Interview with Thomas Huynh

For a change in pace, today's interview with Thomas Huynh is the one that got away. Thomas is the founder of the website dedicated to Sun Tzu's Art of War, and seriously considered self publishing before signing with a trade publisher.

1) Your popular website put you in an excellent position to self publish, but you chose to go with a trade publisher in the end. What were the chief advantages you saw in becoming a trade author?

As you know from my many emails to you when I first looked into this matter, it wasn't an easy decision at all. There were many restless nights. The issue comes down to what you just said: we had a great platform at to work with and felt that the marketing part that would attract most authors to trade publishers is much less of a factor for us. Why share the profit, right?

In the end, it came down to third party representation. It also came down to professional editing. Looking back on it, I would make the same decision again. The representation aspect is an intangible and cannot be put down in dollar terms but I believe it gives us more credibility to say that we indeed went through a gatekeeper" and that there was validation from another entity willing to invest in us. The reputation of our publisher, Skylight Paths, was impeccable; we researched them and went as far as asking their former employees. So what you have are great people backing your work. That means a lot to me. The editing was invaluable as well. The book would be quite different without my editor's feedback, and in many ways, would be much less valuable to the reader. So the quality of the work improved.

2) What was the strongest attraction the self publishing route held for you?

Money. As you have demonstrated on your website, the difference between the profit margin from selling a trade book and a self-published one is staggering. Again, the concern of whether we can sell enough books is greatly minimized because of our platform. We usually receive requests from trade publishers once every quarter asking us if we wanted to publish our work with them. I turned them all down until Skylight Paths came along. Skylight Paths' mission fits perfectly with ours at and as I mentioned before, we did a background check on them. This due diligence paid off. Maybe I'm lucky but I had pretty good independence as far as what I want to say in my book. Anything that was deleted or changed happened only with my approval. Perhaps this is not a big problem with trade authors but I'm just glad it wasn't a problem for me.

3) What did you see as the biggest downside of self publishing?

Being on your own. You can get around the editing part by hiring freelance editors but I don't think you can substitute being represented by a third party. Maybe this doesn't mean much to some people but it does for me.

4) How did you apply the teachings of the Art of War in making your final decision?

Excellent question! The most important concept in Sun Tzu's The Art of War is making your decision free of emotion. (It prevents a general from waging war in anger.) That's why it took me so long to decide whether I wanted to sign the book contract. Not that I had concerns about the publisher. Rather, I didn't want to make a decision based on a momentary feeling instead of doing what is best for all concerned.

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