The Real Life of “Selfies” (Self-Publishers)—William McGinnis Tells His Story.


“A thing is only as complicated as the explanation of it” is an adage at the heart of success for Bill McGinnis in both writing and publishing his river adventure guide books and novels.

His first book Whitewater Rafting was published in 1975 by the New York Times and has become the bible for rafters. The book began as a proposal in 1973 when Bill was finishing his Master’s Degree in English Literature at SF State. He spent a year researching and writing it. “Although I had trained as a guide and rafted for 11 years, I was in many ways a novice, and there was a ton I did not know.

“One of the things I did was similar to what Gordon Burgett recommended last month. I went around and talked to the experts. Each knew a great deal, but, interestingly, in many cases they did not know what the others knew. So by combining their knowledge, I was able to create what turned out to be, if I do say so myself, a thorough, useful book,” Bill said.

Whitewater Rafting went into multiple printings and sold 35,000 copies. More importantly, it fulfilled a dream and infused Bill with the confidence to turn his passion for rafting, sailing, and adventure into several more books:

  • Guide’s Guide in 1981 and The Guide’s Guide Augmented: Reflections on Guiding Professional River Trips—both used by guides, boaters, outfitters, recreation resource managers and trip leaders throughout the world.
  • Sailing the Greek Islands: Dancing with Cyclops in 2011—a funny and true narrative of Bill’s adventures skippering a catamaran on the Aegean Sea.
  • Whitewater: A Thriller in 2012—a novel interweaving murder, drugs, nature, and Bill’s holistic philosophy.

His current project is a sequel to the novel to be called Gold Bay. A crime thriller, Bill’s new book will encompass the entire Bay Area during an imagined near-future time of societal turmoil and spiritual awakening.

Bill credits his traditional publisher with getting him wide distribution and lots of media publicity—but that was in the ‘70s. His original contract gave him a $5,000 advance, 10% on the first 5,000 books, and 15% thereafter. “A lot of contracts now start at and never go higher than 7%—and publicity budgets are not what they used to be,” he said.

Because he understood his status as a niche writer, he began self-publishing his guides and printing them in Hong Kong for about $2 a copy. When he’d finished his novel, it was a no-brainer to use the same process. So far the book has sold 17,000 copies and is available through his rafting company stores, at outfitter locations, during book talks, and (“of course”) Amazon.

For his next book, he again plans to self-publish—but with these changes:

  • “I’ll do my best to sell a bunch of pre-orders to see if I can be a best seller for at least five minutes on Amazon.
  • “Instead of investing in a big printing, I think I’ll go through Create Space.”
  • “On the cover, you’ll see both my name and title HUGE—to better use the real estate of the cover and convey the book’s colossal, epic stature J”

Bill will talk about his book publishing and writing adventures during BAIPA’s June 13 panel discussion and afterwards in an afternoon workshop.