AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Still More Bestsellers Stories
This is the fourth installment of our series on IBPA members’ bestselling books, and the final one—for now. As you’ll see in “The First IBPA Bestsellers Sampler” in this issue, the top seller we heard about had sales of 1.5 million copies, and the series has given rise to a new and different sort of bestseller list.
And as you’ll see when you read on, members’ reports continue to show that independent publishers build sales by serving particular kinds of readers.
Please email the story of your bestseller to me at email@example.com—or, if you’ve already done that, send news of new sales milestones. When we reach critical mass, we’ll feature more members’ bestsellers in the Independent.—Judith Appelbaum
Build Your Own Earth Oven was originally self-published as a pamphlet in 1998, expanded and published as a book in 2000, and issued in its third edition in 2007. Total copies in print—about 60,000, and it continues to sell well.
The book stemmed from a workshop I took to learn to build a house out of mud. (Despite the derogatory implications of the term “mud hut,” mud is not only the most common building material on the planet, but also the source of much of the most beautiful and practical architecture on the planet.)
In the workshop we learned to build a wood-fired oven out of mud. I had no place to build a house at the time, so I started building ovens, first for family, then for myself, then for friends, and then in workshops. I was also making the most of sculpting opportunities—either to perfect the basic form, or to embellish or expand it into more forms, some whimsical, some serious, some simply patterned.
The book began as a few sheets of basic instructions for workshops and grew with pictures, more text, and context. It seems to appeal not only to backyard bakers and pizza chefs and aspiring artisan bakers but also to people interested in artistic structures and practical “garden art,” as well as teachers and parents looking for hands-on projects they can do with their kids. Also, there is a growing audience of people interested in permaculture, alternative or “natural” building, and self-sufficiency—some of whom are taking the book overseas to use in development projects.
In addition, readers include people interested in the work of Michael Pollan and others who make connections between how we cook, how we eat, and how that impacts the future of both people and planet (Pollan recently did a piece for the New York Times about a cob oven party) and people interested in the monumental possibilities of earth as a material for making sculpture.
Since these are all ongoing concerns, I hope that the book will continue to serve a purpose for a variety of readers interested in learning by doing.
Hand Print Press
Agents of Change
I self-published my first book, Taking Care of Me: The Habits of Happiness, in 1996. Born out of my self-created recovery program from a domestic-violence relationship, it was written for a female audience, but it was surprisingly popular with men as well.
Over the next 10 years we had around 40,000 back-of-the-room sales. The book made the “What Nebraskans Are Reading” Top 10 list for 1997 and was picked up by a small publisher (who did little for sales) in 1998, but he did get it published in Spanish, which I appreciated. I bought the rights back in 2000.
Last year, I published a new book, 8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change, which has now sold about 10,000 copies, even though I have marketed my books only through Amazon and back-of-the-room sales so far. Last year 8 to Great won Best Self-Help Book of the Year in both IBPA and Readers’ Favorite competitions. We expect it to top 30,000 in sales this year once our marketing gets going. (We came out with a Student Handbook in January that is also doing well.)
8 to Great takes many of the concepts in the first book and puts them in a step-by-step process. I wrote it because a dozen people over the years had loved the first book but asked for “the recipe” instead of just the ingredients.
Now, for the first time, we will be marketing through social media, Web site links, webinars, and more. And we have posted hundreds of testimonials—sent by readers of all kinds from high school students to CEOs. I am so excited about what is to come.
Our latest find is that when my certified trainers mention my book in an education blog, our sales spike. It’s quite fun!
8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change
All three of my books have done rather well for self-published works, with sales to date of 148,490 copies for the front runner, Credit Card and Debt Management: A Step-by-Step How-To Guide for Organizing Debt and Saving Money on Interest Payments.
How to Be More Credit Card and Debt Smart (Volume 1): Powerful Financial Management Strategies for Saving Money on Your Credit Cards and Debt! is up to 38,328, and Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt! Phone Calls to Banks That Saved More Than $43,000 in Interest Charges and Fees is up to 29,500.
I wrote the first book because many people were asking me for advice about credit cards. After I read Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, I submitted it to all review media, and when it was reviewed in Booklist I got about 1,000 library sales right away. Then many people ordered the book because they had found it in the library. At one time I had a distributor, but that was a mess. Many returns, hurt copies, you know the deal.
One company contacted me about using the book as a premium for its financial package and purchased about 10,000. That’s when things started to get going. The more copies of my books that were out there, the more people found them and wanted to buy. Plus many other companies that wanted my books for premiums.
How to Be More Credit Card and Debt Smart came to be because I was contacted by a company that wanted to buy Credit Card and Debt Management, but it was so heavy that the shipping costs made that impossible. So I proposed a book half the weight and comprising my best articles. They said yes, and wanted 10,000 copies. By the time I finished and released the book, they had moved on, but I was later contacted by another company that found the book online at Amazon.com and purchased the 10,000 copies. It has since sold very well both BtoB and BtoC.
A call to a bank was the inspiration for Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt! When I heard, “This call will be recorded for training purposes,” I thought, “I should record this call too–to train customers to deal better with banks.”
Press One Publishing
On the Beach
I’ve sold more than 5,100 copies of Beach Chair Diaries: Summer Tales from Maine to Maui in its first edition (May 2008) and the Hawaii edition (November 2010). In February 2011, I gave birth to an e-book edition.
The book is a collection of short, humorous essays about topics from learning to surf in Maui to walking the beach on Nantucket. I wrote it for any lover of summer who longs for it during the winter, and I have reached my market by email, by selling to boutique stores throughout New England, and by contacting independent bookstores. A bookstore in Marblehead, MA, Spirit of ’76, has sold more than 180 copies of my book; a gift store on Cape Cod has sold more than 140 copies; and there’s a deli in Maui that sells dozens of copies each year.
I hope to keep selling the book for as long as the sun keeps shining.
Beach Chair Diaries
Speeches Fuel Sales
The Dog of My Nightmares: Stories by Texas Columnist Dave Lieber, now in its fourth edition, has sold 18,000 copies since 2003. Its 90 stories begin with one about a newspaper columnist proposing to his future wife (“the woman of my dreams”), her children, and “the dog of my nightmares.” The book sells after speeches I give, and I expect it will sell for years to come.
My second book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, published in 2008, is now in its second edition, with 6,000 copies sold. It’s a book designed to help people save time, money, and aggravation when dealing with banks, credit card companies, phone companies, and other businesses, and it has attracted fans across the nation after comedic “Watchdog Nation” training session speeches that I give. It, too, should continue to sell as long as readers are concerned about their financial situations and companies that try to take advantage of them.
Yankee Cowboy Publishing
One They Said Couldn’t Be Done
After I had two books published the old-fashioned way (A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters by Frontstreet Books and The Tickle Monster Is Coming! by Bloomsbury), I published the third one, The Seal Pup, myself in October 2010.
So far, The Seal Pup has sold as fast as or a little faster than my first two conventionally published books, more than 1,500 copies in its first six months.
Neither of my previous publishers thought a 130-page picture book would be practical to print, or could find an audience. But I’d read the first chapter of the story to thousands of kids at school visits as I promoted my first two books, and I knew the intended audience liked it. Since its release, I have been touring (in New York, Los Angeles, D.C., and St. Louis primarily) and doing many, many school visits. They have been the primary driver of sales, followed by Amazon and sales through the book’s Web site.
The Seal Pup got a good review in the maiden issue of Publisher’s Weekly Select and was then picked up by Brodart and Follett. I am about to submit it to Ingram as well and try to go wider with the distribution. (I used to work in film and have been generally using the release of an independent film as a model—opening small and slowly expanding.)
I did several videos for the book, available at its Web site, and they have been very helpful in promoting it. Also, I’m also running a contest to track down the real seal that inspired the book, and that has generated a lot of response and enthusiasm.
Bowrider Press (the company I started with my brother to do this) will be publishing at least two more children’s books over the next two years. I expect The Seal Pup and future titles to enjoy long sales lives, since we try hard to tell timeless stories that will appeal to young audiences.
James Otis Thach
A Perimenopause Manual
I’ve been a freelance book designer and production manager for 25 years. Back in 2003, I was asked to quote on a book by a nurse practitioner based in Oregon. She wanted to self-publish a manual on hormonal balance for women having problems with perimenopause (the years preceding menopause).
When I described the project to my wife, she asked if she could get a copy of that book when it was finished. This was the first time she’d made that request, so it got me thinking that this might be a book I should publish myself. After a bit of discussion, I registered Larkfield Publishing as my new DBA name and signed a contract with the author.
Although I’d been working for publishers for years, I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t know anything about the business beyond book design, editorial production, and printing. I bought Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, learned about the Publishers Marketing Association (now IBPA), and immediately joined and attended Publishing University, where I was blown away by the quality and depth of the information presented. They saved me years of clueless floundering and costly mistakes in publishing my first title.
With PMA’s help, and thanks to Jan Nathan’s personal advocacy, The Hormone Survival Guide for Perimenopause was reviewed in Publishers Weekly—a tremendous coup for a one-title publisher. PMA’s Trade Distribution Program helped me secure distribution by Independent Publishers Group, which has been a golden ticket to booksellers across the country, international rights sales, and electronic distribution of our e-book editions.
The book’s publication date was May 2004. I decided on a first print run of 5,000 copies at Malloy in Ann Arbor. Of those, 200 were bound with B&W covers marked as “not for sale” promotional copies. I also ran 200 extra front covers, without really knowing what I was going to do with them. When the PW review came out, I reproduced it on the back of these 6″× 9″ covers and inserted them in press kits.
The advance reviews, marketing techniques, and nonbookstore sales I’d learned about at Pub U must have really worked. By the time May 2004 rolled around, I needed to start thinking about another printing, since preorders had nearly depleted my stock. I went out on a limb and ordered 10,000 copies, much to the horror of my distributor (“Is it too late to stop that?”). IPG would accept only 4,000 books, so I stored the balance at Malloy and let them handle fulfillment of large nonbookstore orders that came directly to Larkfield from doctors, pharmacists, and associations. I personally shipped individual copies sold through the Web sites I’d set up for the book (hormonesurvival.com) and Larkfield Publishing (larkfieldpublishing.com).
In 2005, I entered The Hormone Survival Guide for Perimenopause in the Benjamin Franklin Awards programs, and it won the Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book by a New Publisher (nonfiction)—one more boost from PMA!
It took a couple of years to sell through that risky run of 10,000 books, but sell they did. The book is now in its sixth printing and has sold nearly 30,000 copies (a third of which were nonbookstore sales), plus I’ve sold rights in Canada and Poland.
We released a PDF e-book edition in 2005 and a Kindle edition in 2009. Sales, which had been steady for five years, declined in 2010. Will they rebound with the economy, or has the book run its course? Time will tell.
So with such a successful first book, where are all the other titles by Larkfield Publishing? Alas, I’m still waiting for another manuscript to cross my desk that I think has the same kind of market potential as The Hormone Survival Guide. Plus, I discovered that I’m not a natural-born marketer, and marketing is a vital and never-ending part of publishing. I’m much happier designing books and covers for other publishers, setting up their schedules, hiring copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers, and kissing the books goodbye once they come off the press.
I’m glad I published that one book and that it continues to be a success, but it would take a truly outstanding manuscript to compel me to go through all that work again.
Growing a Shelf of Cookbooks
I started publishing cookbooks 11 years ago. Now I have five out, and one in the works. The bestseller is Chesapeake’s Bounty, first published in April 2000 with a first printing of 2,500 copies. That summer we did a second printing of 5,000; now we have just done our fifth, and we’re still selling lots of books.
I got into writing cookbooks after publishing several guidebooks about the Chesapeake Bay region. One night, I asked my husband what he might want to do if he wasn’t in the marine supply business. His answer: “Write a cookbook.” I was fortunate that my grandmothers had kept journals about their cooking and recipes from friends. In 1982 my sister, a cousin, and one of my husband’s cousins wrote small family books using favorite recipes. This was the basis for Chesapeake’s Bounty, which includes history of the region, interesting tidbits, and history of some of the recipes. My recipes are all easy.
Readers tell me they love my books, not only for the easy recipes, but also for reading, especially if they are no longer cooking. God’s Bounty: 365 Days of Inspirational Cooking, which I published in 2009, has been used for daily devotionals and inspiration.
We published Socks Appeal by Brenna Maloney in June 2010 because we could not resist the adorable and easy projects. It fit perfectly under our new Stash Books imprint, and we thought it provided the perfect way to reap the antistress benefits of creating handmade crafts.
As I write, the book has been reprinted three times in less than a year and generated sales of 27,365 copies.
C & T Publishing