This post, from John Sundman, originally appeared on Self-Publishing Review on 3/24/10.
I’ve been self-publishing novels for a little more than ten years. I’ve had some successes–for example, I’ve won the Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book competition and I’ve sold more than 6,000 copies of my books. But I’m not a self-publishing rock star and I still dream of doing much better.
Here’s an essay on some things I’ve learned in ten years of doing this. Other versions of this essay appear elsewhere on the net, most recently on my site wetmachine.com, from whence you can download versions of my books for free if you feel like checking ‘em out.
This is mostly an essay about “publishing” in the traditional sense of books printed on paper. I welcome any related discussion about ebooks, web publishing, intellectual property & digital copyrights and so forth that may come up in comments. But when I say “publishing” herein, I’m talking about old-fashioned books.
I published my novel Acts of the Apostles in late 1999, the novella Cheap Complex Devices in late 2002 and an illustrated dystopian phantasmagoria called The Pains in late 2008. Depending on how you reckon, this venture has been a stunning success, a qualified failure, or something in between. I’ve sold about 6.5k copies, total, of my books. In any event, I’m working on my fourth novel Creation Science, and I intend to publish it before the summer comes (unless a big publisher buys the rights first; see below).
All of these books are available under Creative Commons license for download from Wetmachine (no DRM, no registration required), so you can read them for free.
Background: a tad more on novels and why I published them myself
My novel (”AofA”) is a geeky paranoid technothriller ostensibly about nanomachines and Gulf War Syndrome. This Amazon review sums it up pretty well:
This book is a far-fetched story about mad geniuses, cutting edge technology, world domination and a couple of lovable misfits (computer geeks, at that) who try to thwart them. In broad daylight, you know it can’t happen, but after dark you’re not so sure. I couldn’t put it down. It’s the book Neal Stephenson and Robert Ludlum might have written if one of the evil geniuses of this book had cloned them into one consciousness.
I’ve written elsewhere about what motivated me to write this book, and about how the process of writing and publishing AofA nearly destroyed my family. It is frankly embarrassing–make that humiliating–to admit how insane the whole deal was. However, my family and I seem to have weathered the ordeal OK– or actually we’ve come out a whole lot stronger than we went in. But here’s the key point: I only wrote and self-published AofA because I was nuts. I’m glad I did it, but if you’re not nuts you should think twice before choosing me as a role model.
I tried very hard indeed to find a publisher for Acts of the Apostles. I had a very well respected literary agent representing me & he connected with some very well respected movie-rights agents. Together that team put in about $20,000 of work & materials on behalf of my book. We worked on it for three solid years. The agents covered those expenses out of pocket, by the way. They really thought it was going to be a blockbuster book/movie hit. But the point is, self-publishing was not my first choice.