AUTHOR INTERVIEW: THE WELL-FED SELF-PUBLISHER'S PETER BOWERMAN

Peter Bowerman, a veteran commercial freelancer and business coach, is the author of the 2000 award-winning Book-of-the-Month Club selection, The Well-Fed Writer, and its 2005 companion volume, TWFW: Back For Seconds (both self-published; www.wellfedwriter.com). His books have become how-to “standards” on starting a lucrative commercial freelancing business – writing for businesses, large and small, and for rates of $50-125+ an hour. He chronicled his self-publishing success (52,000 copies of his first two books in print and a full-time living for over five years) in his third book, the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com.


About the Book:

Landing a publisher has never been harder. Even when you do, count on anemic royalty rates, 18 to 24 months to publication, and giving up the rights to your book. And you’ll still be expected to do most of the marketing yourself! There’s a better way. Thanks to the Internet, self-publishing has become easier, more viable, and more potentially lucrative than ever before.

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher is a step-by-step how-to guide to help authors successfully and profitably self-publish their titles. It is based directly on the successful self-publishing of my first two books (currently 52,000 copies in print). The subtitle of the book is not hype: my first book earned me a full-time living for over four years, and both books together, six-plus.

“Self-publishing” still carries a stigma, and sadly, in most cases, it’s earned and deserved. I’ve been successful largely because of my commitment to creating a superior product, both in form and content – all the “how-to” details of which I share in this book. With TWFSP, I help to raise the bar on self-publishing so that thousands of self-publishing authors don’t keep needlessly sabotaging themselves.

Comprehensive Scope

Far more than just a book about the self-publishing process, TWFSP also features an entire chapter (Two) on developing the crucial “marketing mindset” most creative types lack, plus chapters on virtually every aspect of book marketing and promotion, plus distribution, POD, and five appendices (including extensive resources, timeline, foreign rights, and more). Visit “Why This Book?” (page xix) to learn why this book stands out in its field, though, in a nutshell, there are five keys:

· Sales and Marketing Discussion (for non-salesy “Creatives”)

· A Radically Different Approach to Marketing (Internet, not media)

· Focus on Process and Profit (most books focus only on the first)

· Personal, Engaging Writing Style (making learning a blast!)

· One Big “Real-World” Case Study (totally non-theoretical)


Welcome to The Writer's Life, Peter. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Well, as many people know, when I started, I had no writing background, no paid professional writing experience – had never been paid to write anything, in fact. I came out of a sales background (15 years before I even started my writing business). I always wanted to write for a living, but wasn’t willing to starve at it. When I came across the “commercial” writing field: writing freelance for companies, and for hourly rates of $50-125+, and the subject of my first two Well-Fed Writer titles (the ones whose successful self-publishing outcome – 52,000 copies in print and a full-time living for 5+ years – spawned The Well-Fed Self-Publisher), I had an epiphany. This was how I’d do it!

I really wanted it to work so I hit it hard, made something like 1000 phone calls in the first few months and in less than four months, was paying all my bills and working at it fulltime. Minus the waiting tables thing at night! ;)

So, I actually had very little background as a writer – which is, I think, one of the things that makes my story a good one and inspirational one for a lot of people.

Can you tell us about The Well-Fed Self-Publisher, and why you wrote it?

Check out virtually any writer’s publication or web site, and chances are, you’ll come across one or more articles about the challenges of getting published – along with tips, strategies, tricks, etc. So many want it, but so few manage to get it.

Even those authors who are admitted to The Publishing Kingdom quickly discover that the emperor truly has no clothes: anemic royalties, 18-24 months to publication, loss of creative control, surrendered book rights and the unpleasant realization that even after giving up all that, authors are still expected to shoulder the lion’s share of the book promotion burden themselves! All to earn – in most cases – far less than a buck a book.

I felt that for most authors, self-publishing was truly viable, and given how much time and energy they’d have to invest even in a conventional publishing scenario if they wanted success – and all for a lousy return – didn’t it make more sense to do it yourself and keep control of the process, the timetable, the rights, and most of the money?

I felt my story was a good one, and one worth telling. Oh, and yes, I thought I could make money! Because my formula had worked twice, it could work again (and has). Yes, that success benefits me, but it also reaffirms the fundamental validity of the book’s premises.

What kind of research was involved in writing “The Well-Fed Self-Publisher”?

I pretty much chronicled my own successful self-publishing venture, which is one of the key selling points of the book: It’s One Big Case Study. Far from theoretical, it’s my own story of how I went from just an idea for one book (and eventually two) to then producing it and bringing it to market to having it generate a substantial income stream. I cover every step of the way, in exhaustive detail. When finished, the reader will know exactly what he or she needs to do at every step of the way to duplicate my success. Obviously, everyone’s book is different, but I share how I did it.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

As a self-publisher, I had total control over the book cover. Right out of the gate, with my first book, The Well-Fed Writer, I hired a professional graphic designer (which is the least you should do, if not a professional book cover designer, which is what I now recommend to people), NOT a friend who was artistic or who’d taken a course or two on graphic design.

With my designer in tow, we went to our local B&N, camped out in front of the writing section for an hour, pulling books off the shelf and studying them for what worked, what didn’t, and why. Armed with my preferences and her expertise, she went away and came back with four designs, one of which ended up being the final. The second and third books just leveraged the same graphic layout, just changing out the colors and text. View covers at http://wellfedwriter.com/books.shtml and http://www.wellfedsp.com/orderTWFSP.html.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

It’s actually gone quite well as a self-published author. It is a LOT of work, but I’m really happy I went the self-publishing route as opposed to trying to land a publisher. I’m far more in control of the entire process, including, most importantly, the money I make. I assert that a self-publishing author can do a better job than a conventional publisher in virtually ever aspect of the publishing process. Remember: No one will ever care about your book as much as you do.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Again, it’s a totally different paradigm for self-publishers. You’re in control of the timetable, which can be FAR shorter than with a conventional publisher. As noted above, it can be 18-24 months to publication with a publisher. With my books, from the time the book went to the editor till the time I had printed books in my hand has averaged 5-6 months.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Again, no agent needed for self-publishing. But, as I understand it, those wanting to get published need to have one as precious few conventional publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors.

Do you plan subsequent books?

I’m currently working on the updated version of my first book, The Well-Fed Writer, which will actually encompass and update the content of both Well-Fed Writer titles. So, when it’s all said and done, I’ll just have two books.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I’m at my most creative in the late afternoon into evening. I try not to do too much mental heavy lifting in the early hours of the day, leaving that for more administrative tasks.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I’d probably invest in a reputable PR/book promotion agency who, by virtue of long-standing contacts, might be able to more effectively get through to the mainstream media (MSM) than an unknown author might. That said, given that my books are niche books, it still might be challenging even for them. See my answer to the next question to get a sense of what HAS worked for me.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

I realized early on that TWFW was a niche book (how many people want to write for companies for a living or self-publish a book?). If you’re a relatively unknown author of a niche book, by and large, the mainstream media (MSM) just don’t care about you.

(P.S. If you DO contact MSM, make sure any release talks about your book ONLY as it relates to a topical trend of interest to readers, NOT the book itself.)

So, given my niche subject, I bypassed MSM, opting instead for a 4-step Internet-based approach:

1) IDENTIFY TARGET AUDIENCES. For TWFW, that meant writers, at-home Moms, home-based business-seekers, 55+ (the latter three because of the flexible, lucrative, home-based nature of the biz), and others.

2) DETERMINE WHERE AUDIENCES GATHER. Hundreds of web sites cater to those groups, and because of their niche focus, my pitch would resonate FAR more effectively with them than it would with MSM. Logical. And remember: niche sites like these are always looking for content relevant to their members, to ensure that they stick around.

3) CONTACT SITES. I emailed those sites, explaining who I was, why my book would appeal to their audience, and offered a review copy – with an eye toward landing book reviews, interviews, promo blurbs, green lights to write articles or be a guest blogger (like this!), etc.

4) TAKE MASSIVE ACTION. A few dozen review copies won’t build a full-time income. Think hundreds. Get that many copies of a GOOD book circulating, and you’ll reap magical word-of-mouth advertising – the gift that keeps on giving. To date, I’ve sent out 400+ review copies of TWFW. I can hear you groaning, but remember, that’s over time, AND you’ve got a secret weapon…

INTERNS: I used interns – at about $9 an hour – to build my review copy list for books #2 (TWFW: Back For Seconds) and #3, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher (TWFSP). In both cases, we started from an existing review copy list, building on it by brainstorming other avenues. I set her up with several standard cut-’n-paste email pitches (one for folks on the existing list and a second for new additions).

For each book, over the course of a summer, she built a list of 150 firm Yes’s (i.e., “Yes, we’d love to get a copy of Peter’s upcoming book”), agreeing to promote the book in any number of ways. Along the way, I’d always pick up a handful of invites to speak at this or that conference (paying expenses and speaking fee).

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Don’t put publishers on a pedestal, as being so much smarter than you, and don’t look at them as the Holy Grail. Self-publishing isn’t easy, but thanks to the Internet and with a bit of creative thinking, it’s more feasible than it’s ever been before. Good luck!

Thank you for coming, Peter! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: www.wellfedsp.com

The Well-Fed Writer titles (on lucrative “commercial” freelancing): www.wellfedwriter.com

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