Let’s Throw It Out the Window and See if it Lands

This is a big month for me in my effort to make the most of the brave new realm of indy publishing. Beginning with a launch party at the Wisconsin Writers Institute, I will introduce to the world (or will have introduced, depending on when you read this), my new novel, Lucy in the Sky, in all its forms: ebook, paperback, and author-narrated audio. Those of you who have followed this blog will know that I employed the same three-format attack with my last novel, World Series of Murder, but the circumstances now are substantially different. WSOM was an experiment, my first effort to grasp the realities of the post-paper market. Lucy represents a new level of mastery of those realities. With this book, I’m playing for keeps. With this book, I will learn if my business model is viable, both in the sense of economics and in the sense of what soothes a writer’s soul.

I have already learned quite a lot.

I have learned, for example, that there’s more satisfaction than I ever imagined in controlling all the design elements of the work. When you hold in your hands the print version of Lucy in the Sky (as, naturally, I’m hoping that some of you will), you’ll have a product 100 percent created by me. I did the cover art, designed the layout, chose the typeface, even created the publishing company (Bafflegab Books – ta da!) under whose imprint to release it. With total control over every aspect of the book’s look-and-feel, I enjoyed an even more fulfilling artistic experience than even writing the darn thing. In a nutshell, this book is all me, and I’m a bit thrilled by that.

With the publication of Lucy also, I have undergone a crucial psychological and semantic shift, one I commend to your attention. This book is not self-published. Rather, it’s indy published, and as such it takes its place in popular culture alongside indy music, video and film. For someone who has long struggled with the stigma of “self-publishing equals vanity press equals crap,” I find this change of perspective to be nothing less than revelatory. Working within the indy publishing space, I’m like any other boutique entrepreneur, making his own creative choices and standing behind the choices he makes. In other words, I’m now not just an author but an artist as well.

The clouds have parted and the sky’s turned blue.

For those interested in the nuts and bolts of the thing, here are the primary tools I used. For cover art, I used GIMP 2, a graphic design program available for free download. For the text I used Mobipocket Creator, also free, and very easy to use. I did the audio in partnership (and revenue share) with spokenwordinc.com. For my dead-tree partner I chose CreateSpace because it publishes directly to Amazon, which means that all versions of the book are readily available in the same place. Tinyurl.com helps me direct people to that place by generating an umbrella web address – www.tinyurl.com/Lucy1969 – for all versions. Tinyurl.com is handy tool you should definitely exploit, as it lets you reduce long, cumbersome web addresses to short, slick and memorable ones. It’s useful in all kinds of ways, so keep it in the back of your mind.

Oh, and not for nothing, but I’ve written a pretty terrific little novel here. Lucy in the Sky is a coming-of-age story set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1969. Our hero is a fifteen-year-old boy who wants to be a hippie in the worst way. He has no idea what that means, really, just knows that there are none to be seen in the suburban cultural wasteland he calls home. Then, on the first day of summer, 1969, into his life waltzes this incredibly hip, very wise, outrageous, audacious, hot and sexy seventeen-year-old girl cousin, Lucy. Good news: she’ll teach him everything she knows about hippies. Bad news: even while preaching honesty and honor, she is not at all what she seems. The book is of the genre voice fiction (a novel, that is, with something to say) and I intend its story of acceptance to appeal to “young seekers and old geezers alike.” Here’s a peek at the cover.

Will it sell? One never knows. That’s why I’m using on this the same philosophy I use on everything: Let’s throw it out the window and see if it lands. I advance with hope and desire but without attachment and without expectation. The experience of publishing this book will be exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less. It may open new doors to me, create new fans and new opportunities. Or it may vanish unremarked. I can’t control that part. But I can tell you that I’m terribly excited by the sense of empowerment I feel. With control over every single element of the book, from its conception and thematic intent, through its design and production, to marketing and promotion, I feel completely in command. With the advent of this book, I’m not only an author and an artist but also fully and completely the boss.

You can be, too. I can’t stress that enough. Everything I’m doing in the post-paper world is merely a matter of using available tools to achieve creative ends. I’m crap with tools, folks, and I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you can do it, too. You can get your words out there, in exactly the form you desire, with no interference from anyone, and with nothing but the quality of your work upon which to be judged. The walls of publishing have all fallen; we’re all independent artists now. So pick something you’ve been dying to publish and just darn do it. Throw it all out the window. Some of it’s bound to land somewhere.

Image by paint~dima.


About John Vorhaus

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!


  1. says

    I admire your gumption and your entrepreneurial spirit. Self-published, excuse me, indie authors have to get over the stigma and take pride in their work. We live in an exciting age where there are the tools to create great books and get them directly to our audience. Kudos to you on your book. I will check it out.

  2. says

    What an encouraging word!
    Like the way you stressed the entrepreneurial aspect, the opportunity of the experience.
    Best with your book, John!

  3. says

    I love your blurb about Lucy in the Sky. It definitely sounds intriguing and fun to read!

    I think the mind-shift from being self-published to being an entrepenuer is an important one. There is a whole lot of stuff writers have to learn and embrace, but any time you start a business, that’s the case. It’s nice to know that you have had a good experience, and thanks for sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way.

  4. says

    You are an author, motivational speaker, teacher, entrepreneur, comedian, artist, musician all rolled into one. Jack of all trades and Master of ALL!!! Thank you for your generosity in sharing your expertise and knowledge. It empowers me on all levels. I am thrilled to be an Indy publisher myself. I wrote my first book, CANDYGIRL for personal satisfaction and to cross it off my bucket list but you have propelled me forward to now share it with the world via all the amazing tools available in this digital age!!! From hustling candy to hustling books, I love it!!!

  5. Just Slightly Skeptical says

    Self-publishing by any other name is still self-publishing. I suspect readers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in this developing electronic world. They’re catching on to the little tricks authors use to say, “See, I’m not a self-publisher.”

    Publisher Imprint X, # of employees 1, equals self-publishing.

    • says

      Pardon me for speaking on his behalf, but I think Jon’s point was less that it’s a different actual process and more that it’s a different mentality. FOR HIM. He had to adjust, had to look through a new lens, had to have a sort of revelation, in order to fully understand, appreciate and be proud of what he was doing. He’s not trying to trick anyone. He’s simply embracing the path he chose. (As we all should.)

      Self published does not equal bad, just as traditional publishing does not equal good. With ANY kind of publishing, there is going to be good and bad and everything in between. What I think we ALL hope is that the distribution along that spectrum moves more and more toward the good side — again, in ALL types of publishing.

  6. says

    Just Slightly Skeptical: I agree that readers are becoming more skeptical, but they’re also becoming more transparent to the source of the material. A good read is a good read, regardless of the imprint. And thanks to “crowd sourcing,” the market can now speak for itself, rather than just listen to the publisher’s opinion.

    I detect a note of disdain in your post and that’s fine. I honor and respect that point of view — though I myself find it burdensome. To me, the current market is not a good thing or a bad thing, just a thing that is. My job is to deal with reality as I find it, not to approve or disapprove of that reality. For me, personally, calling it “indy publishing” puts me in a frame of mind where I can do the job I need to do. Others will feel differently and, again, I honor and respect that.

    For what it’s worth, I think LUCY IN THE SKY is a far better book than THE CALIFORNIA ROLL, a novel that Random House paid extravagantly for… then never promoted, distributed or marketed. I’m content to let the market tell me whether they agree with my opinion. For the foreseeable future, though, I have trouble seeing how the “giant tail” of a big publishing house really helps an author cut through the clutter in this market, and make a living as a writer.

    • says

      Great response. The work must stand on its own and the people vote with their purchasing decisions and their reviews. It’s a transparent process. It’s not us versus them. The publishing universe now has the capacity to generate the widest diversity of voices imaginable and that is ultimately a good thing for readers.

  7. Allison says

    I can think of a lot of old-timey authors who ‘self-published’ . . . Virginia Woolf and the Bronte sisters, for example. I think they’d be eaten alive in today’s market!
    As a Wisconsin girl (La Crosse and Madison) I’m excited to read your LUCY! As I remember it, the 70s and early 80s were cool in Wisconsin because you still had this hippie culture (we had lotsa friends living on houseboats and in teepees, and in 19th century schoolhouses) who didn’t really start to assimilate until the 90s.

  8. says

    Hi Allison,
    I hope LUCY passes your Wisconsin muster. I’ve had some readers from there who say that I really “nailed” both Milwaukee and Madison from back in the day, which pleases me because it validates my “do the least you can do” approach to research. Seriously, I find as I become more adept at some of the internet’s other tools (not just google maps and wikipedia, without which I would be lost, but also deeper archives and other research troves) I’m finding more and more shortcuts to verisimilitude. Perhaps that will be my next post: “Shortcuts to Verisimilitude.” Anyway, let me know what you think. -jv

  9. Allison says

    I just ordered my copy! I’m having my mom read it too, since, “ya know,” she was born in ’57 in Kenosha and I’ll think she’ll enjoy it.

  10. says

    Will you be publishing Lucy through Pubit for us Nook readers?

    As a fellow indie publisher, I appreciate the tips on Tinyurl.com and Spokenwordinc.com. Those are 2 tools I haven’t heard of before but definitely need to investigate as I’m in the midst of getting my debut novel, Getaway Girlz, out there, in for-sale land. Ahh!

  11. says

    Allison, thanks for your support. I know your mom will dig it. Like me, she was probably just a shade too young to be a hippie and has these unrequited urges.

    Julie, thanks for your support. I used to joke that “I define myself through service,” but as I live longer, it’s more and more starting to be true.

    Robbyn, I have no current plans to publish through Nook. My thinking — flawed though it may be — is to consolidate my efforts with Amazon. However, “Make the latest possible decision based on the best available information.” If I get demand from a lot of Nookniks, I will do the necessary legwork. Thanks for the tip.


    • says

      John, you’d have one sale for sure on Nook if you decided to publish through Pubit. It’s very simple and if you already have an .epub file, couldn’t hurt!

      I did consider only publishing on Amazon, but I decided I didn’t want to limit myself to just one avenue. I expect most of my sales to come through Amazon, but the 10 minute investment in Pubit has already paid off. I can’t buy a private island in the Caribbean yet (hardly), but still worth it.

      Wish you all the best.

  12. says

    After ten years of trying to get six novels published in the traditional publishing world, I made the leap and published my first mystery novel, The Forty Column Castle, in December 2011. Like you, John, I found immense satisfaction in having artistic control of the project. I published through Bookbaby (Bookbaby.com). They converted the word doc to mobi and epub and distributed it to Amazon, Nook, Sony Reader, Ibooks, Copia, Kobobooks and several others. I paid them $99 for conversion, $149 for the cover art which I really like and $19 for the ISBN number. They take no percentage but rather make their money in up front fees. I like their work and working with them. (No, Bookbaby does not pay me promotional fees.) I published the book digitally and have no plans to publish in print. I’m betting on the expanding digital market and not the shrinking print market. Besides, I have to decide where my energy and money are best invested. I look as publishing as a business, and, gosh, I might be able to make some money. I hadn’t thought about writing that way until I became a publisher.

    I agree with what you say about boutique publishing. I like that image. I have been thinking of myself as a self-publisher, but indie publisher describes better what is happening in publishing today. It is no longer a world controlled by a few, but open to new and exciting publishing ideas. (I was one of those who scoffed at self-published books.) I found the same thing – that artistically, self-publishing, has been as satisfying as writing is. That was a surprise to me, and I think it has to do with artistic control. (I saw the PBS documentary on Woody Allen last fall and was impressed most by his always maintaining artistic control of his projects. I said to myself, hey, I can do that.) The project’s success depends entirely on me.

    Fast forward to the reader: they don’t really understand the world of publishing. (I find those of us in it are hard put to do the same.) So when I say I’m published, readers don’t ask who published you, they ask what the book is about, and, if it interests them, where can I buy it. I write to entertain readers, and they don’t seem to care who publishes the book. They want a good book.

    I finally feel that I am a real author. It has taken me ten years and 10,000 hours but I feel like I have arrived. John, I like the feel of your concept of being an independent artist. I’m with you on throwing it out the window, but I’d say let’s see where it lands instead of if it lands because we have some say on where it lands, if we do the right promotion.

    I have my current WIP underway. The next book, The Hieroglyphic Staircase, will go to Bookbaby in a week and will be available for e-readers in June. I have a publishing schedule and am thinking to publish all six of those darn books I’ve completed. Everyday is a new discovery in the new wide open world of publishing which I heartily embrace. Thanks, John, for the tips and good luck to you!

  13. says

    Welcome to the club. And best wishes for success. I’ve managed to turn my indy-publishing habit and work into a book-design business, so you never now what the result of throwing it out the window will be.

  14. says

    John, a tip: if you also publish with Smashwords, your book will be marketed on Barnes & Noble–and Sony, and Apple, and others. No charge.