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Books in Action, Part 2

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An IBPA Roundtable

June 2013

Books in Action, Part 2


As you might imagine, it’s exhilarating to get a stream of reports from IBPA members about what their books do for the people who read them and, through those people, for lots of others. Because each email tells a different story, I’m impressed again and again by how many ways independent publishers fulfill needs, including the most painful kinds and the kinds that are mostly about fun.

But it gets even better because the dozens of books we’re highlighting in “Books in Action” are the tip of a gargantuan iceberg.

As Kelly Gallagher of Ingram pointed out in “Independent Publisher Power” (February), current methodologies show that publishers with annual net sales under $5 million contributed $2.2 billion to total 2011 industry revenues. And smaller publishers (those publishing fewer than 10 ISBNs a year) “are multiplying quickly. A recent study published by R.R. Bowker estimated the growth rate from 2006 to 2011 at over 69 percent, and noted that this group of publishers now numbers nearly 21,000,” not counting companies such as Smashwords and writers who publish through them.

Do the math, and the implications look pretty clear. The dozens of books whose stories appear in the Independent have changed, are changing, and will change many, many lives for the better, and it figures that books from the thousands of other independent publishers are doing that too. How many books would that be? At least tens of thousands and quite possibly hundreds of thousands. How big a difference do independent publishers make? I’m not sure what words could describe it, but I’m inclined to go with just “mind-boggling.”

—Judith Appelbaum


Clearing Racial and Gender Barriers

When Nadanda the Wordmaker was published in 1994, only a tiny fraction of children’s literature reflected an African-American presence through main character roles. This book is the story of an intellectually versatile African-American 14-year-old who invents strange words as a means of fitting in with the most popular school cliques. To her surprise, and to her mother’s horror, her words do have meanings that plunge them through winding paths of mystery and suspense.

Although simple in presentation, the book caught the attention of preteens and teens on various reading levels, inspiring some who considered themselves nonreaders.

Fan mail poured in from across the country, overcoming racial divides and gender divides. For African-American girls and other girls of color, the book said, “Ah! Here am I!” For other ethnic groups, the book said, “That’s the girl sitting next to me in Algebra II Honors!” To boys and girls, the book said, “Solve the mystery! Run with Nadanda on this unpredictable, strange journey.”

We heard from teachers who talked about how they used the book to encourage low-level readers in building comprehension skills and said they also used it in higher-level English classes with different discussion points. Some journalists likened Nadanda to Nancy Drew. Others said that Nadanda showed young girls how to achieve self-empowerment.

Nadanda the Wordmaker won the Writer’s Digest Best Children’s Book Award the year it came out, and has given the author the opportunity to talk about the plights and needs of African-American girls and other girls of color.

Vivian Owens

Eschar Publications, LLC



Serving Startups

The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf ignited a revolution among thousands of entrepreneurs around the globe.

It was adopted by the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, and drives this huge program that annually teaches hundreds of our nation’s top scientists and engineers how to commercialize their tech ideas. It quickly became the core academic text at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University, Columbia University, and more than 75 other leading universities worldwide. Governments, including those of Chile, Finland, and Colombia, use the book to train their entrepreneurs. More than 60,000 entrepreneurs around the globe use it in conjunction with Blank’s free Lean LaunchPad course on Udacity.com.

Startup Weekend NEXT, a new pre-accelerator reaching thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide, is using The Startup Owner’s Manual and Udacity course to teach entrepreneurs how to scale their business ideas.

More than 2 million people each month now follow Steve’s work, on steveblank.com; through reposts in such publications as FortuneForbes, Huffington Post, and The Atlantic; and through his regular contributions to the Wall Street Journal’s weekly “The Accelerators” feature.

A sequel of sorts to Blank’s groundbreaking The Four Steps to the EpiphanyThe Startup Owner’s Manual offers instructions for the burgeoning number of Web/mobile startups, and separate guidance for enterprise and physical products. The book relies on the Customer Development process Steve Blank developed to help startups optimize their chances for success, and incorporates a decade’s worth of “real world” experience and best practices gleaned from a year of startups’ use.

Readers use the book in conjunction with The Startup Owner’s Manual Founder’s Workbook, developed in partnership with Zoomstra, which helps founders track and monitor their progress through the Customer Development process.

With sales of The Startup Owner’s Manual edging toward 100,000, recent reader comments include this one: “Great book. Can’t escape feeling that all companies should be working like this, not just startups.”

Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.

K&S Ranch




113,000 Copies and Counting

When I self-published The $50 and Up Underground House Book in 1978, I was rewarded with gratifying success from the start. Mother Earth News picked it up and was soon ordering 500 copies at a time, climaxing with an order of 5,000 in ’82 or ’83 (I gave them 57 percent off for that order). At the same time, Van Nostrand Reinhold picked up the book and ordered 10,000 copies, copublishing with my mighty Mole Publishing Company, which had recently tripled the size of its underground office complex from 120 square feet to a palatial 370 square feet, including built-in root cellar and wall-to-wall carpeting.

Though totally underground, the home/office had (and has) 25 windows, sunlight, and good views. The original house went from a cost of $50 to $500 and then to $2,000 a few years later with the addition of a really good $500 wood stove and a modest $1,000 solar electric system. Skeptics may view some of these claims at undergroundhousing.com.

Pegging promotion to media coverage, including an AP article that ran nationwide and various TV spots here and abroad, I hitchhiked around the States with my dog, Bummer, doing freelance lectures at colleges and high schools, and I went on a lecture/workshop tour of Holland, Belgium, Germany, England, and Scotland sponsored by a Dutch alternative magazine. Also, I spent a couple of winters touring the United States by car, conducting workshops on the design and construction of underground houses, shelters, and greenhouses.

During the Reagan years, when all alternative lifestyles were falling out of favor, I only broke even despite doing numerous TV and radio interviews. In ’92 I hired the videographer who was taping the local high school football games to shoot both my completed structures and me giving my workshop with scale models of the “Thirteen Approved Methods of Design” for getting light, air, and views—windows—into houses that are totally underground.

During my 45 years here on my Idaho homestead, I’ve also pioneered a radically new greenhouse design. It takes my tomatoes into the second week in December year after year, and my hardies like kale and cabbage clear through the winter without any other heat source than sun and that stored in the earth. I wrote about this in The Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book, which that titanic publishing empire, Mole Publishing Company, brought out in 2007.

Have these books made a difference? Not near as much as I would have liked in the architecture profession. Ah, but the owner-builders! That’s an entirely different story. Some of them have told me they have read my books as many as six times, and have viewed DVD #2 (design) repeatedly, and they contact me and thank me and send me photos of their projects. There have been hundreds of them over the 35 years since the book first came out.

Many radical ideas are met with resistance at first, often not gaining acceptance until after the death of the innovator. At 75, I’m quite willing to go, except that I have at least four more books in me. But the world and its inhabitants are in such a mess now that I believe underground housing, with the 23 advantages it has over conventional structures, will be the housing of the future—if not before the earth-cleansing cataclysms, then certainly after.

Oh, by the way, I’m sure all of us are aware of the New York publishing industry truism that one book will lose money, one book will break even, and the third will turn a profit. Of Mole Publishing’s four books, my One Mexican Sunday, despite superb reviews, lost money; my copublished book, The Hippy Survival Guide to Y2K, broke even in one month of brisk sales before America decided Y2K was a nonevent; my Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book is in its third printing for a total of 10,000, with a cover price of $24.95; and my old standby, The $50 and Up Underground House Book, has sold 113,000 copies to date, with a 16th printing of 6,000 en route from the printer at this writing. So Mole has done twice as well as the New York houses.

Take that, you New York suits!

Mike Oehler

Mole Publishing Co.



Sharing a Heritage

Filastrocche Italiane—Italian Nursery Rhymes, edited by Claudia Cerulli and launched in November 2009, includes both Italian and English text and is intended to help parents, grandparents, and teachers remember or discover some of the most traditional Italian children’s rhymes and songs.

Response from readers has been great. The title is a perennial bestseller in its category at Amazon.com, and it has sold all over the world. Since the English text translates the meaning of the rhymes without changing them, readers can effortlessly understand each word, and parents and grandparents can enjoy an uninterrupted reading experience with their little ones. Readers enjoy this feature, and one described the book as “bedtime bliss.”

Because of its success, we have now released a gift edition with a beautiful hardcover and more rhymes.

Claudia Cerulli

Long Bridge Publishing



Human Training Tips

I self-published Pee Where You Want: Man’s Best Friend Talks Back! in part as a tribute to my dog, Max, whom I had the pleasure of rescuing from a shelter after he’d been abandoned. Max outlasted my marriage and lived for almost 16 years. PWYW is an irreverent and comedic look into what I believe our dogs would say about their owners’ lives, if they could talk.

The book—which explores such topics as work-life “imbalance,” sweet 16 parties, partisan politics, and our obsession with sharing the intimate details of our lives on social media—also includes Max’s mutt rules and human training tips to help readers consider making some changes to live happier, more unleashed lives.

I wrote PWYW to help people laugh more about their own quirks, and in some small way to begin to soften the intense and divisive dialogue that currently permeates our culture. While the book is geared to the 46.3 million ardent adult American dog lovers who spend more than $55.3 billion annually on their dogs, it also appeals to others who recognize that animals have their own way of communicating with us daily. They are loyal and loving, but they let us know when we’ve screwed up.

One retired woman who borrowed my book from her daughter then asked her daughter to buy her the e-book version so that she could enlarge the print, and she said she laughed so much when she read it that it made her briefly forget her pain and the fact that she was living in a nursing home. Her daughter mentioned that she hadn’t seen her mom laugh that way in many years. Another reader, whose beloved dog was suddenly killed by a car, said the book helped her and her husband by reminding them both of many hilarious moments that they had with their dog.

I continue to be blown away by the awesome stories that I hear from my fellow dog lovers. It really is amazing to see your words come to life and see the impact that they can have on people, including so many you’ll never meet personally.

Karen H. Thompson

The Dottin Publishing Group



Airing Emerging Writers’ Work

Our Young Writers Anthology series is best summarized by the three marketing taglines we are using:

Allow yourself to be surprised. We focus exclusively on young writers ages 13 to 22. We have structured our business model so that we can introduce readers to innovative and next-generation experimental works as the writers are emerging, rather than publish content aligned to today’s market tastes.

Literature for young adults written by young adults. VerbalEyze works to encourage a renaissance of creative writing among young people. We believe that the very fabric of the publishing industry is changing and that the future looks more horizontally diverse and cooperative. By disseminating the Young Writers Anthology broadly in schools through institutional purchases and sponsored purchases and by featuring our young writers’ biographies prominently in the books, we hope to open the eyes of thousands of young people to the creative potential within themselves and to demonstrate that society values their voices.

Empowering young writers to say, “I am my scholarship!” Believing that the new way of doing business in the publishing industry involves much more cooperation between publisher and author, we pay our authors royalties of between 40 and 50 percent of proceeds. For the Young Writers Anthology, the royalty is 50 percent divided evenly among all participating authors, and we have structured the royalties so that each young writer receives them in a named scholarship account and can draw on that account to fund progress toward higher-education goals.

We believe this approach gives them an effective marketing message as we teach them the marketing skills all successful writers must have to connect to readers in today’s publishing world.

Derek Koehl

VerbalEyze Press



A Love Stories Story


One of our writers has become internationally known because of his passion to show the world that gay love exists in every culture.

Robert Joseph Greene, the author of The Gay Icon Classics of the World, took 15 years to create this collection of gay love stories from 12 different cultures. Originally printed in English, it is now alsoavailable in German, French, and Spanish.

In light of the success of this first collection, he created The Gay Icon Classics of the World II, which included another eight gay love stories. One of them, “The Blue Door (Russia),” told of a love story between a Russian prince and a peasant.

At the time it came out, regions in Russia were passing antigay laws that made it illegal for gay “propaganda” to be read in front of children. Russian students contacted Greene for permission to translate the story, read it out loud in front of a children’s library, and were arrested and fined 2000 rubles ($80). The arrests drew international attention. Words are so powerful that they can become forbidden.

Robert Christofle

Icon Empire Press



Dealing with Down Syndrome

Inspired by the birth of her daughter, who was born with Down syndrome, Becky Carey wrote a children’s picture book, 47 Strings: Tessa’s Special Code, to explain the diagnosis to Tessa’s seven-year-old brother, Casin.

She recorded that moment and posted it on YouTube, and she explains in her book that an extra chromosome is anything but tragic; when kids have “47 strings,” that just means there is a little more to love.

The response to this book has been overwhelming. From messages to phone calls to in-person conversations—the story has touched more people than we will ever know and has proven to be an inspirational teaching tool. Here is just one example: “Thank you so much for sharing your story! We just had our second child 2 months ago and she was born with DS. We had no idea, but just to hear you talk about your daughter brings me comfort and a lot to look forward to!”

47 Strings has been endorsed by the National Association for Down Syndrome and the Madison Area Down Syndrome Society. Funded through a Kickstarter project that raised more than $15,000 in less than two weeks, it sold 600 copies in its first four months to people all over the United States, and in Britain, Australia, Canada, and France. A portion of the proceeds goes to Down syndrome organizations.

The University of Wisconsin Waisman Center, which specializes in developmental disabilities, gives a copy to all new parents of children with Down syndrome. Stories about the book have appeared regionally on television and radio and in newspapers, and the author continues to share Tessa’s story by attending state and national conferences, visiting schools and colleges, and blogging about her journey.

Another book we published—Super Snacks for Super Kids by Julie Stephenson and Sarah Fox—is also making a difference. Created with the goal of raising money for a school wellness program, it is an illustrated collection of simple recipes designed to meet kids’ nutritional needs throughout the day. All the proceeds from the first printing will fund projects, including school gardens, farm-to-school connections, and family cooking classes.

With sales well over 2,000 since publication in September 2012, Super Snacks for Super Kids is now being used by other schools as a fundraiser for their wellness programs; the Hemophilia Federation of America is creating a custom edition of the book to put in their welcome packets; the authors have visited numerous school groups and attended or presented at various expos and festivals; and we know parents are benefiting from it. One Facebook Fan said “This isn’t just for super KIDS–it’s creating super FAMILIES!!!”

Kristin Mitchell

Little Creek Press



Together on the Trail

To me, the number of copies sold of my books is secondary to how my books affect my readers. While I do greatly enjoy it when checks come in, or notices of money going to my bank account come from Amazon and others, what I enjoy most is people emailing me, or speaking to me at an event, telling me that I was helpful to them or inspired them.

The books that my husband, Ralph, and I publish are about hiking and backpacking. We enjoy these activities, feel we have profited from engaging in them, think others would benefit from them, and like being involved with hikers’ and backpackers’ communities. Just as people enjoy swapping stories around the campfire, we enjoy giving author talks and slide shows attended by those who share our passions, many of whom come up afterward and ask for more information or share their own tales.

As far as sales go, I know that I would probably make a lot more money if I were writing about money, sex, health, or controversy, but I think we have done well within our niche. For example, our We’re in the Mountains, Not over the Hill (published 2003) went through four print runs. We have now taken it to POD and Kindle.

Susan Alcorn

Shepherd Canyon Books

backpack45.com; backpack45.blogspot.com

Presenting Art as a Process

Bright Ring Publishing, Inc., founded in 1985, publishes Bright Ideas for Learning, a series of art activity books for people who want and expect new art ideas in a predictable format that is user-friendly. All the books follow the same basic formula: similar page layout, landscape shape, and educational philosophy (art for children is a process, not a product). Customers include teachers, parents, kids, librarians, homeschoolers, childcare providers, youth librarians, scouts, church schools, university classes, childcare degree programs, and large daycare centers.

Fairly early on, I chose to write books for Gryphon House, Inc., in addition to books for Bright Ring. The lines look similar and complement each other, so that promotion by Bright Ring influences Gryphon sales, and Gryphon’s marketing benefits Bright Ring. Unit sales are now over 1 million copies, counting all 20 titles and sales resulting from international rights deals.

At a recent National Association for the Education of Young Children convention, one woman came up to me and said, “I’m saving my money so I can have all your books. I’m up to number 8 of 20!” I’m happy to report that this is typical of the books’ loyal followers. It also indicates why my books don’t always have their highest sales rates in the first or second year after publication. It may be a while before an existing customer buys a new title, but eventually, most customers will. This makes for a very loyal customer base and book sales that grow over the years.

MaryAnn F. Kohl

Bright Ring Publishing, Inc.



Help for Moving Through Difficult Times

My husband was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor less than two years after my father’s death from cancer, so I had a roadmap of sorts to guide me. Still, I was unprepared for all that the life-altering diagnosis brought into our lives, and I had to learn how to handle the difficulties as we went along. I also gained insight, sometimes belatedly, into how the journey can be more meaningful and a little less stressful.

I wrote Healing Through Illness, Living Through Dying: Guidance and Rituals for Patients, Families, and Friends to help readers move with greater strength and grace through some of the most difficult passages life presents.

People encountering serious illness or end of life are finding this book a valuable resource. I was enormously pleased when an early reader who supported her husband through the end of life told me, “Unlike some of the others, your book wasn’t offputting, I wanted to keep reading this one. And you offered interesting things to think about.”

Another reader told me, “Not only were so many suggestions and rituals helpful, but your book helped me gain a deeper awareness of my mother’s needs in her last months. As a result, I have fewer regrets now that she’s gone. Thank you!”

This was a ripple effect I had hoped for, and I am pleased to hear such comments from others as well. One of my fondest hopes was that helping patients and caregivers discover greater meaning in the process would enable them to create more good memories, and have fewer regrets.

I had also hoped that my book would be a resource for the professionals involved with end of life in a wide variety of areas, and this audience is responding positively by reviewing the book, and recommending it. Several major influencers in the field of serious illness and end of life wrote strong endorsements, which was enormously helpful in terms of ripple effect.

One ripple effect surprised me. A woman who works in public health care wrote that she has used exercises and rituals from the book in her groups of people who are physically healthy but have other types of difficult challenges. I was even more surprised when a friend told me a number of chapters in the book helped him keep his balance while going through a divorce.

My hope is that the book will continue to help people become more comfortable around death, and so better able to offer support as they live and heal together through these difficult passages. I envision the ripples spreading outward and reaching more and more of those who will benefit.

Candice Courtney

Danton Press



More Stories  of Powerful Books Coming Up

Our Books in Action series, which began last month, will continue next month. Many thanks to everybody who shared the wealth of experience.

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