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
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 Amazon.com
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
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
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 Amazon.com. 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
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
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 Amazon.com 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
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?