Sunday, August 17, 2014

Self-Publishing on Amazon: an Interview with Author Dave Walsh

I met Dave Walsh in 2007 when we were both editing press releases for PR Newswire in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It quickly became apparent to me that Dave is a superior editor and writer. He is also a musician and songwriter and expert on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), among many other things. His jump shot, however, could use a little work. He has a special affinity for kickboxing and owns . Eager to put all of his skills to the test, Dave self-published his first novel "The Godslayer" on in January of 2013. As per Amazon, "The Godslayer is a journey inside of the mind of a professional athlete who competed at the highest level but lost everything in the process and takes a rather unique look inside of the world of Mixed Martial Arts." It's an excellent read! I recently presented Dave with some questions about self-publishing on Amazon that he was most gracious and generous to answer in his typically candid style. The following is the text from our emails:

Hi Dave,

How are things? I'm just now getting around to reading your book. I look forward to it.

I've also started a new blog --

Would you be interested in talking about how you published the book in an interview format that would be posted to the blog?


Sent from my iPhone


I'm doing okay, how about yourself?

That's great, man, I hope that you kind of like it. What version, the Kindle one or the print?

Yeah, I'd be down for that. Just lemme know.


Kindle version. How are the sales? I'll work up some questions and email them. 

1. What do you see as the benefits of self-publishing on Amazon?

2. Was the process of self-publishing easier or harder than you expected?

3. Would you recommend self-publishing to other writers?

4. Did you pursue literary agents? Will you in the future?

1. The benefits of self-publishing on Amazon are pretty vast at this point. The traditional publishing model is an involved process that involves reaching out to tons of people inside of the industry and trying to fit into their tastes, schedules and business plans. I had reached out to a few hundred agents (not kidding) and got a few really promising replies, but most were "come back to me when you have something else," "we are targeting tween females right now and this doesn't appeal to them" or "I like this, but my plate is full. Get back to me in six months and we'll revisit this." 

I was impatient and looking to get my start, so I just did it. It was a good idea and a bad idea, in retrospect. I learned a lot about the whole process and what to do differently next time. The benefits were vast, though, like I was saying. There might not be an advance that goes into your bank account, but self-publishing on Amazon nets 70% of your revenue from sales, where traditional publishing you don't see anywhere near that. Usually you'll get your advance in three chunks; when the contract is signed, when the manuscript is delivered and then when the book is released. Then, most contracts, will only pay you out after the publisher has recouped costs from the run and  you get your pittance. If you are moving a million copies this isn't a big deal, but if you plan on moving a few hundred or so, well, this is a huge deal. 

I've known a lot of writers who have published through small presses and they might get some money up front, but they'll sell a limited number of copies and that will usually be the end of it. I'm not going to give you my sales figures or anything, but I was a bit disappointed in it until I spoke with a few other writers who told me that they had wished for such numbers, so yeah, it was over 1,000 and less than 2,000. That's not monster sales, but for a first-time author on a small press you probably could expect that in a best case scenario, I just got the keep most of the money from it. 

2. It was pretty simple, once I set my mind to it. Once I wrapped my head around the idea of not achieving this distant, far-off dream of getting my first book published through a major publishing house and selling a million copies and being able to live in a cabin in the woods releasing a book every ten years it became a lot easier. Like with everything else, the Internet has changed everything. I really mulled over this decision for about a year, I'd say. The book was done and I let my editor just sit with it for a while and take their time while I tried the traditional blind querying and bugging people process. 

While going through that process I spoke with a few writers that I knew about self-publishing and this was 2011/2012 or so and it still wasn't as big as it is today. A few said, "this looks to be the future, there's no shame or black mark that comes from it anymore," so that was really what gave me that final push. That and some of the delays the traditional process was presenting me with. The idea of waiting six months to a year to even start talking about getting contracts signed and beginning the process while being paid maybe a $2500 - $5000 advance in chunks was depressing. So I went for it. 

Formatting an ebook is something that will either come naturally to you or be the bane or your existence. There are people out there who charge money to format them for you, but the reality is you need to toss in a few HTML tags here and there and you are done. Most of it can be done via MS Word, even, which makes it a lot simpler. You need to do provide everything yourself, though. I mean everything. You need to have your book edited, formatted and set, then you need a cover. I'm lucky enough to where I could do most of this on my own. I won't say that I didn't make mistakes along the way, because I did. I actually first published the ebook with the wrong, unedited document, which is a stressful thing. I had saved over one that I had edited and I had a crazy, fourteen hour day where I just sat down and fixed as much as I could before republishing it. That's the good thing about ebooks, especially through Amazon's KDP; you can just fix it whenever you want and the new version will just seamlessly push out like nothing happened. 

The print version was another story altogether, I used Amazon's CreateSpace, which seems okay. I didn't want to do a print version at all, but I had requests from a few friends and family who had zero desire to buy a device, nor did they have a tablet or a way to read anything outside of a phone. So I got pressured into formatting a print book. This is where you get into typesetting, needing a full cover, meaning front, spine and back, plus having to get proofs mailed to you, make changes, send for another, etc. This was frustrating and a lot of work, especially considering how many physical copies that I ended up selling. We're talking the range of 20 compared to the thousands of ebooks. I ordered about 10 for myself and I still have six here on the shelf next to me. So yeah, ebook is just better in every way, even when it comes to the payout for it. 

Long story short; easier than I thought, but I am good with web stuff and that's all it takes.

3. Yes. I'm not even sure that I'd recommend the traditional route for anyone at this point. It's a dehumanizing process at this point and it's looking more and more like the publishing industry is changing. Every once in a while I check Amazon's Top 100 Authors page and while it changes daily as sales happen, I was shocked when I last checked it and saw five out of the top ten on one day being self-published authors. We're talking heavyweights like Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Tom Clancy, etc. being knocked out of their comfy top spots by women who are writing vampire erotica from home, or nerdy dudes writing about sword-wielding aliens. 

There were success stories floating around before of self-published writers making thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on book sales via Amazon before, but it's more of a reality now. Major publishing houses can't keep up with the times and demands of readers today, they overcharge, they underpay the writers and everyone knows this now. Our society has ADD right now and you kind of have to adjust to that. If there is a book series that you really enjoy, you have to wait and wait and wait for the next book to come out. Some of that is the writer taking their time, working on other projects, while some of it is the publisher and their schedules. They don't want to market these big books every four months, they want to market them every year or two. 

A lot of these indie authors are pumping out like 4 - 6 books a year and it seems to be working for them. Is that the way to go? Not always, no, but there is an audience for that, looking for easily-digested content who don't want to have to wait for the next book for a few years. You also don't have to kowtow to what the taste-makers in the New York publishing world think that you want to read. Like, you know, Twilight happened and then every agent was looking for the next Twilight to publish. The industry is reacting, not taking risks anymore. You can take those risks now on your own and if nobody reads it, well, that sucks, at least you tried, right? You might make $10 where you weren't going to make a thing getting form replies from agents.

4. I did pursue agents, for the better part of a year. Hundreds and hundreds of blind queries out into the wild. Most of the time there was a form reply, sometimes there was a personalized one, the rest of the time there was nothing. Querying agents was a depressing, frustrating and obnoxious process. I also had a book that maybe didn't make sense for that forum. I -- possibly foolishly -- chose a topic in fiction that was a bit niche. The more I look at "The Godslayer" the more I realize that I could have done a few tweaks and made the main character a retired rock star and it would have moved a lot more copies and gotten a lot more interest from agents and publishers. 

It's a situation where you live and you learn. I wrote about something that I had stuff to say about that might not have the largest reader base in the world and they weren't biting. Maybe I would have done things differently, but maybe I wouldn't. I don't know. 

As for if I'll do it again, I'm on the fence about it. I'm working on a science fiction novel right now, one that I know would garner some interest. The problem is that I know the process well now, I know how long it'll take and I know how frustrating it can be. There's a backdoor now into the publishing industry that comes through self-publishing. Having self-publishing success can lead to agents and major publishers knocking on your door, not the other way around. Seeing as though I've always been a difficult and stubborn person, I feel that my path will look more like that than the traditional route of years past. 

I learned a lot from that first book that I self-published. There were a lot of lessons to take away from it, like being patient and making sure that it's 100% before you hit publish, like having confidence in it and that your friends really can help you out in the process and become vital to your success and public image. Another big lesson is that people will always make big promises about what they'll do to help you, but that you can't rely on them to follow through, or if they do, that they might follow through 40% of what they promised. I learned that these are my projects and that it's great to have help, but the more that I can control and do for myself, the more I know will actually get done. I feel that the next one is going to be a whole lot smoother and easier, that's for sure. 

A part of me still has that vain hope of being that writer who gets to live in seclusion and pump out one piece of literary gold every five to ten years. That part of me wants to get an agent and do things the traditional way. The rest of me sees the industry changing drastically and knows that it seems like a better idea to push into the new horizons as opposed to trying to make some fantasy happen.

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