Guide to Self Publishing: Benji Bennetts Story

Top 3 lessons I have learned about self-publishing.

  1. Never trust anyone who tells you they can sell your book if you hand them cash. Tell them you will give them x5 times the value of their bill in books, and you will understand what I mean.
  2. Never assume anyone will sell your self-published book better than you will.
  3. Don’t be shy or humble, and be prepared to work and hustle to make your success.

 

Send a manuscript or buy a lottery ticket?

With love in your heart and belief in an Idea, anything is possible. This week’s blog is about how I went about publishing the Adam’s Cloud series of books.

Google reckons there are 1.6 Million books published in the world every year. I will leave you to decide how many books are written each year that don’t get published.

Getting a book published by a mainstream publisher is like winning fifty quid on a scratch card. You’re delighted with yourself, tell all your friends and buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate. But, it’s not going to change your life, stuff your bank account with zeros or get you a 1st class ticket to a book signing on 5th Ave New York. No, not unless you win the book equivalent of the lotto jackpot by selling the movie rights after your book has gone global. But If you have something to say and are prepared to put in the work and play the long game without obsessing about fame and fortune, then Self Published might give you more than you could ever dream of.

I was desperate to have Adam’s books published for many different reasons, not because I wanted to be an important writer or make millions but because I needed to say something and remember Adam.

I Initially tried a couple of publishers to see if they were interested in my scribbles but quickly received very polite rejection letters if any at all. I could not handle the fact that an entry-level editor trying to make their name in the publishing industry had the power to decide my fate and the fate of Adam’s memory, message, and legacy. I decided to take hold of destiny and go for it myself.

How to Self-Publish a Book? – It’s nothing to do with publishing and all to do with sales, marketing & PR.

With the help of a friend who had some experience in the publishing industry, I identified three key things a publisher does that I would have to do myself if I wanted things to work out.

  1. Financing your Self-published book.
  2. Gain distribution for my book
  3. Market promote and advertise my book. 

There is a mountain of work in each of these three tasks that you will need to spend 24/7 thinking about, worrying about, wondering about, and working on if you want to be successful in self-publishing.

1: Financing your Self-published book.

You can’t finish anything unless you start, and you can’t make something out of nothing. So, off I went to the bank with a business plan, and box number one was ticked with a business start-up loan. This allowed me to pay an illustrator enough to ensure I would retain all the illustration copyright (which I strongly advise). Printers need to be paid as well as designers, and don’t forget you might want to sell online, so worth setting up a website. Your book won’t sell on Amazon just because it’s on Amazon. I’ve sold over 1 million books, and maybe 15,000 were sold on Amazon, and it cost a fortune in advertising to get those sales. Amazon Sucks and will break your heart as well as your will.

2: Distributing your Self Published Book

With my loan converted to boxes of books in a warehouse, distribution was a bit more of a scary prospect.  However, with the help of a great friend, I got an introduction to a key buyer in a large distributor/retailer in Ireland who believed in what I was trying to do, went with his gut and gave me a break. I contacted a second large distributor without any introduction, and I took an order of 300 books. Box number two was ticked. Even though I printed 10,000 books on my first print run, yes, a nutty move I would not advise. But Hey! I had the rest of my life to get out there and sell them, and I was still working in my day job, so paying off the loan was like paying a new car loan without the new car.

Although I was lucky that the books did sell in book shops, It doesn’t always work out that way. I did two deals with sales agents/distributors in the UK and USA, and all my dreams had come true. I bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate, only to later realise I would be last on a long list to gain anything from the deal. Massive Wholesale discounts and sales commissions weren’t enough to incentivise a sales rep who had, Oh, I don’t know, maybe 5,000 other book titles in his sales catalogue and only ever presented the pages in his catalogue to buyers that had the paid Ads on them. The lesson here is that distribution is essential if you want sales, but PR, marketing and advertising sell books, not book shops, agents or distributors.

3: How to market, promote and sell a self-published book

With distribution sorted With a desperate need for everyone to see Adam and know about how wonderful he was and the message I was promoting in my first book, I got on the phone and started ringing TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines and told them my story. I got a great response to my calls “Yeah, sure, send us an email to info@your-waisting-your-time .com. Undeterred, I followed up with a press release and photos of Adam. That press release probably took me a painstaking month to get right. Follow up after follow up landed me a famous morning TV chat show interview, made everyone cry over their breakfast and take a moment to hug their kids a little longer and much tighter. I think the country was late for school, work and weddings that day.

My job was done, mission complete, goal completed. I did what I set first out to do, have a beautiful photo of Adam on the TV for everyone to see and share a message of the importance of spending time with children. My bible was written. I delivered on my promise that Adam would never be forgotten. I could rest……

P-P-P-P-P-P-P-Pinggggg. My email lit up like a Christmas tree with orders from the website, orders for the wholesaler, newspaper and radio journalists and producers wanting more information about Adam and this special book.

Self-Publishing Success; Keeping it Going.

Five months later, after three print runs, media hype, and every Christmas stocking stuffed with a copy of Before you Sleep, January arrived, and the interview requests stopped. The story was told, the media moved on, and sales hit the January blues. But I kept at it, looking further afield, figuring out how to find more parents to share Adam’s message with. A friend spotted a publishing industry link for applications to The Irish Book awards. Almost embarrassed at the absurdity of entering a self-published book in such a prestigious industry competition, exclusive to established publishers, Ignorance was a blessing as a few months later, “Before you Sleep” was nominated for the children’s category and, against all the odds, won the top prize, a beautiful trophy the interest from the media once again. More TV press and radio interviews help my email notifications dance again. But like before, it didn’t last forever, and now the big global recession was beginning to bite, and sales were not as easy. A second book was financed out of the proceeds of the success of before you sleep, which got a bit of media coverage.

But, now a couple;e of months into a dwindling redundancy package, we needed to find another way to sell books, pay the mortgage, and put food on the table. Jackie dusted off her sales training manual, picked up the phone and dialled… “Would you like Benji to do a book reading to the children in your school’, “Do you need any Christmas presents for your corporate family day” “Do you have any pitches left at this year’s festival? Benji Bennett can do a book signing”. I jumped onto my laptop and started typing… “How to sell books online”, “How to market books online,” How much does it cost to ship a book” on and on and on the questions went until a mail chimp account and a Facebook profile kept me busy in between school visits, book signings at fairs and festivals, posting orders and writing new books.

That process has never stopped, and here I am 14 years later, still trying to figure out how to sell books to pay the mortgage. Yet, every year, somehow, we sell enough books while always managing to spend time with my family creating magical moments, memories and experiences that make them happy.

Of course, there is much more detail behind the scenes, but self-publishing Before You Sleep was my way of dealing with Adam’s death and attempting to remember and immortalise him. To be successful in self-publishing, you can’t write because you want to be famous or sell a million books. You have to have something to say, something you are passionate about, with a desperate need to share it with the world.

Self-publishing; It’s a family business

None of this would have happened without Jackie’s support, belief, and encouragement as she nursed our new baby Molly that changed our lives, and from Harry and Robbie. They have demonstrated enormous strength, love and character over the years.

So I guess the message this week is that no matter how bad, desperate or impossible things seem with your family around you, with love in your heart and belief in an idea or message, anything is possible; you just have to have the courage to make the change and make it happen and just start doing.

Lots of love, hugs & kisses,

Benji.