Self-publishing and local investment
by Kerry Mosser
A Train Story
How to make a book with people you know and sell it to people nearby.
A quote from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails: "If they (the music industry) could make music without us, they would."
An ad from Billboard Magazine for Jane's Addiction's first major label release: "No Radio Airplay + Top Ten Sales = Airplay.
A Train Story
My mom, Dolores Mosser, used to take us to watch the trains roll in and out of our small train depot to pass some time. One morning, a circus train pulled into our small West Texas town's train depot. This beautifully painted circus train stopped and unloaded right in front of my mother, little brother and cousin. The kids went wild, and Mom had an idea she worked on for over 20 years as a little project on her nightstand, and when she read it to us 23 years later in 2006, we decided to make the book ourselves.
I live in a town where trains go by.
Fast and slow, we watch them go.
With flashing lights, the guards go down.
Ringing bells and clacking sounds.
We had been reading to our nephews and nieces for 6 years and felt like the children's book industry had forgotten where they came from. I was tired of creating a rhyming story to make up for the lack of interesting and thoughtful story telling. I was tired of skipping the page with pirate killing another pirate in a bar. I was tired of looking at a cheap Thomas book that failed to make animation, so it was chopped up into pieces, formatted into a story, sent to China, and now it's a book for $8 that gets priority on the shelf over other books, simply because of the name Thomas.
We were determined to make this book locally and there are plenty of reasons why we preferred not to lose control of where it was produced.
Not a week later, I looked up at a table of my friends. I saw an illustrator, a post-art graphic artist, the guy who does Dell Computer's print ads nationwide, a web-designer, a code writing fool and the guy who maintains the servers for the State of Texas. "Guys, do y'all want to do a children's book?"
Once we sold them on the story, an organic grassroots network of my friends developed and we invested in their talents and artistic creativity:
1. Illustrations - Nathaniel P. Jensen (A Scanner Darkly, Waking Life and the new Mission Impossible video game) developed the beautiful artwork.
2. Photography and Post-Art Productions - Alan Klemp. His post-art graphic expertise took us from canvas to print.
3. Educational Material. We didn't have to look any further than Mom's sister, Brenda George, for the educational materials we included for free online that is a 7 Page Lesson Plan. Aunt Brenda's 35 years of elementary education experience were an invaluable resource in the development of the book's Activities Pages. And...
4. A Train Story was printed in Austin, Texas, at Capital Printing. That cost was paid for with help from our small town bank, as well as proceeds from the sale of a small section of farm and ranch land near Enochs, Texas that had been in our family for generations. We cannot try and place its value into words. Our investment into Capital Printing's production of the book covered their payroll and most of their operational costs for the last fiscal quarter of 2009, one of the worst economic periods in recent history.
We would find out later that Capital Printing is a part of a family owned company called Copy Craft. Copy Craft is from our hometown. You hear about the "circular investment of spending locally." Our local investment, reaching close to over 100k, made a full circle home. The process was developed and I started my small publishing company, Adrian Street Productions, now Adrian Street Books (as of today.)
This book comes from over 60 years of tilled soil, the results of the hard work, talents and thoughtfulness of our family and friends. A Train Story is a testament to what one can accomplish by investing in local industries and entrepreneurs. A Train Story was made in Texas, and we could not be more proud of it.
To date, we've sold over 4000 copies, mostly one at a time, here in pockets of West and Central Texas, by staying active at vending opportunities like model railroad shows and festivals and by having the confidence to submit it to places where you want it sold. A Train Story can be found at the Smithsonian's Union Station Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., Kidding Around in New York City's Grand Central Station. It is in wonderful independent neighborhood stops like the world famous Slaton Bakery in Slaton, Texas. We love being in the small neighborhood independent bookstores, the neighborhood pharmacy and are working to make railroad and art museum gift shops our main locations across the country. With Borders gone, Independent bookstores have the Publishing industry right where they want them and that space that used to be open is now being fought over, paid for and eaten up. This makes it even harder for a small press like us.
A few selling tips:
RETAIL - Try and get a distribution deal as soon as possible and before you print (if you can). But, do not be scared to walk the book into any place you think it will benefit the store and sell. Be willing to leave it behind or get an email and send an "unprintable" PDF. The Slaton Bakery and the Tarrytown Pharmacy are a couple of our best locations because we have very little competition, and they give us a place on a shelf with the cover showing. When you submit your book to any location, digital or print version, do your own research to find their submission process and follow it. We have a book that kicks doors open, that's why I like to send the book. It should be your best advertisement and 1 free copy to the person that counts could be a selling spot for life. Then, move on to the next store and give the buyer the time to get back to you. You are planting seeds; some will grow, some won't. You will be surprised when you get a call 3 months later.
Make your book affordable. It does you no good staying in the box. For our book size and 40 pages makes it a 2008 $22.95 book...if you are Tolstoy or Jamie Lee Curtis. It is 2012 and we sell it for $15.95 retail with these things in mind:
a. We do not have a failing roster of royalty advances or huge overhead.
b. We can compete head to head with big Publisher released books by being bigger than most books with more pages.
c. Offering free educational material online. Teachers are buying the book, downloading the 7 page Activities Pages and walking into the classroom, ready to go. Homeschooling is on the rise and another great selling avenue.
VENDING - will always be your most profitable deal. YOU are selling YOUR book at a rate that was designed to have Publishing, Retail and Distribution taking big chunks out of the retail price.
a. Make your table warm and inviting with art from your books as banners, colorful tablecloth and a stack of books.
b. Keep your head up out of your laptop for eye contact and smile at everyone passing by. A simple "Hello" might get a stop. If you are not paying attention to them, they will walk past without a hesitation.
c. Be ready to tell your story to anyone within ear shot. Make it simple and personable.
d. You have to learn to grab and keep that additional person that walks up to your table after you've started talking to someone else.
e. If you are not using applications like Square.com (credit card processing), I would look into it immediately. Leave no sale on the floor and get ready for 500% more no's than yes's.
WEBSITE: You have to have a website for your book, at least a Facebook page. And, if you have gotten people to visit the website...you have to have an e-commerce account to sell the book. Or, why have a website?
Someone walk past you at a vending and No Sale? We have a cards and bookmarkers to drive people to our A Train Story store.
We have only used our Amazon page in an emergency. We have not settled on what we are going to do here. I prefer a brick and mortar corporate store like B&N over Amazon, simply because they invest back into communities by offering a cultural location, books, jobs and taxes that go back to the town they are in. But, we want to be successful and sell books.... decision pending.
I have 3 tips if you are not willing do all the work and publish on your own...yet:
1. Do Not Print. The industry has embraced digital reviews of material and manuscripts. The reviews and blurbs on book covers are done before the book is printed. That is crazy to me...what if the book doesn't get printed? Some publishers won't re-publish a book that is printed and they may not care that you printed 100-9000 copies.
2. Get familiar with E-Publishing or cost-effective print on demand. Think about using that Ebook sale for .99 or $2.99 as a way to build interest and sales of the e-book without any printing cost involved. Use that growth as leverage on a print version or ride this EBook wave. None of this technology was around when we got started. We are in the middle of making A Train Story E-Book.
3. KickStarter did not exist when we started and printed. This platform offers you a way to present your idea and get it investors before you print. It is a way for a viable market for many individual investors to let the free market truly decide if your book is ready for the public.
But, if you are like us and take a great deal of time planning and you are still committed... Jump out of the box and find your path towards making the book you would want.