The rise of self-publishing: Forced to reinvent the wheel

I never would’ve believed it, but there it was. A paper letter. In my hands. An outright rejection of my manuscript submission to a “respectable” publisher located in New York.

“We’re sorry. But you did not submit your materials to us in the form we wanted. Please buy a current copy of ‘Writer’s Marketplace’ and see our submission guidelines there. If you cannot afford to purchase a copy, your local library probably has a copy you can check out.”

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I was confused because I had the current Writer’s Marketplace on my desk. I guess I could afford it. And I had followed their submission guidelines to the tee.

At first, I thought it was an anomaly. But then more and more of those letters arrived.  I began to wonder if I was insane and not reading the guidelines properly, or if they were insane. Come to find out, there as a huge turnover in the major publishing houses and layoffs became the order of the day as they took shortcuts in their process and began to produce more and more junk. I may write more about that another day.

I also continued to receive other hints that were guaranteed to make me more valuable to these New York agents, editors, and publishers. Why, they wanted to see my marketing plans and proof of my platform.

What do you, Little Unpublished Author, plan to do to market yourself? Please send samples of advertising flyers, your marketing budget and respected magazines in which you plan to advertise. 

Further, we also need proof that you are famous and people will want to purchase your book. 

Thank you, and remember: Here at Twiddle-Dee-Dum Famous Publishing House, we are always interested in new writers.

I even had one business book publisher steal my outline for my resume prep book. I know this because it was for sale in Waldenbooks (remember them?) across the country. I stood in the aisle, laughed out loud, and silently cursed him.

I flipped through the pages. He hadn’t changed a thing. Plunk. There it was. Yet his vituperative, demeaning, and insulting rejection letter clearly stated that I was an idiot and no one would publish such trash.

In typical “head against brick wall” fashion, I did this for over ten years. But when I saw that my work had been stolen, that’s when I said, “Damn it all to hell. I’ll just do it myself.”

As a graphic designer and print broker, I was in a prime position to do that, and do it well.

I came out with a much better version of my resume book, and sold a pile of them on this new little website called under a program they had for small publishers or those who wanted to sell their own high-quality books. It was sweet and awesome. My book went into public and university libraries across the country. Sweet.

Having gotten the infamous G. Gordon Liddy to blurb the book, a few months after it was released, Liddy’s producer invited me to Washington, DC, to be on his nationally syndicated radio show. You can hear that interview here.

On the strength of that interview, I had radio interviews scheduled across the nation. Then September 11, 2001, and radio changed forever. Who wanted to talk about resumes when the nation was under attack?

In any case, I had built my “platform.” Hey, I could say I was a “somebody” now and proceeded to get an agent who represented my series of children’s books to the bigs in the publishing world.

But then the agent went through a divorce and sold his agency to somebody who started pitching my book to vanity press companies — also known as print brokers — and I ended that relationship.

Howard Lovy blog post on this subject was a fun read. You may enjoy his tale of his grandfather’s and father’s self-publishing efforts.

Suffice it to say that I’ve come out with more books. Business, children’s, a memoir, and have a series of novels I’m in the planning stages for release. You can see the high-quality nature of the design here of all books available on I get real editors for these. I’ve hired real artists with whom I have real, lawyer-negotiated and -written contracts delineating rights and responsibilities for all parties.

So, yeah. I’m a big fan of high-quality self-publishing for those with a business plan. I’m even a fan of rough self-publishing if that plan is simply to mark for posterity a person’s eye-witness account of history, or a family’s history.

But you want to know the absolute terrible truth? The writing, design, and publishing are the easy parts.

It’s the marketing that will kill you. More on that another time.

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