Monday, October 20, 2014

My One-Day Self-Pub Seminar Runs in Less than Two Weeks!

If you plan on self-publishing in the near future, you will not regret taking my one-day seminar, where I show you the path through the murky waters of contemporary self-publishing to the Land of Book Success and Fulfillment. And who doesn't want to go there?

It takes one Sunday at The Attic, November 2nd, from 10 AM to 4 PM.

I bring cookies.

Sign up now!

Yours in laying down the law,


Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.

Buy Badge.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Strike it Rich, Or Not: The Business of Self-Publishing in 2014

You’ve written a book, and you’re wondering which mode of publishing—self- or traditional—is most likely to lead to a career in writing. Good. You should be wondering. It’s a new century, and new ways exist to get your book to buyers that can be at least as rewarding as the traditional publishing model.

Despite all recent innovation, the easiest road to the land of a book publishing career still passes through the traditional publishing house. Here’s the way it works: either you or your agent finds an editor at a publishing house who wants to publish your book, and the house (usually) writes you a check for it. That check is called an advance, and it isn’t free; you get it up front against future royalties of your book. You don’t receive any more money from the publisher until your book sells so many copies—when it “earns out” your advance—and then you start to bank your dollar or whatever in royalties for each book sold.

While not without its drawbacks, this is the easiest path to financial success for the writer because you collect money months or years before your book comes out. Think about that. You get paid before anyone in the book-buying market even knows you’ve written a book, much less decides they want it. It’s now in your publisher’s best interest to do a great job editing, proofreading, designing a cover, printing and marketing your book, or it might not see that advance money again. The risk is all theirs.

Moreover, your publishing company could do a great job publishing and marketing your book and, for whatever reason, people still don’t buy it. In that instance, the company absorbs the loss while you keep the advance money. Finally, if your book sells well, you still have a chance to earn royalties well beyond the advance. These backend royalties are how many of the writers in the world make their living. Welcome to the big leagues.

And if I were writing this piece twenty years ago, that would pretty much be the end of the story. But in 2014, an argument can be made that self-publishing your book is a legitimate business model as well. What’s changed?

The biggest advent to the business of self-publishing is the proliferation of ebooks and ebook devices. Writers now have a way to get their books distributed to millions of readers all by themselves. The self-publisher of a couple decades ago falls to her knees and weeps at the mention of entities like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. From the time your book is finished, you can have it available to a large buying audience in less than 24 hours. For free. Unprecedented.

Second only to ebooks, the advent in the last decade or so of print-on-demand publishing has also changed the game for the self-publisher. As late as the mid-1990s, if a self-publisher wanted to create an affordable edition of his work, he had to call a book printer, who usually had to print a thousand copies or more to bring the book’s price-per-unit to a reasonable level. This meant the self-publisher had to pay at least $3,000 to the printer before anyone could buy a single book. Then he had to find a place to store them, which often amounted to a home stuffed with boxes of books. A common scenario involved the self-publisher never being able to sell all of them. Can you imagine being forced to choose between space in your garage or several hundred copies of your book? Some gave their extras away to libraries for tax write-offs. Others, after years of futility, drove them to the dump.

With print-on-demand technology, you can publish an actual book, and the old issues of high cost and storage space need never darken your (garage) door. Print-on-demand companies like Lightning Source and Createspace charge as little as $25 to have your book in their database, where it’s ready to be printed and distributed. Then they charge a reasonable fee per book (about $3-10, depending on many variables) to print them. In other words, self-publishers don’t have to buy 1,000 copies of their title to have a few copies on hand, or to have it available to customers at places like Amazon and You can buy just one copy if you want. Print-on-demand companies are happy to oblige.

Because of all this new technology, self-publishing is at least in the ballgame now. And there’s one more issue I haven’t yet mentioned.

Take, for example, the case of Hugh Howey. Howey self-published his post-apocalyptic novel Wool as an ebook in 2012. Things went very well for Howey and Wool, which sold a half-million copies in electronic form. When Simon and Schuster approached Howey, wanting to purchase the rights to Wool, Howey was all for it—until he heard the company wanted his ebook rights too. “I had made seven figures [selling Wool as an ebook] … so it was easy to walk away,” he said. Eventually, he sold just the book-book rights to Simon and Schuster, and I saw Wool prominently displayed at my local bookstore this past Christmas season.

Or the case of Jenny McGuire. McGuire self-published her new adult romance Beautiful Disaster in 2011, which went to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. The book was later sold to Atria Books, with the movie rights sold to Warner Bros.

Or the case of Amanda Hocking. Hocking made millions in her first year self-publishing her young adult paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels as ebooks. She then went on to sign a $2.2 million contract with St. Martins Press.

The successfully self-published author who later decides to go the traditional route has more leverage than those writers with nothing but a manuscript and their good looks. She can bag both the writer’s and publisher’s share while self-publishing, then use that success to get a far more favorable deal with a major. Win-win.

To be clear, these mega-success stories represent only the smallest fraction of those who self-publish. The vast majority wind up with less remarkable sales (that’s me), or none at all. Still, no one but the willfully blind could argue this phenomenon doesn’t exist.

Perhaps more relevant than hitting pay dirt, because of ebooks and print-on-demand technology, many writers now make modest livings self-publishing their works. This list includes Meilin Miranda, who self-publishes Victorianesque fantasy and science fiction; Shanna Germain, who has one self-published book that yielded $32k through a Kickstarter campaign; or Aaron Shepherd, whose how-to books about self-publishing are staples of the genre. I didn’t have to go to the edges of the earth to find these folks. They’re friends, or friends of friends, or people I’ve run across when searching for practical help with self-publishing. My guess is none of them will be sailing to Bora Bora anytime soon on their self-publishing earnings, but each manages at least to sustain themselves through the model. How many more of them are out there? Hundreds? Thousands?

While the get-rich stories get more attention, what the ascendance of self-publishing technology in 2014 really means for the aspiring writer is she can realistically hope for a new, freer path to a writing career. If you can write a book people want to read and market it well, you may not hit pay-dirt, but you just might get a life.

Ready to self-pub? Take my one-day seminar in early November at The Attic.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Stuck the Movie Premier Night Video

Hey, this is cool.

It's a short film chronicling the big night in May 2013 when Stuck the Movie made its premier. At about the two-minute mark, you even get to see me try to make sense of the "Why'd you end it that way?" question.

Take a peek.

Yours in laying down the law,


Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.

Buy Badge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Fiction Forthcoming by Me!

I spent the first decade of my writing life focused entirely on long fiction, but I was originally drawn to fiction by the short story. A few years ago, I started dedicating time to this genre, and it's now starting to yield results.

I have two such stories forthcoming. One is called "Tree Limb Chair," and it will see the light of day in The Farallon Review. The other is called "Reunion Tour," and it was just accepted by a lit mag called Uno Kudo. Both feature the same rock protagonist, Billy, who's trying to find his way forward after having a successful stint in a rock band. (Where do I come up with this stuff?)

I'll keep you posted on when and how you can read these stories, but know they're coming.

Yours in laying down the law,


Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.

Buy Badge.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Badge Now for Cheap!

You can now get Badge for $7.50 at my website. Even with shipping, that's still below the list price at Amazon.

If you haven't taken the Badge plunge yet, now's the time. These thirteen people are fawning over it. And probably thirteen more somewhere else.

Buy now!

Yours in laying down the law,


Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.

Buy Badge.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Begging for It: Crowd Sourcing Badge

By the third week, I’m in hell.

I’m managing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the self-publication of my third novel Badge. I need to accrue $6,000 in donations in a total of 25 days or I get nothing. For me this means hitting up Facebook friends, the 400 or so people on my email list, friends and family, telling them about my book and the campaign. By this third week, things have stalled. The tally is just above $3,000—over half way there—but it’s been slow for over a week. I’ve already hit my contacts hard. I have no idea what else to do.

When it became clear my third novel Badge wasn’t going to get publishing traditionally, I decided to crowd source its self-publication. I was familiar with Kickstarter. I’d helped promote the Kickstarter campaign to fund the film version of my first novel Stuck Outside of Phoenix, which met its goal, and the film is now in the can awaiting distribution. I didn’t care much for the roller coaster process of crowd sourcing, but I liked it a lot better than not having a film version of my first novel in the can.

I could’ve just published Badge on the cheap—say, as an ebook with no money for promotion—but Badge was my best book yet, the culmination of seventeen years of novel writing. To publish it solely as an ebook—or to watch myself go into debt with it as I had with my first two self-published novels—wasn’t what I had in mind. Three novels into my writing career, I felt the least I could ask for was not to lose money on publishing my fiction.

I wrote up a business plan—proofreading, publishing, printing and review copy submissions of Badge, plus a five-city West Coast tour. The bottom line came to about $5,000. It wasn’t an ideal plan; I considered it the minimum of what I wanted for Badge. Figuring I was probably underestimating expenses, I decided I needed $6,000 for the project.

At the time I set up the campaign, there were a couple of main companies you could go through to crowd source. Kickstarter was one. A Kickstarter campaign’s most distinguishing feature is that the artist has to reach or exceed her goal to get any money. If your goal is $10,000 and you raise $9,999, you get $0. Indiegogo, the second major way to crowd source, allows you to choose whether your campaign is all-or-nothing or not. If the example above were earned during a non-all-or-nothing Indiegogo campaign, the artist would keep $9,999 (minus fees).

On the surface, getting to keep whatever you raise looks like a huge asset for the artist. Can you imagine doing all that pleading for nothing? But that’s not the whole story. Something about all-or-nothing campaigns are more exciting than ones that merely have a suggested goal. The drama of $10k-or-the-highway is real, and people tune in, check to see how you’re doing, root for you, share your campaign with friends and, of course, donate. It must be harder to keep people interested over the course of a weeks-long campaign if they aren’t wondering if you’re going to make it. Donors want to win just like you do.

What I love about Indiegogo is its independent status. Kickstarter is deeply entrenched with Amazon, which handles all of the company’s money transactions, and Amazon gets a percentage of every dollar raised on Kickstarter. If you’ve followed the publishing industry for the last couple of decades, you know Amazon’s goal is to pretty much destroy independent bookstores. I find neighborhood indies vital to my own sanity, so I go out of my way not to support Amazon.

Still, I went with Kickstarter for Badge for one reason: many of the folks in my social circle gave to the Stuck the Movie Kickstarter campaign, and I didn’t want to scare them away with a crowd sourcing method that was new to them. In the end, I couldn’t afford to be too precious about not giving one thin dime to Amazon. If I wanted to publish Badge well, I needed this thing to work.

As I prepared the Badge page at Kickstarter, I had to pick a block of time for the campaign. Kickstarter recommends one month. I remember from the Stuck the Movie fundraising that a month seemed too long, so I opted for 25 days. That was four full work weeks, which I think is a healthy arc for the story of your campaign to build momentum.

From my experience, Kickstarter campaigns follow a certain trajectory. The first few days bring lots of excitement and donations. By the second week, the campaign feels like old news, and there are few donations. The third week often rekindles energy and donations, and the fourth week brings great drama and (hopefully) pushes you over the line. Patrons seem not to want to end these things before the clock ticks down or they’ll kill the arc. I also think they want to wait to see if you’re going to be successful before they donate. It’s a weird synergy. You need people to donate to encourage others to donate, but no one seems to want to donate if there aren’t already donations. It becomes a chicken-or-egg scenario. During the Stuck the Movie campaign, I got excited when donations came during the days when nothing else was going on, or when larger sums were donated that clearly encouraged others to give at more modest levels. The former kept me hopeful, the latter helped create a winning vibe. Everyone involved needs a jolt here and there.

I started my Badge campaign on May 19th, let everyone in my social network (Facebook and Twitter) know about it, and sent an email to my email list. To complicate things, my wife and I don’t have the Internet at home, so much of this online work was done at the library, or in my truck in the McDonald’s parking lot up the street, taking advantage of their wayward wifi signal. Not the way I’d choose to spend my time, but it was working. A couple of large donations got things rolling, and I was thrilled to make it to $2,500 by the end of the first week.

During the second week, I kept it up on Facebook and Twitter, but incoming donations were much slower going. I had to post like crazy to eke my total above $3,000 by week’s end. Halfway there at the halfway point wasn’t bad, but the constant marketing had me doubting myself. I remembered a Faulkner story called “Spotted Horses” in which the unsavory Flem Snopes comes to town with a batch of wild horses. Snopes announces they’re for sale, and the townspeople laugh. No one would buy such a worthless bunch of animals. Snopes is undaunted, sets up shop in the middle of town, creates a temporary corral. Eventually, in a skillful tap dance that would make any used car salesman proud, Snopes sells every last horse, some to the same townspeople who’d laughed at him. The theme is clear: Hang around long enough, present yourself with enough authority, and eventually you’ll sell. My weeks-long Internet barrage had me feeling vaguely Snopes-ish, but I reminded myself I wasn’t selling something worthless. I was selling a novel that took seven years to write, and it wasn’t going to see the light of day unless people donated. If it didn’t make the goal, I wouldn’t waste any more of my or their time, but I wasn’t going to get sheepish now.

I count on week three to reinvigorate my campaign, but the trickle continues. At this point, I’m desperate. I email my largest donors, ask them politely what I could do to entice them into a higher bracket. I even create a new $1,000 donation level with a reward I hadn’t thought of before. When the third week comes to a close, I’m at $3,700. One week and $2,300 to go. I regret tacking on that extra grand to my goal in the beginning. Still, I accrued $2,500 in the first week. There’s nothing to do but keep slogging.

More Facebook posts, more emails, more Tweets early in the last week bring some curious folks out of the woodwork, and I wind up at $4,500 with one work day to go. The only answer seems to be to hang out in the McDonald’s parking lot all day, making sure folks understand the end is nigh. I’m betting the whole McMuffin on the drama factor making people feel generous at the end. At this point, it’s my only play.

That afternoon, a big donor puts me above $5,000, and I feel a weight lifted. I announce all over Facebook I’m within $1,000 and that there are only a handful hours to go. Then I get a $125 donation, then $75, then $50. I’m over $5,500 with two hours to go. Five hundred lousy bucks! I post, I tweet, I email. The last hour brings a flurry of smaller donations, and with mere seconds to go I wind up at $6,031. By the skin of my teeth, Badge will happen the way I want it to happen.

The campaign was pretty much all I thought about for 25 days. I was always online, checking my donation status, posting updates, sending emails, thanking patrons and constantly wondering if that was enough.

And it was worth it. It’s hard to overestimate how much having money to start a publication project means to me. I’ve self-published two novels over the past decade, and I have yet to profit from either. In the end, there was a minimum amount of dignity I wanted for my work on Badge, and that dignity cost $6,000. I’m grateful to all 87 of my Kickstarter donors who helped get me there.

Crowd sourcing is a relatively new tool that allows self-publishers more opportunity to make a living as writers, or at least not to lose money on their projects. That might not sound like much, but for those of us who need to do this, it beats the hell out of the alternative.

Yours in laying down the law,


Watch the Book Trailer for Badge.

Buy Badge.