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Authors as Publishers: My Story

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In 1987, I was contracted to teach an Introduction to Computers course in Durham, North Carolina. Right away, I could see that finding materials for the class was going to be a problem. Only large expensive computer textbooks were available in the late 80s.
Like many other instructors before me, I began creating handouts for my classes. The courses being taught in Corporate Education at Durham Technical Community College were “short courses” that lasted for three or four days. Due to the lack of training materials on the market, some other instructors and I donated our handouts and other written text and created an introductory manual, Help! There’s a Computer on My Desk. The title was courtesy of Mary Freedman, our Program Director.
The books were duplicated by the college and sold in the bookstore for a song and dance. The book was simple, easy to read, and inexpensive. Students loved it.

The Momentum Builds a Business

In 1989, I relocated to Charlotte and began teaching at Central Piedmont Community College. I had amassed a nice collection of handouts which were shared with other instructors for continuing education classes. Once again, the materials were duplicated and sold to students through the bookstore.
In 1992, Kathy Baskett and I bid on a project to design and write training manuals for three Microsoft classes at CPCC. Our bid was accepted and our first official joint publications were sold to the Corporate and Continuing Education division of CPCC.
By 1994, Kathy and I were seriously talking with publishers about the need for high-quality computer training materials for computer “short courses.” The representatives we met with nodded their heads in agreement, reviewed our courseware, and politely told us that they already had a college series in progress. Our response? We politely formed our own publishing firm to print and market our materials.
Today, in March 1998, CPI provides computer training courseware to 14 colleges and universities in the Carolinas as well as to municipal and corporate clients across the country. Our Internet site for online training just became available. CPI employs four full-time employees and one college intern. We write our own materials, our copyeditor works through each step in our books, and our graphics artist assures the layout of design and production quality. Printing is outsourced and the books are printed and bound offsite. The CPI corporate office serves as both order fulfillment and distribution center for courseware.
So how did we go from startup in 1994 with no customers to a popular regional publisher in 1998? Honestly, it took a lot of guts and a continuous flow of capital.

The Initial Days at CPI

In January of 1994, Kathy called me one morning and asked if I was serious about marketing my computer training manuals. I told her I was absolutely serious and had been for five years. We talked to publisher representatives with no results. By May of 1994, we formed a partnership and began compiling books to be duplicated. All of my courseware had been written in my spare time and required weeks of editing and technical rewriting. Kathy performed those services and also recommended that we begin writing books under the Windows environment so we could “capture” screen clips. I had seen full-color screen clips in some of my computer textbooks but was unsure how they found their way from the computer to the page in the book. Kathy began adding graphics to the books and attempted to standardize the design and layout of each manual. She also picked out a cover from Paper Direct and we found a printer to print and bind the books. Now we had a finished product to sell.
But how do you market your own books? As soon as a book is laid out in the author’s mind, it is written. It is just a mechanical process to make the fingers put the ideas to paper. The hard part is convincing someone else that they want to buy the book. Now we had to face marketing.

To Market, To Market We Go

My first idea was to send a letter with a list of our books and prices to all the technical and community colleges in North Carolina. We did that in January 1995. No response. My second idea was to call all the community colleges in North Carolina and discover the name of the person who purchased computer courseware for their Continuing, Corporate, or Adult Education divisions. While Kathy and I continued to train and write books, we hired someone to make telephone calls and send letters. Only a few inquiries resulted.
Then I visited my husband’s Alma Mater in Charlotte one afternoon, East Coast Bible College. Little did I realize they were installing a computer lab and desperately needed training materials for new computer users. I left a copy of one of our books, and within a few weeks, we had our first order from a college campus.

Signs of Success

So what is the measure of our success? Well, at CPI, we can point to the fact that we are still in business and solvent after three years of publishing and marketing our own books. Also in December of 1997, we were assigned a publisher ISBN prefix and have added ISBN numbers to our titles. While completing the paperwork for the ISBN Agency, we realized that we have published 45 titles with 30 books still active. Each week, we field new inquiries about our courseware and take orders from new clients. We also still provide training services to ensure that we have a steady income.

Advice for Other Authors

What advice would I give to other authors considering self-publishing? If you know your subject well (whether it is mystery or engineering technology), have already experimented with authoring materials and enjoy the grind and the accomplishment, and you cannot find a publisher who is interested in another new book for the market, then give it a try. But don’t plan to get rich quick marketing your own books, and make sure you have income from another source. Don’t wager on making your income from books sales for a good while if you do not have a publisher to foot the cost of printing and marketing. Development is expensive-this is the time you are donating to the dream, after all. And you will need help from others-editors and reviewers-before the product is in a format to be marketed.
Pipe dream? Maybe. But we are still surviving and even thriving in our little corporate offices in the Dilworth section of Charlotte. We plan to continue writing, editing, revising, marketing, and shipping books until our customers tell us they don’t need our product. Why? We love what we do and we do it well. We are even drawing paychecks these days!Pam Adams is President of ComputerEase Publications, Inc., of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her regional publishing firm specializes in authoring and publishing computer-training materials for the educational and corporate communities. CPI began as a partnership in 1994 between Kathryn K. Baskett of KBA Computer Services and Adams of ComputerEase. Baskett is now the company’s Vice President. You can reach CPI by phone, 1-888/274-0004, or e-mail, cepub@vnet.net. Their website address is http://www.trainingexperts.com/CPI.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor March, 1998, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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