Tag Archives: Self Publishing

A Well-Paved Road to an Indie Author’s Success: Part 2, Lesson’s Learned

By Ralph Kern

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Amazon Review: Take a little Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke then add a dash of Star Trek, shake well and enjoy.

So from all that, what have I learned?

1. Editing is vital.  And yet something I’m cr#p at. I don’t enjoy it, and I’d rather be doing something else entirely. What I do love is the coming out with the story and even more than that, the research that goes into it. A good percentage of you will probably be the same. Some of you may enjoy it, but I know I don’t.


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2. You find an editor who compliments you. I’ve had three editors. All have improved my manuscript. But, when you find someone who, when faced with your work, somehow has an X Factor…that’s when the magic happens. Editing suddenly goes from being a crushing chore, to something you look forwards to. My current (and hopefully permanent) editor compliments me in that she doesn’t let me get away with stuff and constantly teaches. For example, in the draft of my second book she looked at, she ran ‘Find’ on Word for passive voice, and sent it straight back with a load of guidance on how to sort it before she would review it properly. Why? Surely it’s her job to sort that kind of thing out? Well no actually, it’s mine. That’s something I can do to improve the book, and she shouldn’t have to deal with laziness AND polishing. And now, for next time, I’ve learned a little something extra.

3. Target your audience. Mine is in America, On the SF/F Chronicles, this is a raging debate where people have clearly expressed their views, both pro and con, on “Americanization.” Whether an author chooses to do it or not, that’s their decision. For me, it became a point that was no longer optional, but critical.

4. Sales rank is everything. Lose it, and you will struggle to regain it. Your only chance to beat the odds is to grab those early adopters. If you’ve built that sales rank as a self-published author and then decide to go to a publisher, keep it on your bookshelf. And remember, if you have that sales rank, it will be you deciding on the publisher, not the publisher deciding on you.

5. Paralysis by analysis. The way I did okay for myself was by charging forwards. I’ve seen critiquing threads where people have agonized over the odd sentence, and it probably matters not an iota to a reader. Bearing in mind points 1 and 2, which ended with don’t be lazy, sometimes you just have to pick something and do it.

6. Reviewers are all individuals. Some of them consider three stars good, some five. Some are just harsh—one said I should be shot. Currently I stand at 131 Amazon reviews with a bunch on the odd website. Fortunately I’m at four stars average which keeps visibility high. Hopefully, that will creep up now that (also hopefully) no one will be able to find the plethora of errors previously in it, and I’ve addressed the concerns given in point 3. But definitely use reviewers. If they raise a point, you can actually do something about it! Why just sit there grumbling about the fact your readers are moaning about you saying, “He was sat on a chair” as opposed to “He was sitting on a chair”? (I kid you not, that came up on several reviews!). Sure a traditional publisher might get them sorted from the get go, but if you’re not traditionally published, then you can sort it out!

7. Whether fame or fortune, you can get that with self-publishing. But treat it with the same drive for quality that a traditional publisher seeks. It should just be a case of who foots the bills. Decide if you think the cut you give the publisher is worth it, considering that you can probably do it for yourself. In the short term, going with a traditional publisher will be a saving for you. In the mid to long term, it might be a different story. Interestingly, many SF TV series and film coming out this year are based on self-published books.

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Sergeant Ralph arresting the competition?


Ralph Kern started the path that lead him to become author with a few jaunts about the world. He began with adegree in aerospace technology from Coventry University, worked in Milan on designing a satellite, hopped across “the Pond” to get his pilot’s license in the States (even before his driver’s license), then wound up back in England. There he flew air cadets in motor gliders and for a year was an officer cadet in the TA (Territorial Army). After all of this, he had a bit of a quarter-life crisis. He succumbed to the kid inside and chucked it all for a career chasing bad guys, becoming a police officer. In the course of rising to sergeant, his job has exposed him to many things that started him thinking about “the big issues.” He noticed a hole in his life that made him turn to writing, where he, like the authors he has read and loved all of his life (Arthur C Clarke, Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds and many more), can confront those larger issues.

My Path to Self-Publishing

By J. L. Doty

Sword series

Coming soon—The exciting conclusion to the Gods Within series: The Name of the Sword. Haven’t read them yet? Go to Amazon and get The Child of the Sword, The SteelMaster of Indwallin, and The Heart of the Sands.

When Jennifer Carson asked me to write a guest blog about my path to self-publishing, I was thrilled.  I started writing about thirty years ago with no training or experience in fiction.  I had concocted all these stories, and I wanted to write, so I just sat down and started writing, pencil on paper.  The first thing I wrote was a 250,000-word SF novel that was so bad it never saw the light of day—and never will, but I learned a lot.

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After that dismal failure, I wrote Child of the Sword.  In the 80s, I submitted it to Del Rey, and an editor there showed interest.  We corresponded back and forth for several months making changes, and then Judy-Lynn del Rey died.  The correspondence dried up at that point, and I got a rejection letter. I’ve always suspected that the uncertainties at Del Rey following her death had something to do with it.  I had no idea how lucky I was to get the attention of an editor at one of the major SF houses.

I had a demanding day job, but I continued writing, submitting, and being rejected.  In early 2012, I had four completed books, plus a couple more about half done, along with a stack of rejection slips. I remember wallowing in self-pity and thinking, Someday I’ll die, and no one will have ever read anything I wrote.

At that point I decided, What the f*$#@*@$k and started self-publishing.  I lined up my books one by one, about one every quarter, got a cover made, formatting done, and published them for 99¢ on Amazon and Smashwords.

I had this day-job that required me to fly to Europe and Asia ten to fifteen times a year, plus about ten coast-to-coast trips in the U.S.  I was basically living on Mars-Central-Standard time and had no time to do any of the savvy marketing stuff that self-published writers are supposed to do.  I just threw the eBooks out there and ignored them.

The first three books trickled along, sold a couple of copies every month, and it was really gratifying to get the occasional nice review from a reader.  Then in late 2012, I published Child of the Sword, and—what the heck—raised the prices on all my books to $2.99.  I threw Child out there and ignored it like the other books, then got on a plane and flew somewhere.  About two weeks later, I checked its sales, hoping it had sold a copy or two.  When I logged onto Amazon, I learned it had sold 85 copies—and was climbing; within four weeks it was selling 150–200 copies a day.  Needless to say I was stunned, and I truly did believe I’d get a call from Amazon: “Mr. Doty, we’re really sorry, but there’s been an accounting error.  It was J. L. Duty who sold all those books, not you.  We’re taking the money back.”

When it finally sank in that it was real, I had some money saved up, and I was making a decent living as a writer, so I quit my demanding day job.  No longer a running dog lackey for the Bourgeois capitalist establishment, I was now a full-time egalitarian writer.  Wah whoo!

I had dozens of questions about what was happening, what to expect, what should I do, etc.  The good news is, by searching through blogs and online forums, I quickly got answers to all my questions.  The bad news is, I got ten different answers to every question.  Even worse, more often than not, all ten were wrong.

Other self-published writers told me, “. . . you can’t sell books without a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.”  So I rushed home to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Right after I set them up, I was sitting at my computer and checked my sales figures: I had sold somewhere around 15,000 books, and still no Facebook friends or Twitter followers.  Hmmm!

I went to LosCon in late 2012, right about the time Child had sold 10,000 copies. BTW, an excellent Con that I will attend every year.  Everyone there agreed that, with the book’s track record, I’d have no problem signing up with a traditional publisher—there are plenty of reasons for a successful self-published writer to do so, but that’s fodder for another blog.  Boy, were they wrong.

A well-known small press publisher said his biggest press run was less than half what I’d already sold, so I’d be disappointed with him—he’s wrong, but that’s what he believes.  One agent, said, “I’m not interested in anyone who’s self-published, especially someone who’s sold a lot of eBooks.”  He used a certain romance writer as an example.  She had sold about 100,000 eBooks and because of that got a traditional contract.  He said, “She trained all her readers to buy cheap books.  That’s why she bombed with traditional publishing.”

Two years ago when I approached traditional publishers and agents, I’d get this nonanswer response, and I’m almost certain I saw fear in their eyes.  I think they were honestly concerned that people like me would put them out of business.  A year later the fear was gone; I think they realized they weren’t going out of business, though there would be a new paradigm for the publishing industry.  Today, it sounds like they all got together in a room, and carefully chose the wording they would use to reject successful self-published writers.  We don’t want to see something that you’ve successfully sold, but show us something new and unsullied by self-publishing.  I suppose, in many ways, that is reasonable.

As of this writing (December 2014) SFWA is going to vote in January on the criteria for admitting successful self-published writers.  Apparently, admitting self-published writers is a foregone conclusion, the only issue being the criteria for successful.  From what I’ve heard, the criteria they’ve chosen is reasonable, and there’s no double standard for self-pub vs. traditional-pub.

To date, I’m close to about 50,000 books sold.  What’s going to happen in the future?  When I try to predict the future I usually lose money in the stock market.  The best thing any of us can do to promote our books is sit down and write the next one.

Interested in more authors’ Paths to Publishing?  This month, Melissa Snark is hosting a series of guest blogs on that subject. See my story about how I got into the editing and publishing world.  Jennifer L. Carson’s Path to Publishing.