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How to Self-Publish - One Author's (Unusual) Journey

The Road to Success is Never a Straight Line


When people ask “How do I self-publish a book?” often they’re getting all caught up in the tactical stuff like getting an editor, cover design, formatting, uploading, and all the various “moving pieces” required to get your words on the digital shelves.

But I’ve always believed the answer to that question runs a LOT deeper. After all, 80% of Americans say they “want to write a book” but how many follow through?

The truth is, a lot has to happen before you even start trying to string (coherent) sentences together. And while a lot of other author sites out there love to focus on “The Top 10 Twitter Memes to Help Get More Likes!”, we prefer to dig a little into what actually makes an author.

As you can probably guess, most people don’t wake up one day and suddenly become authors. My inbox is stuffed full of stories from people who tried for years to start writing a book, only for it to languish at the bottom of a drawer somewhere and never get finished (let alone published).

Life gets in the way, more often than not.

So the real question, for me, has always been: “What sets authors apart from other people?”.

In my experience, it’s a mix of many things. Not least of which is a passion to keep trying to follow their calling, and not let anything get in the way.

And to illustrate this, today we’re hearing from Gary Collins – who worked in Military Intelligence, is a Forensic Science expert, and now writes books and creates products to help people with life simplification, primal health, and off the grid living.

As you can imagine, Gary’s road to becoming an author was hardly a straight line…

Take it away, Gary



My Story of Becoming an Author – Not a Quick Road to Riches, But a Test of Patience

Gary Collins – Creator of the Primal Power Method

Before I start my story below I think it is important to point out, I do not think my story is unique as an indie writer. After spending the last eight years pounding away on my laptop, and meeting numerous indie writers I found most of us think we are not worthy to be considered serious writers.

Many of us have no background in creative writing or anything even close in most cases. What makes us unique, is we put all that aside and get after it, we make it happen. We put ourselves out there for the world to see, and sometimes get a lot of crappy reviews and criticism along the way. With the indie movement of today and advances in technology, everyone has the ability to tell their story no matter how whacky or crazy it may seem.

While growing up I remember five main genres

  1. Science Fiction
  2. Fantasy
  3. Westerns
  4. Romance
  5. Autobiographies

That was pretty much it, I know there were some sub-genres and other categories, but for the most part that was it. Today, a new genre is coming to the surface all the time. If you have a nutty book idea today as an indie author there is probably a genre for you. If not, you can just create your own.



Now to my story…

Even as a young lad I felt I had a couple books to be written inside me, heck people even told me so! One major problem; I was good at math and science, but absolutely terrible at English, especially in the grammar and spelling categories. Even though I gutted out all my college level English and writing courses, and improved, I still felt I was nowhere near future published author material.

Another problem – my college education over the years has focused on, to include my eventual degrees, in Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Exercise Science. Yep, you got it definitely no major or job in the writing realm. Needless to say with my educational background, I shelved my being a writer idea, matter of fact I think I put it on the shelf next to that great abs in 15 minutes machine!

Unfortunately, I graduated from college in the early 1990’s, smack in the middle of a recession in the United States. At this time I only had my Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice Administration. Not exactly a degree I would recommend to be the most marketable in the job market. This was a valuable lesson I learned:

If you are going to go and get a college education make sure to get your primary degree in something that gives you the ability to excel in the current job market, and then minor in something you are passionate about. Matter of fact I will be covering the mistakes most people make when getting a college education in a future book in my “Life Simplification” series, as I have learned even life mistakes can make for a great book idea!

So where do you end up in life with an education like mine? Well, during a recession and a very limited degree… manual labor of course. As any of you know manual labor for a bad wage just flat out sucks, no candy coating it.

Knowing that the above was not for me, and in order to gain some more life experience, get more money for a possible Master’s Degree, and serve my country I then joined the United States Navy and entered the world of military intelligence. It sure did sound sexy at the recruiter’s office, but to be honest in the end it was nothing like those Tom Clancy novels I enjoyed so much.



I was fortunate enough…

To get a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science while in the military, and a lot of life lessons were learned. Probably the most valuable part of getting my Master’s Degree was I had to write a thesis, which definitely helped improve my writing skills.

All during this time, I was still thinking about those books I wanted to write. And you know what I did? Absolutely nothing! I think I may have bought a book on how to write screenplays, but never even opened it.

Here is another big mistake, I should have been writing something… anything, and taking some writing courses. Basically I was just like one of those 80% of American’s who say they want to write a book, but do nothing in order to accomplish that goal.

Life moves on and so did I, after leaving the military I accomplished one of my major life goals and became a U.S. Federal Agent. What does a U.S. Federal Agent do you may ask? Without going into the weeds, trust me it is not that interesting, I was a criminal investigator who investigated people and entities that may have violated federal law. If you have watched the popular show 24, it was nothing like that. I spent a lot of time dealing with bureaucracies, and writing dreadful, and sometimes painful reports. Matter of fact I wrote a lot of reports, thousands of pages. At the time I didn’t realize it, but it was actually giving me some skills for my future, at this time unforeseen carrier, as an author.

It didn’t improve my writing skills very much, because criminal investigative reports are pretty dry and have their own special type of writing and language, which has no real use anywhere else. But what it did teach me:

  • Being able to organize information into sizeable bites.
  • Having to sit down and pound out a written document for long periods of time.

Not realizing it the at the time, but these are two pretty critical skills to have in order to be an author.

After spending half my life in the government I decided it was time for a change, which spawned part two of my life. Now you are saying yeah Gary becomes a writer… nope!

After spending a large part of my life in athletics, trying to be healthier, and part of my career in the government doing healthcare related investigations I decided to take a stab at being an entrepreneur in the physical training and consulting business. It didn’t take me long to notice I kept saying the same things over and over to clients, and they never seemed to retain what I was teaching them during our sessions.

I decided it would be a good idea to draft something in written form for them to take home and use as a reference. At first it was a 50 page printed word document, outlining my basic principles for them to follow. Well, being a type A individual this eventually morphed into a 450-page health and wellness manifesto. I didn’t know it, but this was my first step towards being an actual author. To be honest it was terrible – poorly organized, badly written, basically a hot disaster of poo!

Because I had never taken a writing course, or tried to better myself to be a future writer I was absolutely clueless. I think this is where most of us make a huge mistake for following our passions as a writer – we do nothing to figure out the process, we just think we can write a best seller by winging it. It just doesn’t happen that way.

This just doesn’t come from my own experience, but I have spoken to, and helped when I can, with many “want to be” future writers, and their story is pretty much the same. I know from experience and from talking to numerous authors; probably the most helpful and time best spent achieving your goal to be a writer is to take a “how to be” an author course.

People like Nick Stephenson and others are gold for people wanting to be authors. They have already been there, and will save you a ton of time. No this isn’t an advertisement, I didn’t realize my potential and what the heck I was doing until I started following them, and signed up for a couple courses. In short I wasted years floundering around.



I decided my 450-page gobbly –gook was absolute gold…

And I needed to get this thing published. Again, being clueless I had no idea where to start. So I decided I would just email some well-known authors and ask. Remember this was about 7-8 years ago, so some of the big authors were somewhat accessible.

I got two responses from New York Times best sellers, Gary Taubes and Stephen Pressfield. Please don’t go and e-mail them and mention me, that is not the point. Both were incredibly gracious with their time and gave some really good advice.

It boiled down to: do it on your own if you can (be an independent published author) and just keep at it, this writing thing aint easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I reached out to some publishing companies thinking I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and pretty much heard nothing but crickets.

I was also advised I needed a good editor(s), and would have to start my own publishing company. I had a property investment company on the side while in the government for about 10 years, so I was familiar to how to start a basic Limited Liability Company (LLC), and that was what I did.

There are many articles on how to start your own publishing company, but here are some of the basics, and I still use my original publishing company to this day.

Your publishing company should be a sole proprietorship or LLC, and you should have a domain for it, email address, and physical address. You got it, that is pretty much it and you are ready to roll. Just need to write your version of War and Peace!

Then next thing I did was look for an editor, and I made a huge mistake in this category. Instead of being patient and doing my due diligence, I went straight to the dummy net. I found a short list of 4-5 local people calling themselves editor/publishers. Only one got back to me and should have been my first red flag. After talking with her about my goals, she said we should meet up and talk in person. Red flag number two – we met up at a public library with a free conference room, not an actual office, well because she didn’t have one.



Now, at this time…

I had decided my 450-page paperweight would be a three-part exercise program containing exercise DVD’s. Had I done any research on what the market was looking for, how I would promote and sell this product, was there a desire or want for such a product… nope!

I was completely flying by the seat of my pants thinking just publish it and they will come. Another big trap new or want to be authors fall into, all you need to do is put it out there and it will sell. Now a few unicorns in the indie publishing world have done this, but this is not the way to go and I know Nick talks about this a lot.

Here is another good piece of advice: the publishing world is like the music industry of the 70’s. It is filled with vultures preying upon new authors. You have to be incredibly careful when selecting the courses and eventual people who will work on your project.

Of course you can do it all on your own, I have tried that route, and as people have done it know it is really difficult to put out a quality product this way. More in likely you will need to hire some people throughout your writing and publishing process.

So after we had our meeting she encouraged me to join her Publishing group, that wasn’t free you had to pay, red flag number three. Soon after our meeting I received a quote for her services to edit my book. I believe it contained some layout and design work in addition to editing, but I can’t remember for sure. I do remember the price… $13,000!

You would think I would have ran away like my butt was on fire, but no I said that sounds reasonable. Of course, I thought once my exercise program was out in the cyber world I would be an instant millionaire. Boy was I naïve. So I cut a down payment check for $3,000, and probably skipped away dreaming of my future Ferrari.

It didn’t take long to realize I was in the midst of a con artist. When I attended her first publishing group meeting one thing was obvious – I was the youngest person there and I was 40! Most people were easily in their 70s and 80s.

Also every guest speaker was pitching some product to us instead of actually teaching us anything. Being a trooper I stuck it out for a couple months, and received a few comments on my manuscript and zero editing.

Now I new it I was in trouble, big trouble. Luckily with my background in law enforcement, and some serious persistence I was able to get my money back. I guarantee I’m one of the few this has happened to in this publishing black widow’s lair.

A funny side note to the above, ok maybe not so funny. About two months after I received my down payment back I witnessed one of her scammers at a Starbucks from her publishing group receiving a check for a couple grand from a little old lady, with the promise of getting her book published. A sucker is born every minute and I was almost one of them.



To help reduce the massive dent in my pride…

I will say being an indie author was pretty new back then and people like Nick and others were not around. Today there are so many resources for indie authors I think it is almost impossible to not write and publish a book today if you want to. Now selling them is a different story, and again that is where Nick’s and others’ experience kicks in.

Back to the drawing board I went, surprisingly now that I look back, I can’t figure out why I didn’t give up. I went to the business of a local person who I knew about in the health world who was very successful in the self-publishing and asked if they knew of or could recommend a good editor with experience in health.

Luckily they were incredibly nice and recommended a person they had used in the past. Here is a key point: you should definitely try to find an editor who is familiar with your genre it will be a big, big help and make your end product much better.

Ok so the magic question how long and how much did it cost me to get my health and exercise program published?

It ended up being around $25,000, yes no misplaced comma. I had cashed out my 401k in order to help pay for it… dumb, dumb, dumb!

Not only did it cost me a small fortune to publish, but I had no market to really sell it. It was a three piece, spiral bound set of material that included two exercise DVD’s that had to be sold as a complete set. In my infinite wisdom, I had cut out one of the main places to sell for indie authors… Amazon.

Oh, I tried selling it on Amazon, but they couldn’t figure out that is was a three piece set, and kept breaking it up and sending only one piece to the customer. It was an absolute disaster! Createspace was around, but the printing cost was pretty high, and again I was clueless.

So, the next move hire a marketing guy, and try and schedule workshops at gyms and health and wellness related businesses. It worked kind of, but was a ton of work and my marketing guy ended up knowing almost nothing about marketing. Again failure, but I did manage to sell some copies and was now selling them for $295, per his advice.



Using the same marketing guy…

We decided it would be better to take the material and condense it into a shorter book for Amazon. Wow, now were talking I can smell that Ferrari again. Unfortunately he had no idea what it took to publish a book, so the first version was junk – bad cover, bad title etc.

What I did start doing was blogging, and doing interviews, all my work though, marketing guy again useless. Crazy enough I sold some copies, not a lot, but more than I expected. Here is what saved me, and in my future three health books that came from this first book geared towards the general consumer disaster – the content was good just poorly packaged and marketed.

Realizing that my marketing guy was not as advertised, I fired him and went back to the drawing board yet again. Another important point, I was making a living with my health supplement line, consulting, doing workshops, and random jobs.

I didn’t even consider myself an author, mistake number, oh I’ve lost count. Not until I took writing seriously did my writing and product improve. I was still treating it as a hobby. To become a real author you have to treat as a professional and as a business. I was using my books as a supplemental to my training, consultant and product line.

The thing is I got lucky. I was discovered by a popular self-reliance podcaster from one of my blog posts. He liked what I had to say in the blog post and invited me on to be a guest. Strange enough people liked what I had to say, which sold a decent amount of books, and they requested that I be on more as a guest.

That made me realize, my books were pretty decent even though I had mad a lot of mistakes, and that my strength was being interviewed. This was good and bad, because instead of working on my weak points in my books, I tried to overcome them by doing as many interviews as possible. I eventually realized this was a foolish way to go.



Dumb luck struck again…

While being interviewed on the above podcast about a year or two after my initial interview, the host asked me what were some of my future projects. I said I had just bought 20 acres in Washington State and was building a house off the grid.

The off the grid movement, especially television shows, was just starting to take off. I received a tremendous response, especially in the area of how I was doing it. I had no plan to write a book about my project it was just something in my life I wanted to do.

Not anymore, my next book idea smacked me straight in the face. From there on I started documenting the process and writing down notes to be used for the book.

At this point, I had actually started subscribing to a couple writing and marketing for author’s newsletters and free webinars. Wow, what an eye opener, all the information I needed to be more successful was right in front of me. I knew this time around I needed to do things differently. My two main problems were almost no marketing, well upload and pray isn’t a real marketing technique, and not having a polished professional looking product.

I knew from what Nick and people like him were saying you need to have a good cover, and clean product on the inside not riddled with typos. With this information I hired a small professional publishing company to do the cover and layout. It was night and day compared to my previous three books.

Not only that, but my writing had become much better very little editing was required, and not one paragraph or chapter was moved. My editor said it was organized perfect just needed cleanup. Oh boy I may be actually starting to figure this writing thing out!



I was just getting through the authors marketing course I was enrolled in when I released my latest book “Going Off The Grid.” I now had a better grasp, of marketing using Facebook Ads, saw the potential of using Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), the importance of getting my book listed in Goodreads and BookBub, figuring out the best keywords for KDP, and finally trying out an aggregator for my digital formatted books.

So what major changes have I made with this new-found information from various author marketing, writing newsletters, blogs and courses?

  1. All of my books are now listed on Goodread and BookBub.
  2. Using Facebook and AMS ads.
  3. Trying out Draft2Digital for wide distribution for my e-books and saves me time and hassle.
  4. Continuing to hit the interview trail, but trying to step up a level on the audience size and exposure.
  5. Re-tooling my e-mail subscription funnels, and trying Author Reach for my e-mail marketing services.
  6. Using Dave Chesson’s KDP Rocket software for keywords on AMS.
  7. Belonging to Facebook indie author groups.

Blah, blah, blah Gary… give us the results!

I’ve only been using the above techniques for the last six months, and I have more to do and change, but the results have even surprised me.

Even with just a partial year of using my new found strategies my main results are:

  1. My latest book hit number #1 in two Amazon categories in November. Before you ask I changed nothing I just applied the new marketing techniques, no freebies or discounts.
  2. Tripled my book sales from last year.
  3. All my AMS ads are at 50% or better in ACoS
  4. E-mail subscribers are ticking up
  5. More reviews on recent book
  6. Getting contacted for bigger and better interviews
  7. Contacted by and working with docu-series production company to pitch off the grid living show to major TV networks

As you can see I’m making huge strides, and if everything continues the way it is going in the next couple years I will be able to making a good living off my books alone.

The next book about mobile and RV living is already in editing, and I’m chomping at the bit to see how it will do with the additional knowledge I have gained.

Matter of fact I have probably my next 10 books planned and some are already partially written.

Thank you Nick and keep it up!

Gary Collins, MS was raised in the High Desert at the basin of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in a rural part of California. 

Collins’ background is very unique and brings a much-needed perspective to today’s areas of health, nutrition, entrepreneurship, self-help and being more self-reliant. He holds an AS degree in Exercise Science, a BS in Criminal Justice and a MS in Forensic Science.

In addition to being a best selling author, he has taught at the University College level, consulted and trained college level athletes, and been interviewed for his expertise on various subjects by CBS Sports, Coast to Coast AM, The RT Network, and FOX News to name a few.

His Primal Power Method website and book series (his total lifestyle reboot), blows the lid off of conventional life and wellness expectations, and is considered essential for every person seeking a simpler and better life.

Get 5 Free Gifts to help you with life simplification, primal health, and off the grid living when you sign up to Gary’s readers’ group right here

And now we want to hear from you! What obstacles have tried to get in the way of you becoming an author? How did you deal with them? Let us know in the comments:

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