Up, Up, and Away: How We Grew Our Publishing Company
by Mike Markowski
I started writing and publishing in 1972 when I founded Skysurfer magazine. Soon after introducing the new sport of hang gliding to the East Coast, I found the freedom I needed to follow my dream when I got laid off from my aerospace engineering job.
Today, my wife, Marjie, and I run a publishing company whose total sales have surpassed 2 million units, including translations done in 22 languages. Sales of self-help titles make up 87 percent of the total. We have four titles that have sold over 100,000 copies, nine titles that have sold between 50,000 and 99,999, and sixteen titles that have sold between 20,000 and 49,000 copies, all just in their English editions.
Getting Off the Ground
Back in 1972, after I met Dan Poynter, author/publisher of The Self-Publishing Manual, he and I and two others co-founded the first hang-glider manufacturing company on the East Coast, and Dan showed me how he was creating his second book using what he called the “pile-it system,” with each chapter’s materials piled on the floor.
While I was tirelessly promoting the new sport and industry—attracting a lot of attention from the press as well as on Boston-area and national TV—I also started a flight school, and business grew.
Querying Scientific American, I wrote my first freelance article and was thrilled when the December 1974 issue arrived with me flying on the cover. It was exciting to receive more than 10,000 letters from around the world, but even more exciting to get a call from a literary agent, asking if I’d like to write a book.
Leaving my manufacturing interests behind, I wrote The Hang Glider’s Bible and The Encyclopedia of Homebuilt Aircraft for TAB, making both successful via advertising, mail-order, freelancing, and some speaking. I’d pick up 1,000 books at a time at the publisher’s warehouse and head home, the suspension bottoming out.
I learned publishing on the fly, after turning down a nice advance from McGraw-Hill. Knowing the market, I believed I could sell more books than it could. Since I didn’t want to get a loan, I met with a printer’s rep and, on a handshake, got a line of credit.
In April 1981, on a shoestring in the middle of a recession, I founded Ultralight Publications, now Aeronautical Publishers. Writing and self-publishing Ultralight Aircraft, I made it an aviation bestseller, getting worldwide attention. The FAA even used the book in developing Federal Air Regulation 103, “The Ultralight Rule,” governing U.S. ultralight flying.
Three editions of that first self-published title sold over seven times as many copies as McGraw-Hill had estimated for first-year sales
Soon other authors began asking me to publish their books, so I started signing them on. Considering each manuscript an investment, I looked at how it could help aviation and my business grow.
Today, more than 30,000 homebuilt aircraft—over 15 percent of the general aviation fleet—are registered with the FAA. Also, there are as many as 500,000 hang gliders and paragliders, and perhaps over 200,000 ultralights have been delivered worldwide. Knowing I had a hand in all of this through books and freelancing is quite gratifying.
Wanting to help people on a more personal level, Marjie and I expanded into the self-help genre in 1995, launching Possibility Press.
Our first book for that imprint was by Jay Rifenbary. We had seen his No Excuse program on PBS-TV, and we signed him on after he had gotten an advance from a major house that then rejected his book. No Excuse! has sold over 170,000 copies, partly because the author, a West Point grad, speaks for companies and organizations nationwide.
Our second bestseller, Reject Me—I Love It! by speaker/consultant John Fuhrman, who had received more than 100 rejections, has sold more than 136,000 copies. We rejected his original manuscript too, but we called and asked if he had been published in any magazines. Reading his article “Revving Up for Rejection” in what is now Selling Power, we suggested he write a book on rejection. He’s since written seven other books for us.
Our other authors include CEOs, entrepreneurs, speakers, consultants, an artist, and a pastor, many of whom have had their books rejected by other houses. They understand that books make great calling cards.
When authors come to us as unknowns, we give them a chance if we like their ideas and the themes of their manuscripts. We need to believe that they’re worthy, humble, and appreciative of the opportunity, and that they realize that being published on a royalty basis is a privilege. We also prefer that they have a platform and be dedicated to promoting and selling their books.
Over 99 percent of our sales have been outside the trade. We don’t print books on speculation and sell them nonreturnable. Sending prepress galleys for review, we aim to sell 10,000 copies of a title before going to press. Initially, we drew attention to our line by sending chocolates (our office is located next to Hershey), or a stuffed animal and popcorn, to prospects along with books for review.
Plus, we give thousands of books away, to charities, libraries, servers, cashiers, and others, often leaving them in waiting rooms, endeavoring to make a difference.
Marjie and I co-create our self-help titles. Our authors are creative and have great ideas, but in-house we go way beyond typical editing. We do as many rewrites and embellishments as we feel are necessary to make each book easier to read, understand, assimilate, and apply. We also provide catchy titles and inspiring covers and, together with our authors, garner top-name endorsements.
Because our purpose is to get readers to think and be compelled to take action, our books are “activational,” not just motivational. Our slogan is “Read Today . . . Lead Tomorrow.”
So far, we’ve written, edited, and/or published 75 titles (35 aviation, 40 self-help) by 37 authors. Using dynamic synergy, we do what we love together. We’re flattered that a couple of larger houses have shown interest in our titles, and thankful for the client-friends who contribute to making the business our dream life.
Mike and Marjie Markowski publish self-help books through Possibility Press and books on aviation through Aeronautical Publishers. To learn more, visit possibilitypress.com and aeronauticalpublishers.com, or email Mike and Marjie at firstname.lastname@example.org.