How An Irreverant Penmonkey Got a Traditional Girl to Read a Book on a Screen

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This is the story of how a girl who recently lamented the impending death of the bookmark came to read a book on a screen.

A self-published book.

I know.

Today’s post comes from the perspective of a reader, and over the past two days I’ve been happily reading the short story collection Irregular Creatures by Chuck Wendig.

A few words on Mr. Wendig:

His blog on writing, Terribleminds, is not to be missed. Since my space here is generally rated G and Terribleminds is…not, I can’t disclose the details of the uproarious analogies and word foreplay that you will encounter there. But I will say that Chuck creates catch phrases by coupling body parts of the nether regions with things like, um, waffles. And, they are brilliant. And possibly illegal in some countries. Oh, and his writing advice is tops.

He’s also an agented novelist, screenwriter, and accomplished freelance penmonkey. This guy is a writerly rock-star, and that’s not even including my assumption that he would perform the moonwalk upon request.

Still, I didn’t immediately buy his book.

Sorry to say, but with self-published books I need a lot of convincing. Even if the book is only $0.25, or free to the first fifty callers. Especially then.

Whether fair of me or not, the fact remains that brick and mortar books have been validated in a way — they’ve already jumped through the vetting hoops.

No, not everything that’s traditionally published is great, or even good. Not remotely. However, those authors have met at least one gatekeeper along their publication journey — one who has granted them safe passage. And, hopefully, it was because of above-average writing, and not just promises of wish-fulfillment and unlimited whiskey.

Anyone can self-publish.

So, what rules did Chuck Wendig follow to get me to finally press that PayPal button?

1) The street cred thing. I must trust that an author is a professional, and not just some random writing civilian who is about to elicit frustration of the my-best-friend’s-unborn-child-can-write-better-than-this variety. Please cite your writing credentials. Please also make your book look pretty.

2) Give me options. If you decide to only offer a digital version of your book, first I will weep, and then I’ll take a look at the mediums. I don’t have an e-reader, and even though I know you can download apps for this, I prefer to go with the familiar — I ordered the PDF. Like a thin crust cheese pizza in Chicago, I know it will never fail me.

3) Do not forcefully wedge your sales pitch into every crevice of my unwilling brain. I realize that you’re trying to increase sales, BUT, if every tweet and blog post is about your book, or if you “casually” bring it up at inappropriate moments — “Talking about your grandmother’s leprosy reminds me of my book, which is currently for sale, BTW…” — you’ve lost me. Gentle or humbly hilarious reminders are appreciated.

4) Respect my reading choices. Please don’t feel slighted or chastise me for not supporting the writing community because I’m not interested in an illustrated epic fantasy featuring an elephant/alien romance filled with side-splitting hijinks, yet devastatingly beautiful prose.  If your book is not my thing, it’s not my thing.

5) Unleash the positive buzz. Share your reviews. And not just the ones from your neighbor, your best friend from high school, and your in-the-doghouse husband. (I can tell.) Provide legitimate links, quotes, and interviews.

6) The words, man. Assure me that I will love your writing style through your blogs, tweets, comments and other writing samples. Post a (SHORT) excerpt. Make me unable to resist your story-telling genius in all of its chocolatey-coated (digital-only) goodness. And then deliver.

There you have it — concrete ways to woo the wary reader. And really, number six is what matters the most. It all comes down to the words. Always the words.

So, choose wisely.


What say you, readers? If you’re the traditional type, what does it take for you to read a self-published or digital book? What’s the last digital or self-pub title you purchased? Click over to Chuck Wendig’s post on Why Your Self-Published Book May…well, just go read the rest of the title there and the post, too, for more on this topic. And, don’t forget to check out Irregular Creatures — it’s definitely worth some screen time!

46 thoughts on “How An Irreverant Penmonkey Got a Traditional Girl to Read a Book on a Screen”

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Yes, I’ve been reluctant, but I’m willing to take a chance on quality writing. There are quite a few bloggers I read who are self-published or thinking about it, so I’m keeping an open mind.


  1. First real e-book I bought was from Laurie Hutzler about crafting believable characters. It was a different way of conceptualizing the fatal flaw, and I loved it.

    Another NF writing book I bought had good content, but the formatting was terrible.

    The only self-pubbed fiction I’ve bought — yet — was by word of reputation and phenomenal Kindle sales. Regretfully, I wasn’t impressed; it had plot holes the size of Australia.

    I have a few more self-pubbed samples downloaded, but time is precious, so yes, measures like you’ve mentioned above, which reduce my sense of risk, make a difference to me. A book might be free, but I still don’t care for electronic clutter!


    1. I have no use for electronic clutter either! Until (if ever) I get a true e-reader of some sort, I doubt that I’ll be purchasing a whole lot more (if any) e-books. But, this one left me curious.

      This was actually my second self-published purchase. Last month I reserved a copy of a print edition poetry collection from well known poet, author, editor, Robert Lee Brewer (who recently was a guest blogger here). I’m a fan of his poetry, but he also had a great hook — 101 limited edition copies signed by him. That’s something that interests me.

      I’ll have to look into Laurie Hutzler’s book. Thanks, Jan!


  2. I received a Kindle for Xmas – I do like it but still in a guilty way. First book I bought was February by Lisa Moore which I highly recommend, then a few freebie classics – Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice – I’ve already read them, but you know, free…

    I haven’t bought any self published books yet, but your tips are good. My mother has a self pub coming out soon – but I’m pretty sure I can get a complimentary copy……..

    Going to check out chuck now


      1. Hi Amanda, Thanks for asking.

        Her first book was called The Music of What Happens and was about an Irish family beginning around WWII. Obviously I’m biased but I thought it was good. She has been called by someone “Canada’ s answer to Maeve Binchy” – whether that is good or bad is a question of perspective I guess. Here is a link.


        (McGilligan books is no longer in existence. )

        Her second book, “To Know the Road” takes the story of one of the women in the first book farther. She is self publishing it through a UK company (for reasons that remain unclear to me!) although she lives in Canada.


  3. I knew you were talking about Chuck Wendig once I saw the title of the post in my emails. You described his site perfectly, and the advice is definitely tops. I am also going to be reading IC once my insane February is under control. Good stuff as always.


    1. Thanks, Clay. His stories are quirky (like his blog) but, so far, a little more mild in presentation. I love when I get to read a blogger I’ve followed in their “natural state.”


  4. I share many of your thoughts; given how easy it is to ‘publish’ online, I’m wary of self-published authors and haven’t bought any self-published books that I know of (though it’s entirely possible I’ve purchased some academic tomes that were; given the publish-or-perish mentality, people are even more desperate to be published than usual, if you can believe it!)

    But it’s not as though I believe the agent-getting process is a functioning meritocracy. You make a good point about having choices and finding authors with street cred. So maybe I should be more open-minded. Especially since, when a friend recently asked if I’d consider self-publishing, I said the same thing as you — I’m keeping an open mind!


    1. I think I’m too lazy to ever self-publish my own work. I, also, so love the idea of actual shelves in real stores holding something I’ve written, and not just a virtual warehouse. But, yes, there are many writers who are choosing this route for many different reasons. And, if they or their work is convincing enough, I’ll give it a try.


  5. I’m looking forward to checking out Chuck’s site. Thanks for the tip! I’m all for made-up words, especially naughty ones.

    P.S. I can’t believe you wouldn’t read an epic fantasy featuring an elephant/alien romance! That sounds like hours of entertainment to me!


    1. I forgot about you and your naughty side, Maura 😉

      I believe part of your P.S. is true — an epic elephant fantasy…would be hours (and hours and hours and hours) of…something.


  6. A well-done breakdown of self-pub evaluation, Amanda! Yes, definitely, shoving a book down EVERYONE’s throats has the potential to be only a little annoying. 🙂 Kinda counterproductive.


  7. Kindles are wonderful. I am a complete covert to mine. I adore it.

    This is wonderful advice, Amanda. I will do one caveat, however. My book is epic fantasy, and it’s pretty long–probably close to 600 pages, once you add the glossary and such. I’m looking into the print options, but it will be expensive. I can pass that cost on to my readers and give them the choice and hope they still order the book, but would they? Would it be cost-effective to go through the formatting and added expense of having a print cover designed only to have people say “Your book is $14? Forget it!” 🙂

    That said–I’m still researching my options. I do understand the customer service side of it–offering all options. And my book is available in PDF from Smashwords. 🙂 But for the moment at least, it’s only available in e-book form…

    And I totally agree with you on the irreverant penmonkey. He is fabulous. 🙂



    1. Thanks for reading, Amy.

      Regarding your caveat, I think those of us who GREATLY prefer the printed page over e-books would be willing to pay when it came to a book we really wanted to read. That’s a tough call, though, and one of the reasons I would not be good in the self-publishing industry. I don’t want all of those decisions on my head (or dime). Good luck to you!


  8. I read very few “new” books (most of the modern fiction I’ve read has been for our Book Club). Most of the self-published work I’ve seen in our store has been dreadful poetry…meh!

    I refuse to read books online (and I don’t have time to read crap in any format!).

    I have nothing to say about Chuck Wendig (except that my mother told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, not to say anything at all). Maybe I’m too old to get why people think he’s cool…



  9. Well, how I wish you were here, so we could sit together and I could put my hand on your knee and say, “well, I just followed a self publisher over to his website and read some excerpts and loved his stuff and then I went over to where he did all this and it was a service at Amazon.com and they edited it, and provided a cover, and his book is online now and he’s published and his poems?

    Oh, his poems are only 9.99 and oh am I every digging his poetry.”

    So, too bad, you’re not here, so I can say all this to you.


  10. Amanda,

    What a great post! I don’t have an e-reader either, so I loved your reasoning for going with the PDF. I just bought my first e-book, and I’m guilty of printing the whole thing out. I wanted to take notes, and I’m such a sucker for a hard copy. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to books on screen. But, I’m willing to keep trying. Chuck Wendig’s book sounds good, and his website does look great. Thanks for the links!


    1. Thank you, Christi!

      I know how you feel. I haven’t printed any pages of this book, but I’m dying to. I like to feel the pages. Turn the pages. Bend the pages. It made me crazy when my children’s school went green with their weekly “envelope.”


    1. Hi Renee — I love the feel of books, too. Like I said above, I don’t know if I’ll be doing this often (or again), but some books just won’t be available in print.

      I know many who love their Kindles. You should at least give it a try to make your son happy 🙂


  11. I have to confess to be somewhat of a ‘traditonalist’ when it comes to books and I’ve yet to embrace the idea of reading a book electronically. I love the whole experience of visiting a book shop, inhaling the wonderful aromas, handling the book with reverence and snuggling up in bed with the latest best seller.

    I’ve yet to buy a self-published book, mainly for the reasons you’ve covered. However, if I have begun to follow someone’s work through their blog and enjoy what I read…then I would consider buying a copy of their book – a hard copy!

    Thanks for a great post – love the blog 🙂



  12. I’ve never purchased an ebook. I hold stubbornly onto my precious paperbacks and stand tall before the windy face of change. As an aspiring writer, I recognize that my first book might have to be published this way for financial reasons… which makes me a bit of a hypocrite, admittedly.

    As an aside, I’m familiar with the sage-like advice: Don’t judge a book by its cover. HOWEVER… Mr. Wendig’s cover art is absolutely adorable. And that adds some appeal.

    Checking out his site now. Thanks for the link.


    1. I’m not so great with change either, Alexis. Nothing will replace the look, feel, and smell of a real book for me, either, but I thought this one was worth a look. Yup, I think his cover is pretty good, too.

      Thanks for reading!


  13. Hi Amanda–I’m ready to convert, maybe not full-on conversion (I can’t stop smelling books, okay?!) but certainly a mix would be nice…

    Thanks for the intro to Chuck’s site–a juicy keeper, for sure.

    Hope the melt is on!


  14. I would definitely buy his book, without hesitation, even though it is self-published.


    We already know he’s a pro-author, and that even if he wasn’t, his blog gives him away as someone with excellent writing skills.

    Wait…you want the real reason? Okay, all the reasonable validations aside, you can tell a self-published book is one worth taking seriously if the cover is not obviously a photo taken by grandma or some other obviously amateur piece of art.


  15. I have never read a digital book. I am a hold the book in my hands, caress and sniff the pages kind of girl.

    as far as self-published books go, I have read a few of them, mostly memoirs or autobiographies of people who I either know personally, or have encountered through volunteering with sexual abuse survivors.

    But….after reading this post, I am intrigued. Since I agree with all of your points…and this author has passed each one, it makes me want to give his book a try.


    1. Ah, yes…hold, caress, sniff…wait, what is this post about again? What was I thinking? Someone hand me a book!

      I’m with you Tracie, but the intrigue won. Thanks for commenting!


  16. This is the second review of Wendig’s book I’ve read, and I may need to finally go and get it. I have been to his site, and you’re right, it is pretty not G-rated, but that’s the fun of it! Nice review!


  17. I’m impressed that you not only purchased a self-published book – but you read it on PDF! You are leaps and bounds ahead of me. I have always adhered to the traditional mainly because I’ve never had anyone pitch the untraditional. However, I’m going to have to check this guy out on the hilarity factor alone.


  18. I was interested reading your reasons on why you caved-er, reconsidered and bought an electronic book. I’m so far behind this trend, it won’t be a trend by the time I get there (I don’t even have TiVo or a SmartPhone yet, either).

    Just don’t abandon your bookmarks 😉


  19. I’m still scared. Terrified. I read so many blogs, tweets, status updates…my eyes like to rest on crisp, unlit pages.

    I do like your post, though, and I do so agree.


  20. A very nice list, Amanda, and yes, I’ve been reading Chuck’s blog lately too. He’s a scream.

    I have a Nook and have read a few ebooks on it. I use it more for reading research articles (PDFs) and the manuscripts of members of my crit group. I’d much rather have a paper book, and while I love the convenience of ebooks, I’m still more likely to buy (and read) paper.

    I’m afraid I haven’t read too many self-published authors yet, and that has nothing to do with self-publishing, but the fact that my to-read list for published books is just so long right now.


  21. E-reading gives me headaches. If someone GIFTED me with an e-book, I would figure how to print it so I could read it.


    …if the book is good, I want to keep it longer than e-things last. If your gizmo breaks, you lose your library, right?

    …if the book is mediocre, please, I want no evidence that I even considered it. Life is too short to mislead others with my reading record.


  22. Hey Amanda,

    You know I’ve never read a self-published book, but I would TOTALLY go by your criteria. Especially the one about whether the book is “my cup of tea” or not. I’m just not into something if it does not appeal to me, period. Great post! Very original, I don’t think this is a topic that I’ve seen covered, and I read A LOT of blogs.



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