GUEST BLOG: A Self-Publishing Challenge by Glen Krisch

Recently, Robert Swartwood and Mari Mancusi have both written guest blogs (here and here) about their transition from traditional publishing to self-publishing. Today, Glen Krisch is here to offer another perspective. He’s the author of The Nightmare Within, Where Darkness Dwells, Loss, and more. He’s also an editor for Morrigan Books, and has worked on books by Tim Lebbon, Lawrence Block, and others. Visit his official website, Twitter, or Facebook. When he and I talked about this essay, I had no idea he’d call me out in front of you. Let us know what you think in the comments.

I have long been a Brian Keene fanboy.  It hasn’t been just his stories that have drawn me in over the years, but his perseverance, his prodigious production, and his guardianship of the horror genre itself.   I first encountered Brian’s writing with his Jobs in Hell column.  Right away I knew he had a gift with words.  I’ve always enjoyed his nonfiction voice; it has a similar strength and resonance as Stephen King’s when he addresses his Constant Readers.  What makes Brian so successful as a writer is his ability to make it feel like he’s having a conversation with you, whether with his nonfiction, his blog, or his many works of fiction.

Anyway, as a newbie writer in the early 2000s, Brian’s work ethic became something I wanted to emulate.  When I was first discovering Brian’s work, I was also writing the first novel I would finish, The Nightmare Within.  During that time, and for the better part of the next decade, I worked hard to land an agent or traditional publishing deal.  I may not be as productive as Brian, but during those formative years, I wrote two more novels, a handful of novellas, and a few dozen short stories.

For years I chased that dream.  For years it became my obsession.  For years, as I learned the ins and outs of writing and submitting, I convinced myself (or should I say, I listened to every reputable author’s opinion on the subject) that the traditional path was the only path.  Any other path was the path of failure.  Any other path was vanity publishing, and that stigma, once submitted to, was hard to escape.

I don’t know the exact reason I never landed a traditional deal.  Publishing can be such a crapshoot at times, with plenty of talented writers never coming close to landing a deal.  I came close to landing an agent with my second novel, Where Darkness Dwells.  This agent is highly respected in the Big 6 of publishing (think sparkly vampires).  My story got as far as a thorough read of the full manuscript, but in the end, the agent didn’t think she could sell it.  Who would want to read about an undead society living in the caves and tunnels below a Great Depression mining town?  Well, I thought plenty.

Around this time a small press publisher asked me if he could publish The Nightmare Within.  I was nearly overcome with joy at finally receiving that fateful email.  Once the contracts were signed, I was set to rake in an advance of $200.  I was so happy at the time that I didn’t even blink at that insulting number.  The publisher held the work, always showing interest in publishing it, but the contract never materialized.  I had put my faith in someone other than myself to make my dreams come true. And you know what?  I wasted three years waiting.

This confluence of rejection and dejection came to pass in the Fall of 2010.  I was drained and unable to imagine another multi-year wait of submission hell.  I began to think the unimaginable.  I started to doubt my own beliefs that the traditional path was the only acceptable one for me.

I had heard about the brewing ebook craze from the beginning.  I had been a reader of JA Konrath’s books and blog since he sold his first published novel, Whiskey Sour.  Though I’ve never met Joe Konrath in person, he lived nearby and taught at the local community college.  When I was trying to decide about the direction of my publishing future, Joe was selling hundreds (if not thousands) of digital copies of his work per month.

In December 2010, I took the plunge into self-publishing territory.  I felt like a total loser when I hit the publish button and uploaded The Nightmare Within to the Amazon store.

I decided I would upload just the one title, and if nothing happened, if it was just one more failure in the long line before it, I would give up on that avenue and return my attentions to landing a traditional deal.  I didn’t sell much at first, as expected, but the strong early reviews were enough to keep me going.  And as 2010 became 2011, I decided to also upload Where Darkness Dwells.  I still wasn’t selling much, usually only enough sales to keep my family in pizza once a week.

As 2011 neared its end, I decided to enroll my works (which now includes six titles) in Amazon Select.  This program allows the author to market five free promo days in the 90 day enrollment period.  I thought, What the heck?  What did I have to lose?

Many authors get riled up about Amazon Select and the authors who offer readers the chance to download their work for free.  Usually these people are entrenched in the ways of traditional publishing.  They are invested in keeping the status quo, even if they are a small press or midlist author.  Some people feel like it’s cheating, that the authors who are enrolled in Select are taking short cuts and not paying their dues.   I see Select in a different light.  Select is a marketing platform, a tool for reaching readers you wouldn’t have otherwise.  How is someone like me, a hard working nobody, supposed to reach the masses?

Since enrolling in Select six months ago, my monthly sales have gone from around $50/per month, to surpassing my day job income in three of the last four months.  I’ve reached thousands of new readers by enrolling in this program, and these readers have, in turn, bought my other works.  I have an actual readership that has written 100 Amazon reviews (Glen’s Amazon author page). I feel like I have the freedom to write whatever I want, without the restrictions that come along with trying to land a traditional deal.  It’s my goal to be a full-time writer by the end of 2012.  Yes, I just typed that for the world to see.  While 2012 shows me glimpses of what can be, when 2013 rolls around, I want to be in my office every day, writing stories, and living my dream.

So, you might be asking yourself, “Why is this guy rambling on about self-publishing on Brian Keene’s blog?”

When Dorchester – Leisure collapsed I wrote to Brian to ask him about his future and if he would consider the indie path.  He obviously didn’t go that route, and I’m happy to see that he was a good thing going with Deadite Press.  However, I think it’s about time for Brian to self-publish something.  God, how far I’ve come from all those years chasing my traditional publishing dreams!  The way I see it, if a nobody such as myself can realistically see a time when I can become a full-time writer, there’s no reason someone like Brian can’t substantially increase his income based on one indie release.  No one deserves success more than Brian.  For everything he’s done in the wake of Leisure’s collapse alone, he deserves the best.

I know Brian has many commitments and plenty of publishers willing to work with him.  But in this new publishing world, authors need to be agile, flexible, and willing to move with the tide.  I’d love to hear what readers of Brian’s blog have to say about it.

25 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: A Self-Publishing Challenge by Glen Krisch

  1. Simon

    In my opinion, the decision to self-publish should be based on two criteria:

    1) economics – is self-publishing a better business decision? (Whether short-term or long-term, depending on your goals).

    2) artistic goals – how much control do I need in presenting my work to the public? (Total, some, none).

    Answers to these will help you determine the path to take.

    There certainly is an “ideology” of self-publishing making the rounds. This is the compliment of legacy pub kool-aid, and should best be left undrunk.

    Reply
  2. JimHerbert

    Not knowing Brian personally, and therefore utterly unqualified to claim intimate knowledge of his innermost thoughts, I know he’s got at LEAST one story idea backburnered because even HE believes it would be a hard sell to the commercial market, a Brian Keene story too unlike all the Brian Keene stories that have come before – a brand-busting outlaw of a story not giving fuck-all for pleasing editors or fans, who far too often just want More Of The Same. You know, Brian…THAT story.

    Reply
  3. Hereintheusa

    Self publishing still seems to suffer from the stigma of vanity publishing but with the Ebook revolution it is obvious the “traditional” path of seeing your book in print is really no longer relevant. Of course a writer wants the security of a contract but I think the next generation of writers will come up through the Ebook route and will wonder why those That came before thought giving up so much and in some respects more importantly gave up their own creative control to a faceless corporation. In my opinion we swill see niche publishers like deadite become more prevalent (regardless of genre) but we know what will happen next, the giants in publishing will purchase these companies to try and maintain their stranglehold on the market place.

    Reply
  4. Lucas Mangum

    I have mixed feelings. While I’ve heard great success stories, I’ve also heard that the marketing side of self-publishing can seriously cut into an author’s writing time. I’m sure that for some the amount of money will be enough for that not to matter, but for others, who live to write, that may be more of a challenge. I think there are pros and cons, just like with traditional publishing.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Guest blog at Brian Keene’s digs | glenkrisch

  6. Xander Harris

    I bombarded both Brian and Glen’s twitter with my opinion on this matter but I’ll make a statement here as well.

    I feel that indie publishing is going to get right want independent music has gotten wrong all of these years. It seems to me that there is an opportunity here to actually build a readership and really get some momentum for authors who are very good. You also don’t have sit and sift through the pile of rejection letters from big companies who say “we like you but we’re not sure how to market you”.

    I think that if you really promote the title that this is the way of the future.

    I say give it a go and if it doesn’t turn out so well, you haven’t lost anything from trying.

    Reply
  7. Adam Pepper

    It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, and Brian has been doing business a certain way for a long time now. But he’s got mouths to feed and I think self published ebooks would provide a nice new revenue stream while he could still do high end books with small publishers that he’s done well with.

    Seems like a no brainier to me.

    Reply
  8. Robert Chazz Chute

    Thanks for this wonderful post. What leapt out at me was the experience of a small publisher taking a book for a pittance but not getting around to publishing it within a three-year span. Another traditionally published friend of mine with a mid-sized publisher in Canada is having the same experience despite success with other publishers (in essence, putting ice on an author just as he’s heating up.) What’s going on there I can’t fathom.

    What is salient for me from these negative publishing experiences is that a contract does *not* make me feel more secure. It makes me feel locked in, belted down and trapped in my seat as the sea floods in. The jet is sinking into the deep dark as cold briny water devours the passengers’ last watery screams to an indifferent God.

    More concretely: Recently I noticed that my novella, which was supposed to be a loss leader to introduce readers to The Dubious Magic That is Me, just wasn’t selling. No problem. I reworked the cover and will roll the novella in with a bunch of short stories that have proved popular. It will be one book at a higher price (with which I have a positive track record). That will launch simultaneously with my first crime novel and a book about writing. An audiobook and the next novel in the series will soon follow. No publisher would allow me to be this flexible or let me put up three books within one month. Hypothetically, even if they green lit all that today, I’d likely have to wait at least sixteen months for them to get to me, all the while losing time and sales. The cost-benefit analysis, plus the control I keep, leaves me with no envy for my friends who do not publish their own work. Entrepreneurship in this realm is not for everybody, but that’s usually more about the author’s temperament than it is a pure business decision. I’m out of doom, into new possibilities and swimming up, toward the sunlight.

    Reply
  9. Griffin Hayes

    Great job Glen!

    I think it’s important to stress that self-publishing isn’t for everyone. For writers like myself who started without any kind of following, it can be an uphill battle. Especially since the full weight of the non-writing stuff falls on your shoulders. Learning how to balance your time isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. But I will say that when success finally arrives, it’s so much more rewarding because you know you earned every single ounce of it.

    So, should Brian self-publish? In my opinion, I’m shocked he hasn’t already. If it makes him feel more comfortable, he can dip a toe in the waters by putting together a 30-40k novella and see how it sells. My prediction is he’ll be kicking himself for holding off so long. Hell, lots of established authors are already putting their backlist on Kindle and many of them are doing very, very well. So grab your swim trunks Brian and jump in!

    Reply
  10. Chris K.

    Great article, Glen, and I love reading stories like this (thanks, Brian, for sharing this, too!)…and I think everyone makes valid points, but I also think the important thing to note is how digital has opened doors for new and talented writers, many–as Glen shared–toiled for YEARS to go the traditional route. Making money from it? Nope, nothing wrong here (but I do understand the concern about taking time away from other writing efforts)…but still, mighty tempting…

    Reply
  11. Eddie in Chicago

    Congratulations on your success, Glen. Before you know it, you’ll be a full time writer.

    I think the idea of Brian self publishing an ebook is a great idea because I’d be able to purchase it and read it a LOT sooner than if it were a traditional published book.

    It doesn’t hurt that Brian would receive a much higher royalty, too.

    Reply
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  13. Charlene

    I very much enjoyed this piece, Glen.

    I am anxiously awaiting the time when you will be free to write full time. I know I will be rolling in good books for years to come.
    I’ve read only a few of Brian Keene’s books, but what I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed. I have also followed Brian’s blog regarding the Leisure Publishing situation.

    Brian, I think Glen is right! What have you got to lose?

    Reply
  14. Glen Krisch

    Hey Brian,
    Thanks for giving me some space to ramble a bit.
    I’m not one of those indie-types who believes that traditional publishing is dead or not worthwhile.
    Being an author in today’s publishing world is like trying to figure out the current energy crisis. Should we invest time and money in wind power, solar, nuclear? Is coal still viable? My answer to the energy question is yes. Yes to everything.
    As an author trying to make a living in today’s topsy-turvy publishing world, the answer isn’t just indie or small press or tradtional. It’s not selling short stories to magazine or websites or anthologies. The answer is pursue everything. Pursue every angle, every market. Limiting your career path is a good way to find a dead end. Flexibility will be key in the coming years.

    Reply
  15. Kevin Lucia

    “The answer is pursue everything. Pursue every angle, every market. Limiting your career path is a good way to find a dead end. Flexibility will be key in the coming years.”

    Pretty much the most sensible thing I’ve heard yet. Excellent blog, Glen.

    Reply
  16. Jon F. Merz

    I started uploading my NYC-rejected novels to Amazon in 2009, but only got serious about ebooks in late-January 2011. Since that time, I have sold thousands upon thousands of ebooks; my monthly income is incredible thanks to this digital marketplace that exists primarily on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Brian, I think you would do extremely well on it as well.

    With both Amazon and B&N; you can upload the book and have it selling within about 24 hours (sometimes longer, sometimes sooner). 60 days after you start selling it, you start receiving monthly direct deposits to your bank account (my payment for my March 2012 sales just showed up in my account this morning.) If your ebook is priced between $2.99-$9.99 you earn a 70% royalty at Amazon and 65% at B&N. That’s pretty damned near amazing. And Amazon has storefronts in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France now with more opening all the time. B&N also plans to go global soon. Kobo is getting ready to roll out its own self-pub program similar to Amazon and B&N.

    I remember one of my goals when I started writing seriously back in ’94 was to reach a point where my work earned me *passive* income. Back then I expected it would be due to reprints and a long shelf life (ha!) but now that goal can be realized because ebooks are forever.

    My latest example is my new YA series THE NINJA APPRENTICE. My agent loved the book and was certain it was going to earn me that coveted 6 or 7-figure deal. Well, we circulated that for eighteen months and NYC greeted it with such idiotic comments like “boys don’t read,” and “no commercial appeal.” I released it about two weeks ago – it’s sold over 1,000 copies to-date and several high schools have added it to their summer reading lists. I’m slated to go on a speaking “tour” in September for a lot of these schools. Clearly, the times are changing for the author’s (and readers’) benefit.

    So yes, I absolutely think Brian should take the plunge. I’m not 100% indie (new fantasy series coming next Spring from Baen) but I’m moving ever-closer to that route. Also, I’ve got a bunch of posts over on my blog about my own experiences with the indie route. http://jonfmerz.net/blog and if you have any questions, Brian, feel free to drop a line.

    Best of luck!
    -Jon

    Reply
  17. Pingback: Advice for New Indie Authors | Jon F. Merz

  18. Steve Vernon

    I’m what some folks call a hybrid-writer – with my feet squarely in both camps. I’ve got a strong selling catalogue of regional traditionally-published paperbacks as well as ten e-books released through Crossroad Press. I am just about to enter the indie author experience as a self-published writer this summer with a line-up of YA releases.

    So – when it comes right down to it I don’t know a whole lot about being a true indie author.

    But I do know this. A great percentage of the authors who do well with self-publishing have a previously established fanbase. And Keene has built that and then some. The man is a freaking master at getting folks to listen to his words and to buy them as well. I don’t pretend to know how many fans Keene has got – but I’m confident in saying he has a shitwack.

    Most of the publishers who work with Keene know that if they print a 1000 copy limited release of a Keene novel or novella that it will most likely sell out within a week. So – if Keene released a novel/novella under his own banner – within a week he might be looking at 70-80% of what ever price he decided to set upon that e-release – so long as it was reasonably priced.

    And – being an e-book – it would keep on selling. He wouldn’t have to do much more promotional work than he has already been doing.

    Brian, the world is turning. Traditionally-published books aren’t headed towards extinction – but they are most definitely giving way to digital releases. I think you’d be well advised to stick in your toes in to the self-publishing pool, give them a little wiggle splash and wiggle, and then step back and gi-freaking cannonball tsunami into the deep end of this particular swimming hole.

    My two bits.

    Reply
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  20. A.P. Fuchs

    As encouraging as this post is–and thank you, Brian, for posting it, and to Glen for writing it–it still cements the truth about publishing: it’s a crapshoot. Glen says as much above. Whether traditionally published or doing it yourself, it’s still a gamble (unless you’re Rowling or King, etc.).

    I’ve been self-publishing since 2003 and have seen and experienced pretty much everything self-pubbing has to offer. I’ve spend thousands of dollars. I’ve made much more than that back.

    Despite the hype, the reality check is this: those who have had success don’t know why (ask Amanda Hocking. She said as much on her blog back when she was all the news). Ask Joe Konrath. He’s finally said the same.

    The ultimate irony is the sudden switch in attitude by writers toward self-publishing. Not long ago, if you self-published you weren’t a real writer. Only desperate authors put their own work out. Then, suddenly, someone found newsworthy success and then self-publishing was okay (even though many made tens of thousands of dollars doing it before). Then the market dried up and now the shoe was on the other foot. The naysayers became desperate and self-published. Some had a success, some didn’t.

    No one knew why one or the other.

    No one still knows why one or the other.

    The most one can do is one’s best and try to put out the best product you know how.

    The above might come off as negative. Even sour grapes. That’s not the case. What is the case is to remind everyone that publishing is about finding what works for you and running with it. It might be traditional deals. It might be going solo. It might be a bit of both. (i.e. I publish my own novels, but sell short stories to anthologies so I can collect them later yet “still make the rounds.”)

    Just like some of us have better booksignings than others, or some sell better on Nook as opposed to the almighty Kindle, so it is with our method of putting out our work.

    Should Brian put out his own stuff? That’s up to him. To suggest that he’ll suddenly make more money out of it, I think, is incorrect. That’s based on a presupposition that anything he writes will sell and sell well. Only he and his publisher(s) have access to his numbers, which books are his top sellers, which venues sell more than others, etc. Who knows what really goes on behind-the-scenes numbers-wise other than what he tells us.

    Brian: A long, long time ago, we exchanged a couple tweets on twitter about you doing an essay on this whole self-publishing thing, especially in the light of your previous “Self-publishg Swine” essay. (Which is classic, btw.) If memory serves, you said this new one was for “another time,” or similar words. I’m sure, aside from myself, many others here are curious about your thoughts on this self-publishing thing, your experiences with it–you used to put out chapbooks, if I heard right–and your thoughts about books, their future, etc., but all in the reality/world of this indie thing.

    In fact, just thinking of this now, I invite you to an open letter back-and-forth between you and I, discussing this. Would be entertaining. Most certainly would drive up web traffic for us both. Two fanboys talking shop. Two fanboys with different publishing histories considering the future. Two fanboys . . . that hardly know each other. But fanboys all the same.

    Tweet me at @_APFuchs if interested.

    Thanks.

    Good discussion, folks. Keep going.

    Reply
  21. Angela Verdenius

    I have books published with a small press and available in ebook & print, but I’ve also been self-publishing my last three books as well as a couple of novellas and a short story. Does it cut into my writing time to self-pub? Well, no 1 – I work full time anyway, so THAT cuts into it LOL. No 2 – No matter whether you’re published with a big publisher, or self-pubbed, you have to do most, if not all, of your promo. No 3 – I’ve been bitten twice by 2 small publishers and realise that the term “if the publisher goes into bankruptcy, your book rights return to you” is utter hogwash. Everything gets frozen by the courts and can later be sold to the highest bidder to recoupe money. Sucky, huh? Also, when you live overseas and get no contact from a publsiher who holds one of your contracts and they refuse to answer your emails, it’s very expensive and a damned long way to try and chase things through a lawyer. My current publisher is great, no problems with them, but I love the freedom of self-pubbing and knowing that my rights are all mine. No messy contract stuff-ups, and since I’m doing all my own promo anyway, why not keep my rights? It’s not for everyone, but it suits me.

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