Jeff Carlson’s Adventures In Self-Publishing: What I’ve Learned So Far

Jeff Carlson is the author of Plague YearPlague War (a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award), and Plague Zone. To date, his work has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in a number of top venues such as Asimov’sBoys’ LifeStrange Horizons and the Fast Forward 2 anthology. His latest book,The Frozen Sky, is available in paperback and as an eBook.

This post originally appeared at SFSignal (10/15/2012)

Self-publishing is five jobs and a half.  By comparison, writing the book was easy. It was also waaaaay more enjoyable.

I like writing.  That’s why I’m a writer.  But when you publish alone, you’re not really alone unless you’re a fantastically talented jack of all trades.  My strength, I hope, is in storytelling.  I liked to draw when I was a kid, but I hardly qualify as a professional artist.

Many people say cover art doesn’t matter for ebooks.  For the original short story of The Frozen Sky, it’s true that I used a simple placeholder designed by a super fan named Ben Metzler.  He created it for sheer love of the story after hearing the podcast by Amy H. Sturgis on Starshipsofa.  Then he emailed his artwork to me as thanks.  Thanking him for thanking me, I wrote Metzler into the novel as a squat, ugly, quick-tempered genius who’ll find himself eviscerated by a Europan ice monster.  Such is life in a Jeff Carlson novel.

His jet black cover was stark and effective for a 99 cent short story.  For the novel, I went old school.  People do judge a book by its cover.  Especially for dead tree editions, I believe it’s critical to have evocative, mood-influencing artwork, so I hired the talents of Jacob Charles Dietz.  I’m a starving writer.  I realize some of my brethren would squawk at forking out $500.00 for a schnazzy cover when a cheap-o slap-it-down file from PhotoShop will suffice… but does it really?

When the sentient raccoons rule the world in 3303 A.D. and discover your ebook among the toxic ruins of our civilization (after which they’ll power up our Nooks and Kindles with their zero point clean energy beams), don’t you want them to chirp and bark in amazement at your artwork (chirping and barking being the raccoon equivalent of oohing and aahing)?

Meanwhile, I don’t convert my manuscripts myself.  Yes, I know, I should be able to learn to do this for free on Calibre, but I don’t have the patience for it, partly because The Frozen Sky is salted with interior illustrations, maps, and org charts.  Again, my strength is writing the book.  I want to invest my time writing, not flailing around with computer programs.

I dropped another $500.00 in total on print-ready files, e-conversions, KindleNookKobo, and Paperbackfiles, and last minute changes as I crawled up and down my own personal learning curve.  For example, on the front sales pages I dropped the ball by listing David Marusek’s blurb as:

“Nothing short of amazing.”
–David Marusek, Tiptree Award-winning author of The Wedding Album

David Marusek has never been nominated for a Tiptree.  But for Pete’s sake,  the guy’s been shortlisted for so many awards, it’s no wonder I was bewildered.  If he would stop writing such mind-bending stories, I would stop being dazzled.  I’m in the process of replacing all print and ebook editions with the correct attribution: Sturgeon Award-winning author of The Wedding Album.  At the moment, those collector’s item goofball editions are still on sale.

Back to the topic at hand.

For bookkeeping purposes, I also attribute $250.00 specifically to upgrades to my web site for The Frozen Sky.  Developing my site is another chore I partially hire out because I’m not a programmer or a graphic artist.

Total costs for the new Frozen Sky: $1250.00.

Then I earned this money back in the first 10 days after it went on sale.  Kindle, Nook, and Kobo split another $900.00 for allowing me to use their platforms.  Chump change, right?  Making $1,250.00 in 10 days would be an abysmal failure for a traditionally published novel.

Plague Year sold 15,000+ copies in its first week.  I don’t mean it shipped 15,000 copies.  Penguin distributed a truckload more than that.  I mean actual receipts in hand exceeded 15,000 copies sold, and 15,000 is a small number indeed compared to the heydey of paperbacks long before I got into the game, much less the numbers of current New York Times blockbusters like Grisham or King.

Nevertheless, as a debut mass market genre original, 15,000 copies sold in seven days popped some eyeballs in New York.  Plague Year immediately went to a second printing to keep up with demand.  Today,Plague Year is in its eighth edition and has sold (not shipped, been returned, or lost in the magical world of reserves against returns) nearly 40,000 copies in North America.  That’s a nice set of legs.

Self-publishing is a different business model.  You know the drill.  No rent, no utilities, no editorial staff, no sales staff, no publicists, no marketing costs, no print costs, no warehousing, no shipping, no kickbacks for front-of-store placement.  It’s Day 10 and I’m in the black.  This ignores the reality that I spent the better part of a year writing, editing, and polishing the book (which I would also do with a traditionally published novel), but I’m in the black.

My track record with the original short story is exactly what I’d like to repeat, ideally in a tighter time frame.

During its first three months, the original story sold less than 500 copies.  “Eh,” I thought.  “So much for self-publishing.”  Then it found its audience.  Word of mouth reached critical mass.  The story took off.  With the novel, my biggest hurdles have been my own impatience and the myriad tasks of updating my web site, uploading and proofing e-files on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo, proofing and sending pdf files to the printer, and checking and uploading audio files to

One thing I’ve learned is it’s impossible to release a book simultaneously across all platforms in all formats when self-publishing.  Each e-store has it own requirements and delays. has a five week wait before it lists print titles.  Five weeks!  I can only jump through so many hoops at a time with a time machine.  Organizing every little piece of the puzzle is what I hate most about the experience.  Finally, most of my torpedoes are in the water.  Very soon I’ll be back at my next manuscript instead loading, arming, aiming, and firing.

The Frozen Sky is available on Nook, but for now print copies can only be found on Amazon and in select independent book stores.  As yet, it’s also unavailable on iTunes because while you can access your iTunes account from a PC, you can only add new material from a Mac.  I ain’t got one.  Two friends who live nearby are Macky Men.  They’ve allowed me to use their über–cool machines in the past.  Now their schedules haven’t matched up with mine, and I can’t ask them to quit their jobs and sell their families in order to make time for me.  I mean, I did ask, but they said no.  iTunes likely has to a wait another week or more. has also proven a small minefield.  Next week we hope to release the audiobook at last?

Thus go my adventures in self-publishing.

I also need to point out a mistake in my previous guest blog for SF Signal.  I claimed my grandfather’s copies of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978) and Han Solo’s Revenge (1980) were the world’s first media tie-ins…  And I call myself a science fiction fan!!!  Aha ha ha.

Both pros and fen took me to task for this blunder.  Here’s the truth:

Author and editor Richard Gilliam (the Grails series) pointed out that from 1907 – 1915, Essanay Studios made a number of films based on real and fictional people like Jesse James and Sherlock Holmes.  Essanay had a tie-in  program in which magazines printed stories related to these films.

Author David Smeds (Embracing The Starlight) said “I have the tie-in hardcover for the 1916 film of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which included several photos from the film.  I don’t know if it’s the very first novel tie-in, but it’s an early example.”

Love it!

The Last Of The Mohicans – Jeff Carlson on Aliens, Spaceships and The Frozen Sky

Jeff Carlson is the author of Plague YearPlague War (a finalist for the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award), and Plague Zone. To date, his work has been translated into fourteen languages. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in a number of top venues such asAsimov’s Science Fiction MagazineBoys’ LifeStrange Horizons and the Fast Forward 2 anthology. His latest book, The Frozen Sky, is available as an eBook.

This post originally appeared on 9/28/2012

Aliens, Spaceships and The Frozen Sky

I’m fourth generation sf/f.  My great-grandmother built her library around Frank L. Baum’s Oz series, the original fantasy epic.  She passed those beautiful hardcovers to her son, my grandfather, who kept them alongside “Doc” E.E. Smith novels  such as Triplanetary and Galactic Patrol, which were the cutting edge in his time.

Later, when I was a boy, my grandfather introduced me to the world’s first media tie-ins like Han Solo’s Revenge and Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye.  This was not a man who sneered at popular good fun.  He entranced me with Star Wars books, then fed my new addiction with the classics.

At the same time, my father was bringing home doorstoppers like The Hobbit and Clan Of The Cave Bear, which reads very much like alt history with strange people in a strange world.

My point is I know a good piece of science fiction when I see it.  Tell me this doesn’t fit the bill:



Something is alive inside Jupiter’s ice moon Europa. Robot probes find an ancient tunnel beneath the surface, its walls carved with strange hieroglyphics. Led by elite engineer Alexis Vonderach, a team of scientists descends into the dark… where they confront a savage race older than mankind…


I’m hooked.” – Larry Niven
A first-rate adventure.” – Allen Steele

Here’s the rub.  The Frozen Sky is self-published.  Why? Settle down, kids.  Let me tell you how the world worked when I was young, for I am The Last Of The Mohicans.

I may be one of the last writers to come up the so-called traditional route.  At the turn of the millennium, I broke into the field selling short stories to small and semi-pro markets, some so small they’re collectibles now.  I’m talking about ink on paper.  My first appearance in print was in the guidebook for MosCon 16, where an über-fan named Jon Gustafson published my story and paid me with a free membership to the con.

Eventually I began cracking pro markets like Strange Horizons and Asimov’s. Then I graduated to novels and sold Plague Year in a minor bidding war in New York.  This was 2007. It felt like the big time.

Also in 2007, I sold a novelette called The Frozen Sky to the Writers of the Future 23 anthology.  Because the story is a near future sci fi thriller, my meat and bread, I pitched the idea of a developing it into a novel to my editor at Penguin as my follow-up to Plague Year.

She didn’t want it.  Plague Year is a present day apocalypse.  For marketing reasons, they’d immediately pigeonholed me as an end-of-the-world guy.

In those days, the Great And Powerful Marketing knew all.  Marketing dealt with other marketing heads in other corporate environments such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Tower, Target, and Wal-Mart.  Their computers matched numbers with other computers; the computers wanted simple, readily identifiable brands; and if this smacked a little of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, try not to think so hard about it.

To my dying day, I’ll remember her words in rejecting a novelization of The Frozen Sky: “Oh, Jeff, all those aliens and spaceships.  Who really reads that stuff any more?”

This from a science fiction editor at a science fiction imprint!  I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d said she was an alien.

She’s a sharp lady whom I like and admire, but, like all of us, she works within the constraints of her environment — and it’s true that in genre fiction, Category B had outsold Category A for many, many years.  Boy wizards and magic rings dominated the bestseller charts.  Marketing had the numbers to prove it, and publishing is not a business driven by great profit margins.

Most novels, especially first novels, lose money.  They sink without a trace.  I was lucky to strike it hot with Plague Year.  The publisher rightly wanted more.


I wrote my sequel, Plague War, a decision which worked out well.  The marketing machine knew what they were talking about, but the direction of my career was laid by the publisher dictating to the writer rather than trusting the writer’s instincts.  I’ve always had one eye over my shoulder wondering what else I could do with The Frozen Sky.

Meanwhile, the global economy imploded.  Publishing took a larger hit with the advent of strong, low-priced, well-organized e-stores and e-readers.

Late in 2010, I republished my novelette of The Frozen Sky on Kindle, Nook, and iPad. It’s sold 40,000 copies.

“Huh,” I thought.  “I guess somebody’s reading aliens and spaceships.”  In fact, from a glance at the top sellers in ebooks, there’s clearly a large demographic of tech-savvy, tech-friendly, literate people who love a good mind-bending novel.

E-readers have revived science fiction, which is precisely what you’d expect from futuristic gadgets.

Oh, sweet irony.

As soon as I cleared my desk of deadlines, I started writing the novel of The Frozen Sky. I never had any intention of pitching it in New York.  At best, a Big Six publisher would offer a mid four-figure advance, then lock up the rights for ten years.  Or ten decades. I’ve earned $14,000 republishing Sky on my own as a 99 cent stand-alone.  That won’t cover my mortgage.  It did pay off my wife’s car.

Equally important, money isn’t my only goal.  Writing is my job, but I also want to be read.  The ability to leap directly to readers is a wild experience for a guy who spends a lot of time alone in a room with his laptop listening to the voices in his head.

John DeNardo sez: Wait.  My mathematical mind wonders how selling 40,000 copies at $1.00/each equals $14,000?  Do you mean 40,000 downloads, some of which were free, some of which were sales?

Jeff sez: Excellent question.  No, I mean I sold 40,000.  The royalty splits with Kindle and its brothers break down like so.  From .99c to $2.98, the author receives 35%.  From $2.99 to $9.99, the author receives 75%.

Since it was a 60 page short story, I thought 99 cents seemed reasonable.  Amazon, which saw the vast lion’s share of activity, kept nearly $25,000.  I kept $14,000.  Hard to complain.  It’s their ballpark.

Meanwhile, other writers are selling 100,000 or 1,000,000 copies of their ebooks.  This is insanity.  It’s chaos.  And chaos is opportunity.

Self-publishing The Frozen Sky is an e-experiment for me.  Wonder of wonders, the book is also available in print for anyone who still prefers dead trees (myself included).  An audiobook narrated by the esteemed Amy H. Sturgis will be out next week.

This is a freedom even Heinlein or Clarke barely imagined.  Search your feelings.  The truth is out there.  Live long and prosper.

Welcome to the e-future!

Rose-Colored Demons

This post originally appeared on

Guest blogging for us today is Jeff Carlson. Jeff is best known for the Plague Year series and his bestselling Kindle novella “The Frozen Sky,” which is also available on Nook and will soon appear on iBooks. As a working pro, Jeff lives on the other side of the author-reader connection. He promised to give us a look behind the curtain, which he calls…


For me and many writers, one of the most eye-opening changes since the e-revolution has been the rise and importance of book reviews on personal blogs and corporate sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N.

To writers, strong word-of-mouth is catnip. Even bad reviews can be useful in honing your craft.

I spend a lot of time alone in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head. That sounds like a joke, but it’s a large part of my job description. There’s no one to hang out with at the water cooler in my office. Heck, there’s no water cooler! That’s why it’s especially cool to get fan mail or to have my Google minions find reviews such as: “This novella was so fast paced and action packed from the very first line that I was sucked in like a two by four in a F5 twister!”

Reading that, I thought, FantasticShe gets it.

Capturing you is exactly what I want – to connect, to entertain, to make you a 2×4 in my tornado.

When eight people say the ending is abrupt, that’s useful, too. My brain says to me, Okay, you thought you had every element in place, but you’d better add at least another paragraph to wrap things up. Readers want to walk away with a feeling of completion. Sometimes I move too fast, so I’m learning to take it down a notch.

Even the people who hate a story are right. No writer reaches everybody, and it’s perfectly fair for someone to leave a low-starred review if he doesn’t feel like he got his money’s worth. That’s expected.

But in today’s brave new world of e-media, my inbox is also peppered with a steady dose of diehard political outrage, accusations, and messages from weird alternate realities.

When I swap emails with my writer friends or when we meet up at cons, the new game is Who’s Been Burned The Worst. It’s almost funny.

We all view the world through the lenses of our personal life experiences. Sometimes the world is rose-colored. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how thoroughly our own demons shape our perceptions, so let me share some of the over-the-top experiences I’ve had with folks from the fringe.

  • The Illinois Nazi. More than once I’ve received hate mail or nasty Amazon reviews for Plague Year because two of the main heroes are a Latino and a genius Jew. Worse, two of the villains are white guys. Obviously I’ve either turned on my own kind (I’m a white guy) or I’ve been so indoctrinated by the sinister liberal media that I don’t even realize what I’m doing…Here’s the thing. The opening chapters of Plague Year are set in post-apocalyptic California. I don’t know where our white supremacist friends live, but the West Coast is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on the planet. If everyone was forced into the mountains to escape a runaway nanotech plague, there’s zero chance it would be only sparkly blond Caucasians who survived. More to the point, among my best friends growing up were Hispanic and Jewish families. I knew I could pull off those backgrounds competently, and a diverse cast added a bit of texture to what’s ultimately just a rock-’em sock-’em sci fi thriller.
  • The One-Winger and The Classic Old Knee. As a writer, it’s both frustrating and hilarious to have the same novel condemned as a subversive socialist pinko screed and as a right-wing manifesto. Yeah, it’s nice to strike such a chord. Every writer wants their work to resonate. But reading is a subjective experience. People bring a lot of themselves to the experience… sometimes too much.The One-Wingers are careful not to mention race like the Illinois Nazis, but they don’t appreciate how the conservative remnants of the government are perceived by the heroes. By the same token, The Classic Old Knees are certain I must be a big fat Republican because the government is enforcing martial law and the tough Special Forces guys keep pushing the scientists around. It’s crude symbolism, isn’t it!?!?

    Uh, no. Plague Year is an end of the world novel, man. The new U.S. capital, a Colorado town meant for 3,000 people, has been swamped by 600,000 refugees. There’s no food, no shelter, and if I was in charge I’d darn well have the few remaining supplies surrounded by Army units. That doesn’t mean I’m a liberal or a fascist or a purple polka dot Martian.

    I think it’s a very human phenomenon that individuals on far, opposite ends of the political spectrum are able to interpret the same story in different ways, seeing exactly what they want to see in order to support their beliefs.

    Sometimes the smallest minds make the biggest noise. That’s because feeling angry is pleasant. It makes you feel important. Condemning a book as dangerous and shouting your warnings from the rooftops… let’s call that the Revere Complex. Each of our archetypes the Nazi, the Winger and the Knee fall into this same category, a truth which might outrage them all over again if they realized it.

  • The Nutcake. Alas, these folks are even easier to explain. They’re nutty. Three times I’ve received emails or comments insisting that Plague Year was penned by someone else, namely the person contacting me, and that I stole the book before he or she could publish it. Unfortunately, other writers tell me this isn’t uncommon, nor are personal threats. Welcome to my FBI file.Slightly less bizarre but more fun, let me introduce you to the Owner Of Katie The Dog. Not long after my sequel Plague War hit stores, I received an email with two jpg attachments. Hmmm. All right. Let’s read it…

    A woman had felt compelled to say she liked the concept behind Plague Year, but (insert sneer) “it was written in a grocery-store thriller style.”

    Aha HA ha ha! First of all, the cover has an ominous red tagline that shouts The Next Breath You Take Will Kill You. Plus the title letters are on fire. If you’re looking for a cozy literary novel, this ain’t it. Second, having my books racked in grocery stores and big box outlets like Wal-Mart and CostCo is my goal! That’s what I’m striving for!

    Yet she was so offended she’d spent $7.99 on this trash, she added that she’d fed Plague Year to her dog and snapped pictures of Katie eating it.

  • Wow. That’s wrong, isn’t it? I mean, that takes effort.

    I had no intention of opening her jpgs. Remember, I’d barely published my second novel. Being in stores still felt new and daunting. But my writer friends insisted I see what Katie had done. One accomplished old vet said, “You know you’ve arrived when you’re making people that crazy.”

    Um… Thanks?

    Conventional wisdom holds that authors and editors should remain above the fray. You’re supposed to ignore bad reviews, especially those that are off-topic or smell like fruit. I know writers who engage their haters in the comment fields on Amazon, but the reason to avoid such arguments was best put to me like this: Never wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, and you get covered in sh*t.

    Which leads us to the most craven of them all…

  • The Dread Saboteur  Since February, my novella “The Frozen Sky” has sold 20,000 copies on Kindle and Nook. That’s not a huge number, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s also gotten a lot of nice reviews, which is gratifying.Unfortunately, “Sky” has also seen some attacks.

    As the e-revolution evolves, the pages of successful books are experiencing not-so-subtle assaults by bitter would-be successes who post scathing low-starred reviews with as many dummy accounts as possible, then use the same dummy accounts to post five-star raves of their own novels in an attempt to draw traffic from the high-selling books.

    Can the system be gamed so easily? My guess is no, not in the long run. Ultimately the Dread Saboteur’s work needs to stand on its own. If it’s garbage, it’s garbage. Cardboard plots, wet dream characters, bad dialogue, and the inability to spell or use punctuation are common pitfalls.

    Horse puckey reviews won’t carry a flawed story beyond a few extra sales – and if those readers feel duped, well, let the bad karma begin! The fake five-star raves will be overwhelmed by genuinely unhappy reviews.

There are more archetypes and goofy anecdotes I could share, but we’re out of time.

Here’s a final thought. Things are changing fast in publishing, but I hope it will always be true that it’s the fans who carry the day.

The loonies and the saboteurs want everyone to wear their demon-colored lenses. Don’t let it happen. If you like a book, bang out a quick ranking-and-review. That positive feedback may be enough to see your favorite author through his next encounter with a Nutcake From The Eighth Dimension.


Readers can find free excerpts, advance news, contests, and more on Jeff’s web site at

Ready to be a Wrublisher? A Priter? Some Caveats for Self-Publishers from Bestselling Author Jeff Carlson

(This post originally appeared at Anne Allen’s blog at:

These are chaotic and exciting times in the writing game, but it’s important to remember self-publishing means you’re not only the writer, you also need to wear an entirely different set of hats.

My first three novels, a series of apocalyptic thrillers known as the Plague Year trilogy, were published by Ace/Penguin Group USA. They did a nice job not only with the cover art but in packaging all three novels with a “look.”  They edited and typeset the books and handled the conversions to ebooks on all platforms.  Heck, they also bought display space in the major chains, placed ads in genre and trade magazines, ran specials on the Penguin web site and generally did a bang-up job.

Did I come anywhere near the New York Times lists? No, sir. Did I exceed the expectations of everyone involved (except me!) from Penguin itself to some critics to booksellers? Absolutely.

Plague Year is currently in its seventh printing in North America and, in Spain, became a hardcover bestseller due in part to my Spanish publisher’s enthusiasm not just for the book but for the treatment it received in the U.S. Like it or not, New York still leads the way in the corporate world. Other countries such as Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic have also fallen in line with their own excellent campaigns. Of course I take most of the credit – I wrote the books – but it can’t be argued that a fair level of support from Penguin helped convince some minds overseas.

Why am I bragging?  Because I’ve begun to self-publish on Kindle and elsewhere myself, and: it’s harder than I was promised by the e-revolutionaries!

Ha ha. There are hurdles I hadn’t anticipated. Identifying and solving those issues has become my own personal revolution.

Anne spoke eloquently on quality writing and professionalism, so all I’ll add to those ideas is the old truth that most of us average 1,000,000 words of garbage before we learn enough craft to write superior characters, dialogue and plotlines. That learning curve hasn’t changed.

In today’s world, especially on the ’Net and with all e-things, we expect instant gratification. Everyone hopes to skyrocket onto the charts. Personally, I want a zillion love slaves to FaceBook me and then gather on Skype to sing pirate shanties about my greatness.

What’s stopping them?

Cover art

People do judge a book by its cover.

One thing I’m not is a graphic designer. When I geared up to republish my short stories in mini-collections on Kindle and Nook, I wanted to spend as little money as possible.

99 cents is the lowest price on which Kindle and Nook will pay royalties. I didn’t see any point in selling my collections at 75 cents if Kindle and Nook pocketed 100% — and below the $2.99 price point, Kindle pays only a 35% royalty, not the vaunted 70% you tend to hear, so I calculated how many copies I’d need to sell to break even.

The best artists command as much as $400 per cover.

People like to say ebooks are forever (i.e., you and your descendants will earn royalties until the sentient raccoons take over the world in 6400 A.D. and place humankind in chains), but I really didn’t believe I’d sell 1143 copies before the raccoon apocalypse. The average ebook sells, uh, nothing? More on that in a minute.

I went cheap with the covers. Was that a mistake? Yes and no. Go ahead, take a peek. They’re not great. But there are years of evidence to support the idea that short story collections sell poorly compared to novels, so that’s an additional factor.

Are those covers holding potential readers back?  Or is the material not generating word-of-mouth? All of these stories were professionally published, btw, most of them in top anthologies and magazines. I like to think that means they’re good stuff, and yet three of my e-collections have yet to pay for their inexpensive covers.

Here’s where I’m wrestling with conflicting data:

My fourth ebook is a stand-alone novella called “The Frozen Sky.” It’s sold 8500 copies since January. That’s not a staggering number, but it’s enough to meet my wife’s car payment and most of our utilities. What’s interesting is the simple, stark, ominous cover was designed at zero cost by a superfan who gained permission from NASA to use a photo taken by the Cassini probe.

What I’m learning is that ebook cover art shouldn’t be busy, and, in fact, can be very basic, but it still needs to have a “look.” Finding someone who can deliver that look is the whole battle. If you’re not an artist, don’t kid yourself. Hire the best. My feeling now is that going halfway is wasted time and income.

Upfront Expenses 

“The money flows to the author.” This maxim is a venerable standby in writing, but it’s changing.

If you’re self-publishing and you don’t know PhotoShop (or want something more spectacular), need editing, and need your work converted into e-formats, it’s easy to burn through several hundred dollars in a hurry.

Referral lists aren’t always reliable, either. It’s also maddening to wait for the hired help to get organized when the whole point of self-publishing is to make your book public now, not next month.

Depending on your free time, it might pay off in the long run to teach yourself all of the above. Me, I’d rather be writing, so I’ve learned to plan ahead. I try to get each ball rolling before I need it. This can be a lot like herding cats.

I’m no longer just a writer, I’m a “wrublisher.” (A “priter”?)

My advice is to ask around for personal recommendations.  Once you find a service provider who’s reliable and affordable, love them.

You want a product that will to wow people, not a book that’s half-baked.

The Race to the Bottom

Right now there are 900,000 ebooks on Kindle.

500 of ’em are selling great; 1,500 more are selling well; the next 10,000 are doing all right; another 20,000 sell a steady trickle;  and the other 868,000 are selling zipperooni, maybe 15 copies total to Aunt Mavis and the author’s buddy Steve.  That’s right.  The vast majority of these writers are exactly where they’d be if they were banging at the gates of the evil elitist gatekeeping gatekeepers — on the outside.

I don’t like being a big fat negative-nancy, but the idea that we’re all going to upload our Great American Novels and sell sell sell is crazy, crazy, crazy.

It’s a swamp. Buyers are bees. They find the flowers and swarm.

What this has done is create enormous pressure on writers to undervalue their work or give it away free.

Even then, most of the time, nobody’s buying. What can you do? Writers control what they’ve always controlled: their stories. Keep at it. Do the work. Patience and persistence will always be the names of the game.

Most successful first novels are not that writer’s first novel at all. I know nobody wants to hear it, but few of us are gifted enough to write a well-crafted book with our first effort. If you’d told me when I was seventeen that my derivative Stephen King rip-offs weren’t good enough, I would have argued heatedly that you were a nincompoop. But it was true. Plague Year was my third-and-a-half novel, and that’s a very, very normal trajectory.

Remember why you got into this crazy business in the first place. Presumably it was for the love of language and storytelling.

Good writing is hard. E-publishing has subverted some of the rules, but the difficulty of finding commercial success isn’t something I predict will change. There are no shortcuts. So do the work. You’ll get there, but it may be a long haul. That’s just my pragmatic advice.

E-Revolution Now!

Having said all of that, there are break-out exceptions every week. If you think you’re ready, take your shot. The best part about ebooks is you can fix, expand or completely rewrite ’em at will, then post new versions in a matter of days instead of haggling with the corporate machine for three years to fix one freaking typo.

If there’s a negative reaction to your book (or if there’s no reaction at all), you can remove it and improve it – and if people love it, you’ve already arrived.