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Reality of Self-Publishing

Many years ago,  I found myself driving to Miami at 95 mph with Hunter Thompson in the passenger seat putting away a bottle of Pinch, 12 iced bottles of Heineken, and a fair amount of Peruvian Marching Powder. I had been told to place guests for this program in locations where they would feel comfortable so I had ordered a 6 man crew to set Hunter up in a bar. Ten minutes before we hit air, I was told by New York that it looked too much like a bar, so we changed everything. As soon as Gonzo had done his live shot, I ordered a limo to take him wherever he wanted to go, carefully cleaned my rental car, and disappeared.  Mr. Thompson took the limo to Atlanta at a cost of $500 where someone else, I guess, wasn’t a “gutless weasel” and would restock his supply of nose candy.

    The point is that, for 40 years, I worked in network TV news where our mantra was “failure is death.” No matter how strange, expensive, or difficult; there was always a way to get the job done.

    When I wrote my first novel, I played the game—wrote perfect letters to agents, waited 2 years for my agent to find a publisher, waited 18 months to be published, wrote the sequel two years ahead of schedule, and created a massive social media marketing machine. Six weeks after my book “Courier” was published, the publisher, Exhibit A, was wiped out in a drive-by acquisition.

    On New Years Day 2015, I did a self-evaluation:  my name was gone from my agent’s website (which I took as a sign,) the company that now owned my book was planning to mulch the paperbacks, my eBook had simply vanished, two PR companies had provided very little at great expense, social media was less expensive but equally worthless, and I was staring into the abyss of the “self-published author.”

    Oh, and I didn’t have a “day job.”

    So, I became a publisher.

    Learning was a familiar process from my TV days, one I used to describe as “figuring out the dimensions of a room by running around blindfolded and smashing into the walls.” I got a Kindle version of “Courier” up in 3 hours and replaced it with a readable version two days later. I bartered t-shirts for the rights to the cover art from the wonderful Brit who’d done the original. I slugged away at IngramSpark’s format requirements with the help of a friend from high school and had a paperback up in two weeks. I completed and published a fantasy/satire titled “Day of the Dragonking” by April Fools Day (which seemed appropriate,) and rewrote, re-edited and published “Warrior,” the sequel to Courier, on July first.

    What I do best is write, so I’m writing as fast as I can: editing a wonderful non-fiction book by a Japanese film cameraman who was the best news shooter in Vietnam and have both a private eye series set in 1930’s Manila and a YA dystopian in the works.

    I learned that most of what I knew about marketing was wrong. Advertising seldom works, mechanically plugging books on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs doesn’t work, and radio and online podcasts are fun but that’s about it. What works is getting readers to learn about an author, like the author, and tell their friends about the author so that means book giveaways, honest reviews, and real blogs. The Starred Review that PW gave my second book was fantastic because it not only bolstered my personal sense of worth as a writer but also raised our visibility in the eyes of other reviewers. On the other hand, I still need to learn the equivalent of an entire MBA about distribution and wholesale marketing.

   To my surprise, my British PR guru has discovered that Westerns are a consistent seller so we have quite a few of those and are very excited about A. R. Arrington, our new-fangled old-fashioned success story.  Along with A.R., we have a group of promising new authors whose work ranges from children’s books to Texas Romance, a global team of freelancers who can do just about anything, and Great Expectations of going into the black by New Year’s Day 2016.

Lessons Learned:

–Don’t spend money you don’t have unless you really have to—like getting a great cover, for instance.

–Hire a bookkeeper. FAST. Fiverr has great people from all over the world

–Listen to readers and don’t mistake your own preferences for the desires of the market.

–Pay your subcontractors quickly and completely—the same goes for your authors’ royalties.

–Realize and remember that publishing right now is like William Goldman’s description of Hollywood,

“Nobody knows nothing.” 

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3 responses

  1. An unbiased “brilliant!”

    Like

  2. This sounds about right, Terry.

    Like

  3. Terry, if people read this they will be in your camp from that point on…. Jim Smith…

    Like

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