AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

November 13, 2011

Russell Blake – E-Self-Publisher

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 10:49 am

Visit Russell Blake

Elaine Ash: Russell, you obviously have the chops and business acumen to attract a traditional agent and publisher, so why self-publish?

Russell Blake: First, I like to write 3 to 5 books a year. This year it will be more like 10. No way a traditional house can handle that volume. Second is time to market. As an example, the Geronimo Breach addresses some topical plot items like Bin Laden’s assassination. Tradpub, we might see that in another 18 months, assuming it was jumped on by an agent day one. That’s not so topical by then. Or Zero Sum, which deals with stock manipulation, Wall Street shenanigans and the economic crisis. How fresh and exciting will that be two years from now when it comes out from a Tradpub house?

And third, of course, is financial. I could get paid 15% of the revenues from my $9.99 book, which actually might net to the publisher $5 or so. So I’m seeing .75. But now I pay my agent his 15%. So now I’m seeing mid-sixty cent range. And we can pull out all the promotional copies and other niceties that will be charged back. Sure seems to be like I’m netting maybe sixty cents per copy if I’m lucky, pre-tax. And I still will be doing all the marketing, social media interacting, etc. Whereas if I sell a book for $2.99 to $3.99, I’m seeing more like $2-$2.75 per book.

The math is pretty easy. Now in a perfect world where Bantam gets behind and throws $2 million into pushing me, Joe Nobody first time author, hey, there’s a benefit. But in the real world, I’m on my own until the work is really getting traction, then they might throw a few bucks at it. Guess what? I get traction self-pubbing, I can find plenty of folks to glom on and help me with foreign licensing, or film rights, or tradpub deals with some enthusiasm to them. So I just saw no benefit to going the trad pub route.

I also don’t require the benediction of a high priest of literary standards to feel validated as a craftsman. [Note: Russell works closely with an editor and has everything proofread until error-free.]

 Elaine: I see you are using the “free” strategy where an author gives away a book. How does that work?

Russell: The “free” strategy was suggested to me by a fellow author who’d had some success with it, and who pointed out that given my output, I could afford to give folks a bite of the apple to build recognition. So far so good, although I noticed a sharp drop–off after the first week or so, which tells me that we’re dealing with a subset of folks cruising for free content at any given time, not a constant stream of them. That would make sense, as not all kindle users even want something for free. So it’s like fishing. You’re casting your product out there, hoping that a subset of the fish in the lake will bite at free, and a smaller subset of those will actually read it, and an even smaller subset will like it enough to buy other titles, or anything – some folks just don’t buy, preferring the free new game to paying for content.

It’s not for everyone. I might do it one more time, but beyond that, I’m not sure it’s a winner unless you have a considerable catalog. I can give away Zero Sum book 1 for a month or two, and then when the downloads slow to nothing, re-up it as a paid first installment in the series, or perhaps roll all the books together into one big book. The point isn’t to generate incremental sales over a short period – it’s to create awareness of a body of work, and an author. It’s a branding exercise.

Elaine: You’ve also written non-fiction.

I wanted to do a parody of self-help books and of writing and self-publishing. Three weeks later it was out, and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) was born, to raves from literary luminaries like Lawrence Block and John Lescroart. Want to write a dog bio that would define the genre? An Angel With Fur hit the shelves a month or so ago. Got three more ideas for thrillers? They’ll all be out within the next 6 months. Self-pubbing enables me to write what I want, and if it finds an audience, super. If not, no harm no foul. But I get to define the cover, the content, the genre, the length, and even the marketing. That’s a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of flexibility. My belief is in a few years, we’ll look back and see that 2011 was the year of seismic change hit the tradpub biz, and my choice to go it alone became the norm.

Elaine: Any more to say on the agent/publisher route?

Russell: Many moons ago I had an agent and came within a split hair of getting a tradpub gig, but after telling me I was great and everyone wanted to have my children, they couldn’t sign my book because they were looking for vanilla this year, and I was too damned strawberry. So I quickly realized that the pub game is like music, or film, which is to say it’s a business, where accountants and marketing guys figure out what to push and to whom. If I’m writing Vampire musicals featuring angst-flushed teen cheerleaders, and they’re only signing Ninja hamster trilogies this year, doesn’t matter if mine’s the best or worst Vampire musical. It won’t get made. I don’t object to that – it’s just the way it is.

Thank you Russell!


  1. Excellent article that serves two very important purposes. First, it gives readers a strong insight into why skilled writers are now following the indie route, as traditional publishers crawl, snail-like, to adjust to the new publishing landscape. Russell’s points are wholly justified and very well made. Second, Russell’s method is hugely encouraging to other writers to show them that failing in the lottery of getting off the slush pile is not only not the end, but could turn out to be the best thing that happened to them.

    Comment by Chris James — November 13, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  2. As someone about to publish my first novel “Searching For My Wand” this is very encouraging.

    Comment by bridgetstraub — November 13, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  3. Thanks for having me. I should underscore that the book, or now the set of books, is based on an allegedly true account of the U.S. operating wet teams in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and El Salvador. It’s actually the scariest set of articles I’ve read in some time, and I debated toning it down or changing the facts around, but opted for using the account largely as it was. That will hopefully be out in 3 to 4 weeks. Right now, I’ve started yet another one, “King of Swords,” that I’m writing as part of the National November Novel Writing Month challenge. I started it two days ago, and it’s the subject of my new blog. A link to the first chapter is now live, and I think it’s a pretty good example of what I can do with a few vowels and the odd consonant.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 13, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  4. Chris, nice to hear from you all the way from Poland! Bridget, thanks for making yourself known. Ashedit tries to bring fresh news and strategies to self-pubbers, so thank you for reading and best of luck with “Searching for my Wand.”

    Hola Russell! The new books sound fascinating and I’ll be over to check out an excerpt at your site.

    Comment by ashedit — November 13, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

  5. Great stuff from Mr. Blake, as usual. I’m very new to the selfpub thing, but what I have learned, I got from him. Highly encourage all who can to read any of his books. Nice interview!


    Comment by Landon Cocks — November 13, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  6. Hi Landon, I enjoyed your website. Perfect martinis and golf, eh?

    Comment by ashedit — November 13, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  7. Here’s the link to the first chapter, I wrote, er, Friday evening. It hasn’t been edited yet, so you’ll appreciate what my editor has to go through with me. BTW, I didn’t discuss it in the interview, but several of my past blogs have discussed the importance of professional editing for self-pubbers. I can’t stress that enough. You want to play with the big dogs, you have to pay for the same tools.

    Anyhow, here’s the link to the new one (I didn’t think I’d write till next year) – King of Swords.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 13, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  8. Hello to you, EA. Love your site, as well!

    Yes, the pursuit of the perfect martini can be compared to the struggle for a good round of golf. Both are a lifelong obsession.

    Here’s to every creative, everywhere.

    Comment by Landon Cocks — November 13, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

  9. good stuff, russ… thx for spotlighting him, elaine 🙂

    Comment by laughingwolf — November 13, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

  10. Great piece, RT’d . . .

    Comment by Kirsten Mortensen — November 13, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  11. Ten books a year? I’m speechless

    Comment by charlesgramlich — November 13, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

  12. Thanks, Laughingwolf.

    CharlesGramlich: Yeah, I didn’t plan it that way. I started thinking, maybe I’ll do three or four. It just sort of happened. Next year will be a lot slower as I have other commitments besides writing. But I always wanted to see just what I could get done if I only wrote for a year, and, well, why do it in half measures, you know? So here we are, and I am madly racing to get King of Swords written by the 25 or so at 80-90K words. It’ll take that many to tell the story, I think, although I wish I could tell it in 60K, but I doubt it. Stories have a way of filling out, or they do on me, But you can track my progress on the counter at Nano. My goal is to cross the 50K mark next Sunday, and then it’s all downhill from there. Of course, it’s easy to slap words on paper, but hard to do so well, so it’s not just about flailing out dross, it’s about polishing as you go and ensuring what you produce is up to snuff. That makes the word count thing illusory.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 13, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

  13. Thanks for saying that out loud Russell, glad I’m not only one who thinks it’s not good to fixate on the word count. I’ve had so many troubled nights fretting that if cut something and the word count drops below 100k then it won’t be long enough (OMG!!!), when in truth that’s the last thing a writer should be worrying about. Maybe fixating on it is one excuse we use so that we keep stuff in a story that really isn’t required: we know we should cut it because slows the pace or whatever, but the word-count excuse serves well as writerly justification that some dull passage should remain because… because I worte it and I can’t face pressing the delete key!!!

    Comment by Chris James — November 14, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  14. I’m pretty relentless about cutting once I go into editing mode. And as tough as it is to kill your children, when you write as much as I do, it’s almost a boon, because by the time I get to editing stage I’ve forgotten most of what I wrote, so there’s no ego in keeping anything. If it doesn’t move the story or create an effect I want, it goes. Word count is just a guide to me. I’ve had books I thought would be 70K turn into 100K, and I’ve actually shelved one book this year – the whole book – because it didn’t work. It’s a shame when that happens, but you have to be dispassionate.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 14, 2011 @ 5:31 am

  15. Thanks to Elaine and Russell. I like that this article addresses specifics of self publishing, and it adds some more data to the long running ‘free or not’ ebook debate. Good stuff.

    Comment by Mark Boss — November 14, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  16. Hi Mark, former Ashedit subject Rebecca Forster reports that Amazon is making it “harder” to offer a book for free. Apparently you can’t list a book from the start as “free” you have to work the price down. However, clever marketers have always known that buyers love a “twofer.” Just yesterday I went to buy a pair of running shoes on sale for $25. At the cash i was told that if I bought another pair at the same time, I’d get the second pair for $12.50. I couldn’t resist. The power of the two-for-less, right?

    Comment by ashedit — November 14, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  17. There’s a key line in there about how he proofs and has somebody else proof his manuscripts until they are error free.

    The hardest part of self-publishing is the typos. It’s a constant battle. When you think they’re gone, they’re not. There’s always one more.

    So anybody attempting to do this seriously needs to dig in and maybe hold off on publishing until they are as close to zero as possible.

    Ask me how I know this. 🙂

    Comment by Brian Drake — November 14, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  18. Okay i’ll bite. How do you know this Brian?

    Comment by ashedit — November 14, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  19. Brian. Too right about the typos. I did a whole column on the importance of hiring professional editing if you’re going to be taken seriously and produce decent work. Many new authors have somehow confused the spell-check function of MS Word with a line edit by a seasoned pro, to the detriment of their work. And even so, there will always be errors. No matter how many people review it. Even the mega-buck tradpub releases routinely have them. It’s part of the human condition – nobody’s perfect. But the goal should be to stand in the shadow of perfection, if not attain it, and to do so, you need a pro dispassionately editing your work – not your mom, or wife, or friends – someone you pay for their expertise, just as you hope to be paid for yours as a writer. Anyone pubbing without an editor is screwing themselves. That simple. Every business requires a start-up investment, and editing is one of the fixed costs you need to be prepared to make if you’re going to go up against those who are vocational. Business 101. I think we’re in agreement.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 14, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  20. I think if you can feel sure your book has no more than two or three typos, then there comes a point when you have to let it go. My job is proof-reader, and in every mainstream published book I read for pleasure I nearly always come across one typo, usually two. Very rare to read a complete book with no errors whatsoever. And as Russell points out, it’s not about Spellchecker any more, it’s more about knowing the English language well enough to write it. It’s sad when writers spoil their work by writing “ring” when they mean “wring”, or “scraping” when it should be “scrapping”. Hundereds more examples, of course, but it’s very, very easy to make these mistakes when writing and then miss them when editing.

    But if you can’t afford a pro to do a line-by-line comb through, can I suggest one thing that really works for me? Change the font. I write in Times New Roman and publish in Bookman Old Style. But during editing I’ll print chapters in Courier and Ariel which, for some reason, makes really clunking typos stand out a mile.

    Comment by Chris James — November 15, 2011 @ 1:45 am

  21. “…I always wanted to see just what I could get done if I only wrote for a year, and, well, why do it in half measures, you know?”

    I’ve come to know Russell as somebody that does not know what half measures are. I wonder what will happen if everybody waffling about writing would sit down and just write. I know my twitter stream will be empty and I will have less blog posts to check up on but then maybe I can also get some writing done. Which means it is all your fault I’m not more productive you damn interesting people. And you Russell are at the top of the list.

    Comment by Gerhi Feuren — November 15, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  22. Gerhi, I feel your pain. I don’t know if there is a self-help book for this issue, but here’s an idea – WRITE ONE!
    Best regards and thanks for stopping by,

    Comment by ashedit — November 15, 2011 @ 8:27 am

  23. I’m staggered by your output as well, Russell. And here I was broken-spirited because no agent was interested in me (enough). Ha! Fie on them. I learned, oh how expensively I learned, the inestimable value of an editor in my first novel to appear, No Dice. Here I am futzing around this morning getting to work. Reading your interview, I’m inspired.

    Comment by Mar Preston — November 15, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  24. Chris – good suggestion. I’ll try the font change thing when I polish my WIPs, King of Swords, which I’m cranking through at around 5-6K per day at present, and The Delphi Chronicle, which is out to edit.

    Gerhi – Sometimes the best example is a bad one. I’m unaccustomed to being a good one, so the shirt fits somewhat awkwardly.

    Mar – The only certainty is death. As one who has lost, and continues to lose, loved ones and friends as a natural function of too long on the planet, I can heartily recommend just going for it. I write because of the joy of doing so – when it flows like it’s doing on King of Swords, effortlessly, with new plot twists and character insights happening literally hourly, when the language hits a cadence that’s almost musical, it makes one imagine what it must be like to be an eagle. It’s the joy of flying. Sometimes, it takes a while to learn to fly, but once you know how, you fly for the sake of flight, and if others catch on and you’re lucky enough to get paid or receive acclaim, that’s gravy. Because when you’re paws up at the end of the road, the only thing you’ll have is the memory of flight. It really is its own reward.

    Comment by Russell Blake — November 15, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  25. Ah, Russell, so well said. I say a mantra to myself: the psyche always provides, as long as fingers are on the keyboard. (I’m a paws lover too.)

    Comment by Mar Preston — November 15, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  26. You’re very welcome, Russell, although the best thing for editing has to be being “cold” to the work. As you mention in the main article, you write so much that you’re cold when you go back to edit, so you can view it dispassionately. I would suspect that most writers struggle to get sufficient distance from the work. It’s a viscious circle: the more times you read a passage because you’re not sure it works, the less distance you’ll have so the more your judgement is impaired.

    Also my compliments on your description of writing, “a cadence that’s almost musical”. Very well put.

    Comment by Chris James — November 15, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  27. […] INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews you might have missed. You can see them here, and here. […]

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  29. […] INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews with yours truly you might have missed. You can see them here, and here. […]

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  30. […] You’re a proud indie author & have explained that for you, it all comes down to the numbers (income) and agility (speed to market) available that route. What would be your number 1 suggestion for a new indie […]

    Pingback by Interview: Russell Blake « A Book A Day — December 14, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

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