The family story you’ve always meant to write, that set of poems you penned as an angst-ridden teenager and the history of your local sports club – if you think there’s an audience waiting on your words now is the time.
Self-publishing has never been easier – or cheaper – and hundreds of us are taking the opportunity to tell stories that in the past would not have made it past a publisher’s rejection tray. Modern self-publishing – a far cry from vanity publishing – is usually about pursuing a passion a major publishing company wouldn’t dare take a risk on.
For years, David Appleby believed there was an untold story about the New Zealand hockey team that won gold at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Appleby could have been in that team but pursued his accounting career rather than risk his job for what was then an amateur pursuit.
Four decades on he was able to indulge his passion, self-publishing the hugely successful Striking Gold.
“I was totally foreign to publishing but I thought there was an untold story about the guys and their achievement – and there was a need for a legacy document to be put in place while they were all still alive,” Appleby says.
Three years ago Appleby hired Auckland journalist Suzanne McFadden to write the story. The rest of the journey unfolded by chance. He bumped into Geoff Walker – former publishing director at Penguin – and over a coffee gleaned as much information as he could.
Walker acted as a consultant and introduced Appleby to independent publisher Mary Egan, who became the project director – organising the proof reading, design and the printing of the book in China. Peter Greenberg was hired as a distributor and Appleby picked up an independent marketing person to help generate publicity.
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That added to the cost and even though the bulk of the 3000 print run was sold, Appleby didn’t make any money.
“I never intended it to be a profit-making exercise. We got good sales to a small target market – but you wouldn’t want to do it for a living. The numbers don’t stack up – but I’m really happy we’ve created a legacy document.
“And as [team member] Ramesh Patel said to me – if you don’t sell any books at least you’ve made 16 people happy.”
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[Professor Grant] Schofield was determined to self-publish the book – which espouses a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet – after a negative experience with a publishing company. He and former All Blacks skipper Buck Shelford co-authored a men’s health book, Buck Up, for Penguin.
“First of all you give away all your intellectual property to the publisher, which seems wrong at every level, then they rely on you to promote it. And I wanted an ebook but they were against it,” Schofield lamented.
“I kept thinking, ‘I know better than this’ and then I was like, ‘Oh, get serious, these guys have been in it for years and they know best.’ But sometimes being in something for years when things change rapidly puts you in the worst possible position.”
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Schofield admits he and his team made errors – the design and photography could be better – and he wishes they’d taken a leaf out of Annabel Langbein’s recipe books.
“In terms of writing recipes Annabel Langbein does it superbly. We should have just gone to her book, looked at her templates and copied it. In hindsight not doing that is so dumb it’s unbelievable.”
They were smart enough to look on the inside cover of a Langbein book for the name of her publisher – Asia Pacific Publishing.
Despite the mistakes, the book has been a smash, selling 20,000 copies and spawning a spin-off ebook dedicated to a high-fat, low-carb diet for athletes.
Schofield said the main lessons he has learned are to trust your own ideas and follow what you believe.
“Regardless of any success, initially we wanted something we could be proud of, which drove the passion for it, thank goodness, because I think if you sat down and did a business plan you probably wouldn’t do it.”
Schofield hadn’t intended to try to sell What The Fat? in book shops but once word got around he was soon getting calls from Whitcoulls and Paper Plus asking to stock the book because so many people had been asking about it.