How To Write & Publish A Book (Part 1 Of The Whizbang Story)

Every so often someone will send me an e-mail asking for my advice about how to self-publish a book. I’ve written and self-published eight books thus far and am currently working on book number nine. I’ll tell you some specifics about how I produce my books in my next essay. First, though, I’ll share the story of, and give some insights into, all my Whizbang books. The point with both of these essays is to provide my example with some details as encouragement for others out there who think they might want to produce a book.

A lot of people have the desire to write and publish a book. That’s great. And the fact is, there has never been an easier time in the history of the world to produce and market your own book. If I can do it, you can too.

My first two self-published endeavors were pitiful-looking learning experiences. The information I provided was related to the business of kitchen remodeling, which I was once involved in. Though the information I provided was good, the target audience was small, and the books so poorly produced, that sales were disappointing. Even still, I recouped my costs and actually made a little money. The best thing about those books (in retrospect) was that they taught me a lot about what not to do when publishing your own book.

Then came the Whizbang Plucker Plan Book. My third foray into self-publishing was an improvement from pitiful in appearance to downright homely. But people will give a homely book a chance if it is a narrowly focused how-to plan book. Then, if it really delivers the goods, people can love a homely book. That is what happened with the plucker book. More than a few people have written to tell me it was the best how-to book they have ever seen. That is very gratifying feedback.

So, people bought the plucker book, and made their own pluckers, and the pluckers worked (15 seconds....no feathers), and word spread, mostly by way of the internet. Part of the reason it has never been easier in history to market your own self-published book is because of the internet. Sales of the plucker book were slow but encouraging the first couple years. Then sales really picked up when I started posting essays about the plucker here on the internet.

Thus far, the plucker book has sold around 6,000 copies, and it continues to sell quite well. 6,000 copies of a book about how to build a chicken plucker?! It’s not going to make any bestseller lists but I’m pleased (not to mention, amazed). Profits from the plucker book have financed all my Whizbang books after it.

The plucker plan book was put together in a very low-tech way. It was, I dare say, handcrafted. In many respects, all my how-to books are handcrafted, and I’ll have more to say about that in my next essay.

My next book, The Complete Guide To Making Great Garlic Powder: Homegrown & Homemade Secrets From a Garlic Powder Guru was produced very differently. Since the plucker book was making a profit, I decided to pay someone else to put the garlic powder book together. I supplied the text and drawings to a professional graphic designer. The result was a professional-looking 38-page book. I had 2,860 copies of the book printed in July of 2003. That was 36 boxes of books. I stashed them all over the place, even inside an old freezer. I wondered if I would ever sell them all. The book sold real slow for a few years. It looked like I would have a lifetime supply. Then sales picked up. Now, five and a half years later, I think I’m down to only two boxes left.

I have decided not to reprint that book because, at a retail price of only $6.95, it has not been particularly profitable. However, if I were to publish a whole series of small, subject-specific books like the garlic powder book, I think that could be profitable. Storey publications has done this with their popular Country Wisdom bulletins, which have been around for many years. I actually contacted Storey to see if they would want to turn my garlic powder book into one of their bulletins. They told me they are reevaluating that portion of their book line.

As a publishing company gets bigger, they tend to phase out less profitable endeavors. That doesn’t mean those endeavors are not profitable. They are just less profitable. But something that is less profitable to a big company could be significantly profitable for a home-based business like mine. So that idea is always in the back of my mind. But there is such a clutter of other ideas back there that it is sometimes hard for me to look straight ahead.

My next book was a 27-page Garlic Powder Profits Report. I have the pages printed at a quick print shop and put the book together myself with a comb binding machine. Marlene bought the machine for me at a garage sale.

Comb binding is well-suited to binding a simple how-to book, especially one that is sold direct. In fact, the first two hundred copies of my chicken plucker plan book had photocopied pages and comb bindings. Once I knew the book was going to sell, I took it to a “real” printer and had a lot more copies printed (for less money).

You rarely see comb bindings in a “brick and mortar” book store. But you will never see any of my Whizbang books in a store. They are sold primarily through mail-order catalogs and internet book sellers. I sold a LOT of garlic powder books when two seed catalog companies finally put it in their catalogs last year. Cumberland Books>sells a lot of my books over the course of a year too.

When it came to self-published book #6, Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Scalder, I returned to the exact same “handcrafted” approach I took with the plucker plan book. I designed a similar, homely, monochrome cover and put the pages together, as I’ll explain in my next essay. The book is a companion to the plucker book so I didn’t change the formula.

Then came book #7, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. It is a very different book from anything I’ve ever done. Not only is the autobiographical and “philosophical” content a departure from my usual how-to, the book itself is different. For one thing, it is sufficiently thick to have a spine with the book title on it. It is a book that would fit nicely in a “brick and mortar” bookstore. But getting someone to distribute the book (which is about the only way to get it in bookstores) has been a futile endeavor. The book’s subject (Christian agrarianism) just doesn’t fit into any accepted niches. Well, of course not.

Also, "Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian" was my first “hybrid” book. I hired a graphic designer to design the cover and work with the printer to get it right. I designed the interior pages on my computer. The book was easy to produce compared to a how-to plan book because there were no illustrations (the pictures come into your mind as you read).

For book #8, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Garden Cart, I stayed with the hybrid approach. I paid my graphic professional to come up with the cover and I created the interior pages.

I like the hybrid approach because a book’s cover is critically important when it comes to marketing. The cover may be less important with a narrowly-focused plan book, but beyond that, cover design is key to selling books.

The most valuable bit of advice I can give to a person who wants to self-publish their own book (and actually sell it) is to pay the money to have a professional graphic designer design the cover. My designer has many years of professional experience and a great reputation. That’s the kind of person you need to find in your area. If my experience is any indication, it will cost you $600 to $800 to have an experienced pro put the cover design together for you.

Most new self-publishers will balk at that kind of expenditure and that is understandable. I published three books before I wised up. The first two were real losers, and I just got blessed on the third.

Now I am putting together Whizbang book #9. It will be called, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press. The cover design will be very similar to the garden cart book cover.

Looking back at what I’ve written here, two things stand out. First, I think I have learned the hard way about self-publishing (and I’m still learning). Second, I’m persistent. The fact is, I love to write and create books. Lord willing, I will continue doing this for many more years . Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to come home from the drudgery of my factory job and do this thing full time. That’s the dream. That’s the hope that springs afresh with every new book I publish.

I’ll tell you how I create my pages and get them printed in my next essay....

9 comments:

fast eddie said...

Hi Herrick,I recently purchased your book "ANYONE CAN BUILD A WHIZBANG CART".The book was very well put together and and instructionally it was great! This spring the cart"will be mine".I can see myself now, with a load of compost, ready to dump on the raised beds.Your writings are inspirational and informative, and bring great joy to me, as I read them every evening.Your God given talents are a blessing. I just dont know where you find the time-ED

Herrick Kimball said...

Ed-
Thanks for the positive feedback. I have more time in the winter so that's when I put books together. But you are right, finding time for blogging and all the other things I want to do is always a problem.

Matt B said...

Herrick,

Just curious, have you ever looked into using lulu.com for self publishing? I've never personally used them but I was going to put together a log book for one of my hobbies that I thought people might also want to purchase and use. It appears all you do is upload the book in pdf or Microsoft Word format and they print as they are ordered with no need to purchase several at a time and then try to sell them. Of course they get some money off of every sale but it looks like the up front costs would be much smaller. I have your Garlic Powder book and your Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian book and they are so professionally done I had wondered if you used them for those books.

Thanks,
Matt

Granny Miller said...

Herrick -
Thank you so much for this post :-)
I will take it to heart.

I had read elsewhere that the front cover, back cover and table on contents where the most important factors in determining marketability.

Mark said...

Herrick Kimball

Thanks for sharing this information on self publishing. I found it very informative.

I'm really impressed with the look of your whizbang garden cart. I made a post about it today in my little farm blog in hopes of sending you some business.

http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Whizbang_garden_cart/

I predict a major book deal for you in the near future. Hopefully big enough for you to leave the factory drudgery behind.

Good luck

Mark Hamilton

Herrick Kimball said...

Matt-
I've looked at Lulu and it seems like a sensible way for a self-publisher to get books into print. I have not used them, but I may in the future.

Mark-
I appreciate you mentioning the Whizbang cart at your blog.

BTW, I have never seen the Avian Aqua Miser before. It looks like a very good product. Is that something you came up with?

Mark said...

Herrick-

Yes....I came up with it this past summer after several failed attempts.

It really does the job and takes a lot of the dirty work out of tending to my flock.

Perhaps we should form some type of alliance in an effort to help each other out? My wife is an excellent artist/designer that might be able to do your next book cover for half of what you mentioned in your post.

My email is mrlocalmusic@yahoo.com if your interested.

Melonie said...

Mr. Kimball,

I just had to tell you that I received a copy of your book Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian from a friend who owns a small business and I LOVED it. I laughed out loud several times (almost woke the kids in bed!) and cried my way through The Life and Death of a Good Dog.

It's on my husband's reading pile now. I wouldn't be surprised if it "disappears" with him to re-read when he deploys this year. *chuckle* Many kudos to you.

Wishing you the best for 2009.

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