We asked Paul Kelso, author of the Great Expectations title, Kelso’s Shrug Book, and also the author of the upcoming title, Jack Ruby’s Last Ride, to tell us a little about how he found his audience and then made his book a success.
Wheatmark has asked me for a few thoughts on how I came to connect with the firm, and some insight as to how I, make that we, created a modest niche book on weight training that has surprised everyone by selling over 6,000 copies.
My remarks will apply primarily to nonfiction and “how to” works.
Here’s how Kelso’s Shrug Book developed. I hold a MA in American studies and had written for newspapers when younger and magazines later, so I was at least literate. I also loved weightlifting and wrestling and competed in both, and in my forties became a college weight coach as well as an English prof.
One day in the weight room I had a brainstorm. I accidentally discovered how to apply an old training principle in a number of new ways. These variations became known as The Kelso Shrug System. This concept was spread by my magazine articles beginning in 1984.
I have to date published over one hundred articles on weight-game subjects and reported on eight World or Asian powerlifting championships and a World Games. I developed a lot of name recognition before I proposed the Shrug Book for POD. In fact, I was fortunate to be well known in the field before going with the book. But a lot can be done to build that recognition.
How did I come to choose a POD company? I had heard of the process and in 2001 simply cruised the net to investigate. Wheatmark seemed to have a good program and were responsive to my queries.
When I decided to put Kelso’s Shrug Book together, I was living and teaching in Japan (1989–2006). Obviously, printing off a thousand or so copies to get started, and finding a place to store them in my tiny apartment there, while I attempted to operate a 95 percent stateside mail-order business nine thousand miles away, was ridiculous. Hiring a fulfillment house in the USA or finding a knowledgeable old pal back home was a shaky proposition. Or, I could go with a traditional hard-copy publishing house.
Were I living in the States, I could have made more money per book by doing it all myself. That may still be true, but for me the services of Wheatmark outweigh such considerations, especially as I am now well into retirement (age 73 in February, 2010). I’d rather spend my time writing another book than licking stamps.
How did I market the Shrug Book? In addition to Wheatmark services, I used my contacts in the game to set up a number of retail distributors and sent out about four dozen freebie copies to website operators, equipment sellers, magazine editors for reviews, and net forum operators for comment. Before publishing I solicited a dozen editorial blurbs for back cover and ad one-liners about how great my ideas are. Most of those guys already knew my work, but advance manuscript copies to them helped.
But—first—a would-be author should consider whether he or she HAS a book. Another book I published with a conventional house was put together from fourteen Powerlifting USA stories about the adventures of a gang of demented college lifters and a suffering coach in Texas. Kelso’s Shrug Book was drawn from sixteen articles spread among five magazines. I expanded where pertinent and put additional info in each book. Both run about 44,000 words and one hundred pages. That’s a master’s thesis each time.
Not everybody can have a breakthrough brainstorm or enjoy wide name recognition to help kick-start a book. But a writer might keep these approaches in mind for getting a book together.
BUILD NAME RECOGNITION
- Write articles on the same subject for half a dozen different mags.
- Write a series of articles on different subjects for the same mag.
- Become a regular contributor for one or more mags or websites, Attend live functions in person. Interview established people. Arrange to do some straight reporting in the field as well as writing features or human interest pieces. Attend conferences, expos, contests, whatever, and report them.
- Contribute regularly to Internet forum discussions.
- Correspond regularly with big names in the field, and always answer those seeking advice. Network.
- Stay at it for a number of years. Doing or taking part in what you are writing about usually comes first.
By publishing my ideas as a series of articles first and then compiling them into a book I got paid multiple times for the same material. This is an established way to proceed and not my invention. I got paid to write my books. A writer should query mags in his or her area of expertise about doing an article or series of articles. Write 1,200 – 2,500 words a month and pretty soon that is the basis for a book.
Even if you are already established as a contributor, it is a good idea to query a magazine editor outlining your proposed article before you write the piece. If the editor says your article sounds interesting and he would like to see it, you have a leg up. You know you are on the right track, with less chance of rejection.
Using the POD services of Wheatmark has been to my advantage.
Kelso’s Shrug Book has sold several thousand more copies in seven years than the traditional-method Texas book has in thirteen. My articles on related subjects in the years leading up to it increased my name recognition, as did my reports from international contests. It all came together nicely.
The Shrug Book also received excellent reviews and forum comments. I doubt it would have without the years of buildup.
If one has a novel published by a major New York house and it sells six thousand, that’s a borderline so-so result. In a nonfiction niche field six thousand is pretty good. The result is that I have enjoyed a nice side income since the fall of 2002.
As Wheatmark authors and customers will soon discover, my eclectic short story collection Jack Ruby’s Last Ride will be published in April. I began writing straight fiction in the ‘90s, as a side activity. I played the snail-mail and SASE game for years, and began publishing short stories in the journals in 2001. To date I have published four in USA literary journals, presented four others in ex-pat rags, and two at a reading at Temple U. in Tokyo. One is new as of 2009.
I will of course send out comp copies and hope for reviews, but the truth is I have very few literary contacts stateside any more. (I’ve been teaching in Asia for twenty years). Getting published in lit journals is a very different game from breaking into iron-head mags, cactus-breeding weeklies, or model railroading monthlies. Some top literary journals, like Beloit Fiction Journal or Prairie Schooner, may get as many as eight thousand short story submissions a year. Beloit published only twenty-four stories in 2002, so I feel pretty good about getting Jack Ruby’s Last Ride in there.
And, it has occurred to me, the success of the Shrug Book is paying for the publication of the short story collection.
How about that?
—Paul Kelso, early January 2010