When you're driving down the highway you often see warning signs, and it's wise to pay attention to them. The same is true with the world of self-publishing - there are hazards out there that can hurt you.
But as you're motoring along in the real world you also see directional signs, and they're just as important to heed.
First, the warnings. Just like when you're driving, you have to look out for the other guy. I would ask that you please use caution before beginning any publishing endeavor - take care to look out for people who want to "help" you. There are many predators out there who prey on people who want to publish a book. Whether the idea is viable or not, even if they know the author won't sell a single copy, they're happy to fill you full of dreams and take your money. When I consult with potential authors, I actually try to find reasons why they shouldn't publish their book - it sounds crazy, I know, but I don't want you to spend a lot of money on an idea that is not going to pan out. It kills me to see people pour their heart and soul into a book, then publish it themselves with their hard-earned cash, only to have a thousand or so copies take up space in their garage for the next several years. It's a constant reminder that their book attempt failed - but not only do they see the boxes every day, so does their spouse, kids and friends. Believe me, I ache for these authors.
The other warning that I have is to watch your own course - whether or not your book idea is viable. So how do you weigh whether or not you have an idea worth pursuing? Well, unfortunately there is no sure method. But you can give yourself a bit of an advantage by looking at some people who have been successful in their ventures, and analyzing the things that made them so. Be cautious, though - it's easy to become mesmerized by these success stories. Don't assume that you can get the same results that these authors have - but by the same token, don't dismiss them, either. By examining the elements of just what made the mega-successful authors achieve their triumphs, you can: 1) use the reasoning behind their success to measure your own book, and 2) apply their strategies to your own.
What I'd like to do for the rest of this article is to look at some of the success stories and dissect them a bit; let's find out why they were successful, when so many other weren't.
When they had a baby in 1991, the couple relaxed their business ventures to raise their daughter. By 1997 their little girl had amassed quite a collection of Beanie Baby® dolls, a fact which didn't escape the entrepreneurial eye of the Foxes. They self-published The Beanie Baby Handbook, taking advantage of the growing trend. To date, they've sold more than two million copies - stop and think about that... 2,000,000 copies of their self-published book - and have started an entire line of "unofficial" Beanie Baby® products. The book even broke into the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller List.
Folks, these people are true inspirations, and are masters at taking advantage of a rising opportunity. They had their failed projects along the way, but kept themselves on course.
Their minds didn't stop working, though. When their daughter became involved in the new craze of collecting Beanie Baby® dolls, they knew that they were looking at a cash cow that just needed milking. Since they couldn't produce any of the dolls themselves - the Ty company had those all wrapped up - they did the next best thing... They produced a book for merchants to sell on the shelf beside the dolls. There are now dozens of books on the subject, but the Foxes were first in line, as their two-million book mark testifies. It's a perfect example of the old adage: strike while the iron is hot. Had they waited a year for a traditional publisher to purchase their book and get it on their shelves, it might have never happened.
In 1981, Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson came together to write a book on successful management. They distilled a management style down to three simple points: establishing goals, rewarding good performance, and correcting poor performance. They put it the form of a story - a young man on a quest to find an effective manager, finally reaches enlightenment.
Without a publisher, Blanchard and Johnson printed copies of their new book, The One-Minute Manager and started hitting the business and speaking circuit. After selling 20,000 copies, the book was picked up by William Morrow, and has now sold well over 12 million copies. Twelve million... that's a lot of zeros in that number. Since then, the co-authors have continued their successful careers.
Spencer Johnson's book Who Moved My Cheese? has become a business classic, as well as appearing on the New York Times Bestseller List for over a year. Ken Blanchard's consulting firm has grown exponentially, and in addition to many successful new books, he speaks to national audiences up to one hundred times a year, commanding fees as high as $50,000 for a single appearance.
Not bad for a couple of self-publishers who couldn't find a house to take their work.
Forgive me for being so frank, but Robert James Waller had a lot of raw courage to do what he did. I'm not sure that I would recommend his strategy to anyone. Basically, when he couldn't get a publisher interested in his romantic novel, he self-published it, paid for a run of books, then stored them in his house. Mr. Waller was a teacher at a university, so he didn't have a book marketing background, which meant that he also didn't have the wisdom to know that his endeavor was a bad idea. He went from store to store, selling his books on consignment. More than that, though, he offered readers a money-back guarantee - something that's unheard of!
Word-of-mouth propelled this book through the roof, and before long he was being courted by major publishing houses. It was eventually made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, and while I prefer a Dirty Harry flick, my wife loved it.
Waller didn't have a market identified for his book - he just launched out on blind faith. When any of us write a book, it's natural for us to think that it will be a bestseller, and that everyone will flock to buy it. To use your book as an income-generating tool, you must be able to pass the what, when, and why questions:
What will make someone buy the book?
I wrote an entire article on just those three questions, which you can find on the website, and it's worth reading.
As much as I admire Waller, and as talented as I believe that he is, he's the guy that won the lottery; he was struck by lightning. While his experience worked for him, it is perhaps the highest-risk success story that you'll see.
He'd written such a wonderful story, though, that his friend began sharing with their friends, and soon people in Salt Lake City where he lives were going to local bookstores to find it. When Evans heard about this, he decided that he might be onto something, and started sending it off to publishers. After many rejections, Mr. Evans decided to self-publish and sell the book directly to bookstores himself. He printed 3,000 copies, and began to distribute the books himself.
To say that his operation snowballed would be an understatement. He kept reprinting, and had already sold 700,000 by the time that the major publishing houses took note. When they did, a bidding war broke out between several major publishing houses. Simon and Schuster won the hardcover rights, and the 32-year-old author won an advance of over $4 million for his book. Before long, The Christmas Box made the top of the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. It continues to sell to this day, and a conservative count is that it has sold over eight million copies.
So What Does It All Mean?Looking back at the four examples, there are many things that we can all learn. Different aspects of each case will appeal to different people. Looking back on them, here's what they say to me:
© 2005 Mitchel Whitington
About the Author
Mitchel Whitington is an author and speaker - visit Mitchel's website at http://www.bookconstructor.com.
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© 2002-2012, Mitchel Whitington. All rights reserved