Episode 67 – Simon Whistler on Starting From Scratch

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Question of the Week: What would you do differently if you were starting self-publishing today?

With Jim using his “Gone Fishin'” sign, Bryan welcomed another British guest co-host to the show this week: Simon Whistler of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast! Simon and Bryan chatted about last week’s question before moving into tips about free Kindle book covers, online quizzes, and writing 5,000 words per hour. News stories included reports on the closing of Nook’s international store, the spread of ebooks in India, the Ted Cruz bestseller list controversy, Kobo’s eRead Local campaign, Shawn Inmon’s post on starting from scratch, and the Authors Guild’s 50/50 ebook royalty initiative. This week’s Question of the Week is “What would you do differently if you were starting self-publishing today?”
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How to create Kindle book covers for free
  • Why a quiz may help to spread the word for your book
  • How to write as fast as 5,000 words per hour
  • What’s happening to Nook’s international customers
  • Why authors should keep India in mind for their books
  • How the New York Times brought politics into publishing
  • What Kobo is doing to help local bookstores and its own platform
  • How Simon would do things differently if he started over
  • Why the Authors Guild’s efforts may not make much headway without leverage
Question of the Week: What would you do differently if you were starting self-publishing today?

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  • Answer of the Week: I would have started fiction from day one.

    • Bryan

      For me, I would’ve done one nonfiction before learning my fiction craft 🙂

      • I’m glad to have written the non-fiction (and will continue), but I always thought fiction wouldn’t sell much at all, when the opposite might be true.

        • Bryan

          True. Never know until you go back in time and try!

  • I published my first book in January 2015. I want to say that I would have held off on publishing until I had 2 or 3 in the series done and then released them close together … but, I really like the feedback I’ve gotten. And knowing folks are looking forward to the next books boosts my morale and gives me an additional sense of urgency. So really, my answer is I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m pretty happy with how things have gone so far 🙂

    • Bryan

      Yay! Good.

    • Chris Fox

      So with you on this, Leslye. I just posted basically the same answer before seeing yours.

      • Yeah, after my current series is done, I may try that technique for the next series and release them close together. But for someone just starting out, it’s been great to see what readers want/expect from the next book. It’s given me ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise…

  • This isn’t QotW, but I wanted point out the kind of book Simon was talking about that has real world elements (actual websites, facebook profiles of the characters, etc) is called a transmedia book… one example is Personal Effects; Dark Arts by JC Hutchins (http://jchutchins.net/personal-effects-dark-art/) or Cathy’s Book (http://www.cathysbook.com/). This was quite popular in YA a few years ago.

    • Some fun opportunity in transmedia. There was a popular webcast a while back that integrated twitter accounts, etc., plus gave the main character a job with a real blog, reviewed and sold products, etc. Their hangout (a restaurant) had a website, menus, specials, and a newsletter for special recipes and drinks. It was called Emma Approved. http://www.emmaapproved.com/

      They have an earlier one that’s less commercialized called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, based on Pride & Prejudice.

    • Bryan


    • SimonRSP

      THANK YOU, transmedia! That’s what I love :).

  • jeffadamsnyc

    I self-published my first book earlier this year, but I’ve published through niche publishers since 2009 with a mix of shorts, novellas and novels. I wish I’d started a mailing list much, much sooner than late last year. It was a mistake to not cultivate those fans from the beginning.

    • Bryan

      I’m with you on the mailing list!

      • SimonRSP

        Me too, and also not just to have it as something that sits quietly on the website, hoping that people will enter their address for “news and updates,” but for it to have something that will actually encourage people to sign up!

        • Mailing list should be everyone’s #1 mistake.

  • Spider McGee

    I re-launched recently with this new pen name, and I first went wide through Draft2Digital with all publishers, but concerns about Nook and Scribd spooked me and I pulled everything back and went with Amazon exclusively. Maybe not the greatest idea, but at least one of my four titles (Monkey Justice, ask for it by name) got a handful of sales (relatives, I suspect) on Kindle where they were just eating it on the other platforms. And I had a lot of stress waiting for them to show up on Barnes and Noble at all. I’ve been writing all my life, but, other than publishing a short-lived ‘zine in the early ’90s, I never took it even semi-seriously until about five years ago. If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have waited so long…but the possibility of bypassing traditional publishers and avoiding their multi-million-dollar contracts lured me in.

    Also, although I’ve seen photos of both Bryan Cohen and Anglin’ Jim Kukral, I don’t know what Simon looks like. I picture him always wearing a top hat and a monocle, like the Monopoly Man. Am I far off?

    • Bryan

      Anglin’ Jim Kukral. Gold!

      You’re no so far off… I’ll go find a pic 🙂

      • Take me to the river!

        • Bryan

          There we go!

    • actually…

      • Bryan

        Perfect picture of Simon.

  • SimonRSP

    Bryan (and Jim), thanks so much for inviting me to come on and co-host the show, I had a great time 😀

    • Chris Fox

      I loved hearing you on the show, Simon. It was a welcome surprise!

      • SimonRSP

        Ha, thanks Chris, it was strange to be on the other side of the mic!

    • You were great. Thanks for doing it.

  • Chris Fox

    What would I do differently if I started today? I’d have waited to have at least three novels to publish, and I’d have released them on three consecutive months. I released my 2nd book six months after the first, and saw a serious loss of momentum as a result.

    I’d also do a lot less paid advertising, until after the launch of the 3rd book.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Chris. Thanks!

  • Crissy Moss

    Write faster. Or hold off publishing till I had more ready to go.

    Really, I think I’ve done everything else alright. I just needed to get a more consistent release schedule. I did okay with my short stories, and made a lot of new friends and picked up some fans along the way, but the one thing really lacking is a consistant and faster paced release schedule.

    • Bryan

      Yes to a consistent schedule!

  • I would have focused my writing in novels instead of screenplays. I have a large library of screenplays no one will read, when it could have been a large library of novels.

    • Bryan

      At least you’ve got ideas to adapt!

      • True. Look at you, Bryan. Always finding the silver lining. 🙂

        • Bryan

          That’s why I’m here :).

  • This question is rather timely for me, since I officially became an author just this week. So I really am just starting out, and get to learn from the experiences of all of you who have gone before. I plan to learn as much as I can from podcasts like this one. I think possibly the best advice in that article was the last point – to be nimble. That’s the big message that keeps coming through from you guys, Joannah Penn and all the other great resources that are around today.

    • Bryan

      Congrats, Adam. Welcome to the gang :).

      Yes, be nimble is definitely key.

  • Juliet Freyermuth

    I would have built a list sooner and started connecting on social media with players who have played my husband Brian’s games. I would definitely have added the games he’s worked on to our description sooner.

    If you are considering hiring Brian Cohen to write your description, DO IT! Not only were we happy with what he wrote, our sales started again within a couple of hour of adding it to Amazon. He also pointed us to helpful resources during our Skype meeting with him. You did a fantastic job Bryan.

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Juliet :)! There’s still time on that list, plenty of Fallout folks would love to connect, I’m sure!

  • Patrick Stemp

    QotW: I wish someone had sat me down years ago and explained that the process is not linear (learn everything there is to know about the craft of writing – then write). It’s cyclical or layered. Read a book on craft, write, publish…then read another book on craft while working on book two. It’s the only way. Otherwise analysis paralysis sets in, 10 years go by, and you’re still trying to learn the bloody craft without anything to show for it. Craft books are a procrastinator’s nightmare.

    • So true!

      We have so many opportunities to learn, but I’ve had to cut back (or postpone). I like to read craft books while I’m writing, but I try not to let it interfere with my current process. I feel like I need to let the ones I’ve read sink in for a while now.

      • Patrick Stemp

        Me too. I’m not currently reading any craft books. Trying to make use of the ones I felt had the best information for now. I’ve also cut a ton of podcasts out, and never watch live. All my podcasts are listened to while doing other things like after dinner cleanup. I’ve also cut the overall number of podcasts down quite a bit. There just aren’t enough hours in the week to hear them all.

        It’s a tough balance between production and consumption. I need to lean heavily towards production these days.

    • Also, I’ve had to drop all podcasts that are video ONLY or that don’t feed into a podcast app. Listening on my PC means I can’t write on what little PC time I have to write.

      I also stopped listening live to most of them because the live interaction takes me out of the writing groove for too long. Even an hour live show means I can’t write for two hours. That’s just me, though.

      I have to exercise, walk, shop, and commute, so my podcasts come at those times only now. As fun as they are to listen to live, we tend to spend so much time joking around in the live comments that I don’t get much from the show unless I listen again, and I don’t have time for that!

      • Bryan

        Yup. I can’t do the vid podcasts either.

    • Bryan

      No more analysis paralysis!

  • RachelMedhurst

    Great episode. I’ve been self publishing for just over a year. I think for me, I would have spent a little more time researching and getting an editor that had experience with my genre. Many people claim to be editors, yet few are actually qualified and know the fiction market too. I was maybe a little too quick and eager. I’ve released a lot of books in a year….I’ve learnt a lot, so to be really honest, I’m glad I’ve made the mistakes I have…otherwise how would we become better and more able to adapt?

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Rachel! We all start a little quick and eager!

  • Yeesh, what would I NOT have done different?! I started out with a vanity press, failed in getting a professional editor, didn’t invest enough time in creating a mailing list and gaining reviewer…and I probably stepped on a puppy’s tail by accident at some point along the way.

  • QOTW – I would look at my many ideas and see which of them might sell well, then write there first.

    A wrote a lot of things that are not very marketable instead of researching what might sell and writing that. I don’t mean to write what you don’t love, but I have a huge file of ideas (all of which I love) and could have written any of them, but made choices based on my love ranking vs the sales potential ranking.

    • Bryan

      I hear you loud and clear on this one.

  • Victoria Jeffrey

    if I had it all to do over again, I would put the children’s books and the epic fantasy on the back burner and start immediately on the space opera series. I’d be writing full time now if I had done this years ago.

    • The question is, are you doing that now? Or still waiting?

      • Victoria Jeffrey

        I’m doing that right now. just wished I’d started on the series in 2011

        • Bryan

          At least you’re doing it now!

  • Great show. I finally found enough time to listen. Thanks to Simon for
    stepping in for me this week. What would I do differently? I would have
    followed the Steve Scott model and went after one genre and created a
    schedule of writing and built a platform and brand off of that. My first
    10 books were related, sort of, but not completely. Plus, they were
    more “passion” ideas about things I wanted to get out. I could have made
    them better connected and marketable for wider audiences. That being
    said, my business model for writing books isn’t what Steve does, or
    Brian does. I never intended to make money directly from my book sales.
    But what I’m saying is, I might have done it differently now to
    capitalize on that success others have shown.

    • Bryan

      Yay Jim comments! Thanks :). Agreed, we all wish we could’ve been a little more “Scottish,” eh?

  • QotW: I would stop listening to my own excuse of “Oh I don’t have enough time to write” (I have to make time, just like everyone else.) and “Oh but I probably won’t be very good at first and people won’t like it” (They definitely won’t if I don’t have anything out there!) Always Be Creating and be Dauntless.

    • Bryan


  • I look at each new series as starting again, evolving each time from what I’ve learn. I’m launch my complete new series in one go.

  • Bill Cokas, Writer

    Little late to the comments with this one, but this comic captures what I was envisioning when I heard about Kobo’s plan to encourage people to buy ebooks through brick-and-mortar bookstores.

    • Bryan

      Hahahah. Very nice, Bill.