How to Start Self-Publishing: SPP #1

card-spp-4In The Self-Publishing Podcast’s inaugural episode, after more attempts to make our setup work than we can count, and after Sean continuing to battle with whatever is wrong technology-wise at his house, we eventually were able to get down to business and talk about some of the ways to begin your self-publishing journey.
We talked about how we all got our starts — Dave and Sean years back and only in the last year getting started with Amazon Kindle self-publishing, and me writing my book over a decade ago but only recently publishing it.
You’ll hear about two very different business models — two guys (Sean and Dave) who produce 3 books a week between them (!!) vs. a guy (me, Johnny) with a more mortal timeframe, producing one novel and a bunch of smaller essays.
We talk about:

  • What you need to do to get your book ready to publish
  • How the process of self-publishing on Amazon really works
  • Whether or not you’re a good judge of your own book… in many different areas… and what to do about it
  • Why your book cover matters, and how to best handle it
  • How to totally screw up your chances of having a popular book
  • Why it may make sense to have more than one book written before you do any marketing for any of your work, and why I, personally, am not doing it that way regardless of what’s smart vs. not smart
  • Dave’s creepy obsession with “goths pissing on trees”
  • And a whole lot more

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Show Transcript

SPP #1: How to Start Self-Publishing

This is the self-publishing podcast Episode 1
Narrator: Welcome to the self-publishing podcast where if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself and now here are your hosts. The three whitest guys in podcasting: Johnny, Sean, and Dave.
Johnny: Hey, everyone and welcome to The Self-Publishing Podcast. The podcast that is all about how to get your words out into the world without contending with agents, publishers or any of the other gatekeepers in traditional publishing. I’m Johnny B Truant and my co-hosts are as always the very patient duo of David Wright and Sean Platt.  Trying here for the 17th, 18th, 19th, maybe 20th take of our inaugural episode of self-publishing podcast.  Have you had enough of this podcast yet guys?
(laughing)
David: Well, self-publishing …
Sean:  (Interrupting) far easier than podcasting (laughing)
Dave: We’ve put out three books in the same time we’ve been trying to put out one podcast.
Johnny: During the last restart, Dave was clicking away from the recording and writing new episodes of Yesterday Gone.
Sean: funny we can crank out 20 thousand words a week but we can’t get a podcast out for anything.
Johnny: So we’ve been talking about doing a podcast for what? A couple of months now I think.
Dave: Eight years
Johnny: Eight years, Sean and Dave were talking about it for like a long time and then I came in with what I thought was a really brilliant idea, because Sean and I had recorded a call like maybe six to eight months ago, and so I was listening to it again, as I do in my narcissistic ways of listening to my own stuff again, and I, I emailed Sean I was like, “Dude we should do a podcast.”  He was like that’s a really good idea that I have kind of already had. So I weaseled my way into this one and we tried for like several weeks now to record the last thing was Sean sounding like–how would you describe that?
Sean: Asylum. I was in a Cylon, apparently.
Johnny: Yeah I mean we are incapable of working the technology.  We really have no business being on the internet.
Dave: I think the Cylon actually sounded kind of cool, but you know.
Sean: It was lost in translation.
Johnny: It was listener friendly
Sean: Yeah
Dave: It depends on the listener.
Johnny:  We got like a janky set up here it’s like we are all on video so that we can see each other and be like we are buddies hanging out in the same room here but then the video will go and we will be like damn it.  
(laughing)
So I guess we should actually transact some business. Umm we are going to talk today about how to get started and um…
Dave: On podcasting
Johnny: On podcasting we have a lot to say, authorities in the field of podcasting.  Um, well I’ll go first if you don’t know me I’m uh mine name is Johnny B Truant and my site is JohnnyBTruant.com. But these guys have a lot more of a story and a lot wider reach especially in publishing. Do you want to go through sort of what you got going and all that?
Sean: Yeah, you want to start Dave?
Dave: Yeah, alright.  This is David Wright. We run Collective Inkwell which is basically our publishing company where we do a lot of our dark, fiction, horror, sci-fi fantasy sort of stuff.  Last summer we did: Yesterday’s Gone, our first apocalypse serial it did really well came back season two. That did even better, and now we’re putting out a couple of more stories, then we’ll be hitting Yesterday’s Gone again in June.
Johnny: My favorite part of this story by the way is the way that Dave says horror.  It always sounds like whore to me.  
Sean: You know what.  I was going to say that. I left it alone. Did he say whore? (laughing)
Johnny: Not just whore …
Dave: It’s a horror story alright.
Johnny:  Dark whore.
Sean: It was dark whore it was the way that (laughing)
Johnny: And how did you get into this to mess with Dave, Sean?
Sean: Dave and I met–I don’t know two weeks into my online adventure. I stole his domain.
Dave: That was awful.
Sean: Yeah he got pissed and called me up.  We have been working together ever since. So we tried to do the um the serialized fiction thing a couple of years ago. Um I wouldn’t say that we’ve failed but we did. (laughing)
Dave: I will.
Sean: Yeah, we did a good job serializing it but we tried doing it on a blog with one new episode every week and that just didn’t work.  What made this really possible was doing standalone episode and putting them up on Kindle, so Dave and I worked together forever and in between our first crack at serialization and our second time at bat last summer, we did a ton of stuff from just freelance, editing, copying web design, just really anything, kind of just buying our time until we could get back into the publishing.  
Last summer we had– you know, what ended up being a good idea.  We didn’t want a serialize one book, and we figured that was one of the reasons we failed the first time. We were taking a book and breaking it into parts.  When we first went to serialize Yesterday’s Gone, we heard from a lot of writers, successful writers too. And you know the cry was, “You can’t make serialization work. Serialization isn’t going to work.” and they are right because the people who were trying to do it before were serializing a novel.  And people don’t won’t to wait in pieces to get their novel, so what we did was kind of deconstruct it, and we broke it apart and, and, modeled what we were doing not after other books but after serialized scripted television and you know we start each episode with a bang up opening and we end it on a cliff hanger, and so we made it work, because we weren’t following the kind of the Kindle crowd we were following the JJ Abram’s crowd.  
So as Dave said, we put out a new book every single week. Um in addition to what we are doing together, The Collective Inkwell, I have another publishing company called Sterling & Stone, and we also do a book a week. Actually right now we are producing three books per week and we’re nonfiction but we are moving into fiction within the next month.
Johnny: So
Dave: (interrupting) Show Off.
Johnny: Yes, so if anybody’s—that’s what I thought. What a dick.  If anyone is listening to that, is like what the fuck have I gotten myself into.  Just so that everybody knows like that is exactly what I’m saying a book a week and then I am like ok so you must be publishing somebody else’s books and then you are like, oh we did this other thing and that does a book a week too and la da dah we do all of this.  I am in the same position and the reason this is kind of funny is that Sean and Dave are— I mean let’s face it they are basically one guy. Right I mean that’s fair to say right? So they’re one guy…
Dave: They’re one very, very big guy.
Johnny: I mean you know, you combine them and
Sean: we can argue about who is Tyler Durnden and who is Jack…
Johnny:  A little frightening– But then on the other side of that– and I have one title, um my title–no that’s not true, and boy there is a lot, not that we are going to be able to cover in this podcast.  It should be a regular occurring thing, like maybe every other week for a while.
Johnny: Um I basically have one novel, and then I’ve done something that actually Sean suggested that I do.
Dave: Slacker
Johnny:  Yeah I know like what the fuck one book.  I actually took some of my blog posts that stand alone as kind of like epic content.  They would stand as essays and put those up but I really just have the one book, and I’m working on something else, but who knows how long that’s going to take to get done so we are trying to cover the spectrum here, from you just want to get something published, to you want to use publishing as a money making vehicle to you want to give voice to your artistic sentiments, to you want to publish a book a week. Basically that’s it; right?
Sean: And there is no right way– that’s the thing, this is frontier.  There is no right way to do it.  But there are things that work and things that don’t and I think that between the three of us we definitely know what is working at least for us right now, and what’s not going to work. When you’re first starting out that’s what you really want to know is what I don’t want to mess up. How can I avoid the common mistakes because, you know, there are mistakes that will cripple you like out of the gate. Whether you’re doing a book a week, or a book a year — you want to avoid those mistakes.
Johnny: I mean what drew you guys to this cause you said you have been–I mean first of all this isn’t–like we debated a little over the name of the podcast. Right, this is the self- publishing podcast, because Sean doesn’t really like the idea of being self-publishing and I have another friend who likes the idea of digital publishing or something. I mean you guys where literally doing self-publishing before there was any of this Kindle model and place to make it easier for you; right? You’ve been working on this for quite a while.
Dave: We’ve been writing awhile. We didn’t start self-publishing digitally until you know, Kindle was starting to take off. I don’t think we caught it like right in the beginning of you know the big take off, but right around the time that everybody was starting to talk about it, we were doing a print on demand sort of thing.  But the price on print on demand is insane. It’s almost impossible to build an audience that way.  Kindle provides a very cheap way–a very easy way to reach your audience and build your crowd and that’s what we’ve done, and so far it’s been working very well.
Johnny: We tried Amazon. 
Sean: We actually tried to do print for our first several books but they are like one to two percent of our total sales and all are a headache, like formatting for print is way more difficult than formatting for Kindle and there’s no sales, and your profit margins are smaller, it’s just like pretty much a suck burrito. Like nobody is going to eat this.
Johnny: But I mean—do you think that most of the power is in–I don’t want anyone to think that I’m just letting that metaphor pass, I did appreciate it and I am here taking a deep breath and appreciating the suck burrito.  That’s what she said so…
Dave: (interrupting) That was the original name on the podcast, by the way, that we were arguing about.
Johnny: The suckburritocom. I bet that that domain name is taken.
Sean: That’s our next serial.
Johnny: Right. Yesterday’s Gone. Do you think it makes sense to focus on Kindle?  I don’t just mean Kindle. Just a tiny little bit of my history with this is– first of all Sean is the guy that got me thinking about it. And of course Dave then because they are basically one guy as we have already established, was part of it as well.
So when I launched mine I did– there is a way to have something up on Amazon, have a freebee. You have to make it exclusive. So what happened was a lot of people, more than you would’ve thought were like, “Oh , I have a Nook a Barnes and Nobles reader.” Barnes and Noble has its own store which uses a different format then the Kindle store does. So they were sort of like what the hell, it’s exclusive on Amazon. You guys are in multiple places; right?
Sean: That’s a great question.  Do you want to take it Dave?
Dave: Oh yeah, sure.  Most of our titles are Amazon only at the moment.  Amazon has a thing were you can do a Kindle Select, or whatever it’s called. Basically you can, if you are exclusively with them for 90 days, you can have your book free for five days during that time and also people can borrow it for free if they are prime members on Amazon.
And that really helps build your audience when you are able to give it away for free.  We can’t publish a book for free on Amazon unless we are offering exclusivity. So we are doing that, but after the 90 days we’re going to on to Barnes & Noble and Apple and all the other stores and releasing them there. But sales on Amazon are like 95 percent of everything. Amazon really is you know a big deal right now.
Sean: The big thing…
Dave: Yeah, so I am sure that will change over time but you know right now we are doing what works for us, and trying to reach as many readers as we can. We hope that the people on Nook and stuff like that, that they will, you know, they will be patient and maybe discover us a little later.  It’s not like we have any shortage of things to offer them in time, so it will take them forever to catch up anyway.
Sean: I think that one of the mistakes that we made is putting Yesterdays Gone One out. We realized, you know what, we need to take advantage of this, so Yesterdays Gone’s second season had to wait. We’d set that precedent already.
Now this is a better precedent we’re setting. I’d compare it to back in the day, when, you know if you were a big video game player, you would have to wait for the Japanese import to get  here.  There’d be like this game that you really wanted to play, but it just didn’t have a domestic release yet.
I think that we are going to have to delay our releases because it just doesn’t fit our model to put everything out at one time.  You can get a Kindle app for any tablet any smartphone and pc, mac, so it’s not like they can’t read it. It may not be there very favorite way in the world to read it.  But if they really want to read it, they can, it’s not difficult.
Dave: Well I don’t think they have a Kindle app for the Nook yet and that is a problem, if you went out and brought a brand new Nook and you want to read on your Nook you’re kind of screwed there but…
Sean: Yes, but that’s the hiccup.  They can either wait or they can read it on a different device. But you’re right. They are not going to be able to do it on the Nook.
Dave: I’ve also offered to read it to people if they call me up, I will read it to them over the phone. 
(laughing in the background)
Johnny: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve made that same promise.
Sean: Go figure.
Johnny: Yeah the funny thing about Kindle is because when I did mine– I’m known as a blogger not a writer.  I mean I guess like a blogger is a writer and I consider myself a writer before I consider myself anything else.  When I did my book release, a lot of people were really interested in it.  I think I introduced a lot of people to the idea of Kindle.  Like a lot of people who were used to traditional books or knew that it was out there and they never really done it before. And the thing about Kindle is if you have no device, you have no ipad, you have no Kindle, you have no, um I don’t know– whatever.
Dave: Zoom, Motorola razor
Johnny: Right, exactly. You can get it on your mobile phones and I know people read my book on the mobile phones. It sounds like a unique breed of torture. You can read it right on this site, and that is something that a lot of people don’t know and I think that as I go forward, one of the things I may do is just try and–that’s part of what this podcast is.  It’s about trying to educate people on how to consume my stuff because it’s not available in like a format that everyone understands like a book.
I’m watching them nod this is the problem with having video this is a detriment because we are communicating non verbally. 
 Sean: Yeah say something funny.  (laughing)
Dave: Was there a question at the end of that?  I don’t remember.
Johnny: What am I; A fucking interviewer? You know come on guys.  Participate. You take off and we got three of us.
Sean: Yeah I think part of the magic of this is that this is all new. It’s not just new for the readers.  It’s new for the writer.  It’s staggering how many questions are out there. And Dave and I really found that out this last year that so much of the stuff we’re doing is so brand new.
We didn’t have anyone to answer our questions because we were doing things–we were asking questions about things that hadn’t been done yet, so it’s really hard to find those answers you kind of have to make them up yourself and then you figure out whether they or right or wrong.
And you know we have been at it, I guess, eight or nine months now. We are really hitting a stride and we starting to figure out what serves our readers best and what serves us best, and really they are almost always the same thing, and you just have to — if you put your reader first, you are going to eventually win. It really is that simple because you are not– it doesn’t matter how good you are as a writer–bless you man (someone sneezes) it doesn’t matter how good you are as a writer if you don’t have readers who will not only read, but champion you, then you are done.
Really there is just to  much competition out there.  So if you love your readers, and you do that by giving them stuff that they really, really, want in a way that’s easy for them to consume, and they feel good when they consume it, and they are happy enough to share it with their friends, then that’s just a great set up.
Johnny: Yet–Ok, so, so as we are listening to all these crazy things that we are doing and all these different formats and stuff, I am just trying to imagine like a lot of folks probably coming to this and– ok so here is my, here is my Kindle story, maybe this will be illustrative.
I wrote a book um twelve and a half years ago, something like that and I wrote the query letters and I wrote the–you know perfected my first three chapters and there is all these things like if you read Readers Digest, if you read How to Write Guides or Writers Market, whatever, any of those books that explain how you can get published, you know there is a certain sort of formula to follow and you send query letters to agents and then agents say, “Yeah that’s awesome! Send me the first three chapters, and you do that like I made those rounds, and I got nowhere with it.
I did the– you know collected dozens and dozens and dozens of rejection letters and try again and I think once or twice, I sent somebody some chapters and they said, ” That’s awesome but no. They didn’t even say that, they just said no. Screw you, dude.
Sean: Yeah, you can use the same amount of time right now to write another book.
Johnny: Right, right.
Sean: Which is the best marketing. Dave and I have found that the very best way to market your book is to write another one.
Johnny: Yeah and I think there is some stuff that we can talk about  in future episodes to about sort of filtering yourself and drafts and you know, how important it is to get it out there versus work on perfecting all this stuff. In my case, it’s like I have given up on a book.  It was literally in a box in my closet. It could not have been a bigger cliché. And like several drafts of it too.  Three or four drafts and then I started hearing about this and I’m like I’m like, like wow! I got the book War of Art, like I think every writer should read.
Dave: Steven Pressfield.
Johnny: That book made me say, ok I need to do this. I know about this self-publishing thing on Kindle. I don’t know how to do it. But I got the book and it’s in the electronic format.  I just need to figure out what to do.
So if somebody is in my shoes, and this is you guys being like self-publishing ninjas at this point. Like I could throw e-books at you and you could dodge them and (laughing) Catch them in your teeth and stuff.
Sean: Neat-o!
Dave: How would you get started, if you were like me back then, or if you are just wanting to write a book, because you can get paid to write fiction now.
Sean: The first thing I would do is get somebody to read it. So, you have perspective because we never know how good or bad our stuff is until somebody else can shine a light on it, and you don’t won’t a family member or a friend to read it. You really need somebody who will tell you it sucks, if it sucks.  Once you kind of figure that and you know you have something that’s decent, you want to take it from good to great, because good enough isn’t.  There is way to much competition and there are I mean.  This is like right now we are at the time, a few years ago, when there weren’t many blogs and you could put a blog out and you could, you could make that blog blow up, just by doing a great job.
Johnny: Those days are over.
Dave: Posting every day …
Sean: But there are so many authors who are going to–I mean they are flawed so you have to be better.  You have to be great.  So good enough just– it’s not going to cut it.  
Once you have that manuscript, you want to take it to an editor.  And this isn’t like a copy editor. That is really not what you want.  You want kind of a line editor.  Somebody who can really bring the best possible story out, and once you have that, revise it make it as good as you possibly can,  then send it to a copy editor so it really is bullet proof because you are going to get torn apart if your, if your book has edit or typos, and here is the thing. Every book has typos. Harry Potter has typos. The difference between their book and your book is they’re looking for typos in your book. 
No one is looking for typos in Harry Potter. “None,” so it’s going to get by your book isn’t. Typos, you are going to get called on it, because you already have the stink of self-publishing on you.  You really need to make sure that you’re giving your work your all.
Dave and I were really fortunate because we have one another to balance, you know ideas off of, and copy off of. I tend to write a little bit too visual.  Dave’s like, dude what the hell is your problem?
Johnny: I believe that the term is flowery, not visual.
Sean: Yeah I like the word visual way better.
Dave: But we know what’s appropriate.
Sean: And, and, you know and Dave’s writing is a little dryer than mine so I’ve flowered it up and (laughing) then he, you know he cleans that. So we act as one another’s line editor but then we still send it to an editor. At Sterling and Stone, we actually have a process were we take the manuscript and it goes through several phases. It comes in as a raw — I then, kind of polish that draft.  Then it goes to a line editor. The line editor goes through it and after that it goes to a copy editor, before it goes to final. 
So there are four people seeing it from outline all the way to finished draft because again good enough isn’t.  It really has to stand out. So the first thing I would do if — if you’re one of those writers, and there are a lot of us out there who have, you know, something either in our closet or collecting digital dust on our hard drive, get it out.
But don’t just think that it’s enough to get it out and up on Kindle tomorrow, because your reader deserves more than that.
Johnny: But by the same token, Sean if I could–I mean where do you think the line on that is because I think there is a lot to be said for just —  I don’t want to imply that its ok to be sloppy because I know that your point is don’t be sloppy, but I mean you can get it out and don’t need to be at…
Sean: (interrupting) Well you can get it out and one of the magical things about Kindle is that you can update.  So you can get it out. So it’s at least there, and you can upload a new version of it, which is fine. But the bottom line is your reviews will kill you. If you don’t get any reviews, or you get one star because your book is crap, you will not sell anymore.  I mean it will murder it in its tracks.
Dave:  Because it’s one star therefore your average is one, even though there is only one.
Sean: Yes and that’s– and the other side is a lot of people come out with you know there self-published book and can they get there Aunt Josephine and Uncle Bob to, you know, go and give them five star reviews but then things happen either you know these are people who don’t normally do a review.  There is a community on Amazon who exist solely to tear apart self-published authors who are gaming their reviews. You really can’t solicit reviews.  You need honest reviews and if you get honest reviews that are shit you’re just dead in the water. So I–I
Johnny: I totally hear what you are saying.
Dave: I have a suggestion. If you are just starting out, and you are not sure if you are good enough or not, and you just want to get it out there and put it out there you know you do not want to waste any time.  I would suggest writing under a pseudonym first.
Sean: If it is bad you know, ok you use another one next time.
Johnny: But one of these will eventually catch fire. But just choose a name that you do not won’t to be stuck with forever like Sean Platt I mean good God what was he thinking.
Dave: Yeah.
Sean:  Yeah my parents really shit the bed on that. 
Dave:  But, But, if you want to get an audience, and you think your stuff is close to good enough but you are not sure. I say put it out there.  UPut it out there with the pseudonym and you can do that. You can have different names on Amazon–I mean read the Kindle boards, and you can figure out how to do that.  Just do that and keep at it. Don’t wait forever to write a book until it is perfect, because it is never going to be perfect.  You got to start…
Sean:  (Interrupting) Yeah, no book is perfect. Dave and I move at a ridiculous pace.  I mean a book a week is ridiculous, and I am a big believer in ready, fire, aim.  But I also, I also want as much as I can to you know preserve my legacy and be known for quality work. So there is a difference between rushing and being careless and, at the very minimum get a second opinion. You can’t go without an edit.  You have to have somebody else edit your work.  You can’t edit it yourself.
Johnny: I’m wondering if I…
Dave: Even if you are an editor
Johnny: I’m wondering if I’m….
Sean: Yes
Johnny: honor bound at this point to point out that I’ve never had anybody else edit my work.
Sean: Yeah I don’t know.  I mean I would highly suggest against that.  I think because it’s impossible.
Johnny: Nobody is as awesome as I am though.
Sean: Well that’s true.  But I think that—
Dave: His ego edited it (laughing).
Johnny: I actually do like–I’m quite hard on myself but I don’t mean to imply–I went back and I looked at it and I’m like, wow parts of this really suck ass. My own like asshole editor, but, I know what you mean like most people should not do that. Maybe I shouldn’t.  I don’t know. 
Sean: Yeah I think–(Dave trying to interrupt) at the very least you want to copy edit it. And you can go to e-lance and you can find somebody. I found a couple of editors on fiverr who will edit 2000 words for five dollars.  You know you’re not going to spend that much, but there are two things you need to survive in the self-publishing game and that’s a solid edit and a good cover. If you have–if you think you can make your cover in Microsoft Paint, I wish you all the luck in the world. Like really I mean it.  But you are going to have a really, really, hard battle.
Johnny: At this point I’m just going to leave because I didn’t get a copy editor.  I just had a line edit and I did my cover myself.  Of course, I didn’t do it in Paint.  And I think I did a pretty good job.  And actually I tried to hire somebody.  I really did.  I tried to hire him and the dude just wouldn’t get back to me so I was like well fuck you man. I’m going to do it myself. 
But I agree you do need a good cover, because that is the first thing.  And I think we’ve all gone through you know, well I guess not traditional book stores, but if you have ever looked through the Kindle, there’s some covers that you are just like– everybody judges books by the covers. 
I found my son the other day and he’s into these magic treehouse books.  You know it’s a series that all people who have kids know. Well anyway like he’s going through them there like a hundred of them, and he’s literally–I wish I could show you like visually. He’s like pulling them off the shelf, looking at them and putting them back.  I mean like you know two seconds per book and I walk by him and I’m like, are you judging those books by their covers? You are not suppose to do that (laughing).
Sean: Yeah anyone who says you don’t judge a book by their cover, just doesn’t understand human nature.  Of course, we judge books by their cover, and that’s your one shot, your cover, your product description, those are really important. You need that cover to look good. Again this is an area where Dave and I are fortunate, because our partnership works really well for what we need to do.  Dave’s a visual guy. He used to be a cartoonist.  He does a great job with our covers,  so that’s not an out of pocket expense. Yes we pay out of pocket for our edits every week, but we never have to pay for our covers.  And if we were paying for new covers every week, that would be harder to do.
Dave: We wouldn’t be doing a book a week.
Sean: Yeah, that is probably true.
Johnny: I was going to pay $400 for mine.  And when I did it myself, I liked that cover.  I was like sweet. I just saved four hundred bucks. So there you go.
Sean: At Sterling and Stone, we did all the Digital Writer books. We had a cover artist who made like a general look, that each of the books could be adapted to, which makes sense. It’s kind of what Dave does for each of our serials except they are a little more individualized. These ones are really just a color and an icon tweek. That’s it. And of course, the title has changed but they’re very, very similar. That way, we only had to really pay for a cover once, then we pay a small fee for each to be tweeked each week. That is scalable.
Johnny: The thing about a cover though, is your setting up a lead for the person that’s about to read your book and when you have a cheap, horrible cover, they are expecting the horrible book  unless they’re severely open-minded. But when I see all these you know, I looked through the list and see what’s free what’s, you know, is trending and I just see these awful covers and I’m thinking, well I’m not going to read that book, and yeah, that makes me a bastard and maybe it’s a great book inside. 
But I’m not going to read it, and if I’m not going to read it, I’m sure a lot of other people are not going to read it.  You want to set it to your will look as close to a professional book you know of mainstream published book as you can as you are able to afford it. As you able to do whatever the case uh just try your best and you definitely want more opinions on your book cover than just yours.
There are a lot of people eho think they have an idea of what looks good. There’s even a blog out there and that they actually– this guy sells his books, his book covers. He actually sells his services and it’s probably the worst covers I’ve ever seen every one of them is laughably bad and I feel bad for the guy. I promise. I’m  not going to say his name or anything, but you need to be able to ask somebody that has a visual eye that’s better than yours whether this book is good or not so whether the cover is good or not. 
Dave: And this is probably a controversial point and it’s a whole topic in itself, but I think that it extends to price too, and I originally was thinking this was a whole school of thought, to make your books $.99. I tell you what I finally bought a $.99 book and I had to work to give that book a chance like in my own head. It’s like I said okay, I went ahead and I said sure it’s only $.99, but I did pay it and that means that I want to at least read a few pages and see, but I was so not willing to give that book a chance because I paid $.99 for it. 
Sean: Yeah, pricing is one– I mean we can do four weeks in a row on pricing. I’m fascinated by it. A lot of what we did with Yesterday’s Gone was actually based around the funneling of its pricing. So it was the first project that Dave and I ever, ever, did, especially in regard to publishing that was really a perfect coalescing of creativity and smart business because we did build the project around the funnel which it was $.99, but $.99 is the worst price. It really is. There’s, I think, a big mistake that a lot of writers make thinking that they can go the $.99 route and that there are going to make money because John Locke did it, but you know he sold millions at $.99, but he also did it before the flood. He did it before the competition and even then he only made a couple hundred thousand dollars on those million downloads. It’s not that much money. It’s not like he made millions of dollars. 
Johnny: And it’s not sustainable probably either. It’s not sustainable.
Sean:  Yeah he’s not on the list now. He doesn’t have seven titles on the top 10 now, so I think a lot of what John Locke did was amazing and it kind of helped us shape our ideas but the bottom line is $.99 is great, but only if you have some place to send it. $.99 works for us because we’re sending our readers somewhere else. We are not– $.99 is not the beginning and the end of our relationship $.99 is only at the front door, and so we use freely and exactly the same way.
A lot of authors put out their books for free and they think okay, now I’m going to get all of this attention, but if your reader loves to read and you don’t have anything else for them to read, you’re making a really big mistake at $.99
We want to reward our most consistent readers, so we make sure that we put something out there for $.99.  Our early readers who are reading every week as the serial unfolds, we don’t want to charge them $2.99 an episode because we would be punishing them for reading first and that would be wrong.  So we give them the experience of being able to read the episodes as they’re new for $.99, but then as soon as we–the season is over and it’s available as a full season, which we package our episodes, six for 4.99. As soon as that happens, all the $.99 episodes go up to $2.99. 
Johnny: I’m sincerely– I sincerely admire what you guys are doing with this because it’s– I’ve never seen such a strategic and sensible business model put in place for fiction.  So I think that we have a ton that we can talk about…
Sean: Thank you. 
Johnny: You’re very welcome. It’s inspiring really –but that having been said it’s probably an advanced strategy. So let’s say that you’ve gone through and you got your book, you know you’ve got it ready. How intimidating do you find the process; the first time I mean, it’s really not that hard, actually getting it up there. 
Sean:  I will let Dave take that but, I
Dave: and I, I didn’t hear the question. What was that again?
Johnny:  Uh okay, so you’ve got your manuscript ready and you’ve done the copy edit that I didn’t do, you’ve you know, had someone else do your cover that I didn’t do. And all this stuff and there are specs by the way if you go on. I don’t remember them off the top of my head. It’s something like 900 x 1200 or something is the dimensions…
Dave: 600 by 800 for the smaller cover and then there’s another one for the larger cover that will actually upload to the product page.
Johnny: I guess you would know them off the top of your head since you’re the graphic guy and you guys do three books a week.
(laughing) 
Johnny: But yes, so you got the cover and you got your manuscript that has been cleaned up. What’s the next step? 
Dave: Well, we use Scrivener. I like that program a lot.
Johnny: Me too. 
Dave: Basically it compiles it into a mobi and epub format and we do that. Other people do a straight up HTML version. They want a complete hands-on control. I’m not quite you know, I’m not going to do that. That’s a lot of time basically we put everything in Scrivener and organize it that way and upload to Amazon and whereever else we’re going to upload to. It’s a pretty painless process. When you’re uploading you want to choose your keywords, you know, you want to if you’re writing post-apocalyptic you’re going to write that in the keywords to help you find it (pauses) I don’t know.
Johnny: Yeah, basically, so the…
Dave: It is simple.
Johnny: Yeah it is simple. And when I did my– I’m trying to remember how I did this. I know that with–I know that with the, the little essays I put up um the so called– I have a post called, a post on my blog called The Universe Doesn’t Give A Flying Fuck About You, and it was really, really, popular.
Dave: It was real popular.
Johnny: Thank you. It was really, really, popular when it was on my blog so after doing that call with Sean I was like I should just put that up on Kindle. It’s one more avenue. It’s $.99 so it can be lead gen rather than make me a bunch of money. And it sold surprisingly well with zero marketing. I never tell people about it, because why would I? It’s on my blog list. Actually I had to take it off because I forgot about that whole exclusivity thing and it’s in the select program in all this, but it was free, so like why would I tell anybody? 
It sells about three a day and I don’t–I never promoted that. But anyway, when I clicked that  it was literally just like a Microsoft Word document. You click the upload button like these, and it uploads it and you say, here’s your cover and you click the upload button for your cover and you add a few keywords as Dave was saying and you add a few categories.
But when I did my book The Bialy Pimps which by the way, I originally did the Microsoft Word thing and what I found is that Word thinks it’s smarter than you.  It’s a pain in the ass. I hate Word and it does stupid shit, and then you have to reverse it engineer it and stuff so I actually ended up taking that book and putting it into Scrivener and I read everything in Scrivener now and Scrivener is awesome because basically with a few configuration settings, you know, you change some stuff and it will output, and then you say, I want to output  an EPUB file which is  the one you send to people who have a nook, or you sent a nook, or you say I want a Kindle, and  it’s just so simple. You don’t have to screw around with all of that. But yeah, I mean, if you just have something simple. You can literally go and do a Microsoft Word upload. You guys go now.
Sean:  Don’t be intimidated, that’s the bottom line. You can do a few quick Google searches.  The hard part is getting something that is ready to go, getting it from– okay, I have a finished document um now what do I do? That part isn’t hard. It’s really having something that is worth getting up.
Dave: That’s what she said.  And a lot of other writing advice I see from writers is, you know, don’t really promote the first book — because like you were saying before, if you’ve got one book and you have nothing else to buy, then you know what’s the point? I’d rather get somebody’s  attention when I have five or six more books to buy rather– because if I just give my book out you know, if it’s cheap, or if it’s free whenever people read it, and they love it, and there’s nothing else to go, then they’re going to forget about me. There are new writers and new books every week.  So you got to stay in their head. Make them remember you, and, and, have something you know, constantly available as much as you can and that’s our strategy. Other people might do it a little differently. And maybe they just write much better books than you remembered after having read one page. I don’t know.  
Sean:  We had a book called Available Darkness which is actually the first book we tried to serialize. We finally finished it, then put it out and this was, I think, May of last year, maybe June, but early summer and we had this book and we kind of had to– we took a step back and we thought, okay to market this book we’re going to have to spend a lot of time and energy marketing this book, so is it really worth it? And we kind of came to the conclusion that no, we would be way better spending our time just writing something new, which is how we came up with Yesterday’s Gone and serializing because we thought if we had multiple titles, that’s really what we want to promote, and we actually — we put out the first title.  Was it August, Dave? 
Dave: Yesterdays Gone?
Sean: Yeah.
Dave: Uh end of August, early September.
Sean: Okay, so we put that out. No, it was July. July 30 we put it out. July 30.
Dave: Why did you ask? You dick.
Sean: Because I didn’t remember at the time, but I’m quick so…
Dave:  Are you quizzing me, god-damn-it? I was there.
Sean: So we put it out in July. But then in August and September all we did is write the next five episodes. We ignored that one I mean, we told a few people it was out there. But, we didn’t really think it was worth promoting until we had the funnel for the other episodes. 
We wrote episodes two through six, put those all up, and then on October 3 was when we actually started our marketing and we did  like 50 guest post and actually the call that Johnny is referring to was part of that promotional push  last October, you know, were we finally had the full season available, and we didn’t– we had a lot of $.99 titles there, but we actually had a 4.99 title that they could buy. So then it was worth promoting.
I think a mistake a lot of authors make is that they spend because you constantly hear the drumbeat that you have to market, you have to market, because it’s not enough to write, and while I totally agree with that is 100% true. You have to market intelligently and you only have so many minutes of this.
If you’re spending two hours a day on twitter, trying to promote a 2.99 book, you won’t meet you bottom line. You’re just not. So it makes more sense to have a smaller catalog, along with a few books that you can really promote and say, I’m an author, here’s my work. You’re going to get people who say I love this author, I’ll buy everything they write. 
Johnny: I think it depends on what your goal is too. So you guys have gone in gung ho, and if you’re going to be fiction writers you are going to find a way to make this work, and like I get it, and I agree with the advice to have multiple titles before you start marketing. However, ask somebody who writes like a mortal, like a normal human being. One who isn’t capable of putting out three books a week. That advice sucks this because you’re like…
Sean: Well it’s all about your end game. If you are going to be a full-time writer then that’s different, your end game is that I want to be a full-time published author. Like that’s all I want to do. And for us that is kind of that’s our bread and butter, so we need to get to that system as soon as possible…but if
Johnny: If you want to make full-time money then yeah, you need a specific strategy.
Sean: Yeah if writing and publishing is one thing among many that you’re doing, then yes, you can absolutely take your time. But if it’s going to be your full-time career, then you really do need multiple titles otherwise because– I mean, yes, you could be the one person who writes the book that’s just huge and just takes off. It’s Hunger Games or Shades of Gray or you know The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, just this huge, huge book.  But the odds of that happening are so-so slim that it just doesn’t make sense to throw yourself behind a single title.      
Johnny: Yeah, if you don’t know me, if this is your first contact with me, I’m (takes a breath) I guess I’m kind of an Internet marketer.  I despise that cloak, but I guess that’s kind of–well, I guess I am a blogger, like I take that one.
Dave: EVIL.
Johnny: Yeah, I guess that’s fair. I’m a decently known blogger and that’s so that’s my primary thing and I do online education and you know the good coaching and that sort of thing. So being able to get anything for my fiction is pretty cool, but the other thing is, that in my world and Sean comes out of this world some too. We have this idea that … and this happens with get rich quick mentality too, quite independent from internet marketing. Is you think that what you make during launch week is usually what you make; right? I’m going to launch something, and I’m going to make a bunch of money because then practically speaking or literally you don’t make anything later because you just have this chunk.
So for me it’s kind of a paradigm shift to say, “This is something that can grow steadily.”  Books are more or less evergreen. I mean a book isn’t–a fiction book is something like you know a Catch-22 is written just–okay, that’s a terrible example, because it’s really not that old, but maybe what, 40 years ago. It’s– people still read it much today.
So my book, I wanted to get it out there and I do want to drum up some attention for it, but I’m not like marketing hard-core. Which is what I think is sort of the alternative to what you were saying. Like if you want to get the full-time income then you can do one or two things, either write multiple books and then market intelligently or you just market the hell out of–like you spend all your time trying to sell that book until it makes a full-time income and probably…
Sean: And yeah, then people get tired of you. People don’t want to hear you, banging the drum on your book all the time. 
Johnny: What do you think about, this would be more for an in between person, because I get how people can forget about you. What do you think about people who collect names and I know you guys do this. But, what about somebody who doesn’t have as much of a machine and collects names maybe on a mailing list and keeps in touch, informs them of new products, and maybe they have a podcast on the world that their book is in or something like that.  I mean–and give them small…
Sean: That’s a great mechanism. That totally works, it’s a great mechanism. I highly believe in email list. I think that it’s a very smart way to communicate with your audience. But I still think it’s hard . All things being equal, the very, very best marketing working right now for writers is Amazon itself. And the free on Amazon–I mean when KDP Select first came out late last year, there were a lot of bitching about it. 
There was a lot of bitching and moaning. And oh, it’s so terrible for authors. It’s really not if you know how to use it because if you use it well and you know it’s the problem people have was the exclusivity. I– you know, we’ll go to Target and see, you know, an album that is exclusive to Target from a well-known artist and they recorded like one extra song and packaged it just so it was for Target and you can do that with your work and be exclusive to Target, or exclusive to Amazon and put it out somewhere else later. That’s a really great way to market people and think about it, not as sales, but getting people on your list as Johnny said so that when you wrote–when you write your next book, you can tell them about it, and if you did a good job with your book, the first time they’re going to be receptive to it. And one thing that especially bloggers are going to be really good at, it’s the bonding aspect of writing, and that’s something–like Dave and I actually laughed at Dean Koontz’s newsletter, which is just like…
Johnny: I thought you were going to say you just laughed at Dean Koontz.  
Sean: His newsletter, he should be embarrassed. He really should.  There’s no soul. There’s no, there’s nothing and what you can do in your book is really connect with your reader. Tell them why you wrote the book, make a really great author’s note if you are a blogger.
If you bond with your reader in the back of the book they are going to remember you more and that’s you know, offer them something free, give them a reason to be on your list and once they do you know, you can’t– what you can’t do, and it does create you know, another responsibility because what you can’t do is get somebody on your list, ignore them for, you know, six months, and then you have a new book out and then you send them, yeah you will have some response to that, but your open rate’s going to be low, your click through rate is going to be low, because people aren’t going to really care. You have to make people care.
Johnny: I think we will have to do a subsequent episode on what the hell you just talked about for anybody who doesn’t know what click through rates and opt in rates and all that stuff. 
Sean: Yeah, we should do a whole episode on that. 
Johnny: Yeah.
Dave: And explaining what a funnel is but what I was going say about…
Johnny: … putting liquid in it.
(laughing)
Dave: What I was going to say about the mailing list is that uh–you all don’t start a mailing list until you have something of consistent value to add to send to people. If like Sean said, if you wait six months to send people an email, they’re not going to remember who the hell you are probably, so you want to have something to offer them in the meantime, and if you’re not putting out products, you have to think well, what is it that I’m going to be talking about in this mailing list. What is relevant to my audience? What are they talking about? What are they are doing?  This is, you know, it’s just something unique. A mailing list is good if you’re actually offering value.
Johnny: Yeah, absolutely. Um, well– so what are some other 101 things? I went through this not to just trying to terribly long ago. Uh you know getting your manuscript ready and running it by people. Getting it up there on Kindle um–so you guys are saying wait until you have multiple things. What if you’re more casual like me.  I mean this podcast is part of my promotional strategy and it’s part of yours as well. And I mean, not that were suggesting people podcast or anything like that. Because they’d be competition, those bastards.
Sean: You know what here’s very quick advice that I think is just like universal and smart and it’s a mistake that a lot of writers make including myself for like a couple of years and Dave and…
Johnny: Especially Dave (laughing)
Sean: Don’t um–don’t market yourself to other writers. Here’s the thing, a lot of writers make the mistake of hanging out with other writers and I love writers. I mean, the whole reason Digital Writer exists is because I love writers, and I want to help writers, and picking writers from good to greatest makes me happy, but I’m not expecting them to buy Yesterdays Gone at all. I know that if I were to lay that expectation, I would be disappointed.  You want to go where your readers go. Now, Dave and I don’t have a lot of time to go to horror forums or any of that stuff. I mean we really–our business model is you know get as many books written as possible, and I realize that that is not a business model that will work for most people–uh bless you, Emphysema, but you know..
Johnny: I’m muting that by the way because people just don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You guys can hear it. You should see the janky set up we have going on here.
Sean: If you are only writing one book, I don’t mean to say only like— I don’t mean to minimize that at all. If you’ve written one book and you put it out there, you know make sure that you’re spending time not what other writers talking about the book you just wrote. Because guess what they are all writing one too and they just all did, and they don’t care that much about yours.  They care about theirs. So go where the readers are, not the writers, and if you wrote a horror book go to horror forums.  If you wrote a book on dog training, go to were dog trainers are, or go to where people bitching about dogs pissing on their rug. That’s where you want to go.  
Dave: When you find the dogs pissing on your rug forum, I want to join that one (laughing)
Sean: There’s got to be a blog about that. Dogspissingonmycarpet.com
Johnny:  There is a site called gothsintrees.com so there pretty much has to be (laughing)
Dave:  Goths pissing in trees. Wow.
Sean: Probably.
Dave:  You have some strange taste there Johnny (laughing)
Johnny:  Yes well they’re just in the trees and not necessarily pissing on them.
Sean:  That’s just a bonus for the paid members of the site.
Johnny: Exactly.
Sean: That’s their continuity program.
Johnny:  So anything else we want to add for the inaugural episode here about sort of getting your writing off the ground any teasers for upcoming stuff for anything more than we want to say. 
Sean: Um Why don’t we ask since we’re kind of like breaking ground here?
Johnny:  And this is fresh for us.
Sean: Why don’t we ask listeners if there’s something that you want to hear us talk about. Let us know and we want to talk about what you want to hear. We want to help as much as possible and I– we’re kind of figuring this out as we go along. 
Johnny: There is a website here too. If you’re listening to us on Apple Podcasts, but why don’t I cover both ends of the spectrum, if you’re listening to it on the website, you should sign up in Apple Podcasts, so you can get them all and subscribe. But if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or somewhere else — our site is self-publishingpodcast.com. There’s a big thing that you can call us. And I’ll just read the number you’re not going to remember it if you like driving, but don’t try to because ..
Dave: Stop right now! Whatever you’re doing and call us immediately.
Johnny:  It’s 641-715-3900 extension 406770 that’s going to be like Pakistan or something.  It’s one of those services. You can leave a message and if you do that with a question we’ll play it on the site and then hopefully answer it, and if we can’t—and if we really don’t think we can answer it then we won’t play it.  We’re only going to play stuff that we–so we can look good, basically. 
Dave: (in a phony voice) Hello, I have a question. What was that website again, where you were talking about the people pissing in the trees?
(laughing)
Johnny: Uh Gothsintrees–I don’t know if they are pissing though I assume maybe projection.
Dave:  Never mind  (laughing)
Johnny: So you can call us.
Sean: Dave still hasn’t got me a photo for that site actually.  It’s pretty funny.  He made a joke response where he sent a picture of Brad Pitt and they never followed up and sent me a real photo so…
Dave:  That is my real photo I keep telling you damn.
Johnny: Yeah.
Dave: The curse of being gorgeous.
Johnny: But that is the plan. We’re going to do these every day.
Sean:  One podcast per book. That– The interesting thing is that it is about two books per podcasts, (laughing ) four books sorry, so in the time that it takes for us to give out the second podcast, they would have published four books …
(laughing)
Johnny:  That’s it, anything else to add folks.
Dave: Thank you for listening.    
Sean: Yeah, I’ve been excited about this for a while, so thank you for listening and I can’t wait until next time.
Johnny:  I won’t say how excited he has been.  It’s a little–you can see on the video (laughing)
Sean: Straight up.
Johnny: Alright folks so that’s going to be it for the self-publishing podcast and, I guess just check in at self-publishing podcast.com Give us a call. Be awesome and have a good time.

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26 Replies to “How to Start Self-Publishing: SPP #1”

  1. Wade Finnegan

    That was freaking awesome! Not because the information was amazing, (but it was) because the casual conversation was easy to listen to and it felt like we were hanging out. That’s not too creepy is it? I followed a link from Sean’s email and I’ve book marked the site. I’m not ready to publish a book yet, but this is intriguing. I’ll go check out recording #2.

  2. Kerstin

    Can you please tell me the programm you use to write your text and publish it in different ebook formats? Couldn´t find it, perhaps spell it wrong as a German 🙂
    Thanks
    Kerstin

    • David Wright

      Thanks, John. As for not marketing your first book all that much, I think we should qualify that a bit. We were (and I think I speak for all of us) talking more about not marketing your first FICTION book, and giving it time to grow.
      I think non-fiction may have different rules depending on what your goals are. Non-fiction writers, particularly those writing helpful-type books, should probably be out there a lot more from the get-go.
      I also think when it comes to non-fiction, your social media and non-book platforms must be even stronger, and may be even more important in helping you build your audience.
      Sean and Johnny might have different takes on it. But that’s my thought.

      • Johnny

        Yeah, and with all that said… I’m marketing my first book. But it’s all about the endgame. I’m okay with a slow build, and I’m not counting on my fiction to make me a living. If you want to do that, you probably need to hit it gonzo, like these guys do.

  3. Kerstin

    And I thought in the USA there are a lot von fictional writers, who can now live from their writing as selfpublishing authors? Depending on your margin, taxes, living cost, editor, cover costs….I made a calculation sheet in Excel for the German authors: http://www.kerstin-rachfahl.de/den-lebensunterhalt-mit-e-books-verdienen. For me it would be enough if I get 2.973 downloads per month with my fiction books. I know German Indie Authors, who are at this Downloads and we are in Germany just at the beginning of this market. Is this a number you can´t achiev in the USA?
    A nosey Kerstin

    • Johnny

      I think you’re right about the numbers and stuff, but selling 3,000 books per month is the hard part. Hell, I could live on 2,000 books per month at the current price of The Bialy Pimps. But most people can’t make that happen.
      I don’t supposed anyone in the comment stream knows what approximate Amazon bestseller rank starts selling 2000 books per month? I’ll bet Ed from Episode 5 does.
      So yeah, everyone at that rank and above (who can STAY at that rank) can probably make a living… as can anyone with lesser ranks that total to 2-3000 sales a month, or the appropriate conversions. But that’s still only a handful of people out of millions of self-published authors. It’s certainly not a given in the US, or anywhere.

  4. Tony DiLorenzo | Fit

    One of you mentioned a platform you are using to format your book into .mobi or .epub called Scribner. Is that right? Where can I find this?
    Thanks for the podcast as I just found you today and looking forward to listening to more shows.
    Cheers.

  5. Garrett Robinson

    I just re-listened to this episode after listening through the back catalog of episodes. It’s so funny to hear your guys’ demeanor in this one. Johnny sounds nervous, and Dave is, like, trying to put on a good show for the listener, he’s all chipper and happy. Sean’s pretty much the same though. What the hell, Sean.

    • Johnny

      I was thinking about this lately and didn’t have the guts to listen back to it. We should revisit it on our 100th show. And yeah, I love it when we get Serious Dave. He also sometimes appears when we have guests, while Sean and I make inappropriate fart noises.

  6. Anita

    OMG! This was so funny 😀
    This is the third time I listen to this, but after that many episodes, it’s really funny going back to the first one. And even if the podcast clearly has evolved a lot since this one, there’s still a lot of stuff that’s the same here, a lot of advice, that’s the same.
    And I love how Sterling & Stone were mentioned already here.
    Didn’t notice that the other times I heard it.
    Where are these 2 books a week that were published at this point?
    Anyway, great stuff!
    Congratulations on the 3 year anniversary. I’ll have to go back to this for each anniversary you have 😀

    • Sean Platt

      Right! So awesome. I love how much stuff has changed, but I think it’s even greater how much stuff has stayed the same.
      The two books a week were nonfiction titles, and they’ve all been retired. That was also where the first version of The Beam was born.

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