Self Publishing | Steve Gillman

By Web Journalist Ana Ce

We are living the age of the "self-publishing revolution." These days authors can become their own publishers; they can decide the time and the conditions under which to publish their writing; they can retain all the rights to their work and take home a larger percentage of the sale price of each book.

Thanks to this new revolution called print-on-demand (POD), writers who cannot afford an agent or have not been considered by the traditional publishers, or simply do not feel comfortable with big printing houses because of the many invasive contract terms and the lack of control over their own creations--now they can publish independently, when they want it, and how they want.

That's the topic of this interview with well known self-published writer Steve Gillman, author of Secrets of Lucky People (2008) and Beyond Mental Slavery (2010).

Why did you decided to self-publish and how did you get started?

I had been selling Secrets of Lucky People as an e-book for a year or more, and thought it might do well as a paperback as well, so I looked around the internet and found a decent on-demand publisher.

Tell us some details about your experience publishing your first book.

I paid about $900 the first time, which included a minor design work (I chose a cover design of sorts and they fit the title, etc. onto it), and the ISBN number, and listing it on and in the usual catalogs that bookstores order from. It took longer than I thought, in part because I hadn't thought about the things I would need to have ready, like a photo of myself for the back cover, along with a description and a few testimonials.

When you self-publish, who edits your work?

Unfortunately I did the first time. My wife cleaned up most of my typos and other mistakes, but a few made it into the finished book. With Beyond Mental Slavery I found a local retired English teacher who did a great job editing for just $1.10 per page. Some on-demand publishers provide editing as a service, but at much higher prices than that.

How long did the self-publishing process take?

It took over four months from the day I bought the publishing package for Secrets of Lucky People until I had a copy in my hands and a listing on Having learned the process, though I was more prepared with Beyond Mental Slavery, and it took just three months. There is some back-and-forth with the POD companies that will eat up time, but I think it can be done in two months.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of self publishing?

One huge advantage is that you retain complete control. Among other stories, I've heard of publishers giving up on promoting a book, but asking for $10,000 or more to sell the rights back to the author. When you self publish you can even change the POD company you're using, or you can pull the book and sell it to a traditional publisher. You also can update it as you wish.

The big disadvantage is that you will not have the marketing support that a traditional publisher offers. Though the cost of going it alone is less now, this too is a disadvantage. With the traditional route the publisher puts up the money, and you might also get money up front in the form of an advance against royalties.

In a self-publishing context who provides the marketing or promotion of the author; the company or you, or both?

It's all up to you. Some POD companies do offer promotional packages for an extra fee, but these often just involve a mailing out of press releases, and printing of flyers for you to distribute, and things like that. Those services might be worth something, but I haven't heard of anyone succeeding based on them. To promote you book yourself, the easiest route is through using the internet. A site or blog with excerpts from the book is a start. If you create a email newsletter or short course on a related topic you have many opportunities to convince subscribers to buy your book.

What was your biggest lesson?.. Is there anything that you would have done differently?

I learned a lot of small things, but one important lesson about price and size. Since profit is largely dependent on keeping your costs down, and prices can't be any amount you want (at least if you want sales), length matters. Secrets of Lucky People is almost 300 pages, and because of the costs of production, if I offer the standard discount to bookstores I make nothing. Fortunately is content with a 20% discount, so I can make a few dollars per sale there. Beyond Mental Slavery is only around 140 pages, so even though it sells for $10.95 (Lucky People is $14.95), I still net $2 or so on bookstore sales, and double that for online sales.

What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self-publisher writer?

Good work habits. I am not one who believes in the virtue of hard work for its own sake, but it just makes sense that if you work hard and work consistently (write almost every day), success is more likely. And now for the bad news: Your work has to be not only in your writing, but in marketing as well. You have to do something to let people know your book exists and why they should buy it.

Do you think self-publishing (print/web) is the future of the industry?

I think it is a going to be a larger part of it. Traditional publishers are looking more and more for authors who have an existing audience. I got my recent contract because of a website I had which has a newsletter with 5,000 subscribers, and the publisher wanted a marketing plan as part of my proposal. If authors need to have some fame and be marketers anyhow, then I suspect more of them will choose to keep control of their works and self-publish.

You are under contract with a traditional publishing house; would you say that self-publishing can open doors to a publishing contract?

Yes, and I have two personal examples. After self-publishing Secrets of Lucky People, Sunmark Publishing in Japan noticed it and paid me an advance for publishing the book in Japanese. The recent contract I got to write a book about weird ways to make money was based not only on my ability to market it on my website and newsletter, but also on the fact that I had written two books and had one published in Japan. In fact, my original plan was to write a book each year for ten years until one was picked up by a traditional publisher, so I'm a bit ahead of schedule.

In the future will you seek to traditionally publish your work or go back to independent publishing?

I'll always look at both options. It is fun to get paid up front when going the traditional route, but I really don't enjoy deadlines and having my content determined in part by others. When I do go the traditional route next time, I will probably write the book and then present it for a yes or no, rather than contract to write one.

Finally, can you offer some advice to other authors who are thinking about self-publishing?

Write about whatever you're most passionate about and get a book out there. This is terrible advice according to marketers, who will tell you to research the market to determine what to write. They may be right in general, and you'll probably want to think more about the marketability when planning subsequent books. But you need the experience and you can get to know the whole process for less than $600 with the packages available from many POD companies. Plus, you need to sustain your motivation as you go through this the first time. So write what you want and don't worry if you don't succeed on the first try. It will teach you a lot, and where else can you get such valuable lessons for under $600?

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