A lifetime of self-publishing
by Kas Winters
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?