Answering The How – Matt Forbeck on Self-publishing
Matt Forbeck has been one of my top finds of the year. I’ve read three of his novels this year and six comics and he’s been the most consistent author as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve loved everything I’ve read. Whether it’s fantasy, or science-fiction or historical fiction, this man totally knows what he’s writing about and his love for his writing shines through. His thoughts on self-publishing are a topic that I’ve waited to read about for quite a while and here is a big teaser for why he does what he does.
by Matt Forbeck
I’ve had sixteen novels published over the past eight years by large publishers, including Del Rey, the Black Library, Angry Robot, and Pocket Books, but as much as I love working with my editors, I’d been thinking about self-publishing some of my books for a long time too. Back in the late ‘90s, I served as the president of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, a tabletop games publisher, and I knew what it took to publish a book. I also knew how hard it was to get books into large stores without having a large publisher behind them, though, so I’d always balked at trying to manage it myself.
Over the past decade or so, though, technological advances have shaken the publishing industry harder than an apocalyptic earthquake. Ebook readers and print-on-demand services made it easier than ever for writers to produce books, and social media destroyed the barriers between writers and readers. Despite all that, though, I still lacked one essential element every publisher needs: money.
As a working writer with five kids to help feed, I don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around. The prospect of taking the time to write and publish a book on my own — and forgoing a publisher’s advance — meant risking not making any money at all on it for weeks if not months. That stopped me cold for a long while.
Then Kickstarter came along. It’s a crowdfunding platform on which creative souls can propose projects of any kind — including novels — and try to collect enough pledges from prospective backers to achieve the critical mass they need to launch the project. I saw that I could use this to propose novels and use the pledges in lieu of a publisher’s advance to bring my books to market.
Still, I didn’t want to just step up, wave my arms, and hope people would pay attention. I’m a fast writer, and I’d always wanted to produce more work than any single publisher could absorb from me. By publishing myself, I could not only do that but make it a banner to fly over my efforts.
I came up with a challenge to write a dozen novels in a year, and I called it 12 for ’12. Under it, I would write twelve novels of about 50,000 words each over the course of 2012. Rather than come up with a series of twelve novels or a dozen different books, I decided to break them up into four trilogies and run a Kickstarter for each of them.
I’ve run three of the Kickstarters so far, and I’m launching the fourth next week. So far, they’ve been a huge success, bringing in plenty of backing and lining up lots of support for each trilogy. I just need to write them then, right?
There’s a lot more to publishing a book than writing it though. Although it’s far easier than it used to be, it still requires a lot of skill and time. As I’ve started working through the novels, I’ve tried all sorts of different things, and I’m developing a workflow that makes it faster each time.
I write my novels in a program called Scrivener. It’s fantastic for any writer, much better than a regular word processor, and I use it not only for novels but also for scripts for the Magic: The Gathering comics I write for IDW. Best of all, I can use it to generate ebook files and even PDFs for print-on-demand books.
It took me a long bit of trial and error to get the ePub files out of Scrivener exactly the way I wanted them, but once I did I could save the settings and use them for every one of the 12 for ’12 books. Just about every ebook reader but the Kindle uses the ePub format, and Scrivener generates great files for that. I use a free program called Calibre to convert them into Kindle format so I can sell them that way too.
The Scrivener-generated PDFs are perfect for the interior of my print-on-demand books. I use InDesign and printer-generated templates to create PDFs of the covers for both my paperback and hardcover editions. I send them off to DriveThruFiction.com, which uses Lightning Source as its printing service. However, DTF waives all set-up fees, including those for the hardcover. Since these can be more than $200 with most print-on-demand services that adds up to a substantial savings over the course of a dozen books.
I sell my ebooks directly through my website, and I also publish them through Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) myself. Other ebook retailers require ISBN numbers from you to publish through them, but these can be expensive in small lots. Since those other retailers don’t add up to huge numbers for most writers, I use Smashwords to place my books with them instead.
Smashwords supplies a free ISBN for books placed through them, which saves more cash. However, they require a Microsoft Word document to run through their Grinder, a bit of software that automatically generates ebook files in just about every known format. The only drawback is that the Grinder creates lowest-common-denominator files, which can limit your options for any fancy layouts or typography. For novels, that’s not much of an issue though.
For sales through my website, I use a WordPress plugin called Jigoshop. This is free and works with my PayPal account to arrange payments. It also automatically delivers the ebooks for me so my readers don’t have to wait for me to fulfill any orders. Best of all, I pay no cuts to any retailers for those books, keeping everything but PayPal’s percentage.
I’ve only published a couple of the books so far, but by this time next year I should have far more than a dozen available for my readers. My Kickstarter backers always get them in exclusive editions first, of course. I also provide autographed ebooks for them though an iOS app called MyWrite, which allows me to send them each a personalized note through my iPad.
So far, the plan seems to be going well. Even if I never sold any of the books to anyone other than my Kickstarter backers, I’d consider the 12 for ’12 challenge a success. Because I can continue to sell them to others as long as I like, though, I hope to be able to self-publish many of my books for many years to come.
Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.