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John Blumenthal

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How I Ended Up in the Self-Publishing Hall of Fame

Posted: 04/13/2012 3:38 pm

In 1999, I decided to self-publish a novel. I'd sold books to mainstream houses in the past, but no one wanted this one. But I believed in it. My agent believed in it. My wife believed in it. The dog was neutral.

Of course, people had self-published before, but using the Internet was a whole new concept. Amazon had only been online since 1995. There were no Kindles back then; the word "e-book" had not yet been coined; CreateSpace didn't exist. I would be blazing a new trail.

For me, a vanity press was out of the question (too... er... vain), so I hired a savvy guy who knew about putting books together.

The first thing I did was create a publishing company. I got a PO Box and called it a "Suite." I bought stationary and invented a fictitious editor named Jerry Blake. Jerry would sign correspondence. I didn't want people to know I'd self-published. Back then, it was a stigma.

Blinded by optimism, I ordered 2,500 paperback copies and listed it on Amazon.

Next, I decided I needed some legit reviews to quote on my Amazon page, so I sent the book to industry magazines and newspapers. PW liked it. So did a few newspapers.Then I turned to the Web. There was no Facebook back then, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, so I searched the Internet and found a few untapped promotional possibilities.

I joined some Yahoo and MSN groups with hundreds of members who were obsessed by books. Sometimes, we talked about mine. Sometimes they bought a copy. Then I submitted it to review websites like BookReporter.com, JanuaryMagazine.com, Allreaders.com, BookPage.com and lots of others. Most of them reviewed it. Some of them interviewed me. Discussion groups were receptive. Blogs promoted it. I got on radio shows. Baker & Taylor sold it to libraries. I ordered a second printing. An indie distributor got it into bookstores. Remember bookstores?

Amazingly, I sold about 4,000 paperbacks in six months. Then I got lucky -- St.Martin's Press, which had originally rejected it, bought it and re-issued it with a new cover. (Ironically, although the book was exactly the same, PW panned the new edition.)

Then one day I got a certificate saying I'd been voted into the "Self-Publishing Hall of Fame." I had no idea this organization even existed, so I looked it up. Other members included Edgar Allen Poe, Margaret Atwood and Thomas Paine, among others. (A few years later, I learned that the SPHOF was the brainchild of book promotion guru, John Kremer. Nevertheless... )

Cut to 2011. By then, the e-book craze was in full bloom. I'd just finished a new novel. Encouraged by numerous self-publishing success stories, I decided to self-publish again rather than send it to my agent. I'd have more control. I'd make more money. I wouldn't have to pay her 15%.

Of course, self-publishing had changed radically since 1999, but that didn't stop me. I'd cracked it before; I could crack it again.

So I hired the same guy to create an eBook and a paperback. This time, I didn't need to print hundreds of books. Now there was print-on-demand. I still had the publishing company, but this time I didn't bother with the Jerry Blake charade. Self-publishing is no longer a stigma -- it's an industry.

I rejoined some Yahoo Groups but quickly learned that many were now populated by spammers. I wanted to talk about my book; they wanted to sell me Viagra. Forums and discussion groups had gotten hip to authors who wanted to discuss their books, and banned self-promotion. So I emailed the websites that had once reviewed me, but they were deluged with self-published books and suggested I send them a copy and wait 2,000 years. Facebook and Twitter proved useless because they're overused for self-promotion, and most people are annoyed by it. Hell, I'm annoyed by it.

I investigated several companies that promote books for a price, but why should I pay somebody to tweet it to 50,000 people who don't give a shit?

So how's the book doing? Too early to tell. After an initial surge, sales have slowed, but that happened last time too. But I still have some tricks up my sleeve. In the meantime, I've been corresponding with other self-pubbers. I was told that the key to success was to offer your Kindle book for free for a limited time. This would temporarily improve Amazon rankings and attract readers, they said.

I haven't tried that yet, although it seems like a sure path to riches.

Whatever happens, I still have my SPHOF certificate. They can't take that away from me.


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