I first published Let’s Get Digital in July 2011, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and then released a (much) revamped and updated version in September 2014.
Combined, both editions have sold well over 25,000 copies at this point, which is about 24,000 copies more than I ever hoped. So my sincere thanks to all of you for that – particularly the generous authors who contributed to the book and the army of writers recommending it to others.
Speaking of which, a friend told me the other day that she was grateful I’d written the book because it gives her a quick and easy way to answer emails from newbs.
Well, let me tell you, I’m totally fine with monetizing other people’s laziness. If I could monetize my own laziness I’d be richer than Croesus (one of the original investors in Facebook).
I know they are ten-a-penny now but back in 2011 there weren"t so many self-publishing guides. There was lots of great advice online, albeit scattered across a hundred different websites. I had the time to sift through all this stuff. I’d just moved to Sweden. I was at a loose end (we’ll just skip very quickly over that neat euphemism for being unemployed). And I figured it might be useful to pull all that advice together and organize it in a way that was accessible and useful for a newbie.
You see, I was very wet behind the ears when I wrote Let’s Get Digital. I had only sold maybe 150 books – there are no zeroes missing there, people – and I’d only published a few short stories. While I had been writing for a few years, I’d only written a couple of novels. And even that paltry output sounds better than the actuality because one was permanently trunked and the other still a draft or two away from being ready.
In other words, I was hardly a grizzled veteran. But I wasn’t bringing nothing to the table. I had been studying the market for a while, taking in the changes that were starting to ripple through the industry. Plus I’d seen this movie before and knew how it ended.
When I was working at Google (more than ten years ago now), I saw industry after industry get disrupted by the internet. Each of them thought they were special, that they had insider knowledge or uniquely valuable skills that couldn’t possibly be disintermediated by a mere website or replicated by some kind of plebian crowd wisdom. It amazed me that one industry couldn’t learn from the other. Travel, retail, financial services, insurance, newspapers, telecoms – they were all disrupted at different times but they all made the same key mistake of underestimating the threat that digital posed.
The only thing “special” about the publishing industry’s case is that digital disruption took a little longer to get going. But once those forces were unleashed, it was only going to play out one way.
Still, I didn’t know a huge amount about the traditional end of the publishing business – not much more than any other newb who had been querying for a couple of years. But maybe that was an advantage. I wasn’t emotionally invested in any particular way of looking at the world, or any particular company’s survival. I remember Scott Nicholson saying that “sometimes experience can be an anchor more than a sail,” and I think there’s a lot of truth in that.
Or maybe I just got away with it.
Being upfront helped. I think the opening paragraph of the original edition laid out my inexperience right at the start. And rather than putting readers off, it seemed to attract them. The point was: anyone can do this, something I underlined in that intro. You don’t have to be a publishing insider or an award-winning writer or some kind of Doogie Howseresque prodigy.
That’s what’s truly revolutionary about what has happened over the last five years. And that, I think, is why so many people reacted so violently to the rise of self-publishing. Publishers hated it because we were stealing their readers and tempting their writers to jump ship. Agents hated it because if authors published their own work, they didn’t get a cut. Booksellers hated it because self-publishers primarily focused on e-books and they didn’t (want to) sell them.
Of course, that’s a gross simplification, and many agents and publishers and booksellers now get that it’s not a zero sum game, and that having authors who self-publish can be a winning proposition for everyone. But it took a while to get to that point.
Back to me and my inadequacies.
Clueless as I may have been, I was still aware that any self-help/how to title leans heavily on the authority of the author. And I didn’t have any.
I puzzled on this for a while. I knew the advice in the book was pretty good because I had gotten it from authors a lot smarter and more successful than me, so I wasn’t worried on that front. The real question was, how would I get people to take a chance on someone who has been writing for ten minutes?
Well, the first obvious thing was that the book had to encapsulate the values it was espousing, with a sharp cover, professional editing, super clean formatting, a catchy blurb, and a price where readers wouldn’t think twice. I launched it at $2.99, figuring I’d edge it up by a dollar or two when (or if!) it got some good reviews – and that’s pretty much how it played out.
However, that wouldn’t really solve the authority problem. For that I had to wheel out the big guns.
I remember when I was on the fence about whether to self-publish. It’s a much easier decision today than it was in 2011, let me tell you. What finally gave me the confidence was a series of monthly threads on KBoards where self-publishers gathered to announce their sales totals.
Self-publishing was a much smaller community then and everyone pretty much knew each other. I was sitting on the sidelines, still undecided, and watching all these authors post incredible sales totals. A handful had some experience in traditional publishing, but most had started from nowhere, just like me. And when I tried to think what might hold a newbie back from self-publishing, I remembered those amazing and inspiring threads.
The penny dropped. Here was the missing piece. I drew up a list of thirty-or-so names, deliberately avoiding the very biggest names (because that’s who the media focused on, leading newbies to falsely assume they were the only ones selling anything). I composed an email inviting these authors to make a short contribution about their journey. Then I sent it out thinking I’d get maybe five or six replies.
I remember Bob Mayer replying right away, with his contribution attached. Here was a guy who had huge success in traditional publishing, with millions of copies in print, and who was now tearing it up in self-publishing and in the process of setting up his own publishing company. And he took time to reply to a nobody like me. And not just reply, but give me a pitch perfect contribution too.
And then the rest of the replies came in. Even the one person who turned down the “opportunity” was nice and polite about it. Amazingly, the rest said yes. (And my thanks again to all of you.)
Which gave me a problem. A high quality problem, no doubt, but now I had to restructure the book a little. My editor was a great help there. She also had over a decade’s experience working (and writing) for traditional publishers so she was able to catch some of my more egregious errors and definitely went above and beyond the call of duty on this job.
We all start from zero. While writing is pretty solitary, we never really get anywhere without help from those who went before. It’s one of the most incredible things about the self-publishing community – the willingness to help each other, from the top all the way down. I certainly got a lots of it from my peers.
Beta reads, blurb help, group promo invitations, title suggestions, craft advice, box set opportunities, marketing help, career pow wows, the list is endless. I’ve always tried to pay it forward because I was given so much assistance along the way. And those considerations influence a lot my decisions:
- When the first edition of Let’s Get Digital launched, I also made it a free PDF download on my site.
- Three years later, when releasing the second edition of Digital, I uploaded it over the first edition so that original purchasers could get the update for free, even though that meant I was leaving lots of money on the table.
- Now in 2016, after sales of Digital finally started to dwindle, I decided to make it free, everywhere.
Before anyone rushes to anoint me Good Samaritan of the Year, there are also self-interested aspects to all these decisions:
- By making the PDF of the first edition free, I was able to further assuage any concerns from prospective readers related to my lack of experience/authority. I could (and did) tell them to try the free PDF, and if they liked it they could buy the e-book version for a friend.
- Giving the second edition free to purchasers of the original reactivated the recommendation network which had made the book a bestseller in the first place.
- Just like with any series, having a free (or cheap) intro can boost sales of the other titles. In this case, Let’s Get Visible will hopefully get a boost off the back of Digital being free.
So there you have it. Let’s Get Digital will be free for the foreseeable future. Maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months, maybe forever – we’ll see. The cool thing about self-publishing is that I get to decide, no one else, and for those reasons which are important to me.
If you want to grab a copy, or point a writer friend towards it, you can do so using them handy link things on the right.
Obviously, I can"t make the paperback edition free, and have no control over the price of the audiobook edition, but if you are in the US, it should be Whispersynced on Amazon, meaning you can download it for a couple of dollars – which is the best I can do on that front.
That’s it from me. Sorry about the long silence, I’ve been getting a new series ready for launch (at last!). And if you want to hear more about that, sign up to my New Release mailing list for an early exclusive.