Success by Meaningful Measures, Part 2
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Ask for success stories and you won’t be surprised to get responses featuring sales figures. Of course most independent publishers are interested in racking up sales for the books they release, since both influence and wherewithal increase as sales rise. And of course that means publishers often focus on sales as they carefully plan and implement all the steps in the publishing process.
But if you’re an independent publisher—or someone who knows how independent publishers operate—you also won’t be surprised to see responses that emphasize helping targeted readers. For many smaller publishers, highlighting benefits isn’t just a way to hook prospective book buyers; it’s a way to express the essence of their publishing programs.
In that context, publishing a book that’s not apt to make much money can be richly rewarding, as reported last month and below. But (also as reported last month and below) it’s surely a welcome surprise when books published with benefits for readers firmly in mind turn out to generate revenues in five, six, and even seven figures, along with the satisfactions of making a difference.
Many thanks to everyone who sent reports on successful books and on the criteria that qualified them as successful.
Spurring Countless Acts of Kindness
I have written children’s books about filling buckets for the past nine years. My first book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, was published in June 2006. I had recognized the need for a book that would explain to children how rewarding it is to be kind by “filling buckets.” I felt the timing for this positive message was right, but I had no idea what would happen after it appeared in bookstores.
The information below indicates just how wildly successful this 32-page children’s book continues to be, both in terms of sales and in terms of
impact on people’s lives. Over the years I have marveled at its ability to change behavior from negative to positive. Parents and teachers have told our team story after story of improvements they experienced in their homes and classrooms when this book came into their lives.
• More than one million copies of our English paperback and hardcover editions have sold so far.
• The book continues to sell more than 2,000 copies a week, on the average; it often appears on Amazon’s list of Top 100 of All Children’s Books Sold, and the book has won 15 awards.
• Back-to-school sales triple in August of every year, and the paperback can always be found on Amazon’s list of Top 100 of All Books Sold.
•Have You Filled a Bucket Today? is distributed in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, in English, Spanish, French, and Braille. And it is published and distributed in Japan, Korea, Turkey, and China in those countries’ languages.
• We have sold 400,000 copies of our five other bucket-filling books for other ages (infant, preschool, K-1, international, and Grade 3 and higher), a journal, and a coloring book. Together, they have won an additional 84 awards.
• Our bucket-filling team has been told many times over by children, teachers, parents, and grandparents, at home and abroad, how much they love this book, which teaches the real meaning of kindness and its correlation to happiness in life. (When you fill someone’s bucket, you fill your own bucket, too.)
• Have You Filled a Bucket Today? is used as a proactive bully-prevention and character development program in thousands of elementary schools and preschools around the world.
• More than 1,000 schools and organizations around the world have hosted programs in which our bucket-filling team teaches the bucket-filling concept.
• Our biweekly educational newsletter, Bucket Fillosophy, has an audience of tens of thousands of readers worldwide.
• A search of “bucket filling” on Google, YouTube, Pinterest, or other social media indicates the popularity and influence of the bucket-filling concept, which began in schools and was inspired by Have You Filled a Bucket Today?
• Hundreds of educator and parenting blogs talk about the value and importance of bucket filling based on Have You Filled a Bucket Today?
Nine years ago I would never have thought that bucket-filling would ripple across the world to other countries, or that Have You Filled a Bucket Today? would, along with its sister publications, inspire thousands of acts of kindness.
Carol McCloud – Bucket Fillers, Inc.
Tools for Less Stress
I wrote Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind to offer readers an accessible path to meditation and all the benefits associated with it. I wanted to provide the simple explanations I longed for when I began to practice meditation years ago. As I say in the preface, “My hope is to offer you ideas and practices that can transform your life—and help you find clarity, inspiration and peace on your path.”
Many people have stopped me to say how much the book has meant to them personally. I’ve received many wonderful reviews on Amazon, and I was thrilled to receive a great testimonial from Elisabeth Leamy, a correspondent for The Dr. Oz Show.
The reach of my book is greater than I had originally anticipated. For two years in a row, I’ve been invited to have a book table at a big diabetes educational event that draws close to 1,000 people. The organizer of the event wants to offer attendees resources for managing stress.
My book has even crossed international borders. Recently I received an e-mail from a woman in Canada wanting to buy it for her daughter. And a nutritionist from Iceland purchased 10 copies to distribute to friends and colleagues in her home country.
But one encounter moved me more than any other. It happened just a few weeks ago. As I entered a local store that I frequent, the young woman behind the counter saw me and exclaimed “Joy Rains!” (I’m glad I included my photo on the back cover.) She said that since she’s been reading my book, she’s found that she can handle the stress in her life with more ease—she’s a young mother with a young child—because she now has tools to calm and center her mind. And she told me she had promised herself she was going to give me a big hug next time she saw me.
One never knows the result of writing a book, and how many lives will be touched. That’s the beauty of the written word.
Joy Rains – Whole Earth Press
Helping Service Businesses Run Better
Service America: Doing Business in the New Economy became a surprise business bestseller and put my career as a management consultant on a rocket ride. In its first three years, the book sold more than half a million copies, and eventually it became available in seven languages.
My consulting practice, which had been reasonably healthy over the preceding decade, had to be transformed to accommodate the rising demand triggered by the sales of the book.
Looking back—this was the 1980s—I think what powered the book’s unusual reach was the provocative new concept at its core: “service management.” I had discovered the concept while working in Scandinavia, where it had fueled a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of Scandinavian Airlines.
First clearly articulated by a Swedish management consultant, the service management proposition held that Western management thinking had failed to cope with the tectonic shift from the manufacturing age to an age dominated by service and knowledge businesses. With the US manufacturing sector accounting for less than 20 percent of the economy, executives were still trying to run service businesses as if they were factories.
The Scandinavians had a point: Many hospitals, for example, still resemble factories in their design, organization, and procedures. A typical emergency department still looks more like a carwash than a place of caring and healing.
The forehead-smacker idea that animated the service revolution was that managers should focus not on managing the organization—the “boxes on the chart”—but on managing the customer’s experience with the organization. The new “unit of production” now became the “moment of truth”—any episode in which the customer comes into contact with some aspect of the business and makes a judgment about the value it offers. Service management was all about managing those many moments of truth.
Concluding that the service management concept was ripe for the US business world, I brought the germ of the idea back to the United States, worked out a conceptual approach for putting it into practice, and began touting it to my existing clients. The response was startling.
I partnered with another consultant to develop and preach the new service-management gospel in a serious way. Armed with little more than a 16-page executive white paper we’d drafted, and having no success stories to brag about yet, nevertheless we encountered a remarkable degree of interest and acceptance.
We met for dinner with the senior editor of a business-oriented publishing house, Dow-Jones Irwin, who showed up with a contract in hand. The book took off immediately. Surprisingly, it had no real imitators for about three years. Only gradually did others, including academics and consulting firms, begin to exploit the rising interest in the concept, and no book ever became a credible competitor to Service America.
The concept seemed to click with many people on many levels. Organizations such as Marriott, Sheraton Hotels, Santa Monica Hospital, the US Air Force, and even several departments of the Australian government issued thousands of copies of the book to their executives and managers. It became the bible for a new way of thinking about business in nonprofit and public sector organizations as well as in the corporate sector. Fans and associates began referring to me as “the father of the customer revolution.”
That’s the sort of thing a book can do to one’s life—or, at least, it could do during the golden age of publishing, when big ideas mattered more than celebrity authors. I doubt that any lesser known author—as I was in those days—could enjoy that kind of exciting ride in today’s publishing environment.
Karl Albrecht – Karl Albrecht International
Touching Other Lives on My Own
My story began with getting a contract to illustrate a children’s book for a major publishing house in 2004. The contract is signed; the advance is paid; I have the green light to illustrate the book. When I show the editor the artwork, she pulls the rug out from under me. My big break, GONE! I felt angry, upset, and humiliated. How could this be happening to me? My big dream had now become my big nightmare.
Who needs the the big publishing houses? I thought. I know I can do this on my own. Winging it, I was able come up with my first children’s book, Ned Visits New York, in 2006. I was so confident in the book that I printed 2,000 copies. Within six months I had sold them all. For a second printing, I ordered 3,000 copies. The book is now in its fifth printing with more than 12,000 sold, and I have published three more children’s books.
Of course, no matter how great and wonderful your book is, you must have a way to sell it. You can only sell so many to friends and family. I decided to sell mine with my simple colorful children’s T-shirts — Fire Truck, New York Heroes, New York Subway, New York Taxi, Ballerina, Dinosaur, and Train, to name a few (I began hand painting adult T-shirts 24 years ago and quickly turned to silkscreening children’s shirts). They play off each other.
Sales at craft shows, holiday markets, street fairs, and on my website have been very important to my success. If I had to depend on bookstores to sell my books, I would not be in business today. As it is, this is not a hobby for me; it is how I make my living.
Do I regret losing my big chance to do a book with a major publishing house? At the time I did, but now I am able to look back and realize it was part of the learning process to help me get to where I need to be. Self-publishing four successful children’s books has given me great pride and self-confidence. Financial success with a book is always great. But true success comes from the lives you are able to touch with your book.
Kip Cosson – Kip Kids of New York
Fostering Students’ Success
By practically any standard, Bumper to Bumper: The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations can be considered a success.
When we first published it in 1988 we weren’t thinking “posterity,” and so it is now difficult to put our hands on early sales figures. I think it’s fair to say, however, that if we haven’t sold quite a million copies we have definitely sold many hundreds of thousands. The book has been profitable enough to keep Mike Byrnes and Associates, Inc., in business all these years, with no end in sight.
Sales are a material measure of just how well the book accomplished what we set out to do. We wanted to provide a textbook for entry-level commercial driver training that would be not only thorough and authoritative but also enjoyable for both learners and instructors to use. Bumper to Bumper has ranked as high as #10 in Amazon paid sales in its category (Books/Engineering & Transportation/Automotive/Truck & Vans).
The reviews posted on Amazon.com by students and teachers attest to the fact that the book has achieved those goals. It’s a continuing source of delight and encouragement to get praise—for a textbook.
Twenty-eight years ago, Bumper to Bumper was one of a kind. Since then, other books for use in commercial driver’s license training programs have been brought to market by huge publishers that dwarf our little independent company, but Bumper to Bumper still stands alone and continues to be recognized for the unique feature of which we are especially proud.
The textbook not only provides the facts that prospective commercial drivers need to obtain a license and get a job; it also builds confidence and promotes a sense of professionalism in the learner.
Instructors continue to choose to use Bumper to Bumper in their curricula because they recognize that it helps produce better graduates whose self-respect and respect for the job, the employer, and the customer will help them excel in their new profession. Their students’ success is our success.
Devorah Fox – Mike Byrnes & Assoc., Inc.
Understanding Human Systems
While I have written six books since that have been more successful in a traditional sense, my first book—The Creative Imperative—still gives me the deepest personal sense of success.
I wrote it in my 20s in response to some insights that fascinated me and vaguely seemed to have larger importance. Though I could barely begin to put those insights into words, I worked over seven years to give the effort my best shot. In the years that followed, those initial ideas have evolved into a highly respected body of work that makes a major cultural contribution (see CulturalMaturityblog.net for a glimpse). I still reflect back with some amazement that I was able to stay with the effort through those seven years in spite of often feeling lost or overwhelmed along the way.
Charles Johnston – The Institute for Creative Development
Spreading Zen Benefits
We are very pleased with the success of our four books. We started with Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones), which was intended to be the first in a series of picture books. Although we were new, we had a strong business plan and marketing plan, and we were lucky enough to get distribution through SPU. That was a game changer.
Since that first release, we have published three additional titles in the A Little Zen for Little Ones series, and published the popular, genre-bending picture book, The Super Duper Princess Heroes: How It All Started. Another Super Duper Princess Heroes title will be coming out next year.
Even though financially we still have much room to grow, we have impacted the lives of parents and children around the United States and globe. The Zen stories are helping bring mindfulness and Zen-related topics to new generations, and the Super Duper Princess Heroes are helping empower girls and giving them stronger, more positive role models.
We feel extremely fortunate to have been able to contribute to our culture and society in these small ways.
Sanjay Nambiar – Umiya Publishing
The Cockroach Invasion (2014) was my 11th nonfiction book, and I have had so much fun, fun, FUN with it! I see its ”success” in terms of raising awareness and changing attitudes. It entertains while it informs. Although it is written for third- to sixth-graders, I am amazed at the adult response.
The incident it describes actually happened in my third-grade classroom, years ago, when hundreds upon hundreds of cockroaches exploded out of the classroom sink drain. The class was stunned, thinking that an oil geyser had suddenly sprung a leak, until the cockroaches fell to the floor and started skittering about.
Mass pandemonium ensued, as you can well imagine. What a mess. I laughed every time I thought about it, and finally decided that I was going to write about it, and share the learning experience.
When I told my family and friends, they were not supportive, not in the least. They were scandalized; they all looked as if they had swallowed vinegar. The subject was a total turn-off for adults, but kids like the yuck factor, so I thought it might have a chance at readership. Everyone else thought I had lost my mind.
I had a delightful time recreating the situation on paper. The trouble came when I couldn’t find an artist. None of the professional artists I contacted wanted to draw cockroaches or to have their names attached to anything having to do with cockroaches.
After wasting more than two years searching, I held an art contest for third- and fourth-graders, and selected 19 sketches by different students in different schools in different districts. The hold-up then became trying to get the parents to sign permission slips, so the artwork could be published. (Some thought their children were just telling tall tales, and ignored their pleas to sign the documents.) So even more time was wasted.
Happily, those young artists can say—on future resumes—that their work was printed in a book. Copies were given to all the winners, their teachers, their school libraries, and their school principals. In addition, copies were placed in their closest city libraries, as well as in their county libraries. Local newspapers and magazines published articles about the book, which were also posted on their websites along with the students’ photos. And we created a giant poster that was placed in bookstores where I signed copies, so all the kids got a lot of mileage from being included in The Cockroach Invasion.
Within six months of publication, The Cockroach Invasion won 10 awards.
Although cockroaches are pests, they are also quite fascinating, and they have a definite place in our ecosystem. Besides raising awareness for readers, and changing attitudes, my related goals for my students were
helping to build self-sufficiency, open-mindedness, and respect for other living creatures that share our world. And those goals were met in my classroom, and, for the most part, with my readers.
Now, people stop me anywhere and everywhere to tell me about their cockroach stories. I get a great deal of enjoyment by sending a letter and a book—and a plastic cockroach—to complete strangers who have said something about cockroaches in the media. Their responses are a riot.
Sherry L. Meinberg – Archway Publishing
Though success can be measured in so many ways, at this moment I think of our newest release, Like a Love Song by Camille Eide, as being our most successful book.
We are a small traditional press that’s been around for only two years. With resources like the IBPA Independent, we are upping our marketing more and more. One of our strategies for growth at this time is submitting for reviews. Like a Love Song was the first Ashberry Lane book that garnered a four-and-a-half-star, Top Pick review from Romantic Times.
It also was our first title to snag a Publishers Weekly review. This has already led to increased sales to libraries and to a PW article; we were interviewed as an up-and-coming Christian publisher!
We’re grateful that the book opened a new arena of publishing for our small press.
Christina Tarabochia – Ashberry Lane
Serving Pilgrims on a Mystical Path
Following the ancient path known as the Camino Francés, John Brierley walked the Camino de Santiago from the small French town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees all the way to Santiago de Compostella in 1997. He was certainly not the first or the last to do so. Many people, including celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine and Sonia Choquette, have made the pilgrimage and told their friends about this life-changing experience.
It completely changed John’s life. He had discovered the hard way that none of the existing guidebooks to the pilgrimage had been put together with the pilgrim in mind. Most of them were coffee-table editions with beautiful photographs and no practical information whatsoever. A highly practical person, he decided he would create the perfect guidebook to the mystical path from scratch, from the format (a book that can be slipped into one’s pocket) to the weight (as light as possible, as every ounce carried on the way has a cost).
The features he planned included contour guides with elevations, a list of all pilgrim hostels and alternative accommodations, a sun-compass to aid orientation, an equipment checklist, a dictionary of basic pilgrim phrases, color photographs, inspirational quotations, space for personal reflections, and a self-review questionnaire to help prepare for the inner journey. All this and more was designed as a slimline guide measuring only 4.5″× 8.25″.
At the time, John was living in Findhorn in Scotland, just as I was. So he came to see me at Findhorn Press and attempted to convince me to publish his future guidebook and put it together for him. Findhorn Press was quite small at that point. We were publishing just a few titles a year, and there was no way we could handle a project of that magnitude. So I gave John some pointers and told him we could take the book on if he did all the legwork. He would have to take the photographs, do the maps and the contour guides, and gather all the information and put it together.
I thought this would discourage him, but I was wrong.
John took courses and learned how to use InDesign and Illustrator. He went back to the Camino several times and measured things. Working extremely hard for roughly six years, he put together a first guide, which we published in 2003 under a new imprint, Camino Guides. It sold slowly to start with, but sales soon increased as pilgrim numbers went up. In 2006 we published a second edition. Since 2007, we have published a new, updated/revised edition every year, and sales numbers grew steadily until we reached a cruise level of 20,000 copies per annum about three years ago.
John also devised a smaller guidebook for people who wanted to continue all the way to the ocean, to Finisterre (the end of the earth). Then as more and more pilgrims started to walk the Camino Francés, many pilgrims wanted to avoid this busy route while others want to try another pilgrimage after completing the first. So John developed a guidebook to the Portugués Way (2005). This is the way the apostle Saint James reportedly walked from Lisbon, via Porto in Portugal to Santiago in Spain. The cathedral at Santiago is his reputed burial-place. The way was not so well known, and the Portuguese tourist authorities asked John for his help in devising the best route and placing way markers on the path.
To serve pilgrims interested in carrying as little as possible, John also developed books of just maps for both the Francés (2008) and the Portugués (2011) ways. Currently he is working on yet another version of his guide, starting in Sarria, just five days away from Santiago, for the many pilgrims who have only a week’s vacation and cannot walk the whole route. This will be published in January 2016.
Starting with the 2015 edition, we reduced the book’s height from 8.25″ to 7.5″ to make it even easier for pilgrims to manage.
We have sold the German, Polish, Hungarian, Korean, and Chinese language rights to the main guide. Meanwhile, John has managed to make the yearly maps-only books multilingual. They’re now in eight languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Dutch, and Polish.
John’s main guide is our bestselling book by far, and not a book whose sales peaked when it was new. Rather, and much better, it is a book that continues to find new outlets and new readers, thanks to an author who is keeping the concept alive by constantly improving it. We know that this book is not only a commercial success; it is helping users in a very practical way when they embark on their own life-changing experiences.
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