04/13/2012 03:38 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

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

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,,, 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.