My Self-Publishing Saga Continues

My 3rd book, Surviving Hostage Situations, was turned down by 35 publishers. Those who were kind enough to explain why had a common theme: No one likes to think about the bad things that can happen to them. They were correct, but as an intelligence professional who lived for contingencies, I really didn’t understand that attitude. So, that experience plus the bad publisher experiences convinced me to self-publish.

This was fortunately the same time I acquired a Mac clone made from a Mac mother board and a PC case. I also acquired Page Maker software and entered the dizzy world of book design. I eventually sold 5,000 of these in English and 2,000 in German through a German publisher of a military magazine in Düsseldorf, Germany.

I also acquired rights to a Army Promotion Board study guide written by an Army education specialist. That became my cash cow. The first order for that little manual came from the European Stars and Stripes bookstore system in Germany. Their initial order was for 5,000 copies. The catch was it would be 6 months before they would pay. I had just paid out of my own pocket for 1,000 copies each of the hostage book and the study guide. I was tapped out of cash and credit.

I went to our bank across the street seeking a $15,000 line of credit to print more books based on the study guide order. After they finished chuckling, they said they’d be happy to set one up if I 2nd mortgaged my bookstore building. I didn’t really have a choice, so I did it. That study guide eventually sold 25,000 copies and funded the printing of several other books.

I took on one other book by an author other than myself–an exercise book by a Marine officer who combined traditional physical exercises with visualization exercises. It was a flop. Traditional exercise adherents thought it was too airy fairy. New Age readers thought it was too traditional.

The next book was Close Quarters Combat for Police and Security Forces. It was the non-lethal version of Survival on the Battlefield. It sold about 3,000 copies, but was never as popular as the military manual.

In 1992, after double knee operations, I had recuperation time on my hands. I wrote and typeset 126 pages of my next book, Military Knife Fighting. A month later, my Korean son, Patrick, and I went into the photographer’s studio with my 14-year-old daughter, Desiree, who was my script girl. She read each technique’s captions, and Pat and I went from pose to pose. We took over 350 pictures in an hour, completely blowing the photographer’s mind. That book became another cash cow.

In the BEA held in Miami, I obtained a table at the Military Book Show held in conjunction. Doubleday’s Military Book Club editor, Moshe Feder, looked over my books and signed me up for Survival on the Battlefield and Military Knife Fighting. They both became best sellers for the book club, selling over 25,000 copies. I didn’t make as much money per book; however, they used my printer and allowed me to order copies on the same print run. Instead of paying for books at the 1,000-2,000 copy price range, I could piggyback along with Doubleday’s 5,000 book printing, getting the 6,000-7,000 per book price, which was much cheaper. Economy of scale is a great thing.

Marketing became my primary focus. I met and made friends with the editors of men’s magazines such as SWAT, Soldier of Fortune, American Survival Guide, and Fighting Knives Magazine. They began giving me very positive reviews in their magazines. I in turn paid for display ads and classified ads, building up my direct marketing business. I began writing anti-New World Order books and became a popular interviewee on talk radio–so much so, that I was offered my own radio show–a 5 day a week hour-long show called the preparedness hour. With that ready-made marketing venue, I put together a 200-book mail order catalog operation and performed all operations myself, invoicing, picking, packing, wrapping, mailing, and inventory management. I was also traveling all over the US giving workshops and selling books at survivalist and book trade shows.

By 1997, I was completely burned out after 8 years of 12-18 hour days. I gave all 8,000 of my catalog customers a month’s warning and pulled the plug. This had been a 1-man endeavor and I couldn’t do it any longer. I never had time for writing. It had all become a full-time job of marketing.

After a 2-year hiatus of college to gain music teacher certification in the State of Kansas and 2 more years of teaching all subjects at our Juvenile Detention Center, I pulled the plug on that and began Heartland Reviews on line. I saw so many books submitted that weren’t ready for publication, that I began offering editing and designing services as a book packager.

Today I am focusing on writing fiction and helping self-publishers and small presses. At age 64, I am slowing down a little, but helping people has always been foremost in my mind. Thus ends how I fell into the wacky world of self-publishing.

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

Comments are closed.