The American Book Release

In an interview I recently did with the Creative Penn, Joanna Penn asked how I used the Self-Publishing Review to market myself.  Beyond the footer which contains links to my books at the bottom of each post, I haven’t done a lot of plugging my own books in the posts.  But it’s my site – I started it and do most of the writing – so here we go.  My novel, The American Book of the Dead, is now out.

The reason I started this site in December 2008 was because I knew I’d be releasing a book within the next year.  I also knew that I didn’t want to even bother testing the waters with traditional publishing – so I wanted to impart what I’d learned from the release of my first self-published novel, North of Sunset, and learn some new things along the way.  And, man, self-publishing has changed a lot, even in the last three months.  People may argue about the hybridization of self-publishing and traditional publishing and if it’s a good idea, but simply: things are changing.

When I released my last novel via Lulu, so much didn’t exist yet: Twitter, Scribd, Smashwords, so many new reviewers.  You had to dig hard to find a place to review a book.  Self-publishing had a much worse stigma.  A lot has changed since then, and I hope this site has done something to help that stigma fade.

On a technical level, here’s how I put my book together:

  • Book cover design by Cathi Stevenson from Book Cover Express.
  • Edited by Erin Stropes from Kallisti.ca – highly, highly recommended.  She’s smart and has a great eye.  It was fairly painful to see all the mistakes I’d missed, but the book’s far better since she got a hold of it.  Her rates are also very reasonable.
  • Bought an ISBN via Lulu.
  • Printing the book with Lightning Source.
  • Offering the book for free download (you set the price) with Smashwords, as well as Scribd.  More ebook listings to come, but those are vital.  I’m offering it for $1.00 for the Kindle.
  • Ebook formatting was done by Moriah Jovan @ B10 Mediaworx, who cut away all the problematic formatting and made a bare-bones RTF.

About offering it for free – people argue that publishing is a business venture and that is how writers should approach it.  Right now, at this stage in my writing career, I’d rather find new readers than turn a profit.  If I can get the ball rolling with free downloads that in turn leads to increased sales (or even donations) then great, but reading’s more important to me than how much people pay per book.  The print copy’s pretty reasonable at $13.95 too.

A bit about the novel – it’s about a writer working on a novel about the end of the world who starts dreaming people who turn out to be real:

“This history of the future covers every conspiracy imaginable: UFOs, secret societies, and World War III, as well as theories on life after death and human evolution by a writer whose last novel was called by Dogmatika, “A page-turner and an example of an effective piece of storytelling that should be envied.” In the tradition of Philip K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson, The American Book of the Dead explores the nature of reality and the human race’s potential to either disintegrate or evolve.

“If you read Lolita or A Clockwork Orange without drop-kicking the book out into the garden on a rainy day, this novel is for you.” Tessa Dick, author of The Owl in Daylight, and widow of Philip K. Dick

Trailer by RJ Keller:

Another thing I’m doing.  One of the things I learned from the last book is that reviews don’t count for a whole lot.  Yes, I know I run a review site.  They can be very helpful – I got reviewed by the old Poddy Mouth blog.  In all honesty, I didn’t get a lot of sales from that review, but it did lead to an Entertainment Weekly piece, which led to a whole lot of sales all at once and the offer from more than one agent.  But I’m not going to be too obsessed about getting reviews.

Instead, I’m starting a songwriting project.  In the next year, I’ll be recording a song for every chapter in my novel.  I’ve always thought of myself as a fiction writer first/songwriter second, but now I’m going to give music all my attention.  Think it’s a unique project – if anyone knows of other similar projects let me know.  I think this is a more-fun way to get attention for the book than saying over and over again, “My book’s good.  Really.”  And one thing you have to do with marketing is stand out.  A few songs have already been recorded.  This song is three in one, so you can get a sense of what I’m after:

Dear World/Come on, Peace/Silver Lining by theamericanbookofthedead

Dear World/Come on, Peace/Silver Lining by theamericanbookofthedead

Others will be more-typical verse/chorus/verse – origin of the song is explained here:

Shallow Lips by theamericanbookofthedead

Shallow Lips by theamericanbookofthedead

I’ll also be writing web fiction about the book release – both true and an extension of the novel.  So there it is. This novel is the reason this site started – along with wanting to help out the perception of self-publishing. The site has grown a great amount since its inception, as has the attitude towards self-publishing overall, so it’s a pretty exciting time.  The stigma about self-publishing is fading, the vindication is growing.

Please buy the book here, download it free here, and listen to the soundtrack here.

  • Thanks for the info and laying it bare on the value of reviews. I have ten years in commercial publishing, more in writing, and am launching my first book getting a lot of humorous book trailers…like you, I write, but instead of music, I do videos/theater. YouTube has changed the indie landscape significantly, too. Might want to think visuals for the music, too. And Vook. Words, music to accompany/illustrate the story, integrate the video…it’s all possible. Good-launch-luck!

  • Thanks, definitely my plan/dream is to – somehow – create an enhanced e-version of the novel with the songs included. First things first, though, I need to get the songs down. And reviews aren’t totally useless, they’re just not my first approach to marketing as they were with my last novel.

  • Shane Durgee

    I’ll have to check this out. I’ve got a few questions about your publishing process actually.

    How do you make your book available on Amazon for the kindle edition? Was that an extension of your agreement with Lightning Source/Ingram?

    You said that Lightning Source printed the book. How long before the printed book became available through Ingram? Did Ingram automatically give it an Amazon listing? How long did all of that take?

  • I uploaded my file direct to the Kindle store. For the regular Amazon listing, it took about a week from the time I approved the proof to when there was a full listing on Amazon (for a couple of days there wasn’t a cover and it was listed as out of stock). They said it takes 4-6 weeks for it to be fully listed. It’s not yet on Barnes & Noble.com (update: actually, now it is) and others, but Amazon was pretty quick.

  • Robert C. Nelson

    Of course ,you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to,but I was wondering if you could give me some kind of an idea as to the total costs you incurred for your novel. I’ve been checking out some of my options with presses such as Outskirt’s Press. They seem to put out a good product. However, I have heard wonderful things about the editing talents of Erin Stropes and would definitely want to hire her if she would agree to do the work with me.She would certainly be the polish on my apple- heck, the polish could turn out to be better than the apple. I’m new to the whole self-publishing thing. All my previous novels have been published by so-called mainstream houses. Any information you care to share with me would be greatly appreciated. Thankyou, Robert C. Nelson

  • No problem:

    Book cover: $650
    Editing: $600
    Lightning Source: $200
    Ebook formatting: $45


  • Robert C. Nelson

    Wow! That was quick. Thankyou for such a rapid response. Were you happy with the overall product? Lightning source has been recommended to me by a number of people. Heck, they do a lot of work for many publishers. Are they as good as I’ve heard? P.S. Keep up the great work you’re doing for Self-Publishing-Review. You are the man! Thankyou again, Robert C. Nelson

  • Book looks great. Honestly, I don’t know who Outskirts uses as their printer, but other subsidy publishers use LSI so the quality is no different than Lulu or Authorhouse, while cutting out the profit they take on each book sold. It was also a lot easier to set up than is sometimes rumored. I didn’t have too much more trouble setting up a title with LSI than I did setting up with Lulu. They’ve got a really good customer support system if you get into trouble.

  • Henry, since you have gotten into conversation here about eBooks (& I have my own indie pub company and use LP and they are grand, once you know the ropes), I’m in email conversation concering ISBNs for eBooks. My contact at Neilsen, who handles the issuing of these in the UK, has written me, “…let me know when you know what the (eBook) file types will be as well. To let you know, if you are producing more than one file type for a title, ISBN Agency guidelines are that they should have a separate ISBN because they are a separately tradable product, much like a paperback and a hardback require separate ISBNs so that the consumer knows what they are getting.” Have you used separate ISBNs for Kindle, Sony Reader, Adobe, or others for your eBook? How did you handle this? All best things, Vincent

  • ON REVIEWS: Henry, what you said about reviews is all true, and yet you’re missing part of the whole truth. My experience is showing me another point. Specifically, over the last few years, three of my books have been reviewed well at about thirty different literary websites and four newspapers or magazines. Like you, my first book was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly, and sales spiked big time for about two weeks. Reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the Minnesapolis Star Tribune were also particularly helpful.

    That is, bigger publishers and well-known authors draw interest of print reviewers, whose space is shrinking by the day. Still, books that appear in the traditional media lead to sales. Bookstore clerks have told me that people often come into a store with a book review clipped and in hand and say, “I want this book.” Book reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and the other industry papers lead to bookstores stocking a book and libraries buying them. Thus, big publishers tend to send out their books months in advance to established reviewers in order to get curiosity building–much the way movies are publicized in advance.

    Any single review, however, won’t make a blockbuster. It’s about fusion i.e. having a number of reviews happen all at once. When people start noticing the same book is mentioned in a number of places, they start getting curious.

    I realize you’re eschewing this old-fashioned approach to marketing, looking for news ways in these new times. Creating your own review site, SPR, may be the way. I’ve found two other new inroads. One is that discussion on Kindleboards for Kindle versions of books often lead to slow but steady sales. Another I discovered was after my two short story collections suddenly took off on Kindle. Days later, I learned a reader posted a message with the title “Great Short Story Collection” on an Amazon Forum, and people rushed on and added their own positive comments. Other people, seeing how ordinary people really liked “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea” and “Months and Seasons,” then bought one or the other or both.

    In other words, word-of-mouth occured, and that’s something all authors and publishing companies hope for, but there’s no formula other than trying to get people aware of your book, whether you use long established reviewers, eager new reviewers online, creating your own website, writing on Kindleboards, making a video for YouTube, talking on blog radio, and other ways. The more places one’s book appears, the more likely something can happen.

    A book I recommend for people without a lot of money is “The Frugal Book Promoter” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson.

    I loved your “North of Sunset” and look forward to reading “The American Book of the Dead.”

  • Vincent, I don’t offer a different ISBN for the Kindle. Here’s a good piece on why that isn’t necessary – http://www.kreelanwarrior.com/2009/03/kindle-publishing-tip-do-you-need-an-isbn-for-ebooks/

    And one of the benefits of working with Smashwords is getting distribution through their channels (to Sony, B&N etc.) without having to hassle with a different ISBN for each format. Smashwords says you don’t even need one ISBN to get distribution. Also, given that I’m giving the book away for free, there’s no need to have a separate ISBN for the Scribd PDF, etc. Frankly, this whole system is still in flux and hasn’t been ironed out yet. That, and it’s too expensive to buy ISBN’s individually, so I didn’t bother. More on this maddening complexity: http://www.teleread.org/2009/06/01/e-book-publishers-and-writers-vs-the-isbn-gouge-restraint-of-trade-for-small-pubs/

    Chris, no doubt that reviews are a help and it would be great to be reviewed by major newspapers. But that’s kind of like saying it would be nice to be distributed to brick and mortar bookstores. Word of mouth can spread by other means and I’m looking at the long-tail. The thing that makes my project stand out, I think, is the music half and that’s not done yet. Hopefully some momentum can build over the next year as I’m recording. What interests me is being able to double review sources to music blogs, and I already have a couple of offers for that. A book on a music site will stick out more than another book on a book site. Anyway, point is, the review system is so crowded and there are other ways to spread the word.

  • Henry, congratulations. Can’t wait to read/listen to it. Your music is remarkable.

    The only thing you didn’t mention in your breakdown was how you formatted the book. Did you do it yourself?

    I’ve found the books from LSI to be pretty much the equivalent of any other softcovers simply because very few people can tell the difference. Most of my clients print there.

    Good luck with the launch!

  • Henry– Thanks for the info on ISBNs & eBooks. I know this stuff–links, thinking, writing back–take time & I appreciate it. I’ll put your site under links when my pub site, http://www.hidden-people.net, is revamped & relaunched in a week or so. Meanwhile, having researched this eBook-ISBN stuff to death, your info helps clarify.

    Christopher, on reviews. When my first novel was published with Viking Penguin 20 years ago, they gave the novel a six week chance to get reviewed and generate word of mouth (now, my old agent said, it’s almost down to a week window of opportunity) and then the pub company move on. My own novel generated buzz, but over 6 months. The pub company had moved way on by then. Reviews are nice, the more the better (and the momentary spike a brief thrill), but the timeframe of usefulness of reviews to commercial publishers is limited. But the shift is happening and the shaking out a long unknown process. In any event, I’m reissuing this novel (Self-Portrait of Someone Else) next month, and online is the only methodology I’m following, and I see it as a two-year slow push, with reviews nice but not the essential.

    Onward all.

  • Vincent, your point about the review window is a good one. Just over twenty years ago, a good friend of mine had his book published by Bantam, and when I visited New York City, the first bookstore I skated into had his book on a shelf. I was proud of him. Two months later, the book was out of stores and out of print. If the reviews and sales are not there–then and now–you’re out of stores. Now with print-on-demand, even traditional publishers are starting to see it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. They can keep things in print longer if not forever with POD, too. If word-of-mouth starts to build as well as sales, publishers can move from POD into a large print run.

    A critical set of reviews for both big publisher and small seems to be the industry journals such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist. These help set up orders by bookstores and libraries, and self-publishers are locked out of these places, making it that much harder to get to a larger public. These journals want a look at books three or four months in advance of publication date. Most self-publlishers are not that patient. They want their books out quickly and forget the unlikely chance that anyone will review their book in advance anyway. Henry’s notion of tapping into the music market is clever and interesting.

  • Great discussion, thanks. JF, thanks for the comments about the music. I put the interior of the book together myself using Microsoft Word. I uploaded this Word doc to Lulu and that’s how I made the PDF to send to Lightning Source, as I new it would be the correct dimensions and same quality. I have eight versions of the Lulu book, which I used for revisions – you get a much better sense of how a book will read as an actual book so I recommend everyone do this. You don’t ever have to make the book public. The typesetting also changed/got better over time. I suppose that’s another cost I should add – around another $100.

  • I do the same, Henry, with Lulu. Once I think I have the book done, I go to Lulu, convert my Word file to PDF, and then have a couple of copies sent to me. I’ll typically look it over and then give the copies to friends to read/proofread. Small mistakes are found, and I do it over again. Once I feel I have a clean copy, I’ll upload that version to Lightning Source.

    The other day I was at Staples and Office Max, where photocopies are now ten cents a page. Heck, it’s cheaper to have a book printed with a cover at Lulu than to have a mere photocopy. After all, 360 pages = $36.00 versus the $10.50 a copy at Lulu and about $5.50 a copy at Lightning Source. As you know, though, it costs $75.00 to set up at Lightning Source, so you don’t want to be making many versions there.

  • Hey, Henry, thanks for the detail. I like your process and the way you (and Christopher) use Lulu as kind of a modern day Crane’s (where publishers used to get their bound galleys) and the price can’t be beat. Good idea, I’ll pass it along.

  • Henry, I’m glad to see your book is out and I appreciate the detail and candor about your process. The music angle is a great idea, and I like the tunes you posted here. I look forward to seeing how you develop this dual offering in the market.

    I have to confess I’m feeling envy of the time you’re apparently able to dedicate to your project. I’ve discovered that being a husband-father-homeowner-breadwinner leaves almost zero time for the roles of writer and publisher, and when I have to choose between those two, I lean towards writing. So I’ve yet to accomplish some marketing fundamentals, like e-book versions and video trailers. But I’m glad to hear you say your focus is on the long tail, because it’s become clear to me that if my book builds momentum at all, it will be very slow. I was naive to think that a couple hundred local fans of my previous litmag publishing efforts would immediately buy my book (who knew it was so hard to get $15 out of people’s hands?), and that my handful of excellent reviews would have any impact on sales at all.

    So I’ll keep plugging slowly along, and learn from you. Thanks for the inspiration, and I look forward to reading your book!

  • Thanks, Brent. I agree, it’s rough out there, which is why I’m giving away the ebook for free. Right now, I’d rather be read than turn a profit, and if that can build momentum, then good. This may contribute to the criticism that self-publishing is overly difficult to sell books, but it’s hard to unload any type of book, traditional or self-published. 10,000 copies of a book is a success. 10,000 copies of a mainstream CD is a failure.

    Recently on Twitter I linked to this Youtube video of Joshua Bell playing violin in the DC Metro and being ignored – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myq8upzJDJc. An illustration of how difficult it is to reach people. I’m still happy to be in control of my literary fate and output, but I have no illusions about the difficulty.

  • Not to keep this discussion limping on, but I avoided Lulu and such to set up my own company to run my books, audio books, eBooks, multimedia and t-shirts and such in order to have a logo, a “brand” (forgive me the use of for me a slightly sullied term), so I can collect about me different creative outlets under my own umbrella. It’s more work. No, it is a ton of work. Or rather, a ton of time. Learning. Gathering. Social media-ing. 🙂 I’m guessing it takes a few books published to get all the tracks laid down for each subsequent book, each asegment interested. And this from someone who spent ten years in international marketing communications in publishing. To echo Henry, the saying is, when you start out on this, it’s about getting eyeballs, not sales. And Seth Gordin, someone who seems to know what he’s talking about, calls the physical book “a souvenir”. That this is a souvenir after hearing it for free online, reading the cheap or zero cent eBook, getting chapters off the internet, that they’ll buy the book in the end as a remembrance. Sound reasonable? Don’t know. It’s all shaking out. Rolling on. Whether we like it or not, we’re inventing this as we go along. And this conversation is part of the building blocks. There’s not a fortune in this, but I’m hoping for a livelihood with smiles.

  • Adding here: more from me on the difficulty (and usefulness) of self-publishing, posted today: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/countering-the-myth-why-self-publishing-works/

  • Your 3:AM article — as usual, balance, clarity, common sense. Good stuff!

    Still, there are hordes who simply can’t hear your reasoned arguments for the clamor in their own heads, made up of knee-jerk superiority (self-pub = loser), fear-based employee mentality (worship of gatekeepers), and their inner cries of, as Moriah Jovan characterized it, “Hey, you’re cutting in line!” I thought of posting a link to your article on http://litopia.com but remembered it would only, once again, invite endless abuse upon my head….

    I commend you for your tireless evangelism for, not just self-publishing, but more importantly: independence of thought.

  • On the ISBN & eBook subject brought up earlier, here’s a good article on the subject: http://bit.ly/sLmJB

  • cdinwv

    Great information. Thank you for sharing your journey. It’s very encouraging and insightful.