This is the summarised story of my dad’s publishing journey. I know how important your time is and I promise it will be worth the read. I wanted to share my dad’s story on our blog for a few reasons, not all of them selfish. First, the obvious. My dad is an amazing man and a great father who I love and respect. Second, his journey and frustrations with the traditional publishing system is what inspired me to start a business that empowers authors. Without my dad having experienced first-hand the inner workings of an archaic publishing model I would never have been inspired to provide an alternative.
Have a read. If you have an inspirational story of your own to share – Let us know – We would love to share your publishing journey.
Dave - Founder of MYeBook
The 30 year journey of my dad - Behind the birth of the MYeBook self-publishing business By Jimmy Henderson, Amazon Best-Selling Author and Dad.
Getting published today is not as difficult as it was 30 years ago. Back in the 1980’s when I was inspired to begin writing, an author-friend of mine advised me not to give up on my dreams even if the going got tough. She had a lovely saying that she had ‘wall-papered her room’ with her rejection slips before one publisher had eventually recognised her work, so one simply has to keep going right?
Back in the early 80’s there was no computers or internet in South Africa and everything had to be typed and processed by hand. And there was also no data-base of publishers.
My story begins
I began my journey by looking for the postal addresses of publishing houses by examining books on the shelves of bookshops. At that time I could not find a suitable South African publisher and decided to send my first manuscript overseas via the traditional publishing route.
Overseas postage was costly. My manuscript was hand-typed on a typewriter, and when bound, weighed in at a hefty two kilograms. There was also no way in which I could make sure that the publisher had received it without phoning overseas, and in most cases, their phone details were not listed on their printed books, and in any case, overseas telephone calls were hugely expensive.
So, it was a long and difficult process which ended in a waiting game!
The first step was to send the MS with an accompanying letter by registered post to an overseas publisher, hoping that it would get through the South African postal system (which is in itself a challenge), and wait for some sort of written reply by post.
I decided to send the MS to one publisher at a time under the misguided impression that sending it to more than one might create a problem if it is accepted by them all. Thinking back, this was quite naive, and in hindsight, is quite amusing considering the few responses I received.
The waiting game
The turn-around time was about 3 months (if and when they did reply), and in many cases I had to send a follow-up letter to get some sort of answer. Needless to say, my efforts at that time were unsuccessful. I received a variety of rejection letters which varied from ‘Sorry, not applicable for our lists’, to ‘We have decided to remain with our current authors’, and even one in which the MS was returned unopened, stating that after careful consideration it was found not suitable. I got the distinct impression that, in most cases, the publishers had not even taken the trouble to read the MS.
This is the first hurdle to overcome when entering the traditional publishing sphere, finding a publisher who is prepared to give you a chance even though you are a first-time author and are unknown. This process of preparing, submitting and waiting for a reply carried on for about three years before I became disillusioned and put away the idea of becoming an author.
My books take a back seat
For about twenty years I no longer pursued the idea of becoming a published author. My kids were growing up and there were family matters to attend to. Although I did study further in order to increase my knowledge and understanding of my subject. (I write self-help books).
It was not the idea of making money that led me to want to be a published author. I would like to believe that all of us who wish to publish have the belief that we have an important message to share with others and a dream to be able to do so. Not being able to publish and reach out to them was very disheartening and frustrating.
The dream is dusted off
In early 2000, a situation arose when I thought that I might be able to pursue my dream once again. I retired from the police early due to health issues and decided to use some of my pension money to self-publish my old MS, which I had re-edited and revised using a new approach. I have always been interested in human psychology and spirituality, and my original MS was based on personal insights gained during studies in psychology and metaphysics. I rewrote the MS in the form of a narrative, gave it a new title and prepared to have the book printed by a local printer.
Once again, this was very costly, as the printing was done on mechanical presses and the printer was not prepared to print less than 1000 copies. Nevertheless, I went ahead, and after a few weeks, ended up at home with a large number of cardboard boxes containing my first ‘love-child’ (In Search of the Oracle).
That was the easy part of self-publishing. It was now a process of getting the book accepted by local bookshops and hoping to get some sales and coverage, whilst all the time having dreams of being recognised by a large publishing house which would take over the printing and marketing of the book.
Walking the streets
My Dad hustling his books at the umpteenth bookfair.
This turned out to be a pipe-dream. For five years I walked the streets like a vendor trying to get the bookshops to stock my books ‘on consignment’, which is when they keep the books on the shelves but only pay you a percentage when the book is sold. The bookshops took much of the profits from the hard-copy books, usually between 35-45 %, leaving you as the author with all the costs of printing and only a few Rand profit on the sale of each book. However, I kept telling myself that it is not about the money, and that once I had a publisher to take over the printing costs, things would get easier.
This door-to-door sales method was not very successful. A few bookshops did briefly stock some of my books, but many had the policy of handing them back if they did not sell quickly. I tried to arrange talks and book launches at these bookshops to give publicity to the book, but only one or two agreed to this and the turnout was always poor. I also hired tables to sell my book at various local festivals and even arranged my own venue and advertised free talks linked to the content of the book, but this also turned out to be a costly exercise with only a few people attending, and no real amount of book sales to cover my costs. It seems that you can only draw the crowds if you have notoriety, or are a well-known sportsman or celebrity. This experience with hard-copy self-publishing and self-marketing was a costly and fruitless exercise.
Things look up
My luck changed in 2006, when, by browsing the internet, I was able to trace a publisher in Cape Town who specialised in my genre and contacted him by e-mail. By then I had completed work on another MS which I submitted to him and to my great delight, it was accepted. I truly felt that I had been vindicated in wanting to be a published author and that my information would at last be available to the world. My second book “Multi-Dimensional Thinking’ was published in 2007.
The truth about having your book published
However, the book-publishing market is fraught with problems which relate to the publishing industry as a whole. There are many issues which affect book sales and interest from the bookshops and subsequent orders can soon dwindle.
For instance, you, as the author, may not have a recognisable profile. If you are not an established name, bookshops are reluctant to take your book in stock, especially if they feel your genre is not that ‘saleable’. I may be wrong, but this leads me to believe that they are only concerned with sales and profits and not really interested in supporting a local author. By increasing your knowledge and qualifications you can add credibility to your books, but at the end of the day, it is your public profile that is important.
You must also remember that publishers, although they may do what they can to publicise their books, are not in a position to provide extensive marketing campaigns or coverage for an individual author. It is largely left up to you to market yourself and create a public profile using social media, launches, public talks and appearances etc. Unfortunately, many bookshops are still reluctant to arrange book launches, and in my case, I received only unfulfilled promises.
As mentioned, bookshops are interested in moving stock quickly and at a high profit. It is a catch-22 situation. If your hard-copy book is not given proper exposure in the shelves, this can affect your sales and this in turn, affects the bookshops interest in ordering your book. I find that they generally tend to display the most popular novels by famous writers and offer very little in the way of support to local authors. It is to the credit of a bookshop if they do offer this support.
I found that offering free talks to book groups or other organisations did give me free publicity as well as increased my book sales. People from a ‘captured’ audience who enjoy your talk are more likely to buy your book. However, this does mean that you have to have buy and keep stocks of your own book(s), which costs money, and you need safe storage.
Promoting his books through his free-talks.
The risk of being sold
I have also noticed a new tendency in that overseas publishers offer costly ‘author packages’ which include printing and promise sales and marketing opportunities, but friends of mine who have followed this trend have had little success. There is simply no way in which you can monitor what they are actually doing to promote your book. And this brings me to the issue of e-books.
(Dave: Read more on the topic here: www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com/2015/01/author-solutions-writers-beware.html)
The birth of MYeBook
It was about 2012 that my son David recognised the problems I was having with the bookshops and book sales in general. Sales and orders of my books were dropping in spite of all my marketing strategies and I was feeling increasingly frustrated. I was stuck with boxes of books in my office which were unsold, especially of my first self-published book.
At that time I had been approached by an overseas online company to write a few simple 50 page guides on counselling and other life-skills for which I would receive a percentage. David told me that he could publish these guides on Amazon with reasonably little effort and I agreed to let him publish my first 50 page guide online as an e-book, ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Crisis Counselling’. With David’s help, the guide shot to number one (best seller) on Amazon. The success we achieved with this guide prompting him to start his own online publishing business MYeBook later in 2012.
I have also noted other benefits of having my guides published as e-books:
Although there are initial costs with editing, conversion and uploading, these are far less than the packages offered by overseas ‘vanity’ publishers.
Ease of marketing and sales
Obviously, efforts to market yourself, such as public talks and appearances, has to continue, but this can now be combined with online marketing and use of social media, as the process has been simplified with potential buyers only having to log onto your website to get sales links to your e-books. This is all handled online and there are no packaging or postage costs.
Ease of monitoring
The online sales portals provide facilities for you to monitor all your sales and income and generate your own reports.
Higher income from royalties
E-books pay higher royalties as there are no middle-men such as bookshops or other overheads involved. I now have steady sales of my e-book guides, which, although priced low, generate more royalties in a month than I receive in a year from my hard-copy sales.
No need for storage
You do not need space for storing e-books and there is no chance of damage or loss due to flooding or theft. I personally have had water damage to stocks a number of times due to heavy rain flooding the floor of my office. However, you can have individual hard copies printed from an e-book should you so desire (print-to-order). It is that flexible.
All I can say is that if we had had e-book publishing and print-to-order 30 years ago, I might not have had so much grey hair as I now have. Becoming an author has really become easier with e-book publication.
Best wishes for your writing career!
My dad and I.