Self-Publishing and the Silicon Valley Fortune Teller

Surprisingly good interview with Netscape founder and Silicon Valley gazillionaire Marc Andreessen the other day. Andreessen thinks a lot about the future – not in a dreamy, techno-utopian way, but because every day he has the best and brightest inventors and entrepreneurs pitching their visions to him. And what does he see?

Newspapers, magazines, television. How are these companies going to make money? What’s the future for them?

So this has been—the media industry is a microcosm of the changes that are happening, and it’s been fascinating to watch. People are always going to love music, movies, TV, and news—it’s evergreen; people are always going to get value out of media. So it’s not a question of whether people want media or not. And in fact, global consumption of media is rising very fast. It’s a huge growth market.

Agreed! So how’s it going to change?

The challenge I think is that in newspapers, magazines, and television, in particular, and books to a certain extent, you had businesses that looked like they were content businesses but were actually distribution businesses. They had controlled distribution rights on the newsstand, on your front porch, on the cable or broadcast dial.

Absolutely right. And now… what do they do when even the lowliest scribblers can bypass their distribution business? Continue reading

Marc Maron, Unlikely Inspiration

Anyone looking for a self-publishing success story doesn’t need to look far. The examples of newly minted millionaires (like Amanda Hocking and E.L. James) are highly Google-able.

But that’s not why I  decided to strike out on my own. No, if I have to point to one inspiration, it would probably be comedian and podcaster Marc Maron. Who is not a self-published author at all. The inspiration comes from something else altogether… Continue reading

Small Press Shout-Out: Kaya Press!

Hard to top the logo of the great Kaya Press:

A little puzzling? Not after they explain:

“When tigers used to smoke…” is a traditional Korean phrase used at the beginning of folk tales, similar to “Once upon a time.” Korean folk paintings often feature images of tigers smoking long, bamboo pipes, often accompanied by helpful rabbits. The Kaya logo replaces the Asian-style pipe with a stogie or cigar to show the meeting of traditional and contemporary sensibilities.

Kaya is a small press that recently moved from New York to Los Angeles.  They strive to publish “the most challenging, thoughtful, and provocative literature being produced throughout the Asian and Pacific Island diasporas.” Their books are great, and their website is absolutely fantastic.  We’ll definitely have a display table for them at our dream bookstore.

Check out Kaya’s smoking new website and their catalog of books today!

Image Credit: Kaya Press

Small Press Shout-Out: Tiny TOE Press

I’ve written before about the role for small presses in the brave new publishing world. And in my dream bookstore.

Today’s small-press shout out goes to Tiny TOE Press, an Austin-based “kitchen-table press” that publishes handpressed books.

Check out their definition of DIY publishing and their catalog. And dream bookstore entrepreneurs, remember: I’d like a nice table of these to thumb through, in some cozy, well-lighted spot.

The State of Publishing: The Sound of Ice Cracking

Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of small presses playing a key role in the publishing process – not as a filter deciding which books get published in the first place, but in their ability to make already published books more widely available.

IntoPrint is a good example of how this might work:

this small publishing house uses e-book and print-on-demand publishing to bring out-of-print books back into print. It was born of [their] realization that digital technology meant there’s no need for a book to stay out of print.

This small press handles digital conversion and e-book preparation. They also cover marketing. They give authors 50% (and higher) of the royalties and sign them to fixed-term contracts the authors can opt out of if things aren’t working well.

And they have no editorial staff.

Now presumably they can get by with no editors because the books have already been published. If they were looking at books that hadn’t been traditionally published, they’d likely require a layer of editing from the authors or build editing costs into the business model.

In any case this sounds like a great plan to me, in which authors and readers should both come out ahead, and IntoPrint gets paid for the value they’ve added rather than the gatekeeper function they’ve served. I expect to see hundreds and thousands of these little presses popping up, trying to find works that have been published (whether by a publishing house or an author) and could use some small press value-add to help the books reach a wider audience.

And in the meantime, might I suggest that the good people at IntoPrint take a look at the Great Brain Series by John D. Fitzgerald?

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Crashing the Gates: Self-Publishing and the National Book Awards

Fascinating look at the National Book Awards process from Eric Obenauf, publisher and editor of the press Two Dollar Radio.

Obenauf’s jumping-off point is this year’s expansion to a longlist for fiction nominees (from five to ten), which sounded promising to him, as it did to all lovers of good fiction.  Until, that is, he saw the list, which was packed with offerings from traditional publishers. This struck him as missing an opportunity:

[R]ather than five slices of plain bread hopping out of the toaster we were met with ten instead. What was the point of expanding to a longlist at all?

As I explain below, I don’t fully agree with his solution, but boy does he nail the diagnosis:

Continue reading

A Self-Interview with the Author, Jacke Wilson

Today’s self-interview is with the author and sole proprietor of this blog, Jacke Wilson. Jacke’s novella The Race is available now at

Q: Thank you for sitting down with me today.

A: It was no trouble at all.

Q: How long have you been writing fiction?

A: As a serious endeavor, approximately 18 years.

Q: Wow that’s a long time. How come no success?

A: Great question. I would give at least three reasons –

Q: I actually don’t think our readers will be interested in any of them.

A: Oh. Um… Do you still want me to answer?

Q: Listen, I’ll ask the questions, Jacke.

A: Right, got it.

Q: Your first book The Race was about politics in America. It uses the phrase “wayward pecker” to describe the body part of a Wisconsin governor who was caught up in a sex scandal and is now running for Congress. Did you ever think about calling the book Wayward Pecker?

A:  Yes.

Q: How about Wayward Peckerhead?

A: No, never.

Q: Governor Peckerhead

A: Is that a question?

Q: You missed a chance with peckerhead. It could have been a tribute to the Richard Pryor routine where he – 

A: I’ll check it out.

Q: How about Members of Congress? Get it? Get it?

A: You’re making me glad I stuck to my original title.

Q: Because you don’t like selling books?

A: Are we almost done?

Q: I said I’ll ask the questions!

A: Sorry.

Q: We’re done.

A: Thanks.

Q: You’re welcome.

Readers, check out Jacke’s book The Race: The Ballad of Governor Peckerhead at Free samples available. Jacke also has free review copies available for distribution and is seeking beta readers for his work in progress The Promotion: Peckerhead Goes to Biglaw. Contact him at or by visiting this page.

The Race: A Novella

Available Now at

The Spirit of Self-Publishing: William Shakespeare Edition

So you’re thinking about self-publishing. You take some consolation in the dignity of small audiences and the examples of Marcel Proust and others.

You use examples like the great Joanna Penn to show you the way. She reminds you that you’re keeping 70% of your sales (and 100% of your control).

David Gaughran explains how the publishing piece of the writerly endeavor is now easy (though the other two pieces – writing and marketing – are still hard).

You already know the writing piece is hard, of course. And you’re glad to hear the publishing part is easy. (So easy a monkey could do it.)  Then you listen to something like the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast episode with Leeland Artra. And you realize just how far down that rabbit hole you can go. Spreadsheets? Ratios? Writing computer programs to send out tweets? Pulling down stats? There’s a lot of effort there – effort that’s not writing, effort that might not be something you enjoy. Frankly, it sounds like a terrible distraction from writing itself, at least for you. And you start to think – well, what’s the point of writing this if nobody reads it? Why go through all this effort?

And then – serendipitously – a friend tells you the story of a guy he knew who sold shirts out of the trunk of his car. He’s now 41 years old. You may have heard of his billion-dollar company.

And you read about the greatest writer of all, the king, the master, the honey-tipped quill, who himself had the entrepreneurial spirit:

It was an unprecedented step for an Elizabethan author to take a stake in the ownership of of a theatre company and it put Shakespeare in a “unique position”, compared with his literary contemporaries, claims Dr van Es, from Oxford’s faculty of language and literature.

It made Shakespeare much richer, but it also gave him much more freedom over his writing and allowed him to innovate.

And you think: yes, this is hard, yes, this is lonely, yes, this is probably futile…

But yes, this has benefits, yes, this gives me what I didn’t have before, and above all: Yes, it’s time for me to get this done. 

Go forward, young self-publishing grasshopper!

Indie Publishing: What Would Ezra Pound Do?

We’ve seen some great examples of the indie publishing spirit, from Dr. Johnson to Stéphane Mallarmé, to Marcel Proust. Next up: poetry’s mad scientist, the original miglior fabbro (well, except for the real miglior fabbro), the Tireless Champion of the Arts who wound up living – literally – in a cage. An amazing, awful life story: Ezra Pound!

Pound of course, was an indie publisher, ahead of his time:

Arriving in Italy in 1908 with only $80, Pound spent $8 to have his first book of poems, A Lume Spento, printed in June, 1908, in an edition of one hundred copies.

Elsewhere I read that he sold these for six cents apiece. He didn’t even try to recover his costs! His book was a loss leader! And a career launcher.

Ah, Ezra. I hope somewhere you are at peace.

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Inmates, Asylums, Etc.

Noreen Malone provides a fascinating look at Simon & Schuster’s Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, The King of Trash Publishing:

He was the very picture of civilized, a quality less abundant in the books he acquires. Ruby-Strauss had just come from the set of the “Today” show, where he’d shepherded three new authors, the young women behind the satirical website Betches Love This, through an appearance to promote their foray into publishing, Nice Is Just a Place in France. His editing portfolio also includes the literary efforts of the “Jersey Shore”‘s Snooki and a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. The title that made his career was Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

“It’s offensive, it’s gross, it’s mean, it’s scatological,” Ruby-Strauss said of that book, not unproudly. We were eating lunch at the Upper West Side apartment of Max’s agent, Byrd Leavell. Leavell, a thirtysomething University of Virginia grad of Winklevossian coloring and proportions, also represents such Internet-to-book sensations as Cat Marnell (this generation’s culturally savvy blonde drug addict) and the creators of a somewhat self-explanatory website called Total Frat Move. “Tucker Max is offensive because he broke though,” Leavell said, spooning out an impressive homemade pasta primavera while his baby slept in the other room. “It’s like the Snooki haters, too,” said Ruby-Strauss. “I got my MFA from wherever …”

But it doesn’t stop there…

Ruby-Strauss and Leavell brought up a University of Maryland student infamous for a viral e-mail in which she informed her sorority sisters that she was inclined to—in New York Times-ese—enact a fourth-down kick on their most private regions. (It rhymes. Someday, or at least in Phyllis Schlafly’s worst nightmares, it will be a crossword clue.) Leavell was shopping the Maryland student’s novel, to be co-written by the women responsible for a site called White Girl Problems, which sounded like a formidable partnership. “It’s a shit-ton of fun,” said Leavell. “There’s a number of books that have pubbed that just say, you know, I had too many drinks, I banged him, I kicked him out of bed, and I went to work. Like, it’s out there, but I think there’s room for more.”

Huh. Not exactly what the Laura Millers of the world have in mind when they defend the role of publishing houses in filtering books for their readers. And indeed, not everyone at the publishing house wants to engage in the cognitive dissonance that allows you to a) view yourself as a Great Arbiter of Taste, and b) recognize that in the end, you’re just as ruled by the roar of the mob and the temptation of filthy lucre as anyone else.

The higher-minded members of the publishing business keep their distance from the precincts Ruby-Strauss trawls. The president of Simon and Schuster’s title imprint, Jonathan Karp,* maintains a studied ignorance of his colleague’s portfolio: “I haven’t read many of these books. It’s entirely possible I haven’t read any of them,” he says. Random House President Gina Centrello is supposed to have declared that, as long as she’s in charge, no imprint of hers will go near anything written by Max. “I don’t do those sorts of trendy Internet books,” said a vice president at another major publishing house. “We do writers, professional writers.”

Hmmm. Is this the Gatekeeper we so long for? Is this the bulwark against the rise of the Slushpile? What’s going on over there?

Publishing has always depended on having smart people willing to do its down-market work; what’s changed is how those people go about it. Historically, even editors of tasteless books still played a taste-making role, relying on their guts to decide what self-help manual or true-crime thriller would be a hit, not unlike the way their colleagues specializing in debut literary fiction placed their bets. Today, the public has already indicated what interests it, via the Internet, and the editor just has to be savvy enough and shameless enough to give the rabble what it wants.

Okay, so they’re better at identifying what the rabble wants.  They don’t decide – the Internet does. And then they… try to give the public more of it? And take a cut for doing so? What kind of gatekeeper is this? Where’s the filtering mechanism?

If what you have is trash, who needs a king?

And what if the rabble gives itself what it wants – both trash and high-quality books alike? What if the public isn’t dependent on what the publishers pick out of the trash and force upon them? 

“It shouldn’t be about the book but the money you can make from the book,” said Ruby-Strauss’s boss, Jennifer Bergstrom.

What does a vampire drink on a sunny day?