Wil Wheaton is many things, including a blogger, author, voice actor, special correspondent to the BBC, social commentator, and an actor. Recently Wil published his latest book, Sunken Treasure, on Lulu.com. He was kind enough to share some insight into his experiences with traditional publishing, marketing his book, and his future plans for publishing.
Can you tell us a little about Sunken Treasure? Why did you choose Lulu and Print On Demand over Traditional Publishing?
Everything you ever wanted to know about Sunken Treasure can be found in this entry at my blog, but here’s the story of how this whole thing came together, and how I found my way to Lulu.
When I published my first book, Dancing Barefoot, way back in 2002, I was at a point in my acting career where it was incredibly difficult to get work, but as a writer and blogger, I was finding all kinds of unexpected success. Rather than struggle to compete in the publishing arena the way I was struggling to compete in the acting arena, I decided to self-publish and take my work directly to the people who I thought would like it the most: the people who were reading my blog. I hoped they would respond to it and it would help build an audience for my second book, Just A Geek.
I was totally unprepared for the success I had with it, and I soon found myself spending more time packing and shipping books out of my house than I was spending writing new material. It was awesome, but way too time consuming. I looked into POD back then, but the technology and quality that was available just didn’t work for me. When I held a POD book in 2002, I felt like I was holding a POD book (contrasted to now, when I can’t tell the difference between a POD book and a book from a major publisher.)
Around this time, I was approached by an editor from a major publisher about taking over the distribution of Dancing Barefoot, as well as the future publication of Just A Geek. I was overjoyed to be “really” published, and to have more time to write again, and made a deal without very much thought.
It ended up being the biggest disappointment of my then-fledgling writing career, and remains one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. The whole experience was really depressing, but the worst thing of all is that I worked harder on Just A Geek than I’ve worked on anything before or since, and have still earned less from it than I earned from my self-published release of Dancing Barefoot. The publisher insisted on marketing it in a way that did nothing to expand the audience I was already able to reach on my own, and basically blew me off when I repeatedly begged them to change course. I hired a PR firm at great expense, and they did pretty much the same thing. I vowed that I would never again go the “traditional” route with my future books.
Last year, I published my third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I used everything I learned from Dancing Barefoot and Just A Geek, and it was a wonderful experience that really helped me put food on the table. However, I had to make a considerable investment to print the books, had to give up a lot of space in my house to store them, and was once again unprepared for the demand. I ended up spending a lot of time packing and shipping orders, and not as much time actually writing. (By the way, this is a great problem to have, and I’m not complaining about it. It’s just that, practically, there are only so many hours in the day, you know?)
I’ve been making these neat little chapbooks at a local printer for the last few years, then taking them with me to cons in the summer. They’re deliberately lo-fi, and make me feel like I’m putting together a ‘zine, just like I did when I was in my early 20s. Last year, my editor and I put together one called Sunken Treasure, that ended up being something much cooler than we’d expected. When we were done, we both wondered if it would make sense to try and take it to a wider audience than the 200 people who’d get the lo-fi version over the summer.
The problem was, it’s only 90 pages, I didn’t know if there would be any audience for it, and I wasn’t willing to invest in the 1000 or so copies or so that I’d have to store in my house and ship myself. But in January, a couple of my friends published books with Lulu (Jamais Cascio’s Hacking the Earth and Lee Barnett’s The Fast Fiction Challenge) and they were very happy with the whole experience. They told me how easy it was, how fast it was, and – most importantly – how great the books felt when they held them in their hands. That last bit was the clincher for me, and I decided to go ahead and give Lulu a try with Sunken Treasure. So far, it’s been an absolutely wonderful experience.
Who designed your cover for you?
A friend of mine named Matt Brooker, who frequently does work under the pseudonym D’Israeli. He’s a pretty well-known comic book artist and writer, and when he heard the title of my book, he showed me that cover and told me that I could use it if I wanted it. I pretty much fell in love with it right away, especially the little binary bubbles.
What suggestions do you have for authors trying to market their own book?
Nobody in the world, no matter what they tell you, is going to work as hard as you will to sell your book. Unless you’re a huge famous author who is already earning six figure advances, your book is only going to sell as well as you work to promote it.
At the very least, read and study books on marketing. I highly-recommend The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross, and The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. I’m sure there are others, but those are the first two I read, and the ones I keep coming back to.
Understand that there is smart marketing and publicity, and useless marketing and publicity. It’s really worth your time to talk to people who have experience so you can learn the difference between the two, and once you get some of your own, be willing to share it with anyone who asks. We’re all in this indie publishing thing together, you know.
Also, never underestimate the value of kindness. That goes for everything, too, not just publishing.
Tell us about any future Lulu books you may have planned.
My experience with Sunken Treasure has been so great, I’m giving serious consideration to using Lulu for an audio version, as well as audio versions of future books. Just this morning, I made a DRM-free PDF version available for $5, and if the response is good enough, I’ll do digital versions of other works in the future.
As far as books go, I have some original fiction projects in the works, as well as a print version of my Star Trek review column from TV Squad. My experience with Lulu has been so fantastic, I can’t imagine releasing them any other way.
Nick Popio writes for the Lulu Blog – Archived