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“You can do it. It will be very hard.” Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

(James VanOsdol’s blog)

I was an invited guest at the annual Chicagoland Library Unconference on Friday. I sat on the keynote panel alongside Joe Born, an old high school friend and successful entrepreneur whose intelligence and skill continue to intimidate me, well into my forties.

The general theme of the panel was the future: the future of media, the future of community, the future of entrepreneurship. I cracked a few jokes while Joe said meaningful things that people scribbled into their notebooks. I even wrote one of his quotes down for future reference — it was a piece of advice about entrepreneurship: 1. You can do it. 2. It will be very hard.

Sure enough, that advice held true for the publication of We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm. Here are a handful of things I learned about self-publishing over the past 17 months:

  • There are always unprepared-for hidden costs and expenses: surprises, needs, and changes that my budget could in no way have anticipated.
  • When you stop working, the work stops. Each time I took a “sanity day” away from the book, everything came to a halt. The good news about D.I.Y. is that it’s all you! The bad news is that it’s all on you! There were plenty of nights where spending three hours to transcribe a 60-minute interview felt like a voluntary waterboarding. I forced myself to suck it up and power through, however, each and every time. I’m glad I did.
  • People still buy paperbacks. Two weeks in, and We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm purchases are about 4:1, paperback to Nook, Kindle, and iBookstore versions combined.
  • Formatting a book is a painstaking affair. One thing I learned from my last book is that the task of building the interior pages has to be done by a professional. I recruited a fabulous designer to work on the paperback version of the book, and felt guilty every time I sent a revision back to her. Of course, once the paperback formatting was finished, we had to start building out the e-book versions.
  • The Apple iBookstore takes a comparative eternity to approve e-books. Nook and Kindle versions were up within 24 hours of submission; iTunes had their version up after seven long days.
  • The post office would rather that you hand-deliver your packages. I got read the riot act for bringing in a round of Kickstarter backer mailings to an otherwise-empty post office. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?” I was asked. “No, it’s my first time,” I said. “Next time, we’d appreciate a call so that we can prepare for this.” To repeat: the post office was empty.
  • Not everyone in the media takes conducting interviews as seriously as I’d like to believe I do. My favorite comments from a recent interview: “I haven’t looked at the book yet,” and “were you ever on the air at Q101?” A visit to the book’s Amazon page would have been more helpful than just “winging” the entire interview.

Another thing I learned, which I already knew, was that working at Q101 was a great and meaningful opportunity.  There were times when it was hard to put that into perspective; because, like anyone, I had bad days at the office. We all have those moments — Work sucks. The hours suck. The boss is a jerk. Working on the book reminded me of what a sweet gig I had. I got to work with some very smart, creative, and funny people, and had a stunning amount of freedom to do what I wanted to on the air. Beyond that, I was fortunate to have worked at Q101 during one of the last eras in history when music radio made a cultural impact.

I probably should have put that last paragraph in the book. Oh, well.


We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: the Cover

Details about its release coming soon!


Kevin Guilfoile-Podcast Interview 1/25/12

This week’s podcast finds me talking with author and humorist Kevin Guilfoile, whose last two books, Cast of Shadows and The Thousand, are can’t-put-’em-down, provocative, ready-for-Hollywood, thrillers.

During the length of the show, we talk about the writing process, publishing, the Gilmore Girls, Chicago culture, parenting, baseball (Kevin worked for both the Astros and Pirates), and the late Wesley Willis (Rock over London, Rock on Chicago!). If that’s not enough enticement, listen to find out what Kevin calls “the most self indulgent, narcissistic, place on earth” (hint: you’ve probably been there).

I loved talking with him–hope you enjoy listening!

And seriously, if you have an idea for the show’s name I’m all ears.


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Martin Atkins: Podcast Interview 1/18/12

This week, it’s musician/author/instructor/label owner Martin Atkins, a guy whose list of credits and accomplishments shame the rest of us.

Martin’s a fascinating, smart, man and his Tour:Smart book is required reading for any artist serious about sustaining a career as a musician.

If Martin’s wisdom about the music industry doesn’t interest you, listen this week for his stories about working with John Lydon in Public Image, Ltd. and playing with Ministry and Killing Joke!

By the way, how does the name “Enough About Me …” grab you for the podcast name?


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Announcement: The Q101 Oral History Book officially has a title!

When I launched my Q101 oral history book project on Kickstarter, I scrambled to come up with a working title. I settled on Smells Like Rock Radio, a title I never liked at all, knowing full well that I’d have to come up with something better down the road.

I’d always assumed that the right title would come to me and that I shouldn’t force it. That’s exactly what happened when Sludge recounted the following story from Jamboree ’99 for the book:

Offspring was the second-to-last band; the Chili Peppers were the headliners. In the Offspring’s last song, Dexter (Holland) told everybody to start throwing garbage–at them, even–up on the stage … whatever you have, start throwing garbage up here. (There were) 30,000 people throwing tons of everything around them, on to the stage.

I actually remember laying on a couch in the side green room. There were no other Q101 D.J.s around; I was alone in the room. Somebody ran in from the Tweeter Center and was like, “Somebody’s gotta get out there–you’ve gotta stop this, or the show’s going to end right now.” I was kind of dazed–it was one of those Jamboree days which were like 15-20 hour days–I was like, “What are you talking about?” I look out the window to the stage, and all I see is garbage being thrown up–I didn’t know what was going on exactly. So I run down to the side of the stage with this guy, the Offspring gets done and walks off, and the garbage keeps coming. He goes, “You’ve gotta go out there and tell them to stop.”

I don’t know why I didn’t fear it at the time, so I walked right out to the mic into the garbage rain and said, “We appreciate your enthusiasm.” I should have stopped right there and walked off, looking back on it, because maybe the garbage would have stopped then. Instead, my next statement was, “If you don’t stop throwing garbage, the Chili Peppers won’t be able to come on.” That’s when a new amount of tonnage of garbage came at me. That’s just like daring people to throw more, and that’s exactly what everybody did. It went on for another ten minutes, (and I) got hit with garbage, objects, and water bottles. Somebody even got a garbage can on to the stage, a full garbage can rolled up and made it up to the stage. I laughed about it, of course, to try and bond with (the fans), but that was the dumbest thing ever to say after “we appreciate your enthusiasm.”

In the days, months, and years that followed Jamboree ’99, it always made me laugh when I thought about “We appreciate your enthusiasm.” It was a perfectly dry response to the shitstorm of refuse that was raining down on the pavilion and stage.

I like books whose titles are provocative but not obvious, especially when the title refers to content within the book itself. With that in mind, I’ve officially and, yes, enthusiastically titled my book We Appreciate Your Enthusiasm: The Oral History of Chicago’s Q101. Special thanks to Sludge for (unknowingly at the time) coming up with the perfect title for this project.

Progress Report and a Momentary Mekons Distraction

Work on my next book has kept me busy around the clock. Here’s what I sent to Kickstarter backers last week:

<<Hey, and good morning …

I listened to Midnight Oil for my first time in years on my way in to work this morning. A lot of their output sounds awkwardly dated at this point, but damn it all if “The Dead Heart” isn’t an incredible song.

That aside, I wanted to let you know how things are moving forward with the Q101 book you so generously backed.

As it stands, I’ll be deep in the interview process for the next four months or so. I have a total of over 100 people to talk to in order to properly write this book, and have been averaging about five interviews a week since the beginning of August. Surveying my spreadsheet this morning, I still have dozens of interviewees to contact, and dozens more
to slot into an interview time. This is not a quick process.

My current schedule has me trying to conduct interviews every weekday — one during my lunch break at work, and another after the kids go to bed at night. Simply put, whenever I have free time.

The interviews I’ve done thus far with former disc jockeys, talent, Program Directors, and General Managers have been eye-opening, candid, and hilarious. I think you’re going to really enjoy the finished product.

In case you missed it last week, Time Out Chicago ran a cover story feature of a “book preview” I wrote for them. You can read it online here:

On the “rewards” front, with the exception of two backers who’ve yet to respond, I’ve sent out all the rewards that I could mail prior the book’s publication. The remaining rewards are specific to the final release.

If you’re an essay-writing backer, I’ll likely reach out to you towards the new year with guidelines and deadlines.

Thanks again for your support and enthusiasm. Hope you have a great weekend!>>

As work continues, I’ll make a concentrated effort to continue plugging new thoughts and observations into this blog. For now, all I can offer is a Mekons song that got stuck in my head over lunch:


My appearance on ABC’s “Windy City Live”

I appeared on “Windy City Live” this morning to talk about my Q101 book and the cover story I wrote for this week’s Time Out Chicago.

Here it is …