11.11: Self Publishing in 2016, with Michaelbrent Collings

Recorded live at LTUE, Michaelbrent Collings guest-starred for a discussion about self publishing. The landscape continues to change, and Collings is fully engaged in it.

He begins by stressing the importance of truly understanding the craft of writing—every professional writer needs this—and then talks turkey about Kindle Direct, Bookbub, formats and lengths, output, available resources, publicity activities, and what kinds of things new writers should commit to spending money on.

Note: Writing Excuses Patrons at the “Hear it When Howard Does” level got this episode on March 9th, four days ahead of the rest of the world. You can help support the podcast, and get early access, plus other bonus goodies, by joining them at Patreon.com.

Credits: This episode was recorded live by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take the first line from any book, and turn it into a scary line. Then take the scary line and create two separate short stories using it.

Strangers, by Michaelbrent Collings, narrated by Jeffrey Kafer

19 thoughts on “11.11: Self Publishing in 2016, with Michaelbrent Collings”

  1. I wish I knew how to self-publish. I have googled the subject ever since it became a viable thing to do with a novel. I have found that in addition to the scam artists Brandon mentioned, almost every entry is an article about the phenomenon of self-publishing and how hot it is and how it’s changing the face of publishing, etc. It is so bad each time I try, I just give up.

    I have yet to find a nuts and bolts article that starts with a novel and ends with it on amazon or what have you that isn’t asking for money first. I even figured out that my answers might get better if I type “self-publishing 2016,” but nope, same thing only these fluff pieces are from 2016.

    1. There are some fantastic resources out there for self-published authors. Look up KBoards to get you started. It’s a free site with a huge indie publishing community. There are also some great and inexpensive ebooks on Amazon. Some of my favorites are Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn, Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvnar, How to Sell Books by the Truckload by Penny Sansevan (sp?), The Indie Author Power Pack (contains three ebooks for cheap–my favorite is Joanna Penn’s book), and How I Sold 30,000 ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle by Martin Crosbie. There are many others I haven’t read that are great, but these will get you started. If you prefer podcasts, Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn” podcast (or YouTube channel) is an excellent resource. And by the way, a lot of Brandon’s self-publishing advice in this episode is bunk…pretty much the only authors who get to keep their ebook rights in a publishing contract are Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and Brandon Sanderson. I hope they have another episode with a self-publishing guru who better represents most authors (Michaelbrent is popular, but his marketing techniques are very specialized. 99% of us don’t do national interviews and still have fantastic success.) A better choice would be Cindy Hogan, who sold 1 million dollars’ worth of books in her first two years of writing. Just my opinion, of course.

      1. @Rebecca: I think the resource that might be best for Dan, and for other people who are brand new to self publishing, would be a simple technical resource that covers the following points:

        1. How to format a document for ebook conversion
        2. How to create a simple cover image
        3. How to convert a document into ebook formats, cover and all
        4. Where to go next, if you want to sell that ebook.

        All this should be provided free of charge, with links to free tools wherever possible. Only in this way can the new-to-self-pub writer be confident that they’re not being led down a garden path that ends in a vanity press’s back yard.

      2. I’m so glad you commented on this! I hope listeners check out your links–people need to educate themselves.

        I really appreciated the emphasis on craft. That said, even if you publish too early, it’s very easy to make a new pen name once you learn from your mistakes. And you’ll discover your mistakes much sooner than if you waited to query agents :-)

        As for formatting–it’s nothing at all to be scared of. I use Pressbooks and it’s seriously just copying and pasting my word document and ending up with beautiful ebook and pdf files.

        I would love to see the show have guests like Marie Force, Cora Seton, and Zoe York.

  2. An amazing (and amazingly hilarious) episode. I wish anyone who has ever said “I’m thinking about self-publishing” would take a listen.

    Okay, all the poop jokes might have helped sell it to me, too.

  3. Question for podcasters and especially Collins: Is Wattpad valuable as a tool for practicing, or will everyone see how crappy I am and never trust me again?

    1. Like many things, it’s a mixed bag. Some people have had a lot of success – it’s even created several bestselling authors. It does have a “delete” field, and there’s a lot of turnover, so if you create something that’s a stain against all that is good and holy, you can get rid of it!

      Be aware – it’s mostly teens, and mostly girls, so if you’re writing Halo fan-fic, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

  4. Valuable advice, especially the bit about treating your writing career like a business. I have written and self published several books but it’s really just been a hobby for me. I’d love to do it for a living but lack of investment, both the promotional time investment and the monetary investment of hiring professional editors and cover designers are really holding me back. Perhaps focusing on my writing as a business enterprise will help spur me in the right direction. Thanks!

  5. Self-publishing, Indie Publishing, KDP… what’s it all about? Well, the frolicsome foursome plus one (Michaelbrent Collings) talk about it. How do you get noticed, read, and reread? That’s the business, and you’re going to have to work at it! So… start by reading the transcript, available in the archives and over here:


    Then, when you’re out of excuses, write… and self-publish!

  6. I’d also recommend “Let’s Get Digital” as a good primer on where to start with nitty-gritty, though Rebecca named some others that are very good and by people who are doing well with self-publishing. http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Get-Digital-Self-Publish-Publishing-ebook/dp/B005DC68NI

    It seems like a mountain to climb, but it’s like running any small business. Publishing is a business, period. You have to learn the ways to submit to agents/editors etc and it isn’t like you don’t have to market your trad books either. Either path requires you write books people want to read. There’s a learning curve, no matter which way you go about it. :)

  7. Another interesting episode.

    I think Brandon’s worry about authors rushing in and self-publishing when they’re not ready is justified, but perhaps in a slightly different way to how it might be obvious on the surface. As mentioned, mostly, obscurity is the biggest problem for self-publishing, but even if your work does attract a bad reputation, a person can always resort to a pseudonym in the future. But I think there is another, perhaps more subtle, problem, which is that random internet reviewers are not kind-hearted. If you send your work to a professional publishing house, the worst that will happen is they will say ‘no thank you’, and you move onto the next project, perhaps a little sadder, but (mostly) psychologically intact. I think there’s a risk that if you put work out into the wild as a young author, and the first (maybe only) thing you hear back is outright mockery, then a person might lose heart. I do worry about that a bit… now, maybe if you’re really determined, then you are able to ignore any derision, and keep going, no matter what–but derision of a person’s creative efforts really can make it difficult to keep pushing forward, keep improving, keep getting better. And no one starts out perfect.

    I suppose I think this differs from established authors receiving ‘uncivil’ reviews because (although such reviews still hurt), the established author (probably) has more of a network of support and people who like their stuff. An established author has probably also learned to not take Amazon and Goodreads reviews quite so seriously.

    I don’t know. I’m maybe not articulating this very well. I just think there’s a longterm motivational risk of killing your joy for something by exposing it to the harsh light of public scrutiny too soon. Private scrutiny in a workshop on the other hand may actually be necessary for development… at least for some writers. It’s public scrutiny under the eyes any old random crazy person that I’m thinking about here.

    Of course, knowing when is the right time to self-publish is hard. It can take a lot of discipline to trunk a novel when you could just flick it up online and see what happens. Way back when, I set myself a rule that I had to sell ten short stories to markets that actually paid me real money (even if it was just a token amount), before writing something for self-publishing. Even so, my motivation for self-publishing now has more to do with testing reader feedback from strangers who have no reason to be nice to me, and less to do with building a career or making money.

    Now I really am rambling indulgently: anyway, my plan is to complete my little self-pub series, and give it all away for free, mostly with the aim of getting as much reader feedback as possible. The books will no doubt sink into total obscurity–but the feedback I’ve already received via the handful of reviews from total strangers has been useful for me. I guess I’m starting to view self-publishing as a form of hard-core workshopping.

    All this said, I don’t think that having a go at self-publishing necessarily means giving up on traditional publishing. It isn’t a mutually exclusive dichotomy. I’m certainly hoping that by the end of a stint with self-publishing I’ll have learnt enough to feel comfortable with (yet another) attempt at writing a novel with the aim of selling the M/S via traditional publishing. I’ve already trunked… let’s see (counting up in my head)… eight >100,000 word novels? I guess I see self-publishing as a way to identify and fix the lingering flaws in my work that I don’t seem to be otherwise able to get rid of.

    Anyway, enough with the rambling. I was also going to mention Darrell Pitt’s ‘Secrets of Successful Writers’, which is actually mostly interviews with self-pub authors. Interesting interviews. Some useful stuff. Also, it’s free.


    I’ve also been ticking along with a (not nearly as helpful) self-publishing series on The Melbourne Review of Books. I obviously can’t say for certain that it has anything helpful contained within at all, but maybe?


    Great episode, as always.



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