How do you self-publish the right way? Here's one writer's take.

No matter how you feel about self-publishing, it’s undeniable that there’s a bad way to do it—think sloppy covers, poor binding quality and wild spelling. And a good way—like Daryl Pinksen’s Marlowe’s Ghost, the grand-prize winner of WD’s Self-Published Book Awards this year. After hearing that agents liked his project but didn’t believe he had the platform to make it salable, Pinksen then ruled out university presses (the book was too unorthodox) and small presses (his audience was spread too far) and decided to go the independent route. I interviewed Pinksen for the March/April issue of WD to see how he went about it. Here are a few of his thoughts on what makes for a solid self-published text.

All told, what have you learned from self-publishing this book—and what are the top lessons you can share?
Remember that you are writing for readers; you’re expecting them to pay hard-earned money. You owe them a good book. Solicit help before you submit the book for self-publishing. Ask people, friends, family, acquaintances—anyone who will agree—to read your manuscript and tear it apart. Get used to criticism, relish it, learn to receive all of it as a gift. Every person who read my manuscript helped make the book better.

This one is tough: Once you decide to place your trust in a self-publishing company, you have to trust them. Listen to the advice, swallow your pride and take full advantage of the expertise that you are paying for. You will retain control and make the final decision at all times, which means you can ignore their recommendations if you wish. Try to remember that while you know your book, they know the industry and what the market responds to. They prepare books for publication for a living. If you don’t trust their judgment, you shouldn’t be in business with them.

What should writers bear in mind when selecting self-publishers?
You get what you pay for. Sure, you can get your book printed for a low, low price, but not if you want it done right. Good editing takes great skill, careful attention and time. If you want a proficient, experienced editor to go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, it will cost you. But it’s worth it. When I submitted my manuscript to iUniverse, I thought it was in near-pristine condition. It was sent back to me with thousands of recommended punctuation and grammatical changes. I was mortified, but, my editor reassured me, it really wasn’t that bad. There were few structural problems to address, she reassured me, leaving her free to focus on the details. There were further rounds of editing to refine the manuscript after I had made the recommended changes. These additional rounds cost money. Indexing costs money. Competent interior and cover design costs money. If you want your book to meet industry standards, you have to pay to get it to that condition.

What do you see as the biggest upsides of self-publishing?
It’s fast. Communication is all done electronically. No paper. Word and PDF versions of the manuscript are e-mailed back and forth. The practices of many mainstream publishing houses seem archaic by comparison. For a generation that does everything online, the thought of single-sided, double-spaced paper copies, mailed in brown envelopes by regular post, annotated by pen, and weeks waiting for the mail to arrive, comes as a bit of a shock.

Print-on-demand makes sense. There are no risky and expensive print runs piled in boxes, lying in warehouses. If someone, anywhere in the world, wants a book, it can be printed and shipped to them in days.

You have total control. You retain all rights. All the decisions are yours.

What about the biggest downsides?
The stigma. Magazines and newspapers shut the door on self-published books. Getting reviews is nearly impossible. Getting the book in bookstores on your own is an uphill battle. In their defense, bookstores and media do need a system of vouching in order to know which books are worthy of spending their time on.

You have total control. They can dispense good advice, but you can choose to ignore it, and the book may suffer. It’s your choice.
To read more from Pinksen, check out the March/April 2010 issue of WD (on newsstands Feb. 23), or click here to read the online-exclusive extended interview from the piece.

* * *

Stolen Dialogue 2
(from a recent café trek)
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking, feel free to e-mail your story to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.

“Do you have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”
“The comedian.”
“No. No way.”

Great Creative in 2010: Tap into inspiration. Learn strategies for making time to write. Plan your own low key writing retreat. Check out 26 writing contests that can get your book published. Create a book trailer with cinematic flair. Learn Sue Grafton’s writing secrets. Click here to check the February 2010 issue of WD out!

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9 thoughts on “How do you self-publish the right way? Here's one writer's take.

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  2. Martha W

    Hi Sarah!

    It is kind of nerve wracking tossing your stuff out there for anyone to see! Don’t let these guys scare you away though… *grin* Good job on your first post. Hope to see you back more often!

  3. Sarah G

    Hello! This is my first response to a prompt though I have been here quite a few times. I love reading all the past posts by Martha and Mark. I am not the greatest at this so, just a warning. 🙂 I love to write though and want to improve so I am going against all my many insecurities to post this. 🙂 Loved reading everyone’s above posts!

    “This way, Joe”

    The corner bookstore smelled of musty paper and coffee, but it was quiet and the rustle of Erin’s blue wind pants sounded unusually loud as she hurried along the labeled isles.

    I struggled to keep up trying to maintain a semblance of casualty. I knew who owned the store and we were in dangerous territory. The gun strapped to my leg seemed to sear at my flesh and scenario after scenario ran through my head.

    The rustling stopped and I rounded into the next row of new and well-worn books. She stood scanning a row, her brown curls tumbled about her shoulders and her brows pulled low over dark eyes. What she was looking for would not be here. Remy would have made sure of that.

    I tried to relax allowing my senses to take control. The sound of the air kicking on, the scuff of feet on carpet, barely audible whispers and the ching of the register at the front were all carefully sorted in my mind. The smell of incense blew in intermittent waves masking briefly the heavy smell of old parchment.

    I leaned against the mahogany shelf putting my back to the lounge and shielding Erin from the view of the coffee shop that occupied the opposite corner of the store. Though it was a compromising position it would hopefully make us less noticeable.

    “Stupid!” she was saying.


    “This.” She pointed to row after row of books on crime and punishment, law and prison life.

    I shrugged placing my best innocent look on my face. “What about it?”

    “Most of this stuff isn’t even real, you know.”

    She was right. But I was not about to confirm that to her. I rolled my eyes attempting to discredit her, allowing a smirk to tug at my mouth.

    “Yeah, I know, I’m crazy right?” She shot me a glare then her eyes wandered over my shoulder. “Hey!”

    My heart leapt. Glancing back I breathed an inward sigh of relief. A gangly youth wearing the embroidered blue store polo strode toward us in response.

    “Hey,” Erin continued, “do you have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”

    The boy turned his pock marked face towards me an eyebrow raised. I shrugged and rolled my eyes again.

    “Well, this is the Non- Fiction section of the store, you won’t get more real then that lady.” I turned back to Erin a grin spread across my face. I saw that pink had risen to her pretty face. There was something satisfying about it.

    He moved on with Erin burning her gaze into his retreating form.

    “Perfect! How ‘bout this one?” I snatched a book off the shelf and turned the cover towards her. “The Comedian! Jerry Seinfeld has to be real.”

    “No, no way. You’re not making fun of me.” Her eyes began to swim and I immediately felt a twinge of remorse. I had to do it though. Her insinuations, that would sound ludicrous to most, could very well get both of us killed.

    A flicker of movement caught the top of my eye. Jerking my head upward I found myself staring into the small lens of a ceiling camera. I swore. How did I miss that?

    “What?” Erin followed my gaze.

    “Nothing. Let’s get out of here. There’s nothing here anyway. We’ll try another store.” I grasped her hand pulling her along behind me. The door was a distant escape and I wound around the edge of the store avoiding the large open area spread with couches and recliners.

    But we didn’t make it as I was frozen in my tracks by a familiar chilling voice and the simultaneous sound of a cocking gun.

  4. Martha W

    God, Mark – I wish I had your imagination…

    Zac – this is a good post. I’m always interested in the self-publishing end of things. There is a definite market for that branch of publishing and there are books that benefit tremendously from the effort put out by the author. Too bad people consistently get it mixed up with Vanity pubs.


    “Do they have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”

    “The comedian.” Erica rolled her eyes.

    Allie groaned. “No. No way."

    "What’s wrong now?"

    "It’s all the same." She dug her hand deeper in the basket of old romance books. There had to be one good one left.

    "Al. Seriously? Get out of the dollar bin and it won’t be like that."

    "But, E, where else can you get five books for the cost of one of yours?"

    "Oh, there’s a thought."

    Allie straightened at the edge in Erica’s tone. "What?"

    "Buying one of mine."

    "We’ve been over this. You write one I’ll read and I’ll buy it." Allie struggled to keep her tone even. They’d talked about this over and over.

    Erica’s chin quivered once before she pressed her lips tight. She cleared her throat. "Fine."

    Allie was tired of explaining. She wished, just for once, her friend would understand. Not everyone liked those books. "I wonder if they’ve got that one by Andrew Young?"

    Erica muttered something under her breath but followed Allie down the aisle toward the bestsellers.

    "E, I gotta have something different."

    "But I write different."

    Allie sighed. It was like talking to a wall. If patience was a virtue, she was freaking Mother Theresa. "What’s the title of his? The Politician, right?"

    Erica sniffed, flung the hand basket at Allie’s feet. "Ignore me if you want. You’re supposed to be my friend."

    "Do we have to do this in the middle of Walmart?" Allie looked around, noticed the three closest people staring.

    Tears filled Erica’s eyes as she turned to leave. Allie caught her arm, tugged her back. "C’mon. Are you really shocked that I’m not buying your stuff?"

    Erica dug a tissue from her pocket, wiped her nose, shrugged. "I guess not."

    "Okay." She let her go, handed her back the basket. "Let’s go find some chocolate, wine, and a good movie."


    Allie stopped short in the middle of the aisle irritated beyond belief. "Okay. You wanna do this?"

    "Why won’t you buy my book?"

    The whine in Erica’s voice ground on Allie’s nerves. Clenching her teeth, she counted to ten. "You don’t write the kind I read."

    "They’re not good enough?"

    "That’s not it and you know it. They just aren’t to my… taste."

    "Why’s that?"

    Allie choked on her laughter. "Erica. You write-" She cut herself off as two good looking guys walked by. Not one to let good scenery go to waste, she watched them move down the aisle.

    "I bet they’d read my stuff."

    "You don’t know that."

    Erica snorted.

    "E, you don’t know they’re-" Again Allie stopped short. The guy on the left slid his arm around the other, squeezed tight. "Okay. You’re right."


    Allie shook her head. "I’m not reading it."

    Erica bit the inside of her lip, stared at Allie for what seemed like forever. "Okay. Next time I’ll write one for you."

    "And I’ll buy ten copies."

  5. Mark James

    “Do you have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”

    “The comedian.”

    “No. No way.”

    “You don’t like comedy?” I knew I was too close to him. Runners were easier to sell from up close.

    He glanced at the screen. “He’s not even funny.”

    “What do you care? Lay low for six months. Hear some bad jokes.”

    Jacking a body was illegal. Renting a part of someone’s mind, that was different. Courts were still fighting over it.

    “How much?”

    This was always the hard part. Everybody wanted airtight escape; nobody wanted to pay. “Sixty.”

    He looked over my shoulder at the bank of monitors, like they all do when I say that. “And the fiction?”

    “They’re constructs. Easy to penetrate. Sometimes the code falls apart. Whole thing breaks down.” I let that sink in. “Then you’re just there, awake, trapped inside a program.”

    “You can’t get me out?”

    “Not if it breaks down. No retrieval code.” I waited a heartbeat too long before I said, “You’ll be in there till the battery goes.”

    He swallowed. “How long?”

    I sank the hook in deep. “With the new Self-Charge batteries? Could be a couple centuries, subjective.”

    “Could I think about it?”

    I knew I had him.

    After the flu pandemic, countries slammed shut so tight, the only thing passing between borders was threats about which line not to cross.

    Somebody got smart and came up with a way for people to take vacation without ever crossing a border. Mind Jumps took off faster than a jet on rocket fuel.

    Accountants signed up to live inside a cop’s mind for a week. Secretaries vacationed inside a CEO’s mind. Or a man on the run visited someone like me, and I hid him inside a Renter’s mind. While I stored the Runner’s body, the Renter went around doing his job. In six months, the DigiSweep Statute expired, the Runner went back to his body, and the Renter collected his cut.

    I heard his light, quick steps behind me. “I got fifty,” he said. “I’ll give you a month of dreams.”

    Jumpers loved living in someone else’s dream. But a Dreamer had to be hyped to the gills to get anything worth selling. Dreams were hard to come by.

    “Two months,” I said.


    After I got him under, I turned on his monitor. They always dreamed about what they did first. On the screen, I saw him walk into an office. The name plate said ‘J. Backen, VP’.

    She looked up, a plastic smile on her face. “Radley. Numbers all crunched up?”

    He kept going, never took his eyes off her. By the time she saw the gun in his hand, it was too late, and she was too slow.

    I have to say this much for him, he made it fast for her, left her brains splattered all over her desk.

    I waited. It wouldn’t end the way it had in his real life. She got up, the top part of her head mostly gone. “You messed up my hair.”

    She flung papers off her desk, reached for him. Her manicured nails turned into bloody claws. Inch long fangs grew over her lips, and her tongue snaked out, forked, dripping green slime.

    I settled back to watch. This was the good stuff. This was what folks paid good Credit to live through.

  6. Mandy Hartley

    I never can figure out how to end a story, but here goes…..

    “Do you have anything real? I’m tired of all this fiction.”
    “The comedian.”
    “No. No way.”

    "Funny is not my scene. I don’t want some a*&hole forcing me to laugh. I want to laugh on my own, when I want to. No, not the comedian."

    "All right man, let me look around a little bit, see what I can do. You said real, you want something that actually happened?"

    "Yeah, something real. Maybe like history or science or something. Not some made up bulls*&t. Enough of that. And none of these real life stories either because none of that sh*t is true. Those guys are just liars. I don’t know why anybody believes that sh*t."

    Jerry listened, hoping that the laughter wasn’t creeping onto his face. He hated that about himself, but it had always been true. When he was uncomfortable or caught off guard, he laughed. It was what he did, but he really didn’t want to do it now. Laughing would not improve the mood of this customer. But really, who was this guy? They were in a bookstore, not a shooting range. He was somehow too odd to be afraid of, although Jerry did wish he wasn’t barking his commands so close to the childrens’ section. Well, it just meant he needed to find a book that would shut him up as quickly as possible.

    "I’ve got a good one that has just been flying off the shelves. It’s called The World is Flat."

    "The World is Flat? And it’s real, I mean, it’s not a bunch of made up bullsh*&t?"

    "No, it’s real. The New York Times calls it non-fiction."

    The guy stared at him for what felt like a very long time. Just as Jerry was beginning to imagine that this guy might be even crazier than he looked, he snatched the book from his hand and stormed towards the registers.