A lifetime of self-publishing

by Kas Winters
(Phoenix, Arizona)

Mother Lode, by the Mother of Family Ideas

Mother Lode, by the Mother of Family Ideas

Self-publishing since 1974 and now helping other authors.

In 1974 I borrowed $500 to publish my first book, "A Gift Guide for Infants and Toddlers." That was the beginning of my education. A graphic artist by trade, I went to great lengths to insure the quality of my publication. The cover was full color on extra heavy, coated stock. Interior pages were heavy-weight, cream colored, textured and printed in dark brown ink instead of the traditional black.

The books were too expensive to be profitable. I placed advertising in a number of national publications and actually sold some books. However, I didn’t even come close to selling enough books to cover the loan and eventually ended up dumping many copies after they sat in the garage for years. The idea of publishing books was moved to a back burner.

About 20 years later, the publishing bug bit again. By then, I had realized that I loved to write, not just illustrate; and I had countless ideas I felt compelled to share. It began with a wedding planner. At first I created each chapter as an individual coil-bound book: a calendar with checklists; a planner for the ceremony; one for the bridal, attendant, and men’s attire; and a planner for the reception. Finally, all 430 pages of the individual books came together in binder form to create the book, "Your Wedding, Your Way," which has been selling at bridal shows, through bridal magazine advertising and on-line since 1995.

Encouraged by the wedding book, I illustrated two children’s books for friends. "Erika’s Angels" and "All Twelve of Them" were printed with simple black and white illustrations at local printshops. Erika’s books went into additional printings. Erika, the co-author, was 9 years-old, and that was just plain fun! So I kept rolling and put over 600 ideas together for celebrating Halloween and autumn as a family, and wrote and illustrated another book.

The lesson I learned from the Halloween book was to get more than one person to proofread. It was produced with an embarrassing number of typographical errors. Because of a changing atmosphere about Halloween, I took the autumn-only activities and used them to create two additional books without Halloween ideas: "Fall Fun for Families" and "A Teacher’s Guide to Autumn Activities." Both of these books were initially created directly on my computer, and later were printed by a local copy shop in small quantities. I also created and self-published several other books around this time.

By now I was hooked - not only on publishing, but on sharing ideas for children’s activities with families. In 2000, I established Winmark Communications as a business to publish and market books and resources to a family market. "Mother Lode," my first official Winmark Communications book, began as a simple idea for keeping kids busy over summer vacation, but it evolved. The ideas came so fast that sleeping was rare during the first four months of this book project.

I did 668 illustrations to go with the ideas. After a year and a half, I published the book with more than 5,000 ideas for keeping toddlers through teens busy while developing self-esteem and other positive qualities. Initially, I printed books at a local Kwik Kopy printer as I received orders. They were expensive that way and were Plastikoil™ bound, but I did make a profit on them. As sales increased, I found a printer out-of state (Net Publications) who provided both quality and a price that kept me competitive with books in my genre. Now books are perfect-bound and much more professional looking. "Mother Lode" remains my personal favorite book.

Somewhere in this process, I developed a website to sell books. (Webmaster's note: see what a lifetime of self publishing experience looks like.) It occurred to me that it would be simple to include books that other people had independently published at the same time I was selling my own, and...it would help to support my own "publishing habit." That idea snowballed, and I now have more than 60 authors from all over the U.S. and Canada represented on my website, with over 150 books for families. The website currently has more than 500 pages and received more than 4,360,000 hits in 2007.

The more I got involved with authors and writers, the more I ran into people who wanted to publish their own books, so I began helping them to do that. One of those authors self-published a 579 page book about a genetic disorder. I did the editing, formatting, illustrating and cover artwork for her book. It took us about a year to complete the book, and it was printed at Central Plains Publishing in Kansas. "Missing Genetic Pieces" continues to be the best seller on my website.

In the process of working with authors, I have illustrated more than a half dozen children’s stories and helped about twenty other authors get their books printed. We sent one book, "Tryin' Ryan," to Singapore for printing, because it was a hardbound, full color children’s book. The prices of TWP Singapore, even with shipping, worked for us.

I have used a variety of printers over the years. Some of the authors I represent have gone with POD companies (before they met me) and had very negative experiences. The main problem is that books are so expensive through some POD companies that you can't sell them for an amount that comes close to bookstore prices for comparable books.

Authors were also challenged with quality and companies not making necessary changes.

Self-publishing is what I do for a living. It's my "full-time-and-then-some" business and I absolutely love it! Currently, I’m writing one of my own books again, titled: "Get that Book out of Your Head: A Guide to Self-Publishing." I've got a list of 103 titles for books that are screaming to get out of my own head, and I look forward to publishing as many of those as possible.

In addition to my website, marketing is key to selling self-published books. They don't generate income by sitting in a box in the garage. I do whatever it takes, from book shows and public speaking to putting bookmarks for my Halloween book in trick-or-treat candy bags!

My advice to writers who want to publish is to get as much information as possible first. There are pitfalls to avoid. I tell my authors, "It's like having a baby and includes growing, laboring and bringing a bouncing baby book to life." The thrill is worth the labor. To date, I’ve self-published 25 books and helped many other authors see their dreams in print. Just this morning, I received a bouquet of flowers from my most recently published author. Yes! I’m having fun. Where else can you write and color all day, be in control of your life, and get paid for it?

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Dec 03, 2009
by: Anonymous

Thank you, Kas & Steve!

Kas, wow! You are truly an inspiration!! My husband & I are only 5 months into the business, and we could learn so much from you. Thank you!

Steve, I appreciated everything you shared with me about "The Bay Gull" site in my post and we have been working on creating content. We'll get there!

Thank you both!!

Mar 20, 2008
Keep on pubbin'!
by: Lp

Thanks for your inspirational article. I'm going to pass it on to my authors group - many of whom still cling to the idea that traditional publishing is the only "real" way to go. Meanwhile they are watching the children's publishing industry change and crumble around them. I, like you, believe that self publishing is the way to go for budding entrepreneurial artists - as long as you seek the help that you need to create a professiional product.

Mar 19, 2008
You're my hero
by: Steve B.

I'm impressed by numbers, Kas. Yours amaze me.

The 430 page wedding book
The 668 illustrations for Mother Lode
The 25 books you've self published
The 500+ pages and 4 MILLION hits on your website

You know, I'm going to focus on that for a minute.

I promised to eat my hat (it's a chocolate hat) when I ran across a self publisher with a bigger, better trafficked website than mine.

Well, it's time for hat food. My site weighs in, currently, at 200+ pages and is on track for half a million page views this year. (In my defense, it's only 2 years old. I still have time to catch up!)

Can I use both our sites to make a larger point?

I see SO many self publishers who put up a little site - featuring no more than their own one or two books - who wonder why the world isn't beating a path to their (virtual) doorstep. I always feel sad for them and the effort and expense they've clearly put into it. The truth?

A "One Book Bookstore" would be laughed at on Main Street, and it gets little more respect on Cyber Street.

People need to put themselves in the Search Engines' shoes. (Now there's an image.)

Why send someone searching for CHILDREN'S BOOKS to The One Book Bookstore, when you can send them to Kas's site (150 books), Amazon (millions of books) or my site (information on children's books as a whole)?

I speak now to those authors...

There are many ways to build a well-trafficked presence on the web but they all involve substantial amounts of content, substantial numbers of pages. It's the interNET, remember? To catch some of that traffic as it flies by, you need a big net, not a small one.
"But Steve, that's crazy. How does a 500 word book justify, say, a 100 page website?"

Great question, hypthetical person. Let me give you a hypothetical answer...

Say you're the bird-lover who wrote and self published the beautiful picture book, The Littlest Hummingbird.

Yes, it would be hard to write a 50 page website about that book, no matter how wonderful it is.

But what if you're a master gardener who knows how to create an ornithological wonderland in your backyard? After all, that's why you wrote The Littlest Hummingbird!

Here's what you do...

You create the website, backyard-hummingbird.com, where you

detail what plants attract hummers in every plant hardiness zone
offer landscape design ideas
recommend hummingbird feeders (through Amazon. You earn a nice commission on every sale)
post pictures of hummingbirds
link (again, for commission) to eco-trips to hummingbird hotspots
advocate for habitat protections

And on lots of pages...

...you offer signed copies of your one-of-a-kind picture book, The Littlest Hummingbird.

Instead of trying to get the two folks a week who stumble upon your site to buy your book, now you have 1000s of prospects with a relevant interest.

THAT'S how you build a website.

But I got sidetracked. Way to go, Kas!

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