribution process, and it does not sit well.

Red Tash said...

Fantastic post. Gracias! I can only speak for myself, but I completely agree with David re: this process making writing fun again. They say do what you love & the money will follow. I hope that's true, because there's precious little I love more.

Ty said...

As always, Joe's blog is thought provoking. And David always gives excellent advice based upon his own experience.

Whatever side anyone takes in the traditional vs. indie debate (which I find silly this topic is even still around), the traditional publishers are going to have to up their game in regards to how they treat writers, and I'm just not seeing this happening. Oh, there are the few big names who get treated like royalty with promises upon promises made, but publishers aren't going to be able to survive on a mere dozen or so writers, no matter how famous those names might be.

And yes, I speak from experience. I can't say I've been treated badly by traditional publishers, but that's only because I've not allowed them to do so. The handful of offers I've had over the last few years have mostly been laughable, with one exception and that was a small press that has gone under.

Bitter? Nope. I've not been burned, because I've not allowed myself to be burned.

J. R. Tomlin said...

@David "But the constant cycle of rejection, rudeness, and bad behavior (which most writers have experienced), takes its toll."

This is a more important point to me than a lot of the other reasons. The utter disrespect with which authors tend to be treated really is to the point of a form of abuse. Kris Rusch's recent post about Respect (or the lack of it) pretty much said it all. If someone like Kris is treated like that, and she was, you can guess what unknowns can expect.

I won't say that I would never consider a legacy deal. I have had an agent and came close to a couple of deals, but I now think they would have done me more harm than good. I do sell a novel every day. I sell more than that and my sales, modest though they are, go up every month. It will be a lot less than 10 years before I make that "advance" and I'll have the rights to and control of my own work. And I'll have my own self-respect.

Jason D. Morrow said...

This is very encouraging. I just submitted my book to Amazon and Barnes and Noble for 11-11-11.

It's a fantasy, and 2 people have bought it so far! Here's hoping that it will get some movement in the next 5-6 months like Mr. Gaughran's.

Great Post!

Victoria said...

One of the criticisms that I will never understand is the idea that you won't have time to write if you self publish. Speaking for myself, this couldn't be more wrong!

Now that I am publishing my own books I have been more prolific than ever before. In fact, because of the validation I receive from readers and because I am actually making some modest sales this has encouraged me to continue to write on a regular basis.

For me, self publishing has been a creative shot in the arm because I can see my writing career actually going somewhere! I no longer feel as if I'm wasting my time.

Robin Sullivan said...

David is a smart and savvy guy. I first met him on Absolute Write and at the time it seemed that only himself and I offered a countweight to a very pro-traditional rhetoric.

I follow his blog regularly, and loved his Let's Get Digital Book (and am honored he featured me and some of my "less conventional views" in it).

I watched after his release of how many bloggers he got for his books proving that if you "work it" and have a good product word will spread.

I'm so glad for the success you've achieved so far but predict is only the tip of the iceberg. I expect to see a lot of great things coming from him.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Mindy Ross said...

I have found that many editors/publishers are just people who can't make it as writers. They stuff they are willing to publish is shocking and the stuff they aren't willing to publish is shocking too. In short, many don't know their asses from a hole in the ground. And I've had news stories and person experience pieces published for years but I gave up because the checks are taking more and more time to arrive. I think the printed word is in big trouble and I'm not so sure trusting any publisher/editor is a good thing these days. They'll publish but they won't pay if they have to.

Jina Bacarr said...

I've been a follower of Joe's blog for a long time and can totally identify with David's post today about getting your work out there.

I'm traditionally published, but I had this holiday story hanging around in my head about this trader on Wall Street who bears a close resemblance to a fellow named Scrooge...and who's visited by three sexy ghosts on Christmas Eve.

A hard sell to the Big 6 and even if I did sell it, I'd have to wait another whole year for my Naughty Christmas Carol to hit the shelves. So I self-pubbed it myself as an erotic Christmas novella.

I got a 5-star review from a reader yesterday--that made my day!

I wouldn't have had the tools--and inspiration--to self-pub without Joe's blog. Reading David's post today is also an inspiration to keep going.

Bottom line: You can self-publish if you believe in yourself--that's the magic that makes the elephant fly.

Thank you, Joe and David!

wannabuy said...


Loved the post. I would note you are also in a genre for your novel that should sell forever (or as long as English is a primary language).

I love historical fiction. Self publishing is opening the doors for new variety. It is a genre which has 'pockets of readers' waiting for new material.

As a reader (I'm 'only' a reader) I'm enjoying the variety of self publishing. It has returned the joy in browsing for books (just ebooks today).

I cannot wait to see the impact on indie-writers when the sub $100 Kindles ship in volume. Two weeks more to wait for the Kindle touch, less than a week for the 'Fire,' and one can receive a Kindle (2011) on Monday! (If one wants to pay for express shipping of a $79 device.)

This holiday season will see quite a change in the book market towards ebooks. Friends and coworkers who had zero interest in $139 Kindles are buying $99 Kindles (mostly as gifts) left and right. The $79 Kindle gets them into Amazon's Kindle store to look; they buy the $99 Ktouch.


Brian said...

Luck plays a big role in this. I wrote what is essentially a post-apocalyptic zombie book. It was released in September and sold nearly 50 copies. Then it sold nearly 60 copies in October. I'm on track to sell 120 copies in November. On average this novel is selling 4 copies a day now. I have a collection of short horror stories that's sold about 10 copies altogether. Go figure.

My next novel will be a straight-up horror story. Can I capitalize on my post-apocalyptic novel to woo those readers to my horror novel? Will I get lucky again? I don't know. I do know that I'm going to just keep writing the best books I possibly can and see how they do.

I've never submitted a single query letter. I doubt I ever will. Since I'm a full-time programmer I don't have to sell hundreds of thousands of books to make ends meet. My full-time job subsidizes my writing, so I can write the book I want, without compromising.

Self-publishing makes sense for me because I don't really need or want to play the traditional publishing game. I'll likely never be able to quit my job and write full-time, but I'm not sure I even want to. Self-publishing is the only model I know of that allows me to keep the full-time job I love while making money from the hobby I love. It's truly a win-win.

Brian J. Jarrett

nightclub guest list said...

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Anonymous said...

Only when I am satisfied there are no errors do I tell the world it's there.

I saw a sign in a print shop years ago (meaning mid '70s, pre home computers). "There is no such thing as final copy, just the day you go to press."

There are always more errors.

Anonymous said...

There are always more errors.

I'm convinced the socks lost in the laundry become typos. Too bad it's not vice versa. I could use some new socks....

Ellen O'Connell said...

Really? My theory is that after you close the file, the typos you haven't caught get together and breed. Their offspring then scamper through the whole file before you open it again. Needless to say, I write romance.

Christine Leov Lealand said...

There are comments here and on Kindle boards about the 'dreck' available for purchase and how to avoid it as a reader and find the 'good stuff'.
When I went into a library and was surrounded by books, or a bookstore what did I do? I would look at titles and covers, I would find one that interested me and pull it out and skim thru the pages, if I liked the writing I would buy or borrow the book. If I didn't I kept looking till I did find what I wanted to read.
Even then - there were books I took home I found I didn't like - and books I loved; and I'm sure I left some on the shelf I would have enjoyed.
Amazon and other etailers allow sampling of books which fulfill these traditional requirements... and now suddenly with the advent of e-readers and ebooks we have readers requesting that all books be sorted into equivalent bowls of electronic porridge!
I'd like to request indie authors to begin explaining to these simpletons that the only way you can get to read a book similar to one you just read is to read more by that author!
Even when browsing books in a closely related genera - you will find them of huge variety and skill - trade published or indie published.
Now self publishing is the only financially viable way to publish. Authors like myself and thousands of others are empowered to write whatever we want, however we want. We have the opportunity to thrill a whole new bunch of readers who always wanted to read a book like ours but could never find even one because the 'gatekeepers' would never consider publishing a book like that!
The whole field of 'generas' is opening up in a thrilling and exciting way - beyond what anyone could have dreamed of even three years ago.
What this means is that readers who can't be bothered to sample books before they buy will get the 'dreck' they deserve.
The reader is now the gatekeeper - readers have always had to choose. There will be no elegant bowls of sweet pre-sorted tight categories for lazy people to slurp onto their ebook readers and take home knowing that they will have a load of comforting podge to read themselves to sleep with.
I have met people like that - they only buy novels so they can read themselves to sleep.
Well I don't write for them!
I can't imagine any author bothering to write to a tight genera or sub-genera prescription any longer.
We are free to write wonderful books that we love and put them out for readers who will love them to find.
Readers have to take responsibility to load their kindles with books they have actually selected by the same process we have always had to use. Amazon is much faster to browse than a bookstore at the mall!

Gary Ponzo said...

Nice post, David. A couple of months ago I requested to interview a legacy-published author for my blog. The author told me he'd like to do the interview, but he wanted to wait until his publisher fixed some formattting problems he'd had with the Kindle version of his novel. He was getting bad reviews as a result of these problems.
Well he recently emailed me back asking who formatted my novels because the publisher had yet to fix the problems and he was frustrated about the continued perception of the poor quality of his work.
Obviously a publisher can help certain authors, but they can also hurt them as well.

Christopher John Chater said...

Great Post, David. I had a similar experience with the querry carousel. An agent liked my book, but said to flesh it out, so I did, then he rejected it. After that, I was done going that route. Self publishing, even when it sucks, is still pretty awesome. Control is addictive. Trying working and writing for Hollywood and you'll know what no control feels like. I'm consistently reminded by veterans that it takes time to build an audience. It's a lifetime. Konrath and Mayer have a few years head start on us, but we'll get 'em :).

Traci Hohenstein said...

Great post David. I bought If You Go Into The Woods - one of the best short stories I've read in a long time. You have a bright future ahead of you!

Any new writers that are looking to get into the fabulous biz of self-pubbing should buy David's ebook Let's Get Digital.

I've been thinking about enchanced e-books for awhile now. I did something I swore I would never do - and paid $13 for an ebook yesterday. Not just any ebook, but an enhanced ebook by Stephen King. I mean,come on, it's Stephen F'ing King. Well worth the money spent. Now, I'm thinking of how to use enhanced features on future Rachel Scott series. I don't think I can get away with charging $13 but something under $10 might work.

Jude Hardin said...

Nice post, David. Best of luck on your writing journey.

But I really dig Barry Eisler's attitude toward publishing, that it's a business and not an ideology. There is no right or wrong way to go about any of this, there's only what's right for you right now.

David Gaughran said...


I have a love/hate relationship with Ireland. It's where I grew up and where most of my friends and family are, but I've always had itchy feet, and I've moved around so much in the last six years it's hard to know where to call home again. Whenever I'm away, I miss it. Whenever I'm home, I'm itching to get on the road again. I think I just have a restless soul.

It's a lovely place to visit (and not as expensive as it was a few years ago). The pubs are great - you can strike up a conversation with anyone and lose an afternoon (or more). We are a wistful sort. I think it's all the rain. Rudyard Kipling had a poem about us. He said:

Oh the Gaels of Ireland
They are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad


The vanity issue is interesting and I'm not sure it's that black-and-white. I used to dream of having an agent, a publishing deal, meetings with NY editors, my name on a spine. I used to search the A-Z in bookstores to see where my novel would be. I dreamed of reviews, of book tours and signings. But I realized they were all symbols - which simply represented getting my books into the hands of readers, and having them read them and enjoy them. Now I realize I don't need all that other stuff to do that. In fact, I think it just gets in the way.

The bookstore one is still a huge emotional tug though. I'm a huge bibliophile. I love losing an afternoon in a bookstore. I love print books. I love looking at them on my shelf. I don't even own a Kindle yet (cue hail of rotten eggs). I'll be getting one soon though - reading e-books on my laptop is getting tiresome, and there is too much great stuff out there now which is either digital-only, digital-first, or just far, far cheaper. If the old lady that lives above me didn't have her own personal library of thousands of books that I can read from, I would have got one already (and if they weren't so bloody expensive here in Sweden - cheapest Kindle is about $170).

But, as I said, I would still like to see one of my books in a store some day. E-books are kind of intangible. The checks I'm getting are real and are paying my rent, and that's great. However, I've dreamed of seeing my name on a bookstore shelf for so long that I just can't shake it. It's too deeply ingrained.

@Red Tash

Exactly. Someone once told me that the key to happiness is finding a job that doesn't feel like work. Writing is hard. Promoting can be draining. But it doesn't feel like "work". I've had difficult jobs, I've worked for large corporations, and I've done hard, physical labor. Writing isn't that.


I think we'll certainly look back in a year or two and think this whole debate was kind of stupid. It's interesting to watch how the whole self-publishing conversation has morphed over the last couple of years. It's gone from "are e-books real books, will they ever take off?" and "is self-publishing viable for all but the lucky few who can leverage a large backlist?" to "will print books and stores survive in any meaningful numbers" and "are their any circumstances under which you would take a legacy deal?". That's a huge shift in a short time. I wonder what we'll be batting around in a couple of years time.

@JR Tomlin

Yeah, I read that post. I more or less expect to get that kind of reaction from people in the industry - I'm nobody to them. I'm not saying it's right, just that I expect it at this stage. But Kris? Come on. I hope for that editor's sake it was ignorance rather than wilful stupidity. Passive Guy also had a great post about a month ago speaking of the contempt for writers that is pervasive in the industry, witnessed by the contracts that publishers (and agents) try and force on them.

David Gaughran said...


Best of luck with your book. Make sure you focus on writing the next instead of flogging the first.


Like many writers, I'm sure, I thought of walking away from it all while querying. It can really get you down. If I hadn't made the leap into self-publishing, I can't imagine the negative space I would be inhabiting now. Or maybe I would be on submission, getting my soul crushed in new ways.

Even if a writer is dead-set on pursuing a traditional deal (for whatever reason), I would still urge them to self-publish something - some shorts, a novella set in the same world, a "trunk" novel that they really feel is good enough. Why not? What have they got to lose. I really think they owe it to themselves to try it. And I'd be very surprised if they didn't find the whole experience so positive that they yanked their novel too.


Hey Robin! Yeah, we were fighting a lonely battle at one point there. Haven't been back there in months. It all just got too negative.

Ridan is a great example of this new world of publishing - a model company. All of your authors are rocking the charts, and now you get to do cool things like publish Joe Haldeman. That must be a real buzz. And I'm sure the success of the re-issue of "The Forever War" will have a whole bunch of interesting names knocking at your door.


Hi Neil. I think so too - I think historical fiction (like science fiction) has a "fatter" long tail. It seems to date slower than other genres. It's one of the few advantages we have in this new world of publishing where I think many of the prizes will go to prolific writers. The amount of research we have to do will always limit our output (especially if you are particularly masochistic, like me, and don't write in a series either).

I'm looking forward to the release of the new models. I think it's next Tuesday/Wednesday. And they will be available in 16,000 locations across the US. Who needs a store network?


There are always more errors. I think the Law of Proofing is ironclad: Amount of Errors > Amount of Errors Found. All you can do is your best.


I think this is the real revolution. We are no longer constrained by the economics of print which used to dictate length (with both minimums and maximums), which killed the market for novellas and shorts (and constrained longer work). We can write the story as it is meant to be. We are no longer constrained by other people's commercial concerns - we don't have to insert/remove sparkly vampires based on an editor's or agent's prediction of where the market is going to be in a year or two. And, most importantly for me, we won't be restricted to one genre anymore. Self-publishers are dabbling in everything these days, and I think readers will ultimately benefit.


If I was with a publisher and had to wait weeks to fix a formatting error, I would be climbing the walls.


Michael J. Sullivan had a wonderful, inspring article on how to build an audience. It's simple, he says, you have to do it one reader at a time. It's really worth reading:


Thank you very much.

I'll admit to being skeptical on enhanced e-books (for fiction). But, I'm prepared to keep an open mind, and I will be fascinated to see how publishers, and especially self-publishers, explore the possibilities. I could easily be wrong on this one, extrapolating my own preferences on the general reading public. I do that a lot :)

Chip Anderson said...

"Luck is always a factor."

Ain't that the truth.

David Gaughran said...


You can see all sides of it now with self-published stuff, a book with a small press, and one coming out with 47North. It will be interesting to see if your convictions change or strengthen over time.

Unknown said...

Jina said: I got a 5-star review from a reader yesterday--that made my day!

Jina, this is what gets me too about self-publishing. I woke up to this in one of my Facebook groups, "My NaNo word count today is a big fat zero, and it's Danielle Blanchard's fault! Death Wish is fucking phenomenal! Been reading since I got home and can't put it down! :)"

How cool is that? I wouldn't have woken up to anything inspiring if I had a trad pubbed deal because the damn book wouldn't even be released yet. ;-)

Anita said...

My first two books are for 8-12-year-olds. I epubbed them, and they've been doing well, but it's a lot more difficult to target this group, than it is to hit adult readers.

If anyone has ideas, or if Konrath would like to address this issue, I'd love it.

Jude Hardin said...

It will be interesting to see if your convictions change or strengthen over time.

My only conviction is to write the best book I can and choose the avenue that feels right for me at the time. Like Barry said, it's pretty much a crap shoot any way you go. That being the case, there's no point in one side calling the other stupid or whatever.

Jon Olson said...

Nice to have a low-mid seller featured. A little different take.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Re: outside validation.

It's nice, but there comes a point when it's too expensive.

I think people have to reach that point (or never reach it) on their own, though.

Good luck.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

BTW, Thanks for the terrific and honest post, David.

Christopher Marcus said...

Dave, I was just in the process of writing a longer message about why I want to be indie (and send it to a friend whom I have discussed this wtih). I think I'll just refer him to *your* guest post, though. I don't see that I'm able to put it more clearly or strongly.

And money isn't even the only good reason ... I'm a bit of a control freak myself, and as a web-designer and illustrator I would shudder to think what could happen if some jerk in New York did one of those crappy covers for me that I see in bookstores every day.

(The 'best' I saw recently was a new softcover version of Grisham's "The Firm" that showed - you guessed it - and empty board room with empty chairs! Gawd ...)

Of course, it is a daunting task to self-publish. I just read thru the Smashwords Style Guide, and I it made my head spin. But then again, I could outsource that particular task to somebody else who might do just as good a job as a layouter attached to a traditional pub-house.

Anyway, thanks again for a great, informative and motivating read.


Lori said...

joe — just want to say — i'm glad you're still posting! :)

JA Konrath said...

That being the case, there's no point in one side calling the other stupid or whatever.

If you read and fully understand the contract before you sign it, along with the consequences in doing so, you aren't stupid.

I'm sure there are writers who have signed deals who regret them--eventually that number creeps up toward 100% depending how long you've been the business.

I'm increasingly and purposely antagonistic in my posts because my legacy career is a cautionary tale for writers. Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Pursuing a legacy deal is so ingrained in writers' psyches that we don't even question it. But we should. We should question it so hard that we realize that there really shouldn't be any reason to sign it, other than a big chunk of money.

Kate Rose said...

Long time lurker/learner here, and this is for Anita: I have a grandson in 5th grade, an uber reader who reads beyond the 10th grade level. When read that you write for his age group I clicked on your name, then to your middle grade blog, looked at your books, clicked the Amazon link for Earthling Hero, read the sample and clicked the “Buy now” button. Bingo–your book is now on my smart phone for him to read this afternoon.

It was that easy to make a sale, and that easy for me to discover an author I think my grandson (and I) will like. Would he stumble upon your blog, or find your ebooks in some other way? I doubt it, since his internet activity is strictly monitored and you sell ebooks only. So it might be worth it to target the adults in your readers’ lives–the Nanas and the Papas (whoa–sixties flashback!) who might have an uber reader in their own lives. Good luck!

Kate Rose

Jan Hurst-Nicholson said...

I was just about to add a comment about struggling to get a foothold with children's book sales despite having good reviews when I read your post. So all this posting can work.
I'll just keep plugging.

Jiminy Panoz said...

"I'm skeptical about enhanced e-books. For adult fiction, that is. I could see them being big for kids, for non-fiction, for reference, but when I read I novel, I want an immersive experience. I don't want video, games, or music that jerk me out of the narrative."

May I give some feedback on this particular issue ?
In fact, we've been experimenting (Studio Walrus, a publisher based in Paris) with enhanced e-books for a while and this whole thing is actually something pretty different from what we know.
People interested in this new kind of books are often non-readers. In fact, you have to think as a storyteller, not an author. Some "heavy-readers" and "book-junkies" really hate what we're doing and argue a lot —yep, I've received death threats in the process— but it seems a vast majority of readers are open-minded.
Hence this "enhanced books stuff" is not really about books, it's more of a new type of storytelling which is eventually targeting both readers and non-readers. Quite a lot of people actually reacts very positively on websites that are not literary websites. This must be taken into account as it seems there are some new readers here, readers who expect something different from what we consider is a book.
In fact, readers interested in enhanced books demand that we push our limits and do whatever we can technically do.
I mean, there is a target for enhanced books, but if you see them as traditional readers, you will fail. So this is all about new habits, new form, new art, new storytelling, new readers, new rules, new marketing, new niche.
In fact, I've seen non-readers giving enhanced books a try… and a few weeks later, they were reading books again. So the biggest mistake one may make with an enhanced book is to see, market and promote it as a "traditional book". Actually, this is something pretty different.

That being said, one of the french big publishers released an enhanced-book on Général de Gaulle and the budget for this book was (an insane) $27,000. Needless to say this book may never be profitable as digital books are accounting for 1% of the book market today and a best-seller = 500 copies per year.

Anonymous said...


There are always more errors. I think the Law of Proofing is ironclad: Amount of Errors > Amount of Errors Found. All you can do is your best.

Four beta readers and the second editor found TYPOS! Not errors, F'in typos. YIKES.

I've been enjoying this sentiment....well, there are more words that are right than words that are wrong!

Anonymous said...

Four beta readers and the second editor found TYPOS! Not errors, F'in typos. YIKES.

Like I said, no such thing as final copy, just the day you go to press...

Anonymous said...

Four beta readers and the second editor found TYPOS! Not errors, F'in typos. YIKES.

Like I said, no such thing as final copy, just the day you go to press..."

Typos get laid, a lot, and are super fertile. It's the baby typos that are a bitch to find.

Unknown said...

Great post, David! And for new authors, you don't have to have a big name. My husband asked me yesterday at lunch if I had sold 100 copies yet. Sheepishly, I didn't know. I watch my numbers, but I hadn't ACTUALLY added them up. Yes, part of me was afraid to do so. I published CANCELLED on 9/13/2011 and after two months, I surprised even myself to count 106 copies (Joe being one of them, bless his heart) in all U.S. distribution channels. And I've made a little over $100.00 in royalties (I was priced at $.99 for the month of October).

I'm not special. I have 1,000 twitter followers (I gained 700 of them in the last two months) and I ran a blog hop in October. I was also part of Melissa Foster's book launch. But I'm on my way to earning out hopefully before my next book hits, and that's incredible. And the only thing I can without a doubt say has helped me "make it" is to always have my hand out....offering help to another author.

Cyn Bagley said...

Well, I am still not good at promotion, but I have had a great time making my own covers and writing my own books. I am doing Nanowrimo right now so that I can get one of my stories in full novel form. Novels are not my greatest asset actually. I write better memoirs and short stories. But, I realized a long time ago that if I wanted to make any money I would have to write books.

So I am plugging along, and each ebook seems to be easier to write. Oh yea, and I learned after ten years of trying to get a legacy publisher that maybe self-pubbing would be better. Those rejections really make a person go through a lot of self-doubt. It was hard for me to see certain people get published when I knew I could write better than they could. I now have to put my writing where my mouth is... okay prove that I can write.

After I was encouraged by an English literature teacher, I finally realized that writing was my calling. I kind of knew it, but had listened to the discouragers.

So the point is I am having a hoot of a time even though I am still not getting the readers. Hope the show up before I am dead. ;-)


Marsha Ward said...

So Joe, are you saying the Big 6 are vanity publishers? Bwahahahahahaha!

Great article, David. Keep 'em coming.

Marsha Ward
Writer in the Pines

Marilyn Peake said...

Fantastic article, David! I came to self-publishing with the same initial trepidation, and afterwards came to the same conclusion that you did: for many writers, self-publishing is the best and most affordable way to go. It certainly was for me. And it was a wonderful surprise! I've heard so many stories now from authors published by the big publishing houses who lost their contracts for future books when their first book only made midlist sales, including an author advised by her agent to adopt a pen name if she ever wanted to be published again. And, as you've pointed out, most authors aren't getting great advances these days. So, who needs all that nonsense when self-publishing can be such a wonderful experience?

Barbara Morgenroth said...

Here's math even I can do.

I did a Complete Idiot's Guide for Alpha/Penguin.
$18000 advance.
Agent took 15% off the top.
Had to buy a good camera because they sprang it on me that I had to provide the photos. (Luckily I was a photography major in college but my Nikon was film not digital.)
Had to hire people to help create the projects. I'm good but I can't write and knit at the same time.
Had to hire 2 illustrators because they sprang it on me that I had to provide the artwork. Paid them about $5000. One got a bonus just to finish what the other one lost interest in.
Had to purchase all the supplies. Did not get an allowance which used to be typical. Spent thousands.
Gave me 10 weeks to come up with all the art, photos and patterns and writing for 100 projects. There was nothing in the contract about 100 projects, it was 20. No mention of providing photos. Not humanly possible.
First editor had a "nervous breakdown". She was absolutely bonkers. My agent ignored this part. Ignored the part about the photos. Ignored the part where they wouldn't pay me when I submitted the complete manuscript TWO weeks late. 12 weeks instead of 10.
The departure of this editor removed my book from the queue and set it back 18 months thereby missing the peak interest in the topic.
Later learned that the 2nd editor would have given me 12 months to do the book.
The book received no-repeat NO-publicity. I don't know where the "publisher will publicize my book" myth comes from but disabuse yourselves of it now. Ain't gonna happen for the vast majority of books.
Alpha/Penguin/Berkley just wanted to get out from under this albatross by the time it was printed. They didn't bother to get it into a brick & mortar store although I had been promised all the chains.
End result?
Agent thought I'd make $45000 off the book.
Real result? I still owe $16000 to the publisher before I make a penny.
I made nothing on this book. Every dollar went to creating it for Alpha.
It was a horrible experience. I think it was my 15th book traditionally published so don't imagine that I'm a newbie at this.

YMMV, but I don't know why you are sure it will.

Digital is the best thing that ever happened to my career.

David Gaughran said...

Thanks for all the comments, guys - I've quite a few to catch up on...


If you can keep finding readers that passionate about your work, you will be rolling around in a pile of gold doubloons in no time.


I don't think anyone is stupid that takes a long hard look at the situation, considers all the facts, and then makes a reasoned decision based on their goals. Not everyone has the same goals, so people will decide different things. I'm cool with that.

However, what I am seeing is a lot of writers falling for myths perpetuated by the people who have the most to lose by the rise of self-publishing: the middlemen. The myths are seductive and widespread, which is why places like Joe's blog (and Dean's blog and Robin's blog and Bob's blog) play such an important role. Dean did a post a while back on all the myths that new writers believe, and I think I had subscribed to all of them at one point. I think I have shaken lose of most of them now - still working on the "book as event" one - it's particularly ingrained for some reason.

I also see a bunch of writers fawning on agents' blogs. They seem incapable of independent thought. They will take what ever message is being handed down and parrot it without even thinking about it. That is stupid.

My reference to "your convictions" was unrelated to any of that, just that it seems that you have a slightly more pessimistic take on the market and the viability of the self-publishing path than most of the other regulars here. I'm not saying your position is wrong, just that as you are in a position to see it from all sides now, that it will be interesting to see if those views change or strengthen. Interesting times!



David Gaughran said...


Glad to save you the time :)

I'm a bit of a control freak too (I wouldn't be surprised if that's a reasonably common trait amongst self-publishers). I know a few people who work in publishing. They are all dedicated, passionate professionals. However, they also gripe and moan about time constraints, budgetary constraints, and decisions made from higher-ups that affect their ability to do their job.

To me, the covers are crucial to the success of a book. It's the "face" your book shows the world. If the cover isn't striking (or appropriate for your book), no-one is ever going to click on it/pick it up to see what it's all about, whether the editing is of a good standard, whether the formatting is neat, or whether the story is any good. And I certainly don't want to be caught in the crossfire when somebody just phones it in, is told to wrap it up and move onto the next project, or (as happens in the UK), is told to scrap the cover because the colors clash with a big supermarket's logo.

I can say, with great confidence, that my covers are as good as those from the major publishers because my designer works for one of the major publishers :)

As for Smashwords, you can do it yourself if you follow the Style Guide. If you are not familiar with Word (and styles), it can seem daunting, but it's doable. If you are really stuck, you can get a doc formatted for Smashwords for next to nothing - they have a list of cheap formatters.

@Jiminy Panoz

That's a very interesting point. If enhanced e-books could create new markets amongst non-readers or casual readers, that would be fantastic.

I have one question though. If this is a "new type of storytelling" aimed at that demographic, which presumably incorporates music, video, interactive and/or gaming elements, don't you face huge competition from other players who are relatively entrenched? What I'm trying to say is, won't these people just pick up a Playstation or XBox instead? This is always my first thought when I think of enhanced e-books. Why wouldn't someone just play a Playstation game?

Maybe I'm being dismissive. I was really surprised by the runaway success of The Waste Land app. If a dead English poet can hit the top of the charts with an enhanced e-book, maybe there is something to this. I have an open mind about it, but I am, as I said, skeptical.

David Gaughran said...


I kind of regret mentioning Twitter followers, as some people are going to think that getting a huge amount of followers is either a good idea or will help you sell books. It's not really that simple.

Social media is all about connections. There are simple ways to get lots of followers, but that means nothing. The connection you have with those followers is what is important. You could have 10,000 followers, but with no meaningful connection with them, it's worthless. They will ignore your tweets as they have no bond with you in any way.

It's far more important to have 100 followers that you have a real connection with than to have 10,000 where you don't.

I certainly don't have a meaningful connection with all my followers, or even a significant percentage of them, but I'm working on it.

This is a general comment, not aimed at you. You seem to be thinking about it the right way. You said "the only thing I can without a doubt say has helped me "make it" is to always have my hand out....offering help to another author." This is it. Exactly.


Yeah, the rejections do make you doubt yourself. The silver lining in that cloud is that they also toughen you up. I doubt that you, after dealing with all that rejection, would react preciously to a negative review. Writing is a tough game, whichever path you choose, and writers will have to deal with all sorts of negative stuff being thrown at them.

Glad you are enjoying it again. That's the most important thing.


Real examples like that are way more powerful than any theoretical one I can conjure up. That sounds like a really horrible experience.

The good news is that you won't have to take a deal like that again.

Jude Hardin said...

I'm increasingly and purposely antagonistic in my posts because my legacy career is a cautionary tale for writers. Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

$125K for three books would still be a dream come true for a lot of writers, especially if the ebook royalties were a bit friendlier.

But I hear what you're saying. I've learned a lot here, and I'm continuing to learn as we go.

Jude Hardin said...

Interesting times!


Anonymous said...

Another blog that has a plethora of interesting points and useful information. Congratulations David.
And Joe, your comment about how you have to stick with it until you get lucky is probably the best advice you could ever give anyone.

LK Watts

Tim Greaton said...

Great information, as always. I have to admit this publishing game is becoming more and more fun. Each month I sell more books, sometimes a dozen in a day. I agree with all the above :-)

Kate Rose said...

David, thank you for your excellent post and responses to comments. I throughly enjoyed “If You Go Into the Woods” and when I read “Reset Button” it played in black and white in my mind, like an original “Twilight Zone” episode. High praise, I might add!

“Let’s Get Digital” has been a great help in my own journey, even if I constantly hear Olivia Newton-John in the background (my mind’s a busy place). I found the success stories especially helpful and inspiring.

@Elizabeth Ann West, you are so right about having a hand out to help others. I found you through Passive Guy, and your blog post about Jutoh saved my sanity. And Joe, as always, gratitude for providing such a great watering hole. I lift a virtual pint in your honor.

Kate Rose

David Gaughran said...

@Kate Rose

Thank you! That put a huge smile on my face - The Twilight Zone was a real favorite growing up and I often think back to some of those twisted storylines. I should really get a box-set of the show.

And you uncovered my dastardly subliminal marketing plan for Let's Get Digital. I spend a lot of time thinking about titles and I was wondering if it would have that effect. It seems that it did! I even got a singing video review! I didn't even know you could do that on Amazon!

JA Konrath said...

$125K for three books would still be a dream come true for a lot of writers, especially if the ebook royalties were a bit friendlier.

It took me six years after signing to earn out the contract. So that equaled $20k per year.

Jan Hurst-Nicholson said...

I think what happened to you is just about par for the course. My enthusiastic editor at Penguin was almost ready with my children's book when her husband was transferred overseas. The new editor had little interest in the book and it received no publicity or marketing and so was yet another damp squib.
Thanks to e-publishing I will be having it scanned and re-published as a Kindle - and this time I will be responsible for the marketing!

Anita said...

@Kate Thanks for the purchase and the advice!

Mary Stella said...

Adam Pepper said:
The second is more psychological in nature, but every bit as important. Pursuing publishing is so debilitation and frustrating. The apathy and rejection at every turn. Having your hopes and dreams built up and dashed. It takes its toll and can really have a negative impact on your productivity and motivation. I've had some prolonged lulls where I was sulking when I should have been improving my craft and producing new work. Those lulls are no more because I feel so optimistic and hopeful with self publishing, I'm getting instant feedback from readers and I know my work will get out there and have a chance to reach an audience.

Been there, felt that, Adam, and that's after I had a pring deal with two books published.

Now I have control of my books back and have them up online. Even if my sales are measly, each copy sold is one that wouldn't have otherwise and a new reader. Some of these readers have posted great reviews. That all helps remind me that my print publishing sales might have sucked, but my books don't.

Marilyn Peake said...

Barbara Morgenroth,

Wow, what a story! That's the kind of story I've heard from other authors published by big publishing houses, although yours sounds much more painful, considering how many people you had to hire, how many photos you had to produce, and the very short time frame within which you were expected to complete the book. As far as editors go, I've heard other horror stories about editors, including authors who went through multiple agents and multiple editors because the first few they worked with quit and passed them on to someone else within their agencies. Authors who go through these situations but continue to insist that they need the stamp of approval from having a literary agent and getting published by the big publishing houses always seem so miserable and defeated, and as if all their creative drive and belief in their writing talent is gone.

Kate P said...

I don't see it as an either or-self-publish or go with a legacy publisher. I like to try everything and currently write for legacy publishers, digital first press, small press and I've started self-publishing as well. I like to keep my options open and it's not really about the money, it's about finding the best avenue for each particular piece of work. If you find something that works for you as a writer, go for it. In the end it is simply about the method of delivery and how much control you as a writer have of that delivery system, or want to have. I appreciate having a greater variety of options.

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Anonymous said...

Great article, David. I'm a big fan of Let's Get Digital, just because it gathers all that info about indie-publishing that's scattered over many blogs and has it in one place. And you did the great marketing trick of making it free as a PDF as well an ebook.

I read it on free PDF first and it was the first book I read on my new Kindle. And then I went and bought the ebook anyway, just because it was easier to read on a Kindle than a PDF, and it was such a low purchase price it was just easier to go for it.

And now it's the book I receommend to every writer who asks me about indie-publishing and how they can do it.

Also, on the point raised by some her about the generosity of support this community has: David personally responded to my request for help over a translator's draft contract recently and was very generous with his time. So I'm a big fan!

I've just completed my 11 Before 11.11.11 challenge. All the books are out (two under a pseudonym), and I'm exhausted. But I look at all my books lined up on Amazon now, and the 2 or 3 sales per day I'm now getting, and the emails and reviews from total strangers, and the paperback versions of one particular book I'm selling direct to readers and taking to the post office every day, and I feel bloody fantastic as a writer.

And I hadn't felt that in many years.

I started this crazy challenge in January when I discovered Joe's blog and realised how great an opportunity it was to get my stories, my worlds, my creations out there at last, and it's been the greatest sense of freedom I've ever had a writer.

(Oh and I'm still finding bloody typos too!)

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 11 down, 0 to go
Touchstone 2: a time travel Blitz story...

David Gaughran said...


Congratulations on reaching your target. I remember seeing your siggy a good few months ago and thinking "he'll never do that". Well, you did. And the books look great too - really smart-looking covers.

I don't know how you did it, but it's amazing - well done.

Also glad to hear the free thing worked. I've had lots of messages from people who downloaded the free PDF then sprang for Kindle/Nook version. Some people thought I would cannibalize my own sales, but I'm 100% convinced it increased them greatly.

So, are you going to release 12 titles next year before 12.12.12? :)

Anonymous said...


There were times I thought I wouldn't make it too!

Funnily enough, I do have another erotica short that will be out before Xmas, so I'll have actually published 12 for 2012.

But next year I'll take things much more easily. I noticed someone recently announcing his intention to publish 12 x 50k-word novels in 2012. That's a NaNoWriMo every month! NaNoWriYe, if you will. I'm thinking he'll never do it, but you never know...

I've blogged today about how I did it...

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 11 down, 0 to go!
How I Published 11 Books in 9 Months...

Stephen Knight said...

Fantastic post, David. I'd actually made many of the same points on my own blog today, but you said essentially the same...and used about a thousand fewer words. Damn you!

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Mistake in my last post.

I'll have actually published 12 for 2011, not 2012... which is next year.

I'm tired, okay?

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11: 11 down, 0 to go!
How I Published 11 Books in 9 Months...

JA Konrath said...

Nice job, Andy!

Cathryn Leigh said...

I'm hear cause I follow Dave, but I'm now adding this blog to my list of blos I'm watchng as an unpublished writer, hoping to 'be published befroe I"m dead'...

Very nice summary on the difference between the traditional and self publishing route. the more I read, the more my dream of seeing my book on bookstore shelves dies, and I"m finind that it's not a bad death, perhaps it's more a morphing into something more realistic for me.

Oh and @Dave, how in the world did you know I worte a little Star Trek fan fic that included a holo novel? *giggles*

:} Cathryn Leigh

SBJones said...

Some valid points, but if one of your dreams/goals is to see your book on the shelf at the store. You do not need a traditional publisher to accomplish this. My first novel Requiem is self published. Saturday the 12th I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble and I sold out. Yup, every copy they ordered in went home with someone. You can check out the picture on My Blog.

Sold out book signing at Barnes and Noble. Check.

Pursue your dreams.

Rebecca Burke said...

Wow, what a great post. It's clear I can't step away from Joe's blog for very long or I miss the party. And now I will add David's to my list of must-reads.

As usual, after reading both the post and the comments--all feisty and incisive and helpful as can be--I feel rarin' to go on my own work. Thank you!

But I am wondering if I need to ditch my chosen "genre"--young adult writing in the Carl Hiassen mode, a blend of humor and social issues--and try my hand at something else. Could the low sales be because lots of young readers don't have ereaders yet? I tend to believe that the YA writers who are making a go are sci fi/fantasy/romance writers who the early adopters are most likely to devour. Fair enough, just not my thing. (I am willing to learn, though!)

Complicating this is the fact that lots of YA book bloggers only want paper copies, perhaps because they don't have ereaders, think their readers won't, or believe that most ebooks will be crappy. The YA market is a tough one to crack for a non-genre writer, at least now it is. Ideas welcome!

No regrets, though. For the first time in years, my life is not marred by literary agents, publishers, rejections, and "suggestions" from nitwits.

Yuwanda Black said...


Thanks for such an inspiring post. While it's nice to read about writers who sell thousands of ebooks every month, it's very encouraging for someone like me to hear from an author who plods along (and I say that with the utmost respect and admiration for your tenacity).

I publish in the non-fiction genre (although I did recently publish my first fiction book) and I recently started averaging a coupl eof sales per day (60-65 per month) on Amazon.

Note: I still sell the vast majority of my ebooks from my website and I think that placing my ebooks on Amazon have helped my website sales.

And, speaking of, with every sale I make from Amazon (and soon B&N), I feel encouraged. Even though my numbers are paltry compared to most, I'm proof that when you own all the rights, you don't need to make a truckload of sales to make a very nice living.

As I said, I publish mostly in he non-fiction genre (ebooks on freelance writing, internet marketing, small business, travel, etc.). Hence, the prices of my ebooks ranged from a low of 99 cents on up to $59.95. And, as Amazon have helped my website sales (where my ebook prices are higher), I make a comfortable living as a self publisher (I've been self pubbing since 2004.

So for all the authors out there who get encouraged (then discouraged) by those who sell thousands of copies per month, just keep writing (as Joe says).

I have written almost 40 ebooks (with a goal of reaching 50 by years end).

Between volume and retainig self-control (and not writing crap), you can make a very good living self publishing.

Thanks again David for your inspiring post. I've enjoyed all of the guest posts here, but as your numbers come closest mine, yours was more inspiring for me.

Continued success!

Taylor Napolsky said...

Self publishing is expensive if you're broke. It doesn't feel expensive if you have a good job or a husband/wife with a good job.

It's important to keep in mind that for some people, $300 is most of a paycheck.

Another point I want to make is that self publishing requires multiple rounds of editing your own stuff, which you're not supposed to do in the first place. Which takes up a lot of time. Or you can spend even more money to hire an editor. Or, if you're broke, you simply can't hire an editor.

David Gaughran said...


Yes and no. As I said above, I probably spend more on editing than the average self-publisher. And I really don't have money to throw around at the moment. My better half is in grad school and my work has been occasional since I moved to Sweden.

Like many, I have to beg, borrow, and steal when a big bill (like editing) comes in. However, I still don't skimp on the essentials. As Seth Godin says, it's far, far cheaper to design marketing into the product than to spend money trying to promote it afterwards. My last release cost me $1,000 in editing. I made that back in 34 days.

My next release will cost around $2,000 in editing. I covered that (and more) through a Kickstarter-style site by taking $2,300 in advance paperback and e-book orders.

There are ways, even when money is tight.

Plenty of writers I know barter for services too. If one is good at formatting, they barter with another for covers etc. There's always a creative solution, if you put your mind to it.

David Gaughran said...

@Stephen Knight

If we were getting paid by the word, I'd be the real chump.

@Cathyrn Leigh

Hey Cathryn - sorry for stealing your holo novel idea. Although, something tells me we weren't the first two to think of that.


Congrats on the book signing - sounds like it was a real success. Speaking for myself at least, I'm generally referring to getting your books in stores on a large scale. I know some self-publishers have been able to get into individual stores - usually local ones.

It sounds like you enjoyed yourself. It's quite funny that you didn't fit into their preconceived notion of what a writer should look like. Perhaps you need a hat. I think writers wear those.

@Rebecca Burke

I don't think you should ditch your preferred genre at all - you should always write what you're most passionate about. "Write the book you want to read" is the best bit of writing advice I ever got.

This market is changing fast and growing fast. Thriller and romance readers were the first to switch to digital, followed by science fiction, fantasy, and horror. My readers - historical - are only starting to. Literary fiction fans will probably bring up the rear, along with the non-fiction crowd. But they are all switching over, and soon enough.

Write the book you want to read.

@Yuwanda Black

Thank you very much, it sounds like you are pretty well established now. I would imagine that your Amazon sales will grow by a number of factors over the next twelve months to augment all those sales you are making direct. Most non-fiction readers haven't switched to digital yet, but I think that's going to start happening in numbers in 2012.

Pamelaknb said...

Great post David and afterthoughts Joe. I am a firm believer that self-publishing is the way to go. The only thing that I would have relished in going with a traditional publisher is for someone to please take over the marketing/promotions so I could spend my time writing. I don't like marketing, which is probably why I'm not very good at it. :)

But guess what? One of my friends published the traditional way and gave me a huge wakeup call. She said that even though they have a promotions department, because she's not one of their known authors, she still has to do quite a bit of promotions to supplement what they do. I was astonished, because that was the only real advantage I'd imagined having with a traditional publisher.