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On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Skinny on Self-Publishing: Interview with Jonathan Almanzar

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Today, I’m interviewing my friend Jonathan Almanzar, author, entrepreneur, and independent publisher.

Jonathan Almanzar

Jonathan Almanzar

Jonathan’s company Rhizome Publishing is doing a lot of cool and innovative things in the publishing world.

You can also check out his blog, which offers short, compelling posts on life and spirituality.

Here’s our interview:

Jeff Goins (JG): Jonathan, your first book Crabgrass and Oak Trees (co-authored with Aaron Havens) has been out for almost a year now. Can you briefly share the journey of undertaking a first book?

Jonathan Almanzar (JA): Crabgrass and Oak Trees is my first published book, but not my first book. I have many unpublished works that started back in my early 20s.

The journey for me, from dreams, words on a page, to physical book to an actual sale, to multiple sales, to “You really want 30 copies of this?” has been a roller-coaster.  If I am going to keep this brief I would say, it has been therapeutic.

JG: Why did you decide to self-publish? How did that lead to becoming an independent publisher?

Crabgrass and Oak Trees

Crabgrass and Oak Trees

JA: I decided to self-publish after having my first book tied up in publishing companies for over three years. I would get a request for my manuscript, and it would be three months or longer before I could send it somewhere else.

When I did get offered a contract, they wanted to change so much that it didn’t even seem like our book.

When we finished Crabgrass and Oak Trees I counted how many speaking engagements I had coming up and knew that even if it was accepted for print immediately that I’d miss out on nearly 6000 potential buyers.

So we decided to self-publish.

From there I began looking into different companies. None of them were a good fit. They were super-expensive, their books didn’t look that good, and I still had to market them.

I decided that if I had figured out how to write a query letter, a book proposal, a book, found an agent, a publisher, etc.,  then I could probably publish my own book. It was harder and easier than I expected.

We [Rhizome Publishing] have used the lessons I’ve learned with my book over the past year to really nail down how we can help an author.  We are very much a hybrid publisher. Part agent, part publisher.

Our goal is to make this process exciting, easy, profitable for both of us, and allow writers to do what they do best: write.

One of the questions I get most often is, “Was it scary?” I would say no. Starting the publishing company and publishing my own book wasn’t scary. Nerve-racking, yes.

The scary thing was the first time we were approached about publishing someone else’s work. That was scary.

Rhizome Publishing

Rhizome Publishing

JG: What do you see happening in the world of book publishing right now? What excites you?

JA: Right now I see a bunch of confused people, some early adopters, and unlimited potential. But I haven’t heard any really good ideas.

The music industry is what everyone is comparing this to, but why not do something the music industry hasn’t done? Let’s not copy; let’s imagine. That’s what we do with books; let’s do it with the whole industry.

People are stuck, I think, in trying to hold onto the same sort of ideas, but just make them digital.  That’s not what we need. We need pioneering.

I can definitely see someone soon coming up with an idea like Netflix or Pandora for books (i.e. subscription-based book services).

What excites me? Hopefully, having a hand in this. Connecting with people who see change as good, and have the ability to do it. I am excited to find a great writer who might have never had a chance until now.

JG: Recently, you ran a book deal contest. Can you explain a little more about that?

JA: “Cultivate” is what we are calling our contest. Everyone who has finished a book and owns the rights to their manuscript was eligible to enter. There were several reasons we decided to do that:

First, sometimes that’s all someone needs to push themselves over the hump and finish their book.

Second, we really hope we find at least one great book from this and hopefully a few more.

Third, there are a ton of self-publishing services. Some shady, some good. Some expensive, some cheap, some terrible.  We wanted an opportunity to show how we are different, what we can do, how quickly we can do it, and that we are for real.

JG: Can you share your writing process? How do you do the work on a daily basis?

JA: It’s not easy.  I wake up every morning sometime between 6:00 and 6:30.  I push start on my coffee pot, perform a few internet necessities and then head to the basement where my wife created an office for me.

I take care of all business stuff as quickly as possible, turn on Pandora set to Explosions in the Sky Radio station, because I cannot have words coming through the speakers, pour a cup of coffee into one of 3 cups that I will drink out of when I write, exhale and begin writing.

In the first five minutes, I can promise you: I will have at least 25 attempts at distraction. Whatever they are, they come quickly. But when I push through those, I find myself in the middle of my story. At that point, it takes an awful lot to distract me.

I use Scrivener to write and I set a word total goal for each chapter or session. Usually between 4500-6000. 6000 is a good day; 9000 is a great day.

I come upstairs for lunch, and take care of all my other business endeavors after that.  My writing is finished — for today.

JG: According to Steven Pressfield, a lot of people seem to have a book in them. One of the major inhibitors to getting it out seems to be fear. What advice do you have for those who have a book in them but are afraid?

JA: I admire Steven Pressfield a great deal. I think everyone has a story… Just because you have a story to tell doesn’t mean you were destined to be a writer. It means you were destined to tell the story. But how? I think that is the bigger question.

Finding out how you were designed to tell your story is the place where so many people get stuck, because they only see two or three ways to do it. But the most beautiful people are those who turn their life into their story or their story into their life.

The fear part: that’s in everything.  The only way to overcome it is to face it and walk right past it.

JG: What other exciting projects (books, publishing, etc.) are you working on?

JA: Tons. Teach Your Daughters to Cry Loudly is a book we are desperately attempting to raise the capital to publish you can find it on Kickstarter.

My newest book A Pilgrim’s Diary of Stolen Words is scheduled to release this summer. I learned more writing this book than any other thing I have ever written. It completely reshaped my vocabulary and mindset.

I’m also excited to say we have signed a four-book contract with an author, and we will be releasing a children’s book series about “Orange the Pig,” starting with Orange Down Under in early Summer.

* * *

To find out more about Jonathan and what he’s up to, visit the Rhizome website or you can connect with him on Twitter.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    Thanks for the interview, guys.

    Jonathan – What are the advantages in going with a house like yours versus one of the online self-publishers? What are the disadvantages? (please don’t answer that second question the way most people answer the job interview question “What’s your greatest weakness” by saying “I work too hard”).

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Shawn. Jonathan is traveling, I think, but I’ll pass your question on to him.

    • Jonathan

      Shawn- I would say the advantages would depend on what you are looking to do with your book.  The first MAJOR advantage is the cost factor.  Alot of times online self-publishers charge quite a hefty price.  There is also something to the approval of others.  Someone, other than yourself, saying you have something worth publishing.  Also, working in a partnership with someone who has as much invested into what you are doing as you.  
      For the disadvantage I would say speed.  If you need your book in 3 weeks that is not something we would be able to do.  We are a publisher and I would use the term Partner-Publisher, therefore we don’t just push books through, we want to help create the best possible product (sorry that was kind of ‘I work too hard’).

  • Anonymous

    As someone who has just recently awoken their creative and artistic talents, especially for writing stories, my biggest concern is the marketing side.  I am one of the rare few who has the resources to epub a professional looking novel; I have the resources for the art and design side, and I have at my disposal an excellent editor.  So those are two costs that are taken care of.  My problem is not having a following yet.  If I choose your company, what specifically can you offer me as far as exposure goes?

    Thanks for the interview.

    • Jonathan

      Kurzitza,

      One of our Cultivators (our name for anyone who has a hand in your project) is a Marketer.  We currently have 6 separate authors in our garden (our word for pipeline, queue, plug in your businessy word) and he designs an individual plan that will help their  story or idea bloom.  As far as specific exposure we have a network that we can plug into for blogging, posting, reviewing, as well as our website and partnership websites.  But don’t limit yourself to only e-book, we can help get your story into paperback as well.

  • http://www.JanetOberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    Great conversation Jeff and Jonathan. 
    Love the thought of “not copying, but instead imagining” … whether that implies to book publishing or other things of life. Also Jonathan, thanks for the Pandora station idea … always looking for something different to listen to. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I liked that comment, too.

  • http://angellslife.com/ Heidi Angell

    Jeff,
      As always, another phenomenally useful article. This has been an on-going debate between my writer friends and I, whether or not to self-publish. An exciting and interesting new perspective! I LOVE it!! Thanks again!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Heidi. I’m wrestling with it, as well.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’m wrestling with that, too.

  • Jonathan

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the interview.  Couple things.  1. We will be releasing 2 books June 5th.  Orange Down Under and SPAN.  2.  We have had some unbelievably fantastic books come in through the contest.  It just further cements my idea that the greatest stories are yet to be told.  3.  I will answer any questions anyone has.  4.  Thanks again

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Very cool man! My pleasure having you.

  • http://popparables.com Keri

    This is such an inspirational interview.  I’ve got all kinds of ideas swimming around in my head after reading this.  Thanks so much for sharing, Jeff.
     
    This is soooo true >>>In the first five minutes, I can promise you: I will have at least 25 attempts at distraction. Whatever they are, they come quickly. But when I push through those, I find myself in the middle of my story. At that point, it takes an awful lot to distract me.

    What’s your best advice for pushing through those distractions, especially when you have very limited time?
     
     Oh, and Explosions in the Sky-what a superb idea for a Pandora station. They are an awesome band.
     

    • Jonathan

      best advice for pushing through?  1. i know my habits so some of them are predictable and i prepare for those in advance by either taking care of them or resisting them.  2. the unprepared for ones i just have to tell myself they’ll be there in 3 hours.  3.  i have a window in front of my desk with beautiful inspiring quotes written in each of the little panes that compel/force me to push through 

  • Jessica Mokrzycki

    Great interview!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Jessica.

  • Anonymous

    Jeff, 
    Thanks for this posting. I’m very curious about Rhizome and will be following it closely over the next few years. I tell you it’ll be on the top of my list when I consider publishing in the future. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Very cool, Cortland!

  • Anonymous

    here is a link to the finalists from our contest Cultivate.  http://bit.ly/lJykwm  

  • Chandler Tynes

    This was a good interview, but I’m not sure if you are saying this is your first published book or self published book?  I found this book online and want to know if it is yours
    http://www.amazon.com/From-Whence-Cometh-Jonathan-Almanzar/dp/1588512207

    Because this one came out a long time ago.  Thanks!

    Chandler

  • Chandler Tynes

    Here is the cover to that book.  Is this yours?  I really enjoyed Crabgrass and Oaktrees, so when I searched for more of your books, this one came up.  I would like to buy it if it is in fact from you!  Thanks

    Chandler

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