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August 15, 2005

Self Publish or Perish

Andy Kessler and Seth Godin convinced me to self publish.  Although Seth first suggested it, it was Cory Doctorow who gave the compelling reasons for making the online version of My Novel (I’m being coy about the title for now) available free.

In the days when my father, Bernard Evslin, was alive and a well-published author, vanity publishing was the refuge of untalented dilettantes. My mother, Dorothy, also published, is still writing and I can sense her skepticism although she is supportive.

When I was a kid I always thought I’d be a writer because my parents were, never really considered anything else.  I wrote for school literary magazines and newspapers, edited same, chronicled the angst of my inept teenage courting, and collected rejection slips for soft porn from Playboy and SciFi mags alike.  Recited my own poetry in a black turtleneck from a stepladder at tea dances (really) and coffee shops.  Started writing a couple of novels but always outgrew the protagonist before getting halfway through.

“Earn your living at something else,” my father said, “and then you can write what you want.”  He was often bitter.  Most writers hate their publishers and are, at best, ambivalent about their agents.  He’d approve if this end run on traditional publishing succeeds.

As college graduation loomed, I had no desire to go to graduate school so I took my father’s advice and looked for a job.  I had programmed at the Harvard Computing Center to earn tuition and that was a much better employment credential in 1965 than my BA in American History and Literature.  I thought I was fibbing in my job applications when I said I wanted to make a career in electronic data processing; my real intention was to write books and earn a living for a short while as a programmer.

In the next forty years I wrote lots of programs, some of them pretty good.  I wrote documentation, half of another abandoned novel, love poems for Mary, company press releases (to the dismay of everybody), brochures, op eds, magazine columns, patent applications, court briefs (well, co-wrote), letters to the editor, as much of my company’s prospectus and annual reports as the lawyers would let me get away with, ad copy (lousy), brochures, macros, spreadsheets, search engine queries, and ad libbed all of my own speeches to the dismay of the AT&T speech writers.  I must have written a zillion emails.  But I wasn’t an author, not in the way I meant to be.

I had meant to take my father’s advice concurrently and ended up taking it serially.  Almost as soon as I retired as CEO of ITXC a year ago this summer, I began work on My Novel.  It’s an historic murder mystery set in the first Internet bubble and rubble.  I had a ringside seat in 1998-2003.  It’s fun to tell the story.  It’s more fun for me to do it in fiction than any other way.  And the first draft of the book is done.

My Novel is going to appear first on the web.  I’ve been in software so long that I’m gonna start with a beta release version 0.91 published on a blog engine.  It’ll be free; you can subscribe to it; you can visit it online; you can file bug reports and feature requests; you can roast it in comments; and there’ll be other ways to interact online as well.  The fictional company in the book will have a real website.  That SHOULD all start in a month or two (hey, this IS like software).

The edited e-book version 1.0 will follow and then the hardcover edition early next year (incorporating all bug fixes, of course).  By then I think word of blog will have determined how many we need to print in our first run.  Newbie authors don’t usually get traditional reviews, even less so if they self publish.  Blogs have become a bypass around traditional media gatekeepers in many ways.  It’s my bet that’ll happen with books as well.  Web marketing is primary for this enterprise!

We’ve put together a small but talented short-term virtual company for the all the many pieces that go into self publishing.  I’ll blog about them soon.

Back to my mentors:

Andy Kessler wrote about his success in self-publishing Wall Street Meat here. He shares my impatience with a publishing process which can take a year for no apparent reason.  Both the book and the column are worth reading.

Seth Godin was kind enough to personally give me the good advice he posts here for first time authors.  Boiled down, you’ve gotta promote yourself because your publisher isn’t gonna do it.  So why do you need a publisher to get in the way?

Cory Doctorow says: "For almost every writer, the number of sales they lose because people never hear of their book is far larger than the sales they'd lose because people can get it for free online. The biggest threat we face isn't piracy, it's obscurity." This is in a story by Kevin Many here in USA TODAY.  Cory practices what he preaches: his latest book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is available for free download under a Creative Commons license here.

Jeff Jarvis is also writing a book beside blogging prodigiously.  Like me he thinks that the Internet and blogging will change books and isn’t sure how.  “It’s about finally fulfilling a career-long dream to write a book because I do respect the form,” he blogs here.  Me too.

My father’s best book is The Green Hero.

My mother’s is The Fortunate Sex.

UPDATE:  My novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble is now being serialized online as a blook (book on blog) at hackoff.com.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Self Publish or Perish:

» Novel version 1.0 from Exit Zero

Retired CEO Tom Evslin says Self Publish or Perish

Almost as soon as I retired as CEO of ITXC a year ago this summer, I began work on My Novel. It’s an historic... [Read More]

» Self Publishing from newguerilla.com
Publish or perish. The web changes the meaning of the word “publish”. While any weblog-hack nowadays calls himself an “author”, there still is quite a gap between the average blogspotter and H.M. Hemmingway. Tom Evslin wrote a... [Read More]

» One Man's Journey to On-Line Publishing from Blogfic
Tom Evslin of Fractals of Change has an interesting post about his decision to self-publish a novel he's working on. Tom has worked in technology for years and his novel will be a murder mystery set during the dot-com bubble. His post contains li... [Read More]

» Fractals of Change: Self Publish or Perish from Churbuck.com
Fractals of Change: Self Publish or Perish Tom Evslin blogs a book online. thanks to Fred Wilson for the pointer.... [Read More]


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