Confessions Of A Self-Published Penmonkey

Hi, my name is Chuck Wendig. And I am a self-published penmonkey.

(“Hi, Chuck.”)

As you may know, my e-book of profanity-laden writing advice, CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY, is now available:

Kindle (US): Buy Here

Kindle (UK): Buy Here

Nook: Buy Here

Or, buy the PDF ($4.99) by clicking the BUY NOW button:


And, this being my second foray into the weird wild wide world of self-publishing, I thought, it is once more a good time to comment on the state of self-publishing as I see it.

What About The Readers?

Yesterday, agent Rachelle Gardner laid down some thoughts at her blog that (in a loose paraphrase) suggested that legacy publishers work more directly for readers than self-publishers. The self-published, she asserts, directly serves only the authors, and creates a more perilous environment for readers.

I get her point. I think you could make an argument that while choice is a good thing, such a glut of choice is not always a win. Too much noise and not enough signal is a loss for the readership.

I once worried to a similar point, but I’m no longer of that belief. I’m not comfortable putting a positive or negative value on it, because once you do, you start wandering down the path of false dichotomies (do this, but not this, this is awful, this is awesome, no gray area, nothing in the middle but a giant abyss filled with hungry spiders). What it means is that the environment — the publishing and authoring ecosystem — is shifting.

Which means that the role of gatekeeper is changing, too.

For legacy publishers, or traditional publishers, or “old-school pub-monkeys,” depending on whatever terminology tickles your pink parts, the gatekeeper role remains largely the same.

But both in and outside that model, driven in part by self-publishing but also in part because the world is home to a nigh-infinite selection of books, it means that the reader is becoming a gatekeeper, too. The Internet has widened the “word of mouth” in social groups considerably. Sites like Goodreads count toward this. So too does social media. Or Amazon comments. The readers are a “pure” gatekeeper in that they’re the first and last line of defense in terms of self-publishing. They give the Roman “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” in terms of whether the gladiator will be spared or made to fight another day.

In legacy publishing, other gatekeepers exist, and that’s okay, too. We must allow for and expect an ecosystem that has room for both self-published and trad-published books. We must allow for it because it’s fucking happening, no matter how much people think either one is doom, doom, DOOM. (By the way, don’t trust anybody who tells you it’s either/or. They’re zealots, plain and simple. Nobody has answers, the only truth we know is that this is going on; trying to predict the future or lay objective certainty upon all this is the same as trusting a homeless guy who will read your fortune in a pile of pigeon shit.)

For the record, the glut of choice is present already, even without self-publishing. Go into a bookstore and gaze upon the racks, then recognize that Amazon multiplies that by a factor with many zeroes.

Further, I have a pretty cynical mindset in terms of what serves who.

Writers serve writers.

Publishers serve publishers.

Readers serve readers.

Why should it be any other way? I’m not suggesting that this is a function of vanity or greed but rather, the reality of the marketplace. Because this is, after all, a marketplace.

Writers and publishers aren’t magnanimous. The only one pure of heart and innocent of motive (in general) is the reader, and it is forever the reader who is king.

Speaking Of Selfishness: More Rumblings On Price

Pricing PENMONKEY was tough. There’s such a downward trend in price that — for me, at least — I get a little shaky. I see some authors — not readers, authors — say that they won’t buy e-books now above a certain price, and sometimes that price is surprisingly bargain basement. So, here I am with a book that in part recycles material from this blog, material written over the course of two years. That’s a ding against it, right? But it’s also a huge book. 100,000+ words. And it has new content. And I paid for an extra-sexy cover, so that’s a cost that needs covering.

IRREGULAR CREATURES I priced at $2.99, and was only 45k, and is niche because it’s a collection of short stories. I felt PENMONKEY was less niche, and had twice the content, and so I noodled with twice the price. In the end, though, it seemed that five bucks was a pretty clean price. I know I’ll drop five bucks very easily. On media, on food, on anything. So, that seemed like a good place.

You likely won’t see $0.99 as a price from me. I may do sales, but I think I’m done with that as a price point. No harm, no foul to anybody else who wants to go that way (I know a number of smart, excellent writers who are rocking that price point), but it’s just not tenable for me. Not only morally (I’m stubborn), but financially. I can’t live on that price. I can’t feed my son on that price (well, technically he’s chowing down on hot tasty boob, but eventually I’ll need to buy him food). Listen, to make a barebones $35,000/year, I would need to sell 116,000 e-books over the course of a year at $0.99.

That’s a lot of goddamn books.

That number drops significantly at $2.99 — there, I only need to sell 17,500.

Still a lot, but way less epic a number.

At $4.99: ~9600 books/year.

At $6.99: ~7100 books/year.

At $9.99: ~5000 books/year.

I don’t put those numbers there as indicators of anything except, at the right prices, authors can actually earn out and become genuinely self-sufficient at higher price points.

I know this issue has greater levels of complexity than I’m stating here, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with authors who price low. Go for it. I’m just not betting on that being the right course for me and my books.

Books Breeding Like Lusty Rabbits

This isn’t new information, but having more than one book for sale is a good thing. When PENMONKEY hit, IRREGULAR CREATURES sales went up. They’re still up, actually.

This is tricky for the self-pubbed author because it means you’re under greater pressure to produce, produce, produce. Which is where you might find issues of quality lagging.

Self-Pubbing Is Still A Pain In The Ball Sack

Self-publishing takes work that goes beyond. You know this. I know this. I just want to reiterate it for those who are planning on going that route. From cover design to e-book prep to marketing to all that jazz, more of the weight falls to the author’s shoulders. Because now, author = publisher. Again, this is both good and bad. It’s just worth noting.

This time, I prepped the book for Amazon using MobiPocket, and while it took me a little bit to learn how to use it, I think it came out better. Though the table-of-contents gave me problems.

Getting the book onto the Nook marketplace was actually a lot easier. Upload, one, and done.

Smashwords can pretty much go eat a dick.

I’m not yet on iBooks. Not sure why I would, yet.

Also still considering a print version.

Goddamnit, Authors, Create A Direct Channel

Still surprising how few authors offer a direct channel to sell their e-book. Everybody’s so up in arms about “middlemen,” well, fine, then recognize that Amazon is a middleman.

I will forever sell a PDF version directly to readers. Not only do I get more value out of that (PayPal takes a far less robust cut), but it offers readers a different way of getting your book.

Why do that? Well…

Sales Numbers

I don’t know how many books I sold on the first day of release because, oops, my son — the baby penmonkey — decided he wanted to be born on Friday. (As dear friend Aaron Dembski-Bowden said, “you published a baby”). I had crapgasmic Internet at the hospital, and no way to really check how the book was doing. I did see that the book rocked up the Amazon charts, which was neat. Made it to #1444 across all Kindle books. Made it to #1 in writing reference (Kindle) and I believe #10 across writing reference books across the board (meaning, beyond the Kindle marketplace).

I know that I sold about 150 copies over the first few days of release.

A happy-making number, and again, many thanks to those who procured.

My numbers are currently at 67% Kindle, 24% PDF, and 9% Nook.

It’s that middle number that I want you to note: my direct sales through PDF are, as they were with IRREGULAR CREATURES, rocking at 20-25%. That’s a big number. Better than Nook.

Authors: offer your product directly.

Interface with the audience as one facet of sales.

What’s Next?

Well, PENMONKEY shall continue, one hopes, doing well. I’ll eventually do some contests and what-not.

I am available for interviews.

I am available for gust-bloggening.

I am available for handjobs behind the Burger King dumpster.

If you contacted me on Friday about any of these, please re-contact. I apologies, but again, that day was apeshit. Much that I probably missed, so please, re-contact.

Spread the love. If there’s anything I can do for you, please say the word.

I do anticipate a print release, but I’m not sure about Lulu or Createspace. As noted earlier, thinking on doing something with a higher-end printing that incorporates some of my photography.

Beyond that, I’ll continue to work in the self-pub space, though obviously I’m a fan of “traditional” publishing, too. Got DOUBLE DEAD coming out in November and hopefully more beyond that. Again I say that everybody needs to get used to an ecosystem that features a many-headed publishing beast. Authors are best straddling those worlds, in my opinion. Lest they fall into the spider-clogged abyss.

33 responses to “Confessions Of A Self-Published Penmonkey”

  1. 1. Your “about the author” above doesn’t mention mini-penmonkey.
    2. Every time I comment on your blog I have to type in my email and website again. On other people’s websites I am somehow automatically remembered, which is very convenient. Is this the fault of your blog configuration, or something I didn’t do?
    3. I still love paper books and don’t own a Kindle or similar, and as I edit books on screen all day I really don’t want to do more reading there. So although I really want your new book, I will wait until it is a “real” book.

    • @Natalie:

      Soon as I have time, I’ll be sure to include mini-penmonkey in there. 🙂

      On the email and website re-entering — is that happening for anyone else? I thought I had that fixed. It might be a cookie issue on your end, but if it’s happening to lots of folks, I’ll have to peer into the problem.

      Re: paper version, will keep everybody informed!

      — c.

  2. I will admit that I still need to buy Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey (waiting on a paycheck).
    My inner salesman/huckster/ballytalker really actually enjoys these posts. I am always fascinated at seeing the other end of the market, rather than just the view of the consumer.

    Would it be at all possible to gift a copy of the book? Send you the money but get the pdf sent elsewhere? I have a feeling my father would enjoy as well and due to the family war In can’t get him the Nook version without conceding the superiority of my kindle.

  3. I know I’ve said this before, but this kind of post REALLY helps me. I agree with you that the publishing industry IS changing. Like any change, some of it’s good and some of it’s not so good. The great thing about self-publishing is that you can do it yourself. It’s also the biggest drawback, because a lot of strange stuff enters the marketplace that way (I could name names! I won’t.).

    I have a book coming out over the next week or so. It’s a self-pubbed (via CreateSpace) print book of poetry. I *will* offer a ebook version at some point down the line (I need to get through this week first). But the hardest thing for me was pricing. A lot of authors are offering their books are a reduced rate. It just isn’t for me. You work hard on writing a book. Then, you design the cover (sweet fancy java, that’s a new experience). There’s a lot of work involved that might not occur to someone first thing.

    I never had a problem paying full price for any books. I like Cat Valente’s argument that we pay a chunk of change for a cup of coffee — so, why the problem doing so with books?

    Anyway, I’m rambling (I need more coffee — lots more), but I want to say (again) thank you. These posts help a lot.

    • @Ali:

      Glad the posts help! And be sure to let us know when your book drops. And, further, how your experience is with CreateSpace.

      On the subject of pricing: it’s a sticky wicket, and I understand why authors want to price low, and they may be right to do so. For me, though, I know that the cheaper a book is, the further down my reading list it falls — I have an unwitting “value” factor associated with the price I paid. So, while a may buy a bunch of $0.99 books because they’re cheap, it’s also not creating a fan out of me because I don’t really give a shit one way or the other. (A failing on my end, to be clear.) But those books I want, I pay the price. And those books tend to get read. I dunno. Plus, you go ninety-nine cents, there’s no lower you can go.

      — c.

  4. I love reading level-headed accounts of self publishing. And every time a professional adult uses the phrase “ball sack,” a kitten is born.

    Why wouldn’t you submit to iBooks? Smashwords’ meatgrinder does have a bad rep, but LibreDigital is now offering iBooks distribution to the little guy/gal as well.

    And why not offer the EPUB or Kindle versions of the book on your site? PDFs don’t lend themselves to ereaders nearly as well as the native formats. There might not be a lot of us out there, but I for one would like to buy EPUBs directly from you.

    • @Brendan:

      iBooks seems like a dead space, but I suppose that’s just me being hasty. Wonder how people are doing in that arena?

      I will eventually offer an ePub and Mobi version right through here. ePub is the tricky one: I don’t like the “home-spun” versions I come up with here. Though, I wonder, can I download the Nook ePub that B&N PubIt creates and have the file instead of forcibly uploading right to an app or reader?


      — c.

  5. Yesterday, I uploaded my book to three platforms (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords) and it turned out that smashwords was the easiest experience of the three. So, I was kind of surprised to hear that you didn’t care to publish there. YMMV I guess.

    I’m reading Penmonkey on my Nook and liking it a lot. You, sir, make profanity into poetry. I’m in awe.

    • @Margaret:

      It wasn’t so much that I found it difficult (though it did give me problems in terms of their “premium” upload, which took forever), but rather that, I only sold five copies through that site. Compared to the 600+ I’ve sold elsewhere. It just doesn’t seem all that worth it, then. I’d rather funnel folks toward Amazon, Nook, or here directly through me (which Smashwords was ultimately competing with anyway).

      — c.

    • Oh! And @Margaret: I’m glad you’re liking PENMONKEY! I’m hoping people dig it. Had kind of a negative review yesterday at Amazon (which is fair, these things happen), but it’s nice to hear that others are digging on it! Thanks!

      — c.

  6. When I finish reading PENMONKEY on my Nook, I will write a review on B&N. Like I said, I am loving it so far, and I’m sure I will continue to like it for the distance!

    Had to stop reading it in bed last night. My giggling kept hubby awake.

  7. @chuck ~ They do help. A lot. And I will definitely let you all know when the book drops. 🙂 So far, my experience with CreateSpace has been good. But full report once the ball’s officially rolling.

    As far the .99 books…I think I feel the same way you do. Only, I didn’t realize it before. Also, my experience has been that the low priced books have been less than stellar. (That’s me, being PC.) That’s just my experience so far, though; I think that’s given a bias. Hmmmm.

  8. I’ve been struggling lately with self-publishing. As in, when people call me “published,” I cringe and squint and try to fight back the urge to say, “Sssssooooortaaaaaa?” Our comic is published through Lulu and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s professional quality work with the layouts and such (and since I did that for a living for a few years, makes sense). But I still have a hard time fighting the urge to shout, “We’re not really published! It’s all self-pub!” as if that’s naturally worth oodles less.


  9. I’ve come to the personal conclusion as a reader that ebooks should cost the same as the paperback does/would. In the cases of things that couldn’t be published in paperback cost effectively at the size they are, I dunno extrapolate.

    I sometimes am even a little leery of bargain basement ebooks. Like the author isn’t sure his or her work is worth it, although I know intellectually that’s not really true. I like paying for quality work.

    I wish it made sense for me to buy the PDF rather than the Kindle edition, so that Herr Wendigsauce would get more of my dollars, but I have no device that makes reading PDFs a good experience, while reading on my Kindle is a goddamn dream come true.

    @Caytlin It seems to me that, outside of academic publishing, which is its own kettle of radioactive mutant fishmen, wether your book *sells* is what matters more than wether or not it has passed traditional gatekeepers. If you are making decent sales (especially of subsequent books) someone must want your stuff.

  10. Snatched up the Confessions as soon as I saw the post. Can’t see how this will not be a big hit for you. Glad Irregular Creatures saw a bounce too.

    Congrats !

  11. Liking Penmonkey, will write a review for Amazon. I don’t think $4.99 is too much for a full-sized book.

    I just pulled a similar-sized book out of my library; also on writing. I paid more than three times that much ten years ago, and it wasn’t hard cover nor a best seller.

    Sitting here with fingers crossed, hoping Lady Luck smiles. But until she does, Beard the Fuck on.

    • @Darlene: Thanks! BTFO, indeed. 🙂

      @Buzz: Enjoy!

      @Caitlyn: Oh, I agree. There’s a sort of internal knee-jerk reaction, even with this book, which went out on pitch w/the agent. I tell people sometimes, “Oh, my book is out,” and they’re like, “Congratulations!” And my response is, “For what? Anybody can do this.” It’s doing it well that counts, I guess. (And the jury is out if I’m managing that.)

      @Ali: I don’t think that $0.99 is an indicator of low quality. See, that’s the funny thing: I WISH it were. It’s not anymore. I can rattle off a list of writers I know and respect who are doing incredible work at that price point.

      — c.

  12. The program Jutoh produces very nice epub format, and it’s pretty damn easy to use and also not terribly expensive. Just FYI. 🙂 (Not an affiliate or anything, just a satisfied customer)

    Enjoying Confessions, BTW!

  13. @Chuck ~ I know that, intellectually. It’s just that the ones I’ve read at that price have been bad. It’s stuck in my brain! I know a some writers who are doing well that way — and good for them, I say! (Wow, funky sentence. More coffee!)

  14. My writers group put out a journal via Lulu, Chuck. It was easy as can be and handled the art work that went along with it fantabulously. See here:

    I may take you up on that interview thing.

    You may also might be interested in these two blogs on the subject you discussed today: (I caution you, this one contains ‘Smashmouth’) (hints of — get rid of the middleman)


    • @Casz:

      Ah, Dean Wesley Smith’s space. Cool!

      Will look into Lulu then, thanks!

      And definitely take me up on the interview thing! Happy to do it.


      — c.

  15. I hadn’t considered direct sales. Mostly because I don’t know how to do it. I may have to re-examine that choice. How hard can it be?

  16. You bring up the one thing I never hear others talk about: direct sales. I’ve been doing it for a while, to the point where now, we’re building an automated web site that will instantly send the e-book version purchased to the reader and accept credit cards. It’s a big investment on our part at Who Dares Wins, but the 100% (minus fee transaction for credit card) royalty rate can’t be beat.
    I view .99 as a good leader to get readers into a genre– my first Atlantis book has sold almost 3,000 copies on Kindle this month at .99 and the other five books in the series are $2.99.
    Another interesting thing you bring up is actually considering how much ‘salary’ we have to make as writers to keep the first burning in the cave. Interestingly, I’ve got paychecks coming in regularly now as a writer, with my monthly Kindle, PubIt, Apple, etc checks. This is unheard of in the realm of traditional publishers where I could go six months and not see a dime.
    Of course, now that Eisler signed today with Thomas and Mercer, the game gets even murkier.

  17. Chuck, I’m curious if you’re using an automailer for your PDF and if so, what it is? I put a Paypal automailer together a few years ago, but mothballed it because one of the PHP components wasn’t so compatible with PHP5. I’m debating if I want to replace it. Laziness versus covering-all-bases, I guess.

    • @Linda:

      Nope. No automailer. The hard part of offering the PDF is that I offer it by hand (aka by email), so, say, if PERCHANCE one has a son born on the same day one’s book releases, it becomes very hard to fulfill those orders. 🙂

      So, that’s the downside of no automailer.

      Upside is, I have a little more personal contact with those who procure the book.

      — c.

  18. Another vote for an ePub version – far superior reading experience on my iPad b/c I can resize it. Even a crappy version is better from my personal POV than PDF. Direct & DRM-free is better than iBooks but I confess that iBooks is damn convenient.

  19. Yet another vote for ePub. I bought the PDF for my iPad – I have the Kindle app on there, but I prefer iBooks. And I’m more than happy to drop a fiver to help feed penmonkey junior, having enjoyed the blog so much. (I have to be careful about reading it at work, as it makes me laugh out loud. Excessively.)

    Good point about selling direct, too. One of the reasons I love my publishers (apart from the fact that they pay me money!) is that they are really on the ball with this. They sell DRM-free ePubs direct from their website, at around $4.99, which seems to me entirely reasonable for a 100k-ish book. No way am I going to pay hardback prices for an ebook – particularly in a proprietary format that could be dead in a decade’s time – but as a writer, I balk at giveaway prices too. I know some very respected writers are doing it (and my publishers sometimes do it as a limited-time offer, to boost Amazon rankings), but people don’t value cheap goods, so I think it’s doing all writers a disservice in the long run (which in Internet time is not very long at all).

  20. […] Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey – from terribleminds, Chuck Wendig. Ok. This requires a bigger commitment than the other two. This link will take you to Chuck’s blog, where, if you are anything like me, you will fall madly in love with his voice and feel compelled to buy this book. He has links on this page that can get you wherever you want to go so you can do just that. […]

  21. Technical question about the PDF: do you have sales tax issues for sales of the PDF since you’re selling it yourself? I like the idea of being able to serve the reader by selling a PDF or such, but I wouldn’t want to run into any tax issues.

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