Spotlight 36: Gary Collins


Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show, and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing, one book at a time.

Tom Ashford: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers, and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.

My name’s Tom Ashford, and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit at

Tom Ashford: This week’s guest is Gary Collins. He’s written seven books in the non-fiction genre, and he lives in the States.

Welcome, Gary.

Gary Collins: Thanks for having me on, Tom.

Tom Ashford: Do you want to start by talking about your non-fiction books?

Gary Collins: I have six that are indie published, and one that’s traditionally published, through a place called Mother Earth News, which is a huge magazine publishing company, and they put on fairs throughout the country, and I speak at.

My non-fiction books are basically self-help, DIY, motivational. A little bit of everything, personal finance. Health is a big part of what I teach. A little bit of everything.

Tom Ashford: You mentioned consulting on a thriller novel, or a couple thriller novels?

Gary Collins: I’ve been consulting on seven novellas with A.C. Fuller, called The Crime Beat. We just released the seventh one yesterday.

Tom Ashford: If we dive into the five questions, the first one is why do you write?

Gary Collins: Because it’s part of my life purpose. I’ve always been a teacher, person who helps other people. I spent 20 years in military intelligence in the military, as a Federal Law Enforcement officer, Special Agent. I’ve been a college professor. I owned a health company, when I first got out, helping people, primarily athletes, high end athletes. So, it’s my calling, to write, in a way, to share this information.

It came about organically, is the best way to put it. My life purpose found me.

Tom Ashford: Nice.

Gary Collins: If you would have asked me if I would be writing self-help books 10 years ago, I would have said, “You’re out of your mind,” but here I am.

Tom Ashford: Is there a particular topic that the self-help books address?

Gary Collins: There are numerous. There’s kind of two different splits. I have my book called Going Off The Grid, which pushed me into the self-help world. It was a book about my off-grid house project, that I never intended to write. That’s one of the best books you can write, the one you never intended to write, I found.

I was doing an interview, got asked several questions about health, because that’s why I was there. The host asked what I was up to, and I said, “Oh, I’d bought 20 acres in Northeast Washington, and I was going to build a house off the grid, get back to my roots.”

I grew up very rurally. Got a flood of questions, and had just started the process of … the property was raw. I just built the road, so I documented it. I said, “Hey, I think maybe I should write about this, people are interested.” There you go, off the to races, in a different path.

Tom Ashford: Nice.

You went traditionally published, in the first place. What made you want to switch to indie publishing, afterwards?

Gary Collins: No, I’ve always been indie.

Tom Ashford: Okay.

Gary Collins: I started indie. I had some pretty poor publishing deals offered to me, early on in my career. Most of them were tell-all books about the Federal government.

Tom Ashford: Right.

Gary Collins: Which I refused 100%, and said, “No way, never going to happen.”

I independently published from the very beginning, I did three real short health books, 10 years ago, roughly, I started. Those were for clients, but I had a marketing guy say, “Oh just throw them on Amazon.” As everyone knows now, don’t do that, just don’t throw things on Amazon. Lesson learned.

But, the traditionally published one is through a relationship I have with Mother Earth News Fair, and Ogden Publishing.

Tom Ashford: Right.

Gary Collins: It was not a monetary decision, it was more of a loyalty decision.

Tom Ashford: Would you take a traditional publishing contract, if you were offered it?

Gary Collins: If it was on my terms. It just depends. It’s a tricky question because most traditional publishing offers … I actually got two last year, from more boutique publishing companies. They’re usually just God awful. A couple thousand dollars, a couple thousand pounds.

You basically make nothing, it’s 80 cents a book, or something. They own the rights, and I just don’t see the point. Now that I’ve been indie publishing for so long, I have a system. I can make money doing it, I don’t need their help.

Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? How do you approach writing non-fiction?

Gary Collins: I do it very differently, I’m kind of known for that. Even the way I run my company, I own my print copies, which we can maybe get into. I own everything.

For me, I don’t write upon a schedule. I’m very disciplined. Part of what I write about is discipline, and getting things done. I don’t have to write every single day to stay on course.

What I do is I have an outline that I put together over time, so it’s written outline. Then, when I’m ready for the project, I sit down, and I write it. I usually get the project done, two to four weeks.

But, I don’t interrupt, I just write. I don’t do anything else, as far as any other projects. I just get the rough draft, get the manuscript done. Then, I’ll go over it, and then I kick it to my editor.

There’s no schedule to it, it’s per project. But, I’m also a very outdoors guy, so the book is pretty much written in my mind, by the time I sit down because I much thinking about it, up until the time I write.

Tom Ashford: You mentioned owning the physical, paperback copies. What did you mean by that?

Gary Collins: I don’t use print-on-demand anymore, I stopped doing that a couple years ago. I have a deal with a distribution company. A publishing company, actually, but I turned the publishing side down and we worked out a deal on the distribution side, here in the States.

We print in batches, I own and pay for the print batches. They stay in their warehouse, and we ship those worldwide, wherever they need to go, even to Amazon.

I’m able to control the printing. It’s a little scary, mistakes have happened. A recent book they did, and you end up printing a couple thousand mistakes.

At first it was scary, especially on this last one. But no one’s really complained. If you’re writing, and giving the information correctly, and they’re mainly errors that most people don’t catch, it’s a risk.

For me it’s the right thing to do because, A, I control it, my customers get a book from me, and it’s done on ethically derived paper, so it’s an important part of what I do.

It takes the power back, you gain the power back. I teach a lot of that, of free will, and living the life you want. So, I try to incorporate all my own systems into everything I do, so I own it, it’s me. I’m the brand, I’m the company. It’s not Amazon, it’s not Apple.

It’s me who controls it.

Tom Ashford: It’s not too dissimilar a system, from what the traditional publishers do themselves, it’s just that you’re in control, and you have ownership instead of them.

Gary Collins: Absolutely, yeah.

Tom Ashford: Question number three is are you a full-time author? If you are, how did you get there? If you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?

Gary Collins: I do make a living as an author. I would be considered a full-time author, but being in non-fiction, we’re a little different.

I have multiple streams of income through my business, primarily speaking, consulting. I also have a health supplement line, that I’ve had for years, and years, and years, that I continue to … I have some many customers, I can’t get rid of it, and I won’t. It’s still a very big part of what I teach, is the health side. Also, writing.

I have multiple streams of what I do, which is nice because if Amazon changes an algorithm, I’m not going to starve to death, which is an upside. I would be considered a full-time author, I guess.

Tom Ashford: Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made, and what have you got right?

Gary Collins: Oh boy, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Probably my biggest mistake was trying to do it all on my own, in the beginning. I’m pretty hard headed, and I don’t have a background in publishing or writing.

Like I said, I’ve got a Bachelor’s in criminal justice, a Masters in forensic science, and an AS in exercise science. There’s no literary degrees in there, or English degrees. I had to learn this the hard way. I built everything from absolute scratch, boot strapped it, paid for everything on my own. Didn’t put things on credit cards, or anything like that.

But, one of the biggest mistakes I made … and there weren’t a lot of them, until SPF came around. There was some. But, taking a course. I got burnt by a local teacher/course, I guess. I decided that I didn’t need to deal with that anymore, and tried to do it all on my own, until a friend of mine mentioned SPF, and we both ended up taking it.

It was probably not taking a course earlier on, on the basics. That would be the biggest mistake. And, in the beginning, throwing books on Amazon, just throwing them out there. You can’t get rid of them. I’ve taken the digital versions off, but there’s used copies of those books that are, like I said, eight, nine years old, still floating around. They won’t die, there’s nothing I can do about it. Luckily, the content was pretty good, but they make me cringe. They just make me absolutely cringe.

Tom Ashford: Have you got any success stories?

Gary Collins: It depends. I’m lucky, I get to do this for a living. Putting out a book that I never intended to write, that the book found me, I consider that a huge success.

Letting the business model find itself, instead of forcing. As a formal Criminal Investigator, I investigated quite a few white collar criminals at the end. One thing that makes you do desperate things is a desperate life. I’ve found, if people start businesses or start writing and go, “I need to make money now,” puts you in a very precarious position. You’ll do things you’ll never thought you would do, to eat. That was a success story, is letting it happen.

That book, to this day, is my best seller. It’s been an Amazon best seller for two, three years now.

Tom Ashford: Wow.

Gary Collins: Yeah, crazy.

Tom Ashford: Question number five is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Gary Collins: For me, it’s taking your time, and work on the craft. I was lucky in the beginning, too. I had Steven Pressfield actually helped me out, in the beginning before he was really well known on his blog. He was already well known in Hollywood, and as an author.

I emailed him, and he gave me some really great advice. His advice was just, “Work on the craft, get better. Always be striving to be better.”

With what I do right now, I’m rewriting all my books, going back through and redoing them. I plan to continue to redo them until I feel they’re right. I think that’s the biggest part of it, is if you’re going to be an author, yeah you’re a business person, but you’re a creative.

You have to balance those two, and never let the business side overtake the writing side, in the sense that you lose touch with why you started doing it in the first place, I guess is the best way to put it.

Then, you end up in a life of what you wanted to get away from, right? Most people become writers so we can do the things we want to do, we can live our life. We can sit in our pajamas from seven in the morning until five at night and write, if we want to. That’s why we do it. I think once you turn it into a grinding business, it becomes … I’ve done it, at times. It becomes unpleasant.

Tom Ashford: That’s good advice. That’s a good perspective, actually.

Well, that’s it, that’s your five questions, Gary. You are off the hook, as I say.

Gary Collins: Well, I appreciate it, Tom.

Tom Ashford: Thank you very much for coming on.

Gary Collins: Thank you.

Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight.

Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit at

If you want to appear as a guest on this show, send you brief details about yourself and your writing at

I’m Tom Ashford, and I’ll see you again next week.

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