HowIPublishedMyFirstBook

The Accident

Malori was in an accident. She’s not breathing…Malori is dead.

On June 30, 2002, I received a phone call that changed my life forever…

“Malori was in an accident. She’s not breathing…Malori is dead.”

My 17-year old daughter, Malori Aslan Smith, had graduated early from high school to become a full time missionary in Mexico. Her missions group had just finished a week-long missions trip in Mexico City and were driving back to Laredo, TX when suddenly, their 15-passenger van tire de-treaded and the van rolled three times, landing upside down on the side of the road. Malori and three other missionaries were killed instantly.

Suddenly, the first half of my life ended.

I flew down to Monterrey, Mexico and worked with the US Consulate to get Malori’s body flown back to the US. On the return trip, I was waiting in the airport filled with grief. What was I going to do now? All my plans seemed meaningless in light of Malori’s death. I was really looking to God for answers.

I decided to look inside Malori’s backpack. The outside of her backpack was decked out with key chains that she had collected over the years. Her backpack even smelled like Malori–scented with her favorite “Happy” perfume. Inside her backpack I found 8 journals. I had no idea Malori was such a prolific writer. I decided to pull one of the notebooks out and read it–again, looking for answers.

Here’s the first thing I read:


I will never understand You
Why God?
I will never see what You See
What God?
I will never know Your timing
When God?
I will never understand you perfect plan
How God?
But I will trust You anyways. Always Yes God!
 

Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.

I started to read the rest of her journals and ran across this entry on January 1, 2002:

“Someday, I’ll will my journals, including this one, to someone I hold dear.My first choice would be my parents, but I hope to outlive them. My next choice would be my loving husband, which I hope to someday find. If circumstances don’t allow, then I’ll leave it to my best friend. If I have no friends, I’ll leave them to a publishing company, who I would hope find it interesting. The journal of a 17-year-old girl, average, nothing special. But somehow different, simply because people can relate to her. Because she took the time to write about life. “

So, Malori had given me a mission. I had to turn Malori’s journal’s into a book. But how?

Back in 1995, I had started Windows NT Magazine. I moved from having a solid IT career in software development, to a Publisher, in a few months. The magazine had an incredible growth, eventually being distributed in 160 countries, in 13 languages, to over 1.5 million IT professionals. We had built an email list of 650,000 unique subscribers and had millions of unique visitors to our network of websites. In September 2000, we sold the magazine for $100 million to Penton Media. I agreed to stay on as President of Penton IT Media for two more years.

It was near the end of those two years that Malori died. Right at the pinnacle of business success, I got the phone call that changed our lives forever.

About a month after the accident, I bought a book called Halftime by Bob Buford. The back cover had this line, “The second half of your life can be better than the first.” I thought, “Yeah right. Easy for you to say.” But, I flipped through the book and found chapter 6 titled, A“Adios Ross,” where Bob talked about his only son, Ross, dying in Mexico. I thought, “Here’s a guy who knows exactly what I’m going through.” I read Halftime cover-to-cover that night.

Bob’s Halftime book gave me hope. It helped me redefine my life from midlife crisis to something better—Halftime–a pause to reflect on my first half and to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

So, I started to assemble Malori’s journals into a book. I had to edit her journals and write some original material, and a year later, we published The New Lion.

While I knew all about magazine publishing, I knew almost nothing about book publishing.

So, I did what a lot of people do, I tried to track down some traditional publishers and pitch my book. I had to learn how to do a book proposal. I learned how to find an agent. But in the end, publishers said, “If it were a devotional, we might be able to use it. But, journal-type books are only published if it’s someone famous or infamous.” Malori was neither.

But, Malori had willed me to publish it and nothing was going to get in my way.

Here’s my publishing journey

1. Writing.  This took a long time. It was like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. I got the first 10 chapters done in 90-days. But, I waited almost 6-months before writing about the accident. It was simply too painful and I knew I would have to relive the entire experience. I did. Once I got through that, I finished the book, and allowed by “team” to get the rest done.

2. I hired a self-publishing service company that specialized in boutique books. I wanted The New Lion to look like a journal. So, I tracked down the director of Colorado writers association and she recommended a boutique self-publishing company called Boulder Bookworks. They handled the cover design, interior design, copy editing, and printing.

3. I purchased 2,000 hard cover books and had them delivered to my house. Since this was 2004, eBook’s weren’t a factor, and besides, I wanted a printed book that looked like a journal.

My costs at this point included editing, design, printing, shipping, and ISBN. Total costs were $12,000 or $6 per book.

Marketing The New Lion

So, now I had two pallets of books sitting in my garage and absolutely no plan on how to sell them. So, here’s what I did.

1. First, I gave the copyright of the book to a non-profit that we started called Aslan’s Army. This meant that all revenue from the book would support orphans in India, Africa, and Mexico.

2. I tapped into my network, and got some speaking gigs at local churches. Every time we spoke, we would sell 60 books at $10/each.

3. I built a website for the non-profit, www.aslansarmy.com, and put a section about The New Lion on that website. This forced me to learn WordPress

4. I got a PayPal account, and put up a simple form to charge for books: $14.95 + shipping for individual books or $280 for a box of 28 books.

5. I sold all of the books directly in person or on my website in two years, with minimal marketing.

Here are the financial results:

• Copies given away..100
• 25% sold at $10/each at speaking gigs. 500 x $10 = $5,000
• 25% sold in bulk online at $10/each. 500 x $10 $5,000
• 50% sold online at $15/each. $15,000

Total revenue $25,000

Costs -$12,000

Profit: $13,000

Here’s what I learned:

1. WordPress. A great platform for building websites.

2. Online purchasing and PayPal. Super easy payment system that handled all of the shipping labels as well. Super easy to integrate into WordPress.

3. Bulk pricing. If you offer a bulk purchase option, people will use it. I got an order for 12 boxes (28 in a box) of books form a single purchaser. I actually called the buyer and said, “Did you want to buy 12 books or 12 boxes?” He said, “12 boxes.” I asked him why and he told me this story: “I was looking for a unique gift that I could give to my daughter’s youth group at church. We go to a large church and there are over 300 high school girls in the group. My daughter gave me a copy of The New Lion and said that it was the best book she had ever read. So, I had my answer. I found the website URL in the book, went online, and bought 12 boxes (336 books). I’m excited to have my daughter’s youth group read and study it together.

4. Charitable intent. All the money went Aslan’s Army and supported children in India, Africa, Mexico. Readers could see the impact of their purchase on the website when I updated the website with stories and pictures from supported missions.

5. A great story. How many books that target teens are written by a 17-year old teenager who is dead and was a full-time missionary and all the money went to a worthy cause? There were many books written about teens that were tragically killed, such as Rachel’s Tears, but The New Lion was written 80% by the teenager herself–Malori. I only had to write a few chapters to explain to the readers what happened during and after she died. Plus, I included a chapter written by the missionary who was sitting next to Malori in the van—she survived with a few bumps and bruises. In fact, Malori had given up her seat so this girl could lay down, which added more intensity to the chapter.

6. Good writing. I have no idea how most people found out about the book. It was word-of-mouth referrals from readers. If they hated the book, they would not have referred their friends and family. My daughter had something to say and absolutely nothing to sell.
7. Pure value. Malori has absolutely no idea her journals would actually be turned into a book. She simply wanted to add value to her reader’s lives. There was no upsell, other than the bulk buying option.

8. Risk/reward. I took the risk by putting $12,000 of my own money up front. I was motivated by Malori’s challenge to publish her journals, so I wasn’t looking at this book as a pure business. If I sold only 3 copies, I still would have done it. That being said,

9. Platform. Aslan’s Army, the non-profit, benefitted from book directly. In addition, I believe we generated a lot of extra donations as a result. The book helped launch a platform, which is still going today, long after the book was published.

10. Impact. There are 2,000 people (and more pass along readers) who were impacted by Malori’s story. The hundreds of emails we received are a priceless treasure. There were people who literally changed their lives, became missionaries, alcoholics who got sober, people who forgave family and friends after years of estrangement. In addition, we were able to fund hundreds of orphans, who are still being sponsored by Aslan’s Army today.

The mistakes I made

No email list. I did not capture any of the emails, so I had no chance to follow-up. The only emails I had were from the hundred emails from readers who sent in appreciation emails.

No referral source. I have no idea how most of the online buyers found out about the book. I assume word of mouth, because I doubt people were searching for “The New Lion,” which tells you absolutely nothing about what the book is about.

No tracking. I did not have Google Analytics installed, so I have no idea where the traffic came from.

No follow-up. I could not follow-up with the readers to serve them further.

No re-printing. I ran out of copies and literally turned away orders. This caused me to lose momentum. So, I did not manage inventory well.

So, there’s my story. This is why I published my first book. The New Lion has impacted thousands of lives.

I’m convinced that there are thousands of stories that need to be published. Those future books will impact millions of lives and could literally change the world.
But, these aspiring authors, who have a burning desire, don’t know where to start. Don’t know how to get the book written or get it sold. They are afraid that people will reject them—ignore them.

So, I’m here to help. Over the past three years, I’ve worked with traditionally published authors to market their books, build book funnels, build video streaming products, and more. I’ve learned a lot, and I help our traditionally published authors every day.

If you’ve read this far, then you have a story that needs to be published. What’s the one thing that is holding you back from impacting the lives of thousands of your future readers?

How can I help you get started today?


Mark Houston Smith
Mark Houston Smith

Founder of High Value Publishing. Follow me: Website / Twitter / Facebook

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    1 Response to "How I Published My First Book, Sold 2,000 Copies and Saved Children"

    • Susan

      Another great read Mark. and you , as always, encouraging others to be more. For the glory of God.
      I’ll never forget our sweet student Danni reading the book and then going to Mal’s grave and accepting Christ.
      Thanks for all the work and heart you put into The New Lion.

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