Back when I was an avid gamer, I would buy tons of videogames from a company called Working Designs. Every time I purchased a game from them, I looked forward to reading the Translation Notes located in the back of the instruction manual. There they talked about the various challenges that they had to overcome, and how they improved upon the original Japanese release. When they closed their doors, I was very sad, but tradition of adding bonus content stuck with me.
Only recently have I gotten away from doing this. I had done this with my first few releases (somewhat religiously, in fact). I made the call today to slow down a bit and add bonus content to my latest collection, The Dog Pound, Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors, before I publish it. Although the interview that I wrote is a bit odd (I use one of my previous pets as the interviewer), it’s all in good fun and loaded with great information about self-publishing.
An Interview with Scott Gordon
SCOTT GORDON (SG) and his dog COCO stare at each other. Suddenly Coco begins to bark, over and over again.
SG: What’s the problem, Coco?
Coco continues barking. Scott’s other dog SNOOPY strolls into the room and stops dead in his tracks.
SNOOPY: Well, aren’t you going to answer him?
SG (rubs his eyes): You can talk?
SNOOPY: Oh, it’s nothing special. I dug up this universal translator from the backyard the other day.
Snoopy paws at a silver device attached to his collar.
SNOOPY: I guess aliens have visited us in the past. How exciting! Hopefully those slimy creatures won’t come back to get it.
SNOOPY: I’ve used it to talk to squirrels, birds and even fleas. It’s really quite handy-
Coco snatches the device from Snoopy, and attaches it to his own collar. Snoopy’s perfect English turns into a series of barks.
COCO: Ah…much better….
Snoopy continues barking and bares his teeth at Coco.
COCO: Calm down, my friend. I’m just borrowing it for a while so that I can interview our master about his new release, The Dog Pound, Volume 1: Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors. I’ll return it to you as soon as I’m done.
Snoopy growls, and then leaves the room.
COCO: All right, then. Let’s get down to business, shall we?
SG: This is crazy. Is that an English accent I’m detecting?
COCO: Oh, that must be the device. I’ve never set foot in England, but I wouldn’t be against taking in a game of football or visiting the Tower of London. Perhaps I could even give a speech at Parliament.
SG (scratches his head): Yeah, well…I don’t know about that. Maybe if you’re a good dog I guess I could-
COCO: And maybe if I bit you, you’d take me on more trips.
SG: You wouldn’t dare!
COCO: Try me.
SG: Ok, so what do you want to know?
COCO: First off, where are you hiding the Beggin’ Strips?
SG: In the cabinet above the stove.
COCO: I knew it! Excuse me for a moment…
Coco runs off.
Scott cringes as pots and pans clang off the kitchen floor. After a few barks and growls, Coco returns with a shiny bag of Beggin’ Strips dangling from his mouth. He jumps on the couch, and sets down the bag.
COCO (to Snoopy): Don’t worry, chap. I’ll save you a scrap or two.
He rips open the bag with his teeth.
COCO: Now then, where were we?
SG: You were going to ask me a few questions about my book…
COCO: Oh yes, the interview. That’s right!
Coco sticks his nose in the bag and inhales a mouthful of Beggin’ Strips.
COCO (burps): Excuse me. It’s been a whole hour since I last ate. You may not know this, but deep down inside, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Since I’m a dog, no publisher will ever take me seriously. There will never be any seven-figure contracts or hob-nobbing with publishers and agents. I have no choice but to go indie, and I was wondering if you could share some of your personal experiences with me.
SG: You want to write a book? I thought you were content sniffing other people’s butts.
COCO: That was totally uncalled for! I was young then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m far more sophisticated now.
He inhales another mouthful of Beggin’ Strips.
COCO: Now come on, old man. Spit it out or I’ll pee on your prized iMac.
SG: Who are you calling ‘old man?’
COCO: And why are you laughing at me for wanting to write a book? Imagine if I did the same to you.
SG: Fine, let’s get this over with so that I can get back to work. What do you want to know?
COCO: How long ago did you start writing? Seriously writing, that is.
SG: About six years ago.
COCO: And when did you finally publish your first e-book?
SG: Last October. It’s been about a year.
COCO: So that’s a gap of five years before you were finally published. What were you doing during this time?
SG: Working. Going to school. More work. That sort of thing…
At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go the traditional route or not. I’ve read horror stories about authors never getting their royalties, print runs being slashed, the sales numbers being wrong, etc. Deep down inside I knew that I wanted to self-publish, but the infrastructure wasn’t in place yet. E-books weren’t big like they are today. So I wrote for awhile, learning my craft but never finishing anything.
COCO: Did you eventually wind up submitting your manuscript for consideration?
SG: Never. I guess I was just biding my time until e-books finally took off. Boy did they ever!
COCO: So what was the turning point? What helped you break through?
SG: The first thing that happened was I discovered J.A. Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Konrath is a traditionally published author who was treated like garbage and decided to break out of the vicious cycle and publish his own work. This was the first time that I actually saw any sales numbers.
When I found out that he was making hundreds of thousand of dollars a year off e-book sales, I realized that e-books had finally arrived, and it would be only a matter of time before I jumped in.
But I still had the same dilemma: I hadn’t finished anything yet.
COCO: So did you bolt yourself to your chair and finish one of your novels?
SG: No. I kept grinding away until one day I got this weird idea for a science fiction story. It’s very strange, so I won’t even mention the title. But the book taught me how to finish. In 10 days, while also working a full time job, I wrote, edited and published it.
Finally I had finished something!
It was around this time that I discovered a thread on Reddit about some guy named THROWAWAY_WRITER (TW) who claimed to have made $1,000 in one day off e-book sales. I read the entire thread several times, and integrated his ideas into my process.
Plenty of brilliant insights are hidden throughout the thread. First off, even though TW hadn’t published a novel, he was still making $1,000/day. That floored me. So I guess there really is a market for short fiction.
Next, TW had written over 80 different titles at the time (he now has over 200), which had been published in a span of 8 months. He got a lot of criticism for this, and many doubted his claims. But remember, he was writing short fiction, and as it turns out, he’s a fairly quick writer.
So what kinds of e-books did he write? Detective novelettes, contemporary thrillers, children’s books, business primers, science fiction and some naughty works that I best not mention. Of all the various genres that he described, it was the children’s books that caught my attention. I told myself that if I found the right artwork, I would consider writing one.
COCO: So did you?
SG: No, not immediately. I took one of the best short stories I had and overhauled it. I extended it from 1,200 to 3,000 words (the minimum length that TW suggested), and added some inspirational posts from my blog as bonus content. After working on it part time for five days, Literary Dynamite was born.
COCO: And how did it do?
SG: Awful. It’s sold about a dozen copies thus far, but I’m proud of each sale. It was a great effort, and I feel like it provides excellent value for 99 cents. It’s also a source of inspiration for aspiring authors.
What I found strange about Literary Dynamite is that I had been giving it away for free on my website for over a year, and people didn’t bother reading it all. I was more than willing to give away all of my content for free if I could make decent ad revenue, but it didn’t pan out.
So I went to Plan B: I packaged the content into an e-book, put it up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and even with its paltry sales, made more money off it than I had before.
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. If you have content sitting on your hard drive that could be making money, you need to get it up. Consider these works as your employees. Put them to work so that you can bring you money while you’re working on your next masterpiece. You have no idea how much money you’re missing out on by not having your work published.
Get it up! You’ll be glad you did.
COCO: So is this when you decided to experiment with children’s books?
SG: Yes! I came across some outstanding dragon artwork and immediately knew that it would work well as a children’s picture book. But I’d never written a picture book before, so this was going to be a new experience.
But my real motivation was my son. He has a development delay, and while his speech is improving, he’s far behind other children his age. At the time, he couldn’t say the word dragon, so I was determined to use this children’s book to expand his vocabulary.
I wound up publishing it on Thanksgiving, and to my surprise, My Little Pet Dragon performed better than anything else I’d published to date. On top of that, it was fun, and my son really liked it. So I wrote another. And another. And another. Soon he was saying words like “frog,” “cat,” “monster,” “pig” and so on.
In the back of my mind, I remembered TW’s advice. Keep moving forward and focus on the shorter works. Once you have enough of the smaller works, package them into a collection. Go back and finish your novels once you can afford to.
COCO: So have you finally published a novel?
SG: Not yet. But it will be happening really soon.
COCO: Ok, and how many works do you have up now?
SG: Sixty. I published twenty in July.
COCO (nearly falls out of his chair): Excuse me? You can’t be serious.
SG: Dead serious. At the end of March, I decided to quit my full time job as a Front End Web Developer for Fannie Mae to focus exclusively on writing. I’d just made more money the month before on e-book sales, so I knew it was time to make the leap.
But instead of jumping into my new occupation, I took some time off and relaxed. Too much time, in fact. And when my sales crashed in June, I realized that I wasn’t doing the things that I had promised to do. So I got my act together, and put out twenty new works.
COCO: No kidding!
SG: A lot of people doubted TW’s output, but if you’re motivated, focus on shorter titles and have all day to write, why can’t you? In time, you get better at everything that goes into the creative process.
For me, the ideal turnaround for a short story or children’s book is 2-3 days, but I’ve done several projects in a single day. It just depends on what you’re writing and how fast it comes together.
COCO: Wow, I’d be happy to write one book. How did you break through and finish something?
SG: There are a few factors that went into this. First, scaling back my expectations and choosing shorter works. Second, by disregarding the editor in my head and letting myself write the story in its entirety. Typically my first drafts are terrible, but get better with each successive draft. Get it all out first, and then go back and correct it. You can do it, but you have to believe in yourself first.
Once you put it all down, it’s just a matter of finding the right words to describe what you’re trying to say. Each new draft may feel like raising the Titanic, but you’ll be proud when you finally arrive at your intended destination.
Believe that you can succeed, and then do it.
COCO: I noticed that your collection contains pictures of Beagles, Bulldogs, Pugs and Labradors. Is there any reason why you didn’t write about Jack Russell Terriers? I mean, you and I are family. You could at least write one about us.
SG: Well, I haven’t acquired the assets yet.
COCO: Sure. Don’t be surprised if your computer smells a little funny tomorrow.
SG: No, seriously. I’m telling the truth. As a matter of fact, I just located some great photographs today.
COCO: So when can we expect Adorable Dogs: Jack Russell Terriers?
SG: In the next few weeks or so.
COCO (shakes his head): Your iMac isn’t going to be happy with me.
SG: All right, the next few days.
COCO: And I want you to do multiple editions.
SG: You got it!
COCO: And I want a collection exclusively for us.
COCO: It’s nice doing business with you, master.
Coco searches the bag of Beggin’ Strips, and realizes that it’s empty.
COCO: Oops. So…uh…what else can we expect from you in the coming weeks?
SG: Fewer dog books, that’s for sure. Except for Jack Russell Terriers, of course. A few more volumes of my Alphabet All-Stars series are also on the way. I thought I had written my last alphabet book, but I keep coming up with more ideas. I’ve decided that I’m going to write three more, and put out one large collection, similar to what I’ve done with Mega Collection #1.
But that’s not the focus. I’ll be zeroing in on my two most successful franchises: My Little Pet Dragon and My Crazy Pet Frog. Expect novelizations of each as well as sequels. Readers should expect My Little Pet Dragon Ness and Secret Agent Disco Dancer shortly.
I’ll also be finishing off a few projects that have hung around for a while. Although Braedyn Bunny and the Missing Eggs was an Easter project, it’s a solid title despite the holiday theme. I expect it to do well once it’s finally released. It’s a very special title; you’ll see. And of course, I’ve always got a top-secret project or two in the works.
COCO: Great! Well, I guess that’s all the questions I have for you.
SG: Good, because I have one for you.
COCO: Ok, let’s hear it.
SG: How do you plan on typing up your book? I don’t think your paws can operate a human keyboard. And if you use your nose to type the letters one at a time, it will take forever.
COCO: That’s why I have you, oh master.
COCO: You’re going to type it up for me. And do the cover. And create the e-book. You already feed me and take me for long walks, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.
SG: But I’ve got my own books to write.
COCO: Consider it an investment into the longevity of your iMac. Any last words you’d like to say?
SG: Yes. I’d like to thank to every single reader out there who has ever bought my work. Every sale means something to me. Knowing that I’ve created something of value that someone is willing to pay for is meaningful.
Thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on me.
I’ll be following up all of my successful titles in the coming months. And if there’s something you’d like me to write, let me know on my blog. Since I publish directly, there’s no middleman. No agent to go through, no representative to tell me that it’s a bad idea or that it will never sell.
I take risks. That’s what successful people do. And the day that I shy away from this is the day that I should stop writing. I don’t believe in taking the well-worn path. I prefer to strike out on my own.
So if you like my work now, you’ll love what I have in store for you in the coming months. It will truly be my best work to date.
COCO: Is there a point when you’ll eventually stop writing children’s books?
SG: Perhaps when I’ve written 1,000 of them. Yeah, that’s probably when I should move onto something else. Perhaps…
COCO: Well, we better get cracking on my book. It’s already getting dark. Quick, hide the empty bag. I hear Snoopy just around the corner.
SG: He’s going to find out, anyways.
COCO: Then tell him you ate the last of the Beggin’ Strips. Oh no, here he comes. Hide!
SG: Yeah, right. It’s not a big deal, is it Snoopy? Uh, Snoopy?
Snoopy barks, and then charges Scott.
SG: No, it’s not my fault. He did it. Ahhh!!!
And they lived happily ever after.