The Skinny on Self-Publishing: Interview with Jonathan Almanzar

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 I have many unpublished works that started back in my early 20s.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.

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