Should you Self Publish? An Interview with Author James L. Nelson

One of my favorite (non-romance) authors, James L. Nelson, tried his hand at self-publishing after years of successfully following the traditional route. I thought I’d take a moment to talk with him about his experience, lessons learned, and whether he’ll be doing it again. I hope you enjoy the interview.

James, what inspired you to try your hand at self-publishing?

I’m not what you would call an early adaptor. I just got my family a Wii. We are the last American
FinGall by James L. Nelson
family outside the Amish community to get a Wii. So I was not quick to jump on this bandwagon, though it was obviously rolling faster and faster. And self publishing has always had a (somewhat justified) stigma about it. But increasingly I was reading about authors having success with it, and even more interesting to me, authors who had published with traditional houses turning to self publishing. So I started thinking about it. I had this Viking novel, Fin Gall, which I thought was pretty good but had never found a traditional publisher. Since one can now self publish essentially for free with a number of outfits (I’m cheap, too, another reason I had never done this) I figured I would give it a go, as much as an experience as anything.

Did anyone try to talk you out of it?

Not really. But I’ve learned my lesson over the years to not blather about your plans to everyone, because everyone has an opinion and most of them are worth exactly what you pay for them. I suppose if I had broadcast the news that I was going to do this someone might have suggested I not, though in truth most writers I know would no longer turn up their noses at the notion.

What would you say has been the hardest part of self-publishing?

There seem to be a lot of tricks that folks more internet savvy than I can do to promote self-published books. I’ve even read a few books on how to increase rankings and such, but I have a hard time navigating all that stuff. I’m not computer illiterate by any means, but I can’t follow the tactics of those folks (i.e. people under thirty) who really know there way around the web.

To that end, I have to say I really was not sure about how to publicize the book, beyond the usual – my e-mail list, my web site and blog, Facebook. I figured all my friends and readers I contacted would buy it and that would be it. But somehow word got out and I had much better sales than I anticipated. I wish I could tell people my trick, but I honestly do not know how people have heard about the book!

Any aspects that seemed daunting at first, but didn’t turn out so terrible after all?

I was a little unsure about the whole process of taking the manuscript as it existed on my computer and uploading it to be published, getting it into the e-book format and so on. I decided to use’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct publishing. If you do Kindle Direct then you can’t get the book in any other e-reader format, which is a bit of a problem, but I heard from a number of people that Amazon so dominates the market that it’s not a big deal if your book is not in other formats, and Amazon makes it very tempting with the royalties they offer to publish exclusively with them (I have a real love/hate thing with Amazon).

In any event, it was really pretty easy to upload the book and get it in the various formats, paperback and Kindle. I suppose if you had very little familiarity with computers if could be a problem, but Amazon makes it pretty easy with anyone with a passing knowledge. That was a happy revelation.

For the cover I used one of Amazon’s cover templates. When the first edition came out, a reader contacted me and pointed out that my cover…well…sucked. It looked very self published. And he was right. Luckily, he is something of a graphic designer and he redid the cover and his work looks terrific. I’m very grateful for that.

Would you recommend this route to others? Any caveats or words of wisdom?

I’ve learned a few things from this experiment. One is you can’t be as entirely cheap as I was. You really need a real copy editor. I had two friends, both college professors, read and copy edit the book, and many, many typos still got through. A real copy editor can catch those. Also, as I mentioned above, you need someone who can do a real cover if you want the book taken seriously. It has to look good and look professional. Some of the self published covers one sees are staggeringly awful and I have to think that has a big effect on sales, warnings about judging books by their covers notwithstanding.

I suppose I would still recommend that people try to go the traditional route first. If nothing else it’s a way to see if your writing really passes muster. I read bits and pieces from self-published books, and most of what I read is not bad, but it falls a bit short of what would be acceptable to a traditional publishing house. I would say that my experience in traditional publishing gave me a real leg up when it came to self publishing, and I suspect the result is that I have sold far more books than most self publishers do.

It’s been a few months since Fin Gall was released. Are you happy with the results?

Yes, I’ve been quite happy with the results. One of the reasons I didn’t want to put any money into the book that I was not expecting much in return. It really was very much an experiment and not one I wanted to invest much in. But it has turned out to be a much greater success than I thought it would.

Any regrets? Would you do it again?

As I mentioned above, I now regret not having a professional copy editor work on the manuscript. But yes, not only would I do it again, I am! Fin Gall was enough of a success that that I wrote a sequel specifically to self publish. It’s called Dubh-linn and takes up where Fin Gall left off. I hope to have it available by late February.

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