Adventures In Self-Publishing Part 1: Why I'm Doing It, And Also Zombies

I don't know if you've heard, but there's this new trend in publishing where people digitally release their work on websites like Amazon. It's called self-publishing, and since I'm all about trends, I figured I'd give it a shot. 

A little about me: I'm a writer, and I'm working on a novel, for which I plan to seek a traditional publishing deal. I put it aside to take a little time off from the narrative, and accidently wrote a novella. Since the likelihood of procuring a traditional deal for a novella is pretty much zero, I'm just going to self-publish this bad boy and see what happens. 

The goal of Adventures in Self-Publishing is to see the process through, from production to publication, learn a little more about the publishing industry, and share some of those lessons with you.

The project

The novella is about zombies. Before you roll your eyes and say, Oh, this again, hear me out: Yes, zombies have reached a point of cultural saturation, and it's very difficult to make them unique or interesting. But one night, on my commute home from work, as the Staten Island Ferry floated past Governors Island, I thought, you know, if there was a zombie apocalypse, that would be the safest place in the entire city.

The goal of Adventures in Self-Publishing is to see the process through, from production to publication, learn a little more about the publishing industry, and share some of those lessons with you.

Governors Island is right off the shores of Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was an outpost during the Revolutionary War, then a U.S. Army base, and finally a Coast Guard installation. A few years ago it was turned into a public park. It's now open on weekends during the summer. It has homes and administrative buildings and historical forts and even a Burger King, all abandoned. The water on the island is non-potable, but it runs, and there are working bathrooms. In a pinch, you could probably keep a couple of hundred people there somewhat comfortably.

It's also a very cool place to visit. There's always a ton of people there during the summer, but wander down the right street and suddenly you're on a barren roadway with overgrown vegetation and emptied-out buildings, and off in the distance is the iconic Manhattan skyline. It just feels apocalyptic. I was there a few weeks ago and took some photos, which you can see at my Facebook page, in case you're interested. 

Now, if there were ever any kind of cataclysmic event in New York City, trying to get out would be impossible. There are 8.2 million people living here, and by many accounts, the population can swell upward of 12 million during a weekday. I once spent two and a half hours trying to get out of the city on a Friday afternoon. Total distance traveled: 10 miles. In two and a half hours! And nobody was in a blind panic, fighting for survival.  

But where else could you go that would be safe? Everything is heavily populated and connected by bridges. Only Governors Island stands alone--completely surrounded by water, and closed most of the year, so it's nearly always empty. It's so close to the shores a strong swimmer could make it across. So it struck me as the perfect setting for a zombie story.

But this was the real clincher: Around the same time I thought of that, I stumbled across a medical oddity that would let me put a unique spin on zombies--something based in real science, but a unique twist on the mythology (at least, to my knowledge). 

Hence, my zombie novella, The Last Safe Place

Communism as a business model

I'm a firm believer in the fact that if you're going the self-publishing route, you need to do it to a professional standard. Elsewise, people won't take you seriously. That means your editing, formatting and cover need to be top notch. 

Cover design was easy. A friend of mine (who also designed my wedding cake) was perfectly suited for the job (and you can see a little bit of the cover up top). 

Formatting I can do myself, thanks to the guidance of Joseph Nassise, who taught Self-Publishing in the Digital Age for LitReactor. 

The editing was a different beast. A proper edit happens in two rounds. The first round is for content (which, incidentally, I do at A content editor reads for what works, what doesn't, and makes suggestions on how it can be stronger. The second round is proofreading; making sure that all the i's are crossed and the t's are dotted.

To hire out for that is expensive. And there's no guarantee that the person I hook up with will be right for me. I thought about maybe doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to hire someone, but as this will be my first "commercial" work of fiction, I don't really have much of a track record.

Then I realized I've got a large circle of talented friends. Not all of them are writers, but all of them are brilliant. So why not call on them?

I need the psychological effect of having finished something, just to know that I have the ability to finish something.

So I solicited help on Facebook. I asked people to help edit my book, and in return, I'd edit a work of theirs (or do something else writerly). I got enough people interested that I could split it up into content and proofreading rounds.

I think this is a way to turn the novella around without having to break into my savings account. Will it work? Who knows! I'm considering this entire process an experiment, so this will be the first test of what I believe will be an exciting journey--and also a chance to prove something to myself.  

The Psychological Effect

There's a poem by Jane Hirshfield, "Changing Everything", in which a person is walking in the woods, picks up a stick, moves it to the other side of the path, and says, "There, that's done now."

There are number of reasons I want to self-publish: 

  • Learn more about self-publishing
  • Write and release a fun story that I like
  • Become a billionaire

But the biggest drive here is to have something that's done. I've been writing for years, and while I've had some success--a couple of short stories, a stint in journalism, the silly things I write here--there's still a lot of things I want to do. Like producing a full-length novel. I wrote one that I scrapped and another I'm struggling with and I have a few more mapped out, but this feels like a lot of work with nothing to show for it. Part of the reason for that is how wrapped up I get in my own head, and my inability to let the work go. 

I want to be able to take a thing, bring it from beginning to end, and move on from it. Put it behind me and work on another project. I need that perspective. I need the psychological effect of having finished something, just to know that I have the ability to finish something.

So I'm exited to be doing this. I'm excited to get back the edits and make the story stronger. I'm excited to have something up for sale, that people can read on their Kindles and iPads and toasters. I'm excited to have a deadline, and to be working toward a tangible goal.

I'm extremely excited to know that in a month I'll be able to take this thing and say: There, that's done now. 

Moving forward

Like I said, this is an experiment. All I know is that, by next month, I expect to have this for sale. As for marketing, I don't know. I have some ideas, but I don't want it to be a full-time job. I'll toss some stuff out and see what hits, and we can talk about it here, but as for specifics, we'll see?

In the mean time, ask questions! I'll answer them! 

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Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from CA, TX, Japan, back to CA is reading The Tyrant - Michael Cisco, Ghost Eaters - Clay Chapman, The Worm and His Kings - Hailey Piper August 10, 2012 - 12:02pm

Good luck! I confess that I was a huge zombie fan for years and have grown so beyond sick of them that I couldn't possibly ask for another helping, but will be interested to see how this goes for you.

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading Perfidia August 10, 2012 - 12:10pm

Best of luck.  This is a route I'm working on for my first novel and I'm interested to see how this goes and pick up any tips.  Love the cover by the way.

Torr Fassett's picture
Torr Fassett August 10, 2012 - 12:15pm

Make no mistake, I'll be following this closely. I've been considering self-publishing about three collections of short stories and one novel, but have always been hesitant.

My main concerns have always been whether it is economically viable as opposed to a standard publishing avenue (whether you can make them mad billionaire fat stacks, as it were), and whether it's possible to build a solid reader base if left to your own whims. I've seen a couple of photographers put out their own collections, and the reactions have been mixed.

Still, it does seem like a natural progression considering the times.

Advice on how to best expose readers to the published work, and best avenues to self-publish would be awesome.

Jerry B Flory's picture
Jerry B Flory August 10, 2012 - 12:23pm

I'm glad I read this and very glad you're interested in self-publishing and are willing to go forth with this experiment. I self-published a short story a few months ago, and despite all the yays and congratulations on Facebook I've managed to sell about 15 copies. However, I found a more positive response when I offered it free for a couple days on Kindle Select, people grabbed up over 100 copies. I've never had any returns and the reviews people have taken the time to leave are positive and complimentary.
Still, 15 copies, not enough for Amazon to even bother transferring money to my bank account yet.

So, in the interest of more writing and developing an online presence, I opened a blog where I could compile the ideas everyone has for increasing market effectiveness on the Internet. It's gathered a few decent ideas, but still, the crowd it most often reaches is the social network that is not buying my story. I have to leap a few digital walls to reach a wider audience, like I'm doing right now.

I've bookmarked your blog and will follow with interest, the success of your story. It's smart to remember that a market becomes saturated with a concept because that is what people are reading. I follow the horror crowd on the social sites and though they don't seem to buy kindles, they do post rivers of zombie pics.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this August 10, 2012 - 1:25pm

@Michael, thanks kindly. I'm the same way. Grew up on Romero, tired of everyone all of a sudden acting like zombies are the coolest thing ever. But, sometimes the stories just happen.

@Scott, can't wait to show off the whole cover. It's handsome.  

@Torr, the economics are always difficult to break down--you never know what's going to hit and what won't. I do know that for a novella (this is only 20,000 words), the chances of landing any kind of deal are nearly impossible. No one wants to put out such a short work. Maybe a small press, but who knows? But, my ideal career would be a mix between traditional and self. I think that's ideal. 

@Jerry, thanks for bookmarking, and yea, gaining traction and spreading the word is a bit of a slog. I'm going to talk about the things I do and try to guage whether they're effective... hopefully it'll be helpful. 

Yosef Heinric's picture
Yosef Heinric August 10, 2012 - 1:33pm

I've followed much of the same premise for my novella ILL on kindle. Still, looks like no one likes it (sad face) maybe if i added some Zombies or Vampires or Zombpyres.

ILL- Joseph, Keith and Holly. CHECK IT!

AllisonMoon's picture
AllisonMoon August 10, 2012 - 1:35pm

I self published my lesbian werewolf novel last September and have been very pleased with the results. I, like you, had some communist inklings as to why I took this path, but I also think it made more financial sense. (I actually wrote a Self-Publishing Manifesto outlining some of the ethical and cultural implications of indie publishing). There's a lot to be said in favor of the democratization of publishing tools, and I'm excited to see more professional-level writers try out these new toys.

It's also gratifying to see that every bit of press, every review, every gig was something I earned for myself. I didn't have a publicist or a marketing department (though who really does these days anyway), so it was extra hard and extra fulfilling to work on my own behalf (and keep all the profits).

I think I've become well-positioned in the whole revolution for going it on my own with my first novel. 

That said, I am eager to experience traditional publishing at some point soon. I think it's still in authors' best interests to cast a wide a net as possible.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this August 10, 2012 - 1:41pm

Allison, I <3 your cover. 

Jonny Cromwell's picture
Jonny Cromwell August 10, 2012 - 3:33pm

Enjoyed finding others in the same boat.  After striking out continuously to get my book published, I decided to create my own ebook.  I put it on my website as a free download.  It has slowly gained an audience and the satisfying part for me is knowing there are people reading my book.  After all I didn't write it so it would sit around on my hard drive.

Brilliant idea to use Facebook to help with the editing process.  I think I will try that for my next book, which will be a huge relief for my wife.

As writing is not my primary job, I don't have to worry about making any money.  I also feel in complete control of the end product.  The artwork (done by a friend as well) is a custom piece based on my idea, and it is thrilling to decide how my book should look.

Recently, I have decided to use for print-on-demand hard copies, and I have considered adding the ebook to Amazon in hopes of finding a broader audience, so I am very interested to see how your adventure works out.

Shameless plug:

Best of luck.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 August 10, 2012 - 5:03pm

Will definitely check it out Rob - and super excited to read about the progress here.

Also, market saturation or no, a good story is a good story is a good story.

I'm reading a comic book right now that I LOVE called The New Deadwardians and it's got both zombies and vampires (and victorian era Great Britain)'s awesome.  There are always good new ideas.  Good luck!


derekberry's picture
derekberry from South Carolina is reading Eating Animals August 10, 2012 - 7:25pm

I am also thinking about self-publishing. I have some small creds from writing for a magazine and publishing short stories, but nothing that has won serious awards or made serious money.

Also, I will definitely probably buy your book because I have been reading your articles for a while so I do think you're interesting. As interesting as the premise, as well. Zombies are a bit overdone, but we'll have to see, right?

Mom&#039;s Basement Management's picture
Mom's Basement ... August 11, 2012 - 11:44pm

Doing this with several clients books in the next few weeks. Really trying to figure the best way to market and buy ads in the right places. Am curious how you will do that. But sensing the size of your project this is more a stick your toe in the water exploration than a full free fall plunge. Keep up posted. Thanks.


Edward Smith's picture
Edward Smith August 12, 2012 - 7:32am

Congratulations to you, you have finished the book and that right there makes you stand out from the crowd.  So you are on to the next step eh?  And that is marketing.  Well that will be quite a bit different, but I bet you can pull off a success.  On the negative side, 99% of all authors fail at marketing, but on the positive side if you will, that is because 99% of them go about it the wrong way.  I coach authors how to get on TV and I want to encourage you to not shy away from going for the brass ring.  Self-published authors have just as good a chance at getting on TV these days as authors from traditional publishers.  The key is to position yourself as an expert, not an authors.  TV producers look for experts to book, not authors.  They really don't care much about your book, they care about you being a good guest.  Fiction authors have it a little harder than non fiction writers when it comes to getting on TV.  But if you do it correctly, you can really score on TV as a fiction writer.  

OK, thanks and good luck, I know you will make it.

Edward Smith. 

Rachel Caughran Riggs's picture
Rachel Caughran... August 12, 2012 - 11:42am

After reading MANY e-books, I am determined to offer my proof-reading skills for free. I'm not a professional, except for a couple of jobs with U.S. Senators, proof-reading and typing speeches.

I'm reading the books anyway, so I wish there was a way, on my Kindle, I could just highlight any mistakes, or add missing words/punctuation, etc.

Anyway, if you need another proof-reader, I couldn't be any cheaper!  :)

Christopher Lesko's picture
Christopher Lesko from Ohio August 25, 2020 - 8:43pm


Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day August 17, 2012 - 9:43am

Great article - it amazes me how self-publishing was a dirty little phrase only a few years ago e..g vanity publishing and now it's really becoming a legitimate way to get your voice out there.

I'll keep my eyes peeled on the blog and the zombie story.

I have a novella too that I'd love to get out into the world - maybe this will be the right way for me as well!

j4mie32's picture
j4mie32 September 30, 2019 - 11:18am

If there’s one online income source I like talking about most, it’s definitely self-publishing on Amazon. I’m normally a pretty modest guy but I’ve gotta say… I rock at self-publishing!

I’ve increased my monthly income from nothing to nearly $2K in less than three years just from selling books on Amazon… and I was making a grand a month within a year.

The post on how I make money self-publishing has been one of the most popular on my personal blog so I wanted to update it with everything I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve included updates on how to turn your books into a passive source of income and how to make the whole process easier.

Ok, so $2K a month isn’t huge money but it’s getting there and it’s growing very quickly.

If you want to learn more about making money with Kindle then check out which is the #1 Amazon Kindle Training out there.

I can't recommend it enough. That's how I got started almost three years ago.