Ken Kappelmann Slays Dragon and Seriously Injures Self-published Author

by Dane Zeller

It was a warm, foreboding morning at the 2013 Kansas Book Festival. My first book festival paired me with Kenneth Kappelmann, author of the fantasy “The Return of the Dragons” (Tate Publishing). Ken was early enough to have his books and signs set out, and kind and tall enough to help string my poster from the tent railing behind our table.

It was not a competition, just a sharing of booth fees. Even after he sold his first ten books, I did not feel the cut of the competitive edge. I just wanted to sell one to avoid the shutout. It was a rout though, but not a loss entirely. I watched and listened to a master salesman selling a fantasy book to Kansas readers. I learned so much that I could pick out his customers three booths away. They had tattoos, purple hair, bright colored outfits, and wallets unfolding as they approached his display.

I could not predict my mystery buyers.

Given the lulls in the crowd, we had time to discuss the difference between published authors and self-published ones. I learned much from Ken that day, and in a helpful tone, he provided me a final opinion: “Self-published authors have spoiled it for themselves.”

I did not have time to say “Huh?” to him because the guy with the reptile tattoo on his left hand plunked down the thirty-five bucks for Ken’s hardback. Other sales followed. I was packing up at the time, and I left with his statement to ponder.

At first glance, it misses its mark. I have written a good book which has a good cover, and has nearly all of its grammatical and spelling mistakes removed by numerous editors. I have been careful not to burden my twitter followers and facebook friends with excited sales pitches. Furthermore, Ken Kappleman has not read my book. How can he make such a sweeping and condemning statement?

Perhaps one time he picked out a self-published book at, one with five star reviews by twenty people. Perhaps it won the International Book Award (Finalist). Maybe it won the USA Book News, Best Book Award. Maybe it was ranked number seven among all Amazon Christian Humor books. Perhaps the author had thirty-seven thousand twitter followers and three thousand facebook friends. And then, one day Ken is so impressed by an adorned self-published book that he downloads it and reads the first chapter, only to find the first chapter boring and unsuitable for a ninth-grade English class. What broad sweeping statement would he form from this experience? “Self-published authors have spoiled it for themselves.”

Let me count the ways we’ve spoiled it: 1) We trade five star reviews with people who write one star books. 2) We congratulate those who won the International Book Award, of which there are 400 each year, with a purchase price an entry fee of $69. 3) We allow a company, USA Book News, to sell awards that are nothing but stickers on a book. 4) We gather twitter followers made up mostly of people who want twitter followers. 5) We befriend people on facebook who befriend people on facebook who befriend people on facebook.

The difference between Ken’s book and mine is that someone, not Ken or his friends and family, made a bet on his book. They stand to win or lose on their choice. That means they have standards, not favors to be traded. They bet money and reputation on it. It is in their best interest to pick the right one. His publisher is not one of the big six. Nevertheless, they serve as a gatekeeper. Inquiring readers must have some basis for picking one book out of millions.

As I load my books back into my car, a few books shy of a full load, I ask my fellow self-published writers, who serves as our gatekeeper?

  • Paul Aertker

    Independent publishers can often hire the same gatekeepers used by traditional publishing. The Editors Freelance Association, for one example, has many downsized editors (mine, included from S&S children books). For kid books, other gatekeepers are librarians and teachers and parents. In some ways, these people are more qualified to judge a book because of their proximity to the actual consumer (kids). Quality control exists for all publishers; we just have to hire the right people. :-)

    • danezeller

      Thank you, Paul. Not every gatekeeper has to have a slush pile one hundred emails tall. Thanks for your input.

  • Dawn

    Umm, excuse me, sir. Sorry to interrupt your author business. Very selfish of me to intrude, but I’m one of your readers. You might not have noticed me, since you were busy gawking at that other guy’s readers. Anyway… I’m wondering… Is Don Milkey’s second book out yet?

    • danezeller

      I’m sorry, Ms. Dawn, but fantasy readers are a different breed. I, a detective novelist, am relegated to a reader-dom that prefers trench coats and unobtrusive sport coats. It was 90 degrees that day at the festival. My readers chose to dress like normal human beings. I’m sorry I missed you. For those days, may I suggest a small tattoo of a police badge on your forearm?

      Milkey’s second book is nearly finished. It is as exciting as the first, and you’ll never guess who the murderess is.


  • Ken S. Kappelmann

    Please note – I am very sorry if I grouped you in with negative Self-Publishing. It was not my intent. My intent was to say — your books are really well-written and exceptional. i know this because you told me what you went through to get them published – you did it right. However, because there are so many people out there that don’t do what you did, it takes away from everyone. Things like, they don’t get a professional editor, they don’t get numerous friends to read it that will give them true advice, and they just want to see their work in print.

    Self-Publishing is not bad. However, you have to have the discipline to do it right. So many first time authors do not have the funds to pay for editors. They read it and think they are catching everything. My advice is this — have enough pride in your work to make it worth paying someone to edit it. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. That is why your books are strong.

    I enjoyed our show together. I learned from you the same as you learned from me.

    Warmest regards,
    Ken S. Kappelmann
    The Return of the Dragons
    The Dragon Unknown Part 1
    The Dragon Unknown Part 2

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