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The Product-a-Year Strategy for Success

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Writing and publishing can be empowering, but financial success often comes hard for those who rely solely on the book trade for their income. I founded Mic Mac Publishing in 1997 to publish and market my own books and products, with the goal of producing a new product every year. Of course, writing, publishing, and marketing a new book every year is an ambitious undertaking so I use simpler, less expensive creations to help expand the retail and income-producing portion of my business.

Mic Mac Publishing began in response to my experiences with the University of Nevada Press in 1996. While I was there as a 38-year-old undergraduate, I wrote my first book, The Nevada Weather Book, which focuses on 130 years of historic weather events in the Silver State. I knew that the reading public was interested in the topic because I had received five awards from the Nevada State Press for my newspaper column, “Weather Window,” published in the Lake Tahoe region where I live. The Press offered to publish the book with some editorial changes, but the standard royalty they would pay didn’t appeal to me and I refused the deal.


Reaching Readers Directly

Back then, with no experience publishing books, I decided to use the content to create an audiotape and paid a professional studio $3,000 to produce the tape with sound effects. I had little luck selling it in retail stores (cassette tapes were already on their way out), but fortunately I was giving about 100 lectures every summer in the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas for a variety of off-site educational programs sponsored by California and Nevada colleges. By selling the tapes for $10 apiece to my “students,” I was able to easily earn my $3,000 investment back in a year. That limited financial success gave me a sense of the lucrative potential of direct sales.

In 1997, when I wrote and published Sierra Stories: True Tales of Tahoe, I placed the book in about 20 local bookstores. The first printing of 1,000 sold out in four months, and I’ve sold more than 10,000 books since then–all without paid advertising. Best of all, direct sales at lectures put the full $9.95 retail price back into my business.


Because of this book’s success, in 1998 I wrote and published a second volume of Sierra Stories. The stories in Volume 2 are just as good but sales in retail stores average only 60% of the first book’s business. By talking with bookstore owners, I learned too late that reduced sales are very common with any “Volume 2” publication. Lecture sales, however, are virtually the same for both books. In fact, people who buy one usually also buy the other, and book and tape sales at my lectures typically double or triple the money I’m paid for the presentation alone. With books and tapes to sell, it’s often worth giving a presentation for “free.”

In 1999, anxious for a new product, but experiencing limited cash flow, I narrated another audiocassette tape, about pioneers who blazed the California Trail, including the Donner Party. I recorded this one in my office, on my own basic stereo in one afternoon at virtually no cost. Instead of trying to sell the Donner tapes in stores, I’ve sold hundreds of them directly to my students for $10 each and also used them as promotional giveaways for people who buy several books at a time.


Profiting from Parts

My next-to-last book–so far–is one I wrote for a nonprofit institute about the global energy crisis. It won three awards at the 2002 Sacramento Publishers & Authors Annual Awards, but it was not mine to sell, and I decided to leave writing-for-hire and return to my own business model of a new product every year. During the summer of 2002, I researched and wrote Western Train Adventures: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, which I published in November 2002. As I wrote the train book, I sold edited versions of each chapter to local magazines and newspapers. Not only did this earn money to support production, it also gave me free editing, helped drive sales of my two previous books in local independent bookstores, and generated a sense of anticipation for the release of Western Train Adventures.

The dramatic original artwork on the front cover of the train book also has potential in sales of posters, T-shirts, and hats. Because I had little money to pay for fair use of the artist’s copyrighted work that I wanted to use on the cover, I offered to include a profile of her career in the back of the book. This may also help gain the attention of other artists who might be willing to work with me in future projects.

Also, in order to get more mileage out of the colorful cover art, I had the image enlarged to 11″ x 17″, laser printed, mounted on poster board and laminated. I placed my three best endorsements below the image and will use these eye-catching yet inexpensive props to garner attention at bookstores, book-signings, and lectures.

Next year’s product? The Nevada Weather Book that started it all!

Mark McLaughlin is an award-winning writer and nationally published author with four books and more than 200 articles in magazines and newspapers. A professional lecturer for the University of Nevada in Reno, and Sierra College in Rocklin, California, Mark has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including as a weather history consultant for The History Channel. To purchase autographed books, audiotapes, or to arrange a speaking engagement, e-mail Mark at mark@MicMacMedia.com or visit his entertaining and informative Web site at www.MicMacMedia.com.

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