My Self-Publishing Success
by Ed Shankman
Ed Shankman's self-publishing success was so real that he landed a multi-book publishing contract.
(Ed is the author of I Went to the Party in Kalamazoo.)
My self-publishing success
I've dreamed of being a published writer ever since I was nine or ten years old. That was more than 40 years ago.
Since that time, I've penned a dozen or so books that I (and some other people) think are pretty special. Unfortunately, those people have not included publishers.
Along the way, I did what a lot of creative types do: I fell into advertising. It was never a perfect fit, but it did allow me to earn a living - and a good one - with my pen.
In the late 90s, I headed up the copy department at an agency where I developed a particularly close relationship with my boss, an enormously talented creative director (on the art side) who had enjoyed tremendous professional success.
Inspired by his talent, his work ethic, and his proven ability to succeed, I asked if he'd like to illustrate one of my books. While he'd never illustrated a book, or even thought about doing so, he accepted the challenge.
The beginnings of success
In 2001, we self-published I Went to the Party in Kalamazoo - a rhyming book about the ultimate children's party, written and designed with a child's favorite things in mind.
A consultant in New York hooked us up with a printer in China, and we printed five thousand copies for about $12,000, including shipping and the consultant's fee. That's just $2.40 a book, which, at a list price of $14.95, leaves plenty of room for profit - even after you give stores the usual discount of 40%.
We went to work right away getting the book into local stores and doing as many book signings as possible. We also arranged book readings at schools.
A month prior to each event, we provided the participating school with a letter that children could take home, inviting parents to order signed copies in advance.
The schools would forward the orders to us, including the names of the children for whom the books were being ordered, so that we could bring the copies with us - already signed and personalized.
We sold anywhere between 50 and 100 books per school.
Dave and I had great fun signing and packing up all those books in assembly line fashion, knowing that we were getting "our baby" into more and more local homes. "As long as people are exposed to it," we thought, "anything can happen."
By "anything," we meant being discovered by a publisher or by some unforeseen prospective partner, or simply reaching a "tipping point" that would lead to an embarrassment of fame and riches.
None of these things happened.
At some point, it occurred to us that people might get a kick out of the book in the real Kalamazoo - that is, the one in Michigan. I'd never been there. (I'd chosen the name the first time I'd heard it because it sounded magical, musical, and eminently rhyme-able. It was a sound in search of a children's book!)
What self-publishing success looks like
Anyway, the hunch paid off. The Kalamazoo people couldn't get enough copies.
The local bookstore invited us out there for a whirlwind weekend that included several book signings, a presentation by the chamber of commerce, an appearance on the local TV news, a radio interview, a reading at a local school, and a party.
Our 15 minutes of fame had arrived, and it was great fun.
The bookstore that sponsored the event told us that I Went to the Party in Kalamazoo is their all time best selling book of any kind! As of this moment, we've sold some 8,000 copies all told - without the benefit of advertising or mass distribution. Not too shabby.
Along the way, based on these successes, Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble agreed to carry the book (although I think the two latter stores only stock it in the Michigan area).
Successful self-publishing...and beyond!
Ever since we published the book, my sister, who works for a small but well-regarded New England publisher, has been trying to get her boss to take a look at it. He, in turn, ignored her pleas for six years or so. But then, as sometimes happens, universal forces converged!
To begin with, the company published its first children's book, which enjoyed unexpected success.
It so happens that I'd recently sent my sister some positive reviews from Amazon regarding Kalamazoo. So my sister dropped the book (yet again) onto her boss's desk, along with the new reviews - just as he was basking in the success of his foray into the children's market.
(Read our review of Ed's self-published success.)
Well, I can't tell you exactly what happened in the publisher's head, but I can tell you this: I have been contracted to write a series of three children's books based on my modest self-publishing success.
At last, my childhood dream has become a reality! I'm filled with unbridled pride (which isn't pretty) and an exciting sense of potential (which is).
My first brush with success reminds me of a few great quotes:
"90% of success in life is showing up (paraphrase)." - Woody Allen
"Life is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Keep trying." - Me