David Kazzie is the author of Jackpot. He’s the creator of the viral videos So You Want to Go to Law School and So You Want to Write a Novel which led to a lot of attention from the publishing industry, and helped David land his first literary agent. In the interview, David shares his unique story along with some insights and tips on writing fiction, self publishing, traditional publishing and how to succeed as an author.
David got serious about writing in 2001 when he took his first stab at writing a manuscript. He tried to write a thriller, his favorite genre to read. The book is terrible but it has a beginning, middle, and end and it was a big accomplishment for David.
Writing your first book is a test of endurance. You really find out whether writing is something you want to do when you make the effort to write a novel. The first 50 pages of a novel are fun because you’re telling your story and getting your characters out there. After that, you’re out there alone in the wilderness. And nothing is going to get you to the finish line except for you. At the end of the day, nobody cares if you finish your book except you. You may have friends and family encouraging you but in terms of sitting down and finishing your book, it’s 100% up to you.
David sent query letters to literary agents about his first book while he wrote his second. His second book got a little bit more interest than his first, but neither book got anywhere in the traditional publishing process.
Looking For a Literary Agent
David wrote his third book between 2007 and 2008. He queried a lot more heavily for this book because email queries were now an accepted practice. Two agents actually called him about his third book, but neither was interested in taking him on as a client.
He self published his third book, The Jackpot in 2011. He decided to self publish it because he thought it was good enough to get published, even though no agent wanted to represent him. He chose to self publish rather than remain unpublished and give up his dream of being a published fiction writer.
David was further encouraged to self publish his work because of JA Konrath’s blog. David realized that self-publishing was an important part of the publishing business. It wasn’t going to be something people could ignore anymore.
How David Ended up Signing with an Agent
At the time David started thinking about self-publishing his book The Jackpot, he was very discouraged about his prospects of getting an agent.
He wasn’t willing to start another manuscript without knowing that it was going to be published. At that point in his life David had a wife and two children, and writing a manuscript with no prospect of a future to it was a huge time commitment with no payoff.
That’s when David decided to start writing his blog in June 2010. A lot of writers were doing it at the time, and blogging actually got him a decent sized audience beyond friends and family.
At some point, David’s audience growth flatlined and he was deciding whether or not to shut down his blog so he could focus more time on writing fiction.
Around this time David stumbled upon the iPhone4 vs HTC Evo. He thought he could make a similar video with a conversation between an idealistic law student and a jaded lawyer.
David experienced both sides of that coin because he’s been a lawyer for 15 years. He was the idealistic law student, and he saw what actually happens after law school.
Within two weeks of posting that video on YouTube, David had over 300,000 hits on his video.
A few months later he posted another video about the writing and publishing process. That video didn’t do quite as well, but it got over 200,000 views, and it was being shared among authors, publishers, and literary agents.
Ann Rittenberg, the literary agent for Dennis Lehane, shared his video about writing and publishing a book on her Facebook page. That led to them connecting on facebook and a phone conversation, which led to Ann signing David as a client.
Why David Decided to Self Publish
He decided to self publish The Jackpot because he thought the viral videos gave him enough exposure that it made sense to self publish. He thought he would be able to leverage the exposure his videos gave him to get a large number of book sales.
Unfortunately that didn’t work very well.
David made the commitment to self publish The Jackpot in March 2011. He talked to his agent Ann about it, and gave his reasons why he thought it would work as a self published project. She agreed.
From there, David spent around 200 hours:
- Editing the manuscript
- Finding a book cover designer
- Finding a formatter
And making sure the book looked good in all formats.
It was a much more time intensive project than David originally thought.
“The second lesson I learned from self-publishing is if you’re going to compete in the marketplace, self-publishing your book takes a lot more time, effort, and energy than you think it will in the beginning.” – David Kazzie
The first few months of The Jackpot was available on Kindle it didn’t sell very well. When Amazon rolled out the KDP select program David took advantage of the opportunity, enrolled in KDP select, and made his book free for five days.
After David’s KDP select promotion, his book climbed the Amazon charts and got in the top 100 books sold on all of Amazon. It stayed in the top 100 for about two weeks and he sold a ton of books.
After the book became successful David and his agent looked into selling foreign rights. Even though that never worked out, David is happy that he was able to explore his options because of his book’s success.
Even though David is a lawyer, he’s much more comfortable being represented by an agent because copyright law and intellectual property law are very specific branches of legal knowledge, and he likes being represented by someone who knows the nuances of that field.
“You have to find an attorney who is an expert in publishing and in the area of law where your negotiating contract, or looking at a deal. You have to work with the best in the industry. Sometimes that means you’re going to pay a little more, but it saves you money and mistakes in the end.” – Tom Corson Knowles
Working on the Next Book
David’s agent has his next book and she’s trying to sell it to a traditional publisher. David’s dream has always been to have his book available in a bookstore.
When considering which publishing path to take, traditional or self-publishing, you have to consider what you actually want from the book you’re writing.
David realizes it’s a risk to go the traditional publishing route. The truth is any decision you make in life, and any new path you take, is filled with risk. You just have to weigh the pros and cons and decide which risks you’re willing to take.
Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
“Self-publishing is a totally legitimate way to fail at publishing, just like traditional publishing is. They’re on equal footing.” – David Kazzie
Both traditional publishing and indie publishing have their own challenges and their own benefits. Every author has to sit down, look at the pros and cons, and decide for themselves which path they’re going to take.
The average advance in traditional publishing these days for a new author is around $5,000. Could you make more money self-publishing your book? Sure. But are you willing to wait years to make $5,000?
Another benefit to traditional publishing is that you don’t have to worry about all of the work that goes into packaging your book after you hand in a manuscript. A publishing company will handle cover design and formatting of your book, as well as printing for distribution.
A lot of the successful self published authors are people who can produce a lot of work in a short time. David is not one of those people. For that reason, David thinks traditional publishing is the right path for him.
The Benefits of Having a Literary Agent
The one major benefit David sees in having an agent is that he has someone who knows what traditional publishers are buying. He has a second pair of eyes aware of what’s working in the marketplace to help him judge whether or not his latest book is good.
Although it was painful to write a 350-page manuscript and then have to throw it away, David is grateful that he had an agent with some distance from the project to tell him the story didn’t work.
The Benefits of Writing a Bad Book
David sees two benefits in writing the crappy book he wrote right after The Jackpot.
- He learned a lot about his own writing process, including what works and what doesn’t work for him in storytelling.
- He gained a level of trust with his agent because she was honest with him about the book not being very good. So now when she tells him the book is good he believes her because she’s built up a level of trust through honesty.
Lessons Learned from Writing a Bad Book
You have to know what the goal of your main character is. What quest are they on? What are they trying to achieve by the end of your novel?
“Any book is a trip to the store to buy a loaf of bread.” – David Kazzie
In this analogy the loaf of bread is what your character wants. And the trip to the store is your story. If you keep that in mind, your stories are going to be cleaner and much easier to write if you know that going in.
The more you know about what your character wants and their motivations up front, the easier your book will be to write.
Resources and People Mentioned in This Interview
David mentions JA Konrath’s blog as the blog that inspired him to self publish his own work.
David mentions Dennis Lehane as one of his favorite authors.
Ann Rittenberg is David’s agent and she became his agent because of the viral YouTube videos
David mentions Hugh Howey and Bella Andre as prolific writers.
David mentions David Gatewood, Hugh Howie’s editor is his fraternity brother, and a successful editor for Indie authors.
The Jackpot – David kazzie’s first self published novel. The third novel he’d written. He self published after traditional agents wouldn’t take him on.
iPhone4 vs HTC Evo – the video that inspired David to make his own viral animated videos.