Joel Ohman on self-publishing success

By   Tom Robinson 5 min read

Joel Ohman is a Florida-based tech entrepreneur. His debut novel, Meritropolis, self-published earlier this year, is already proving popular and has topped several of Amazon Kindle’s bestseller categories. We spoke to him about his writing, the publishing process, and how he’s managed to drum up such a buzz about the novel.

What were the hardest and easiest parts of writing Meritropolis and – for someone who has never self-published before – putting it all together?

This was my first book, so I would say that the entire process was maybe a little harder than I anticipated. I worked with some fantastic editors though, so I learned a lot as I went along, and I think it became easier and easier. It certainly helped to be working with a team of publishing professionals with far more experience than me!

One of the most important things I learnt is maybe not all that surprising, but definitely important: the value of an editor. I worked with 3 different editors while writing Meritropolis. Each of them provided extremely valuable feedback and advice that was instrumental at various stages of the writing process. The book that is available for purchase now is a much better book than it would have been without the expertise of my editorial team.

It’s not just editorial collaborators who proved vital; the cover designer, Nik Keevil for example, was another person without whom the book wouldn’t be what it is. He did a fantastic job, and has designed covers for the new Lord of the Rings box set, Bernard Cornwell, Diana Gabaldon, and many other outstanding authors. It was a great privilege to have him working on this project with me.

Your book, for a self-published début, is already doing remarkably well. How important has social media marketing been to that early success? What other marketing have you done?

I believe that social media can be an effective marketing technique if done the right way. The key is that social media is primarily about building relationships and about delivering something of value. We all know those Facebook friends who incessantly clog up our newsfeeds with pleas to join their health and wellness MLM – don’t be that kind of author!

That being said, I do think that Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. can be a great way to meet other readers and authors and discuss fun and interesting things. Hopefully that will lead to more exposure and more book sales, but coming across as too pushy is something that I definitely aim to avoid.

Right now I am concentrating on getting my book in front of as many of the awesome book bloggers and book reviewers out there as possible. Meritropolis is fortunate to have received a large number of 5-star reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, and I am definitely hoping this trend will continue. I also recently started working with Emlyn Chand over at Novel Publicity and she has been great, so I am excited to see what she can do!

Joel OhmanOf course, with all that good press there will always be some bad. How do you deal with negative reviews?

Everyone has different tastes in what they like to read, so I don’t let bad reviews bother me too much. No matter what your favorite book is, you can almost guarantee that it will have many bad reviews on Amazon from people who just didn’t get out of it what you did, and that’s fine. I do try to stay objective and see if there might be something I can learn from the criticism to become a better writer, if not, then I just move on and don’t worry about it.

Do you have any advice for authors who are considering the self-publishing route?

I am not one of those authors who will say that self-publishing is the best choice for every author, but I am absolutely glad that I went this route. I love that I can fully control and fully own my work, but I would encourage anyone who self-publishes to try to adhere to the following advice:

  • Spend some money 

Be willing to pay for a professional editor, a professional book cover designer, etc. It boggles my mind that people will spend hours upon hours writing their book and then just take a few minutes to throw some clip art and stock photos together to “design” their book cover. Don’t. Just, don’t.

  • Work with professionals 

By this I simply mean to not overly rely on friends, family members, and co-workers, all of whom will likely just tell you what you want to hear. You need someone who is not afraid to point out the problem areas in your book and provide an honest critique. You already know that your mom is going to say she loves your vampire-Scottish-Highlander-billionaire-love-triangle-in-space book that you wrote, so don’t even bother asking her for feedback. Instead, pay someone who does that kind of thing for a living

  • Sell, sell, sell 

If you are a self-published author and you are not actively involved in sales and marketing for your book – which is essentially your mini-business – or you are not paying someone else to be actively involved in the sales and marketing of your book, then you are not maximizing the reach your book can have. As uncouth as it might be to say this, writing is only half of what is required to see success as a self-published author. Yes, you need to write a good book, but you also need to effectively market and sell your book (either by hiring someone, or doing it yourself, or both).

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m trying to focus on both marketing Meritropolis and write the sequel, as well as keep my various start-ups running; it’s a difficult balancing act!

The whitefox team will be sharing our picks from 2014 soon, what books have helped you whilst writing Meritropolis?

Here are some books that I highly recommend for all authors to check out:

Wordsmithy, Douglas Wilson

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

On Writing, Stephen King

The Anatomy of Story, John Truby

The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maas


Joel Ohman’s Meritropolis is out now. Read about the specific services whitefox provided him with here.