Dialogue w Karl Keating Re “Official” & Self-Publishing

Dialogue w Karl Keating Re “Official” & Self-Publishing March 16, 2019

There is the possibility (during my lifetime?) that Blessed Cardinal Newman will be canonized, so that my three quotations books will sell like hotcakes. [that has now come true: praise God! It will likely happen sometime in 2019]

I always say that the golden age for Catholic apologetics was about 1997-2007. I started my website in 1997, and had four best-selling apologetics books from 2002-2007. I even sold 2000+ copies of my first book on my own before it became officially published. Those were the days! I was blessed to get in on that fashionable wave, while it lasted. The timing was perfect.

But the Catholic apologetics / theology market (despite that momentary revival) was always very tiny and is seemingly shrinking all the more now. I heard at one point (not sure if it’s verified) that the Catholic sex scandals reduced Catholic book-buying by 50%.

Then e-books became all the rage. It’s now very clear that they have not caused huge new demand. I have e-books all over the place (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes). And I have them (following Karl Keating’s confident advice) as low as I can possibly sell them ($2.99).

As the saying goes: you have to have money in order to make money. And you have to have money even to reach intended audiences with a book that required no money to write. I have the material to offer (that I think is good and solid), but I don’t have the power to advertise and distribute and make people aware of the books that I have written.

[Karl Keating’s words will be in blue]

Dave, you did take my advice regarding pricing, setting many (not all) of your ebooks at $2.99, but many of your books are available only as paperbacks and at prices considerably above the going rate. 

I just now scanned your listing at Amazon, and it seems most of the paperbacks are priced at $20.95. That’s a terrible price, psychologically. There’s a reason publishers aim for $19.95. 

Beyond the psychology, though, $20.95 is simply too expensive for what you’re offering, and potential customers know it, based on other paperbacks they buy. 

I don’t know where you got this notion. 3 out of 50 are paperback-only: the two Spanish translations and one French, and they are because I was told that the black market would wreck any effort to put them out as e-books. And they are priced at $13-14: hardly sky-high.

I see that your self-published paperbacks are done through Lulu.com. Maybe that’s the reason you’re stuck with high prices. I don’t know any successful indie writer who uses Lulu. Most use CreateSpace or its new equivalent within KDP. 

A bigger problem, I think, is one I discussed with you long ago: your books’ presentation, both outside and inside. Take your Holy Land pilgrimage book, Footsteps That Echo Forever.

I’ll be blunt: the cover isn’t just not good. It’s actually bad. It has bad typography and a bad photo of you, set in a dull-looking location. The cover fairly screams “Amateur!” 

Nowadays, especially with ebooks, people do judge by the cover. I advised you to use a professional cover designer, but you weren’t convinced that doing so would be worth the cost. (Compare your books that have been published by Sophia Institute Press: you’ve said they generally have sold well; there’s a reason for that.)

Of course there is: they can promote and advertise. So three of my four bestsellers are with them. But the notion that cover art is a major reason doesn’t follow and is too simplistic, seeing that my three books with Sophia since 2007 (half of my six total) have not sold well:

Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths
The Quotable Newman 
Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical (sold relatively a little better)

Quotable Newman had the topic (one would think), was enthusiastically pushed by the owner of the company at the time (John Barger), was featured on the cover of a Sophia catalogue, had a Preface by Joseph Pearce, and was a complete dud. People just didn’t give a damn about it.

It was the same for my Quotable Wesley. A Protestant publisher (Beacon Hill) trusted me enough to publish it and seemed to think it would sell very well (that was their judgment, not mine, as in all these cases). It did not.

Same with my Chesterton quotes book, published by TAN (under the supervision of Todd Aglialoro). Now why in the world wouldn’t that sell? But it didn’t.

Lastly, there is 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: published by Catholic Answers (under your supervision at the time). It had everything going for it: a great topic of supreme and central importance in Catholic-Protestant apologetics, good cover, published by CA, accompanying phone interview with Jimmy Akin, edited by Todd Aglialoro, who had done my three bestsellers at Sophia, had lots of promotion, and was another dud.

Now why would that be? I think it’s because the market has decreased. I don’t see Catholic publishers putting out materials on single apologetics topics like that hardly at all anymore. They used to; now they don’t.

None of these titles had anything to do with my choice of a cover. These are six books done by four major publishers, and none sold well. Thus, self-publishing doesn’t explain their poor performance. It was their professional judgment to publish them: obviously thinking they would sell, or else they wouldn’t have done so (like all publishers approach things).

So, for example, with the sola Scriptura book, if there was any blame attached to that, it would have to go back to Catholic Answers and Todd Aglialoro, not myself. I think that’s too simplistic. I wouldn’t even make that accusation. But it seems that you would have to, by your own internal reasoning.

As I have noted to you before in passing, even having tons of money and resources (as you do) and a name and past record of excellence (the father of the Catholic apologetics movement), and snazzy covers, doesn’t automatically translate into good sales. So let’s look at the numbers of your recent e-books on Amazon:

1) Booked for Life (Catholic Answers Press, Nov. 2017):

#214,437
#651 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Theology > Apologetics
#2166 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Catholicism
Kindle edition: #278,634

2) The Ultimate Catholic Quiz: 100 Questions Most Catholics Can’t Answer (Ignatius Press, March 2016)

#249,487
#1150 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Education
#2521 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Catholicism
Kindle edition: #624,343

3) The New Geocentrists (I believe it is self-published; Feb. 2015)

#2,402,612
#2267 in Books > Science & Math > Astronomy & Space Science > Cosmology
#25957 in Books > Science & Math > Physics
Kindle edition: #1,227,257

4) Debating Catholicism (Nov. 2017, self-published?)

Kindle-only: #1,042,539
#1181 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Religion & Spirituality > Christian Books & Bibles > Theology > Apologetics
#3209 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Theology > Apologetics
#4531 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Religion & Spirituality > Christian Books & Bibles > Catholicism

5) Jeremiah’s Lament (Sep, 2017, self-published?)

Paperback-only

#3,988,388
#27393 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Catholicism
#54581 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Christian Denominations & Sects
#688080 in Books > Religion & Spirituality

6) Anti-Catholic Junk Food (Jan. 2015; self-published?)

Kindle-only
#735,597

7) No Apology (Dec. 2014, self-published?)

Kindle-only
#629,723

8) Apologetics the English Way (Oct. 2015, self-published?)

#3,929,436 (paperback)
#1,376,824 (Kindle)

Why are they doing so relatively poorly, Karl? They’re not exactly ripping up the charts, are they? What do you think the reason is? What are you doing wrong? They have everything going for them, that you are talking about.

My New Catholic Answer Bible is doing better than all those by far, after 13 years: #15,957. Too bad OSV decided to not pay me ongoing royalties for it.

The insides of your books also have problems. Again, the pilgrimage book: not only isn’t there a clickable table of contents for the ebook version, but there isn’t a table of contents at all. The first text that appears consists of the copyright notice, photo credits, and a dedication–all of which should go at the back of an ebook. 

Then there is the internal typography: instead of a standard book-like layout, the paragraphs have no first-line indentation, and there are blank lines between paragraphs. That’s fine in a business letter but not in a book. Ebook need to look as much like professionally-done print books as possible. Yours don’t. They look, again, like amateur productions.

I just checked the ePubs put out by Sophia Institute Press for my Biblical Defense of Catholicism and The Catholic Verses. Both have all these faults, making them, according to you, “amateur productions.”

1) They don’t seem to have a clickable table of contents.

2) They have copyright info. first: just as paperback books do.

3) They don’t have indentation like paperbacks. They have spaces between all paragraphs.

You should drop them a line and tell them you think their e-books are amateurish. :-)

I went and looked at the Kindle version of 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura. It has the cool Table of Contents and indentation, but it has copyright stuff first, and it has very weird alternating huge text and dinky text. It looks far more amateurish and “goofy” than any text I have ever put out. Now maybe that is some glitch at Amazon (I don’t know), but as far as it appears up there right now, it’s not exactly a big boon to book sales.

But even despite that, the Kindle numbers (#538,376) are better than for six of the seven books of yours listed above, on Kindle, and my book is almost six years old, whereas yours above are all since 2014, and several, very recent.

Your arguments have many holes in them, as I have been demonstrating, I think. If your advice is correct (considered as a whole), it would be working for your own books. But it’s not, for the most part. And there are so many anomalies in checking it out against the actual facts of sales, that it must be accepted only in bits and pieces.

My opinion is, I think, far more demonstrable: the market is changing and decreasing.

Of course it’s better to be officially published than self-published. No one disputes that. And it’s better to have professional artwork than amateur. That’s self-evident. But I don’t have the money to do the second, and the first is not in my control.

You do have plenty of money and all your professional covers, and big-time publishers in two cases, but nevertheless, it’s not making your books sell in bundles. You have discovered the hard way that self-publishing and e-books are not nearly as simple to successfully do as you may have thought. And all the professional artwork and big promotion by big Catholic (and Protestant) publishers have not caused my books since 2007 to sell.

I don’t see that we’re all that different from each other, as regards selling books. We’ve both sold many more books in the past than we do now (which fits my explanation perfectly). But you have all the money and resources to make your self-publishing efforts succeed: you are able to apply your own advice, and it still doesn’t work.

Quite obviously, then, it’s not just something that I’m doing wrong: that I’m supposedly screwing everything up and wrecking my career as an author by my own misinformed, erroneous, and stubborn choices. The causes are far more broad and complex.

I suspect the reason for the dinky and shrinking market is something along the lines of what Jennifer Fulwiler wrote about at NCR.

Most fiction writers realize that collections of short stories just don’t sell. The analogous thing for non-fiction might be collections of famous writers’ quotations: there just isn’t a market for them. Thus the slow sales for your Newman and Chesterton books. If they had been published by Random House they probably still wouldn’t have sold.

This is one of my points, though. You say I have to get the professional cover art and have an official publisher. I did that with these two and the Wesley book: three major publishers. All of them had to be unaware that there was no market for this, and that is supposed to be part of their expertise and knowledge field, as publishers. How could they be so clueless? Sophia was really excited about my Newman book.

None of that was my fault. I didn’t cause those things to come about. The publishers made a bad judgment call. If they knew the truth that such books have no market, they would have told me and I would have written something else. On the other hand, if quotations books simply don’t sell, then that was the primary factor, no matter who published it.

Whether they sell or not, I feel that I have provided a valuable service for however many people buy them. Some things have value beyond dollar value. These books are some of those.

As for my books, I deliberately have done no marketing for most of them: Debating Catholicism, for instance, which is the omnibus volume in a five-book series. I won’t begin marketing that series until all five books are published (I’m having trouble getting one of them to be formatted properly at KDP: internal links aren’t showing up correctly).

Some of the books you list–such as Jeremiah’s Lament, No Apology, and Anti-Catholic Junk Food — I did market briefly a couple of years ago. For about two months they sold, on average, about eight copies each daily, and that was with only mentions of them at my Facebook page. I’ll return to marketing them once I get some other titles up and running.

The Catholic Answers marketing department has done a good job in getting radio interviews for me regarding Booked for Life. I’ve been on eight or nine shows so far, with two or three more in the works, and I’ll be on EWTN in June. Each of these appearances has been urging listeners to purchase the book at catholic.com. I don’t know what the sales there have been to date, but sales at catholic.com aren’t reflected at Amazon.

So, to this point, my self-published books have been (deliberately) under the radar. You’ve done your best to have yours show up on radar. My earlier experiment in marketing, two years ago, leads me to think that I’ll have reasonable results once I begin marketing in earnest. We’ll see. In any event, you acknowledge that your own marketing efforts haven’t had much by way of results. 

You fall back on the idea that “the market is changing and decreasing.” I see no evidence of that. One of Trent Horn’s books, for example, has sold more than 100,000 copies in paperback in the last year: that’s not an indication of a declining interest in apologetics. It is an indication that he “wrote to market” and had a book with good typography, good cover art, and good editing–plus a savvy sales plan (in this case, case-lot sales at steep discounts off the MSRP).

I looked at Jennifer Fulwiler’s article (it’s from 2012). When she wrote, the ebook boom was only about a year old. She didn’t seem to take it into account–nor did those she quoted. The bookstore owners or publishers among them may have had a sense that unit sales were down, but that has been true for bookstores and (traditional) publishers of all genres, not just Catholic books. 

Overall readership actually is up, with the difference being ebooks, once you take into account not just ebook sales by the Big 5 publishers but, more importantly, sales by indies, who actually sell the large majority of ebooks. (See AuthorEarnings.com for voluminous details.)

This doesn’t address what I was writing about–you brought up her article, as though it explained why your books weren’t selling as expected: “people just don’t read any more!” You say, “Quite obviously, then, it’s not just something that I am doing wrong.” Actually, it mostly is, as evidenced by others not having the problems you have. Yes, there are externalities, but other writers have dealt with them successfully. I repeat: your main problems have been presentation (outside and inside) and lack of independent editing.

You say you can’t afford professional covers. Top-rated professional covers run around $500. Good-quality professional covers run around $300. Acceptable professional covers (that still look professional, not amateur, as your covers look) run around $200. 

If you price a book at $2.99, you earn $2.05. To pay for a professional cover at the bottom of this scale you’d need to sell 100 books more than you otherwise would have. If you don’t think an attractive cover can result in that much of a difference for a particular book, then maybe you shouldn’t have written the book. 

At Catholic Answers my rule of thumb, when we considered accepting new manuscripts, was whether there seemed to be a reasonable likelihood that a book would sell 10,000 copies in its lifetime. I think C.A. still works on that kind of basis. Looked at this way, the 100 extra sales needed to pay for a good cover amount to a 1% increase in expected sales. That’s pretty modest. 

Going from a bad cover to a good cover (and remember, the cover is a book’s chief marketing tool) should boost sales many times that. If it can’t, then it’s likely that that book never should have been written because there just isn’t a market for it (as with your quotation books). There are countless stories online, at self-publishing sites, of how changing a cover has taken a book from flat sales to booming sales. This seems to be as true for non-fiction books as for fiction. 

Unfortunately, we live in a visual rather and verbal age: readers’ first (and often last) impression of a book is its cover; after that, its interior layout. The actual words are lower on the list. If a book can’t pass muster on the first two levels, readers never get to the words themselves. Pity, but that’s how it is, and we have to learn to deal with it–and not make excuses that our sales are determined by powers beyond our control.

You may have hit on some of the reasons. I don’t discount everything you say. I grant that you know more about bookselling and publishing than I do. But I don’t see that you have addressed all of the anomalies I brought up and things that just don’t fit into your overall thesis. A bucket doesn’t hold much water, the more holes it has.

You say you haven’t marketed and advertised most of your recent books. Yes, exactly! That puts us on more of an even playing field. I have no money to do either of those. I have no choice, as you do. But you still have the professional covers, a much better-known name, CA likely behind you, carrying your titles, etc.

You have all those advantages over me, yet they are still selling pretty poorly (at least judging by Amazon). Now, for more anomalies, I can produce several of my self-published books, with the inferior cover art and whatever problems with the text you noted, that still outsell your more recent efforts, at Kindle. How can that be? Why wouldn’t yours be doing way better than mine if you are right about your theory? No doubt you think you are a much better writer than I am, too. It makes no sense.

Here are your Kindle numbers for five self-published and (as you say) not-promoted books published between 2014-2017:

1) The New Geocentrists (Feb. 2015): #1,227,257

2) Debating Catholicism (Nov. 2017): #1,042,539

3) Anti-Catholic Junk Food (Jan. 2015): #735,597

4) No Apology (Dec. 2014): #629,723

5) Apologetics the English Way (Oct. 2015): #1,376,824

Now, here are my own self-published Kindle books that are doing better than all yours (some, way better), or most of yours, and in most cases, older books, too:

Catholic Church Fathers: Patristic and Scholarly Proofs (Aug. 2013): #198,152

Pillars of Sola Scriptura: Replies to Whitaker, Goode, & Biblical “Proofs” for “Bible Alone” (Sep. 2012): #400,520

The Quotable Eastern Church Fathers: Distinctively Catholic Elements in Their Theology (Jul 2013): #406,645

Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise (Apr 2011): #469,512

Reflections on Radical Catholic Reactionaries (Aug. 2013): #549,571

Mass Movements: Radical Catholic Reactionaries, the New Mass, and Ecumenism (Dec. 2012): #583,067

Orthodoxy & Catholicism: A Comparison (Jan. 2016): #672,429

Debating James White: Shocking Failures of the “Undefeatable” Anti-Catholic Champion (Nov. 2013): #683,654

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (Apr. 2011): #747,629

Development of Catholic Doctrine: Evolution, Revolution, or an Organic Process? (Apr 2011): #788,349

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (Oct. 2012): #789,617

Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism (Apr 2011): #829,946

How can this be, Karl? These 12 books are all self-published, older than yours, with the amateur covers (a few were done by a graphic artist), perhaps with some of the other problems you mentioned of formatting, etc., have no promotion or advertising to speak of, with much less author name recognition than you, about widely varying topics, including two quotations books (two of the top three), yet they are doing better than yours.

Looks like I should be giving you advice about how to improve your Kindle book sales, not vice versa. Six of the twelve are doing better on Amazon than your best-selling recent self-published one (No Apology). Eight of twelve are doing better than three of your five. All twelve are doing better than your three least-selling above (i.e., mine are under 1 million sales rank).

If you can explain all that in a way that preserves your central explanation: that I am screwing up and making basic mistakes that you are not making (so that if I did what you say, I’d be doing a lot better), feel free. To me, it makes little sense. The proof’s in the pudding.

Moreover, I have four self-published books that are outselling (at Kindle) 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura (published by Catholic Answers, for readers who don’t know that). It’s number right now is #518,018.

My Catholic Church Fathers book (mostly quotations) is doing better than your two recent ones published by CA and Ignatius. That makes absolutely no sense, according to your analysis.

I have four self-published books doing better on Kindle than “official” Biblical Defense: one of my bestsellers and my best-known book (#524,020).

All twelve self-published books above are doing better than another bestseller of mine, and “official” book, The One-Minute Apologist (#834,319).

The same holds for my third bestseller, The Catholic Verses (#860,574).

Six of twelve are outselling even my most recent Sophia book, Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical (July 2015). It’s at #601,410 on Kindle. But that outsells your recent books, on the even playing field (professional publisher and artwork and proper advertising & promotion). When the field is even, I outsell even you.

Like I said earlier, my best-selling book of all, The New Catholic Answer Bible (co-author, Paul Thigpen), is at #23,835: better than any book of yours, and it came out in 2005.

All of this refutes the arguments you have been making. The numbers just don’t fit with your analysis.

I’m still giving up on self-published books (minus translations, if they ever take off). I decided that in 2015, and I have seen no reason to change my mind since then.

I’ve become primarily a 1000-word article writer (and rearranger and ongoing editor of my own stock of 2000+ articles) ever since then. It’s not my first choice, but I’m happy to take it, because I can still write and educate, and that’s my calling. My articles are doing very well everywhere I am: National Catholic Register, Michigan Catholic, and on my Patheos blog, where it is often in the top three (based on page views) out of about 60 Catholic writers.

By no means do I consider myself a failure. I’ve succeeded in my vocation. I’ve had success. I’m just not having as much — with books — as I have in the past. We differ on the reasons for that, but it is the fact right now, and I have given up on books.

If you’re gonna change my mind about that, you’re gonna have to do a lot better than this present reasoning, because it fails to explain the data that we have, and I’m doing better than you yourself are doing with recent e-books, with far less resources and advantages than you have.

It’s simple, Dave. I haven’t marketed those books of mine (listed above) at all, except three of them, and that was for a brief test period two years ago. The Archangel Gabriel could write a book and wouldn’t sell copies unless the book was marketed. No one buys a book he doesn’t know exists. 

Your attempted comparison with my books just isn’t apt. You’ve tried to push your books in those venues where you have had a presence, and that’s good, yet it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t been because you lacked money to advertise. (Lots of self-published authors use Amazon Marketing Services, for example, and, while spending money, they bring in far more than they spend. They don’t up-front any costs. There are lots of other ways to advertise too on an incremental basis.)

Again, the chief problems I see are:

1. Lots of your books are on narrow topics for which there just isn’t a market. No one could write on those topics and expect to sell many (or any) copies. You don’t need to write the equivalent of what you call pope-bashing books, but you do need to ask yourself, long before you write a word, whether your proposed topic is one that people would be interested in. It’s okay to write a book knowing that it will have infinitesimal sales; there can be an apostolic purpose in that, and I’ve done it myself. But then don’t complain when sales are infinitesimal.

2. Your books sorely need an editor. Few authors are good at self-editing, and you’re not one of them. You need mainly a developmental editor (not so much a style editor or proofreader). These big-picture things often are lost on authors, perhaps because they’re too close to their writing. 

3. Presentation, both outside and inside. 

4. Savvy, no-cost or low-cost marketing, beyond advertisements as such. You seem unaware of what’s possible. Again, I recommend the David Gaughran and Joanna Penn books. Thousands of self-published authors have acted on those writers’ recommendations, and not a few of those authors make good livings, even those who write for small niche markets.

5. You seem to be in denial about a lot of this. You complain about having poor sales, almost as though it’s an affront, and you aren’t open to either criticism or suggestion. Your response always is to point to some other author–whether me or someone else–whose books (or some of them) may be selling even more slowly than yours. You don’t compare apples and apples, and you end up bewildered. Again, go to people such as Gaughran and Penn (there are many others too) to get an understanding of what you should be doing and what you need to stop doing. 

6. If, in your frustration, you have decided to stop writing books, that’s fine. Maybe it’s time for you to concentrate on other projects. 

***

A third problem–and this perhaps is the most consequential–is that you need a developmental editor, someone who will rearrange and shorten your text to make it read well. Many of your books read as though they were copied from online discussion forums or blogs–because they were. What may be acceptable in those venues just doesn’t pass muster in book format. 

I wish your books sold well because they do have good stuff in them, but the presentation and wordsmithing no doubt put off many potential buyers, to their loss and yours. You’ve written what–nearly fifty books?–and, except for those published by traditional publishers, they don’t seem to have met even your most modest sales expectations. It’s not that you don’t have good ideas. It’s not that you don’t have useful things to convey. 

You miss the mark on the editor aspect. It’s true that all four of my bestsellers had an editor. They find me easy to work with. Ask Todd if you don’t believe me. But there are my self-published books, doing generally better than your self-published books. You haven’t promoted; neither have I. Your theories and now attempted psychoanalyses (“You seem to be in denial about a lot of this. . . . you aren’t open to either criticism or suggestion”) just don’t explain that. Maybe some of it, but nowhere near all of it.

But my book for Sophia, Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical, had no editor but myself. That was Sophia’s call as well. My writing; my editing. It’s doing okay; not spectacularly. But it’s not some terrible book because I edited it. It was comprised mostly of articles that I had done for venues like Seton Magazine.

Maybe you wouldn’t like that book. Different strokes. You didn’t like the style of my conversion story way back in 1993 when it was published in This Rock. Either you or someone there changed virtually every sentence of it (which I was not pleased with). Pat Madrid changed very little (he added a few things) when it went into Surprised by Truth. No editor has ever changed my writing as much as that story was changed. It was hardly even my own piece anymore. Different strokes. But not everyone agrees with you. Dr. Jeff Mirus wrote this about my book, Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical:

Sophia Press is offering a collection of eighty short essays by Catholic convert and apologist Dave Armstrong, entitled Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical. Reading this is very like reading a collection of CatholicCulture.org’s commentaries by Phil Lawler or myself; the little essays are drawn chiefly from Armstrong’s excellent work online addressing questions that come up again and again as Protestants challenge the faith of their Catholic neighbors.

Dr. Mirus gushed even more so about my Quotable Newman (completely edited by me: not one word changed at Sophia):

The Quotable Newman, compiled by Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong, who excels at presenting well over a thousand short extracts from Blessed John Henry Newman’s extensive works. These are organized in a kind of encyclopedia of topics, . . .

Another very positive aspect of this division into topics is that it enables Armstrong to present a chronological series of Newman’s comments on each topic, which shows the development of his thought over time. Often our understanding of a later item is illuminated by an earlier one, or vice versa. This is particularly valuable in that Armstrong includes extracts from Newman’s Anglican period only when one can follow the growth of his ideas through follow-up comments after he converted to Catholicism.

He thought it was great. That was my editing. I offered it completed to Sophia and they didn’t change a thing. Dr. Phil Blosser also thinks very highly of it.

Dale Ahlquist is very fond of my Chesterton quotes book (completely edited by myself). He interviewed me at his magazine, and they carry the book at the American Chesterton Society. It was a quality book, I think. But as you say, quotations books generally don’t sell well.

Also, Biblical Defense of Catholicism was essentially self-edited. Todd changed a bit here and there (usually mere phrases), but changed nothing essential. And that was a big bestseller for me. He did exponentially more editing with Catholic Verses and One-Minute Apologist, and the ideas for those were initially his. I thought he did a terrific job and it was a pleasure to work with him.

Somehow without an editor I manage to write very successful articles six times a month at National Catholic Register and every two weeks at Michigan Catholic. They’re always put up unchanged. Same thing with my blog at Patheos, where I am in complete control of my content. Somehow over there I have managed to become one of the top three Catholic blogs out of some 60.

By no means is one judgment (about my dire need of editors) representative of the opinion of the whole mass of my readers. A writer will always have some critics, just as an artist or musician or movie director will have critics. That’s to be expected. So in the end we have to look at overall impact and successfulness.

I just don’t buy it that unless I have an editor overseeing everything I do, I become a lousy writer. Yes, an editor will improve one’s writing if he is a good one. And when someone has written as much as I have (50 books, 2000+ articles), not everything will be of exactly the same quality. But it doesn’t follow that I am out to sea without one. That’s far too simplistic.

I’m all for having an editor, just as I am all for having a big-name publisher publish as many of my books as possible. But since that doesn’t always happen, I won’t stop writing just because an editor isn’t overseeing everything I write. I have far too much to communicate and share (as an apologist and evangelist), and I will continue to do it whether I have an editor or publisher or not.

Not everyone will care for what one writes. I write a lot of different types of material. I tell critics like you every time: “if you don’t care for what I write, that’s fine; seek out someone else to read.”

But there is a line between someone saying, “I don’t care for your particular style and/or content or presentation” and “because I don’t care for your particular style and/or content or presentation I can conclude that such shortcomings are a serious problem in your writing that is preventing lots of  other people from liking it, too.” The second part doesn’t follow, and hasn’t followed in fact, judging by my overall impact, determined by many objective measures.

People have different opinions. You think I do a lousy job editing. Others disagree. You think because I disagree with you on what we are talking about now, therefore I can’t take advice (as some besetting sin of mine or something). That’s not true. You’re just one person. You have these opinions, but not everyone does. I listen to everyone and I form my opinions accordingly. But there is no monolithic opinion out there that I am some terrible editor (several publishers certainly didn’t think that). That’s your opinion, and that’s fine. But it’s not indisputable or gospel truth. These things are largely subjective anyway.

I’ve always shown you the utmost respect. I’ve defended you and/or CA many times. Todd recently thanked me for doing it again when I noted that CA deals with social topics all the time; it had to do with the pro-life issue. But even people we highly respect can say things that are flat-out wrong or mistaken.

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Setting a low price on ebooks is good and necessary, but it isn’t enough, and it’s not the most important thing (though setting a high price, whether on ebooks or paperbacks, can be sufficient to kill a book that otherwise would move decently). 

I think it would serve you well to stop writing for six months and to immerse yourself in the techniques of self-publishing. The third edition of David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital recently appeared. It’s one of the best guides to self-publishing. The ebook version is $4.99: a great investment for anyone thinking of being or becoming an author. 

There are other books and websites that a prospective self-publisher should take in. Gaughran’s book has links to some of them. I suggest you read books by Derek Murphy and Mark J. Dawson. Above all, look at Joanna Penn’s Successful Self-Publishing and How to Market a Book. She is one of the top names in self-publishing instruction. 

There’s a Facebook group called 20BooksTo50K (that is, write 20 books and starting earning $50,000 annually). The group’s title is based on the premise that each of an author’s 20 books will sell three copies a day at $2.99, at which price point the author clears about $2.05. The result is an annual income of $44,895 (so fairly close to $50K). 

The group deals mainly with fiction books, but the principle is solid: a decent marketing effort–see the Gaughran book–should be able to generate three sales daily (that’s barely 1,000 copies per title per year), but it does depend on presentation and good editing. 

For your own good and the good of the Church, I want to see you succeed. That you haven’t, at least with your self-published books, says something. 

You have written the equivalent of the above post several times in recent years, but you haven’t drawn the necessary conclusion: you’re doing something basically wrong. You need to learn what that something is (or what those somethings are) and then make fundamental changes.

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[Karl graciously responding to someone else in the same thread who rather harshly criticized my writing] Dave has produced a lot of good work over the years. He’s one of the better U.S. apologists, and I don’t recall him ever being accused, legitimately, of theological error. 

I recall Jimmy Akin being criticized, legitimately, for imprecisions (when I first knew him, for example, he spoke in terms of “three people in the Trinity”). 

I recall when Scott Hahn–not technically an apologist–rightly was called on the carpet for writing about the “feminine aspect” of the Holy Spirit, when there is no such aspect. (This, I think, was the result of Scott’s over-reliance on the covenant motif, which has a certain utility but not nearly so much as he has supposed.)

Most of my disagreements with Dave haven’t been about what he has written but how it has been presented. In past years I said pretty much what I said in my comments of the last few days. I want to see Dave succeed, partly for his own benefit and that of his family but chiefly for the good of the Church. 

He always has been conscientious in his work, trying to dig a bit deeper than most other apologists. Sometimes I think he’s off in his judgment calls, but, as I said, I can’t think of an instance in which he pushed erroneous doctrine, whether publicly or privately.

And he always has made an effort to be kind, even to those who might not seem to deserve much kindness. Granted, I haven’t read everything he’s written. Perhaps somewhere online there is preserved an instance of his blowing his top, but I’m not aware of it.

Thanks for the very kind words, Karl. I appreciate it. It was starting to be a bit of a pile-on, in other comments (one deleted) and you were thoughtful to sort of nip that in the bud by balancing your criticisms with some very nice things also, to provide more of an overall picture of things. We may criticize each other in various ways, but we are good friends, and have an underlying mutual respect.

I’m glad that you want me to succeed! I can assure all that I will be around, writing, till I drop. It’s my vocation. You and others will sometimes disagree with some things I write, or its presentation or style or content or whatever — which is normal and to be expected — , but come what may I’ll be here sharing what I have received.

If it’s not through books, it’ll be on my blog (where I’ve been getting up to 70,000 page views a month) or at National Catholic Register (where my posts get consistently high share numbers). Only God fully knows what the future holds. I’m sure there are surprises (blessings) in store.

If God didn’t want this enterprise to continue, I’m sure it would have folded and I would have given up years ago. But (like Elton John), I’m still standing and as motivated as ever to defend Holy Mother Church. As long as I’m breathing and able to write, I’ll do so. I absolutely love my work.

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Related Reading:

Are My Books Difficult or Easy to Read? An Objective Standard To Determine Relative Readability and Complexity / Comparison With Other Authors [5-26-07; at Internet Archive]

Karl Keating’s Kind Fundraiser on My Behalf (September 2013) / My Thoughts on My Recent Rough Financial Stretch [10-1-13]

Exchange with Karl Keating about my e-books and the market for Catholic books [Facebook, 7-15-15; in the combox]

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(originally on my Facebook page: 3-22-18; somewhat abridged, for topical and brevity’s sake, on 3-16-19)

Photo credit: my one book published with Catholic Answers (then headed by Karl Keating, in 2012 (see book info. and purchase info.).

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