How I Became A Self-Publisher

The Beginning

Back in the early 1970’s, I served in South Korea with the US Army Intelligence. I spent 3-5 hours a day 4 days a week studying the Korean fighting art of Hapkido (a mixture of Korean Karate and Japanese Jujitsu). Unlike Judo, we had no reference manuals; however, the art had over 1,000 techniques. I decided to write a definitive manual.

In 1974 and 75 I posed with fellow students for technique pictures and wrote all the text. In 1976, I was stationed at Ft Huachuca, AZ. I submitted my proposal to Rainbow Publications (Black Belt Magazine). They turned it down because they had just published a Hapkido manual by the Korean actor, Bong Soo Han, who had been in the Billy Jack Movies. It was poorly written by a ghost writer, but they depended on Bong’s name selling the book. The word quickly got around the martial art community that it was poorly written, so it didn’t sell well.

Although I sent proposals in to other martial art publishers over the years, hoping than my credentials as the 1st non-Korean to attain a 3rd Dan black belt and instructors certification would make me acceptable. No luck, so I put it on a back shelf and got busy with other things.

In 1985, I attended an American Booksellers Association Expo (now called the BEA) and met with editors from Rainbow Publications and the second largest MA press, Unique Publications (Inside Kungfu Magazine). This time I was able to establish credibility and was asked to submit. Rainbow turned me down again because they didn’t want to compete against their own book. Unique accepted, and I finally had a foot in the door.

Two months before an assignment to Munich, Germany in 1986, I mentioned to them I had an idea for a military fighting manual based on Hapkido and other arts. They got excited, since they had nothing for the military in their backlist, and asked me to go ahead. I wrote it in the next 6 weeks and then flew out to Burbank, CA on my own dime to honcho a photo session with their models.

The night before the shoot at dinner, my editor told me I had to eliminate half of the techniques. That was a huge amount of stress to sacrifice half of my book overnight, but I did. The next day, despite an ear infection and a 103 degree fever, I coached the models through the remaining techniques and flew home the next day to get doctored up before driving my van across country to ship it from NJ to Germany.

In 1987, I received a box of my 2nd book, Survival on the Battlefield: A Handbook to Military Martial Arts. They had decided to publish it first and never gave me a chance to review the proofs, so I didn’t have the opportunity to correct technical mistakes they made. The next year, the same thing happened with Hapkido: The Integrated Fighting Art, except it was much worse. Instead of issuing a 2-volume set of every technique from white belt to 2nd degree black belt, they decided to issue a broad brush overview, cutting out techniques but not editing out references to these poor dead spirits. On top of that, the cover was ugly. I was heart-sick. It was like seeing my baby stillborn.

At the time, I was touring Germany on the weekends doing author signings and appearing on a TV talk show on AFN. I was advertising in GI magazines. I finally decided that my third book, Surviving Hostage Situations, would be published by me. My experiences with the major niche publisher and reading Dan Poynter’s wonderful self-publishing manual gave me the courage to make that decision. I arrived back in Kansas in 1989 just in time to pick up my first 1,000 copies of my third book from the printer. My next post will address how my press, Universal Force Dynamics Publishing, came to be and why it became a success.


This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear’s Book Trends Blog.