Tuesday, August 18, 2009

F&M Week Day 5: Does This Count As Assault?

This morning on the train, a droopy-eyed INTERN clutching her bicycle with one hand and the overhead hangy-thing with the other was accosted by a Belligerent Self-Published Children's Author and held hostage for a full fifteen minutes that probably left a liftetime of psychological scarring.

BSPCA: Cute jacket.
INTERN: Thanks.
BSPCA: I'm a children's book author. I'm on a book tour.
INTERN: Cool! Oh, neat! What's your book called? Who's your publisher? I intern at a publishing house.
BSPCA: (dark shadow falling over steely grin) It's called "Mystic Horizons of Gaia." It's self-published.
INTERN: Oh. Cool.
BSPCA: I never really considered getting it published through the usual channels. Do you know that most print runs for children's books are like 5,000 books? And then you only get 7.5% of the retail price? And publishers don't want to take on full-color books because they're expensive to produce, and then there are all these short, ADD books in schools and they wonder why kids have bad attention spans? And publishers are afraid of taking on anything with a spiritual message?
INTERN: Man, you know a lot about mainstream publishing.
BSPCA: (hollow stare) Listen. I want to sell 100,000 copies a year. Not 5,000. And I'm doing it. My full-time job now is selling my books. I've already moved 35,000 copies this year. I have a program on my computer that finds the e-mail addresses of all the school librarians and e-mails them to set up readings in elementary schools. I sell the books for $18 each, and I make $15 profit on each book.
INTERN: Damn, girl.
BSPCA: Traditional publishing is evil. I don't know why anyone would want their book to go through those leeches.
INTERN: It's certainly a complex question.
BSPCA: (breathing down INTERN's neck) So you work for a publisher?
INTERN: (nods).
BSPCA: (taking out two gigantic hardcover, full-color books complete with comic sans font and computer-generated rainbow-fill line drawings and pressing them into INTERN's thoracic cavity) You should take these into work with you. Show them all what they're missing. My book teaches children the importance of love and clean water.
INTERN (winded). Gack!
BSPCA: Want me to sign them for you?

The books in question are now sitting on INTERN's desk, within eyeshot at this very moment. She is afraid to touch them.

INTERN is confused as to what this exchange reveals about self-publishing. On the one hand, here's a person who managed to single-handedly sell 35,000 copies of a children's book without the support of a publisher or publicist. On the other hand, it's 35,000 copies of an atrocious book. Is this a success story or a horror story? Are children everywhere being moved to spiritual ecstasy by the story of Gaia and her gradient-happy mystical horizons, as the back-cover copy suggests? Is the BSPCA a successful author, or just a successful huckster?

And who are these people who spend $18 on a drippy, moralizing, adverb-ridden self-published book when there are so many quality children's books out there?

Maybe more children's book authors need to spend time riding commuter trains.


  1. INTERN, you are so cute I could pinch your cheek.

    Please tell me you didn't cough up a tenner for the two copies of said hack work. Please tell me you don't believe everything told you on a commuter train.

    I doubt she sold 35k copies. But the lesson learned is that lots of books can be sold by authors if they get'a humping.

    Thanks for your posts. Nice gut splitters.

  2. Or more likely, BSPCA wasn't telling the truth about that 35k.

    I am so sorry for your trauma!

  3. Hmmm...I think perhaps said author may have added some zero's to that number of books sold.

  4. And of course, if traditional publishing is evil, why exactly did s/he want you to take copies in to work with you? Somehow "show them all what they're missing" rings just a TINY bit false.

  5. Maybe she gave away 99 percent of them for free and sold the remaining ones for the before mentioned $18 per book. She only said she "moved" 35,000, right?

  6. Well, love is certainly important!

    And, *clean water,* -- yup, you don't want amoebas and critters in your urine!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  7. LOL. This is amazing. I'm not sure if I believe this BSPCA without documented proof of sale.

    Idea: How about you run a contest and the winner receives one of these books? That is, if you're willing to part with them.

  8. BSPCA has to be lying. There's no way in hades that 35,000 people are willing to drop $18 on a crap book. Unless BSPCA has 35,000 relatives. Or a couple of wealthy grandmas.

    BTW, I wonder if she KNEW you were in publishing. Like, she could sniff you out?

  9. I've been in sales forever and EVERYONE who sells something lies about either how much they've sold or how much they earn, if not both. Which is why you always have to show documentation when you interview for your next job. They already know you're a liar because you're in sales.

    That is some hostile wannabe reject funk coming at you, sister.

    Also: You engaged in conversation with someone on the train? Do you know nothing? The only strangers who will talk to you on public transport are crazy. Avoid them. Flee if you must. If they keep talking drool and grunt and they might think you're the crazy one and back away.

  10. I would believe she 'contacted' 35K librarians--doubt she sold to all of them. It would have to be a seriously good book for me to drop $18 on ANY book.
    Hm, so THAT's why we don't have commuter trains in our town--keeps down the self-pubbed riff-raff.

  11. After the giardia thing, I'd think you'd be all about the clean water....No?

    She definitely doesn't sound like a happily self-published author if she's got such a beef with traditional publishing. I mean, if she's really so great with it, and making so much money, why be bitter?

    Sounds like the kind of book that hippy-ish adults buy for kids that they barely know. Books that the kids never open.

    (Though I did adore Barbapapa's Ark as a kid. And it was full of rainbow creatures and a clean water message. If you hadn't told us the title, I'd think maybe it was the same book, being sold for the past 30+ years!! That could account for the inflated numbers!)

  12. 35,000? Hmmm, sounds like I'd better start working on my hollow stare...

  13. Although I doubt the 35,000 figure too, I've been amazed at the number of people, including teachers and principals, who have no understanding of what self-publishing is. Every year I'm in charge of setting up the author visit for my child's school. And every year I have to battle against self-published authors that staff members recommend (and PTA too.) Our principal especially wants to see someone who's written a book with a nice moral for kids. And in case you think she's a terrible principal, she's not. She's absolutely first-rate. It's just that people outside of publishing see it very differently from those inside of publishing. If this self-published author somehow did tap into the school market and did a ton of visits, it's possible she could have sold thousands of books. Our author visit always generates several hundred sold at our school alone.

  14. Harhar. Did YOU add in 'moving'? Or did the BSPCA say 'moving'? I'm with vicariousrising -- I could 'move' 35,000 books through my poop hole, but that may only mean I actually sold four for legal tender. Or maybe BSPCA has envisioned 35,000 sales to schools on planet Beeblebrox?

  15. I have a friend who has self published (not from a self pub company, but via his own find in China somewhere) many educational books. He then has sales reps throughout the country who sell it for him to B&N, indie bookstores, etc. He has managed to create a book or so a year and a game or two over the past 10 years, which let him retire from his other job and do this full time, supporting a family. So it CAN be done. But his stuff is actually good, so there's that. I believe that he makes 5K or so at the ordering time. So 35K sounds like there's a lot of giveaways involved.

    Also, whenever an author comes to our school, I'm one of the lame moms who shell out the money that night at the parent night. I figure it supports authors.... but many DO suck. The last one was from a local gal who used premade stationary for the graphics on the front. The inside was similar. BLECH.

  16. It does seem like writing a well written book and marketing seem like two different aspects of publishing.

    There are books that are bestsellers that I think are crap. Books I think I can write or even write it even better, and I'm a nobody.

    I think to each their own. It all depends on their goals.

    Do you want to write a well-written book and have many people enjoy it? Or do you want to make lots of money on a story you don't care is good or not (after all, it's good enough for you)?

    It's stuff like this that makes me think ANYONE can be a bestseller or make alot of money from their books, regardless of quality, if they got a good idea and put a lot of effort into marketing it.

  17. I am in agreement with just about everyone else here that 35,000 books is wishful thinking of the highest order. By the way, I used to work in a library, and while we never purchased one of these self published children's titles we had several donated to us, that we then dutifully added to the collection as they were by local "authors".

  18. Eesh. I think your story just caused a whole-body-shiver. Or maybe that was just the temperature drop. In any case, I am sorry, INTERN. May you never be accosted in a like manner again. Though should it happen, could you please blog about it? Your adventures always make me laugh.

  19. Just out of curiosity, Intern, have you googled the acutal title of said book? If it's so good that she's managed to even *give* 35,000 copies, somebody must be talking about it, right?

    And? Any hits?

  20. Dude,

    She was lying about the numbers.

    Interesting, though, she did tap into the market for treacle. Some parents and many school systems would ban Grimm's fairy tales if they weren't already part of our cultural canon: too graphic and violent.

    My sense is that she suffered from halitosis.

  21. 35k???! Maybe that's how much she got printed, which would be an insane waste of money.

  22. I had the same idea as the other commenters... she "moved" 35K copies, not sold. In fact, thanks to you, she's now moved 35,002.

    I mean, if she HAD sold 35K at $15 profit per (that's $525,000), would she be taking the SUBWAY? I don't think so. I like the bustle of the NYC subway as much as anyone, but it's freakin' August, and the stations aren't air conditioned...

  23. OMG. Terrible. Especially as I conjecture it wasn't just about plain clean water, but somehow spiritually cleaned, extra-filtered, extra-ionized, etceterablabla water. I've known people who wanted to sell me that kind of stuff when tap water is actually fine.

    But yes, there are some people who are successful as self-published authors, and some of them, I believe, do write good stuff, they just didn't find the right publishing house before they gave up and did it themselves...


  24. Yes, that counts as an assault. Ick. I'm a former librarian and there's no way we would have bought that book, so I can only imagine she's delusional.

  25. Mother (re)produces: Too funny! I did google the title and only two hits came up...both links to this post. I did allow for the possibility that Intern was kind enough not to throw this woman to the wolves by listing the actual title.

    I was also thinking it is a mighty expensive proposition to do readings at so many libraries. Surely there would be airfare and hotel expense involved, resulting in a net loss. Just sayin'.

    If you're going to fudge your numbers they should sound likely, or at least possible.

  26. Maybe it's related to the fact that anything ridiculous can get publicity and followers on the internet these days... the Comic Sans part kind of scares me since that font has been on people's blacklists since probably 1999.

  27. I love that there is no seque between "Cute jacket" and "here's what I do for a living." Maybe that's the secret to selling (or "moving") so many units. Annoy the hell out of your target until they take your book so you'll go away.

  28. Set in today’s day and time, Me and My Best Friend is about a young boy, his faithful companion and their exciting adventures.

    Henry and Liam are the best of friends and they do everything together. They can run and play all day long. But when Henry the puppy gets tired and tries to take a nap, three-year-old Liam keeps waking him, wanting him to play some more. Will Henry get any rest?

    Get your children involved with this beautifully illustrated book. Your child will love to match up words and pictures, and find Liam, who keeps hiding in his bedroom. Perfect for the young reader!

    About the Author

    J.S. Huntlands is the author of Nick Twisted Minds and is currently working on more books in this series, as well as 23 more books in the Me and My Best Friend series. Huntlands is a full-time writer, as well as a mom to a wonderful four-year-old boy. This book is dedicated to her son in hopes that he never forgets his best friend.

  29. Such a crazy experience you had to go through, INTERN. Take solace in the fact, though, that you are very, very funny. Thank you for revealing the publishing world with aplomb!

  30. Oh, just call me Mother; everybody does :)

    I was assuming that Intern had not posted the real title; that's why I was curious if she found evidence anywhere of the book's existence.
    Intern? Any joy?

  31. Generally speaking, authors who do well who self publishing books are those who can target a specific niche in ways a traditional publisher wouldn't. We've seen some very successful SP books targeting, for example, the scouting world, or cheerleaders or model train enthusiasts.

    It makes sense -- buy a couple of magazine ads, attend some events, get mentioned in the right e-zine or website and you can reach a lot of potential buyers in a short period of time without spending a fortune.

    That said, most people who self-publish books are trying to reach the general market and, as a result, have a very tough time of it. If your new friend has really sold 35K books, she's managed to overcome this hurdle in a major way.

    Jon Bard
    Managing Editor, Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers http://write4kids.com

  32. I hate to see you psychologically scarred, so I nominated your blog for a Kreativ Award. Go to my blog at http://dmichaelolive@blogspot.com for details. And while you're there, pick up one of the wines I review (all under $25.00) and listen to some of the guitarists I review. It should restore at least a piece of your sanity. Cheers.

  33. This blog post= 2 fists full of awesome. Keep them up! :D

  34. You now have the first book in what could be a wonderful collection.

    I would give you my copy of "Bob in Shining Armour: The Unauthorized Biography of Bob, the Elf With a Nonverbal Learning Disorder", but I only have the one, and I just can't give it up.

  35. I have a Zombie Chicken award for you here.

  36. Mother et. al: yes, INTERN changed the title of the self-published childrens' book. She doesn't want, like, Gaia's revenge or something...you know?

  37. Those poor school librarians!


    Send it to me now, so I can review it on my little blog, The Self-Publishing Review, here:


    I promise to be honest and fair. I don't promise to say anything nice about it at all if it doesn't deserve it.

    And yes: she lied about those sales figures. I don't suppose they'd turn up on Nielsen if she hand-sold them into schools and such: but you can bet your best alligator shoes that there'd be scads of used copies listed at Amazon for a penny a piece if what she said was true.

  39. Screaming! I think that writer was in one of my writing groups!


  40. Intern, you need to stop interning. You are being scammed (though you do get good material out of it).

    Are you still in school? If so, interning is ok for now. But seriously, publishing pays SHIT (believe me, I know--worked in it for years). It's fun, but you will never get out of your parents' basement with a publishing job.

    Good luck. Keep writing!

  41. I was at Pitch the Publisher at Word on the Street in Halifax, NS last year. A woman got up to pitch her self-published novel--a Christmas-themed tale that "promotes family values and contains no sex, violence or profanity." My co-author and I looked at each other and whispered simutaneously, "WHAT'S THE POINT?"
    This very fierce little woman went on to tell how she had moved 18K units through direct marketing, including going on a family-themed Christian cruise.
    *shakes head* This is why I'm avoiding the self-publishing trip. I WANT to know if my writing sucks and needs improvement.

  42. This made me spit tea on my keyboard. I think I've met that author. I certainly met lots of self-published authors who spout about the evils of mainstream publishing, some who've hardly even tried to get their book published that route and taken the very few rejections they've had incredibly personally.

    Good blog. I have only just found it and am enjoying catching up.