Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Find a hole in the market, and run with it

So it was summer, I had a book idea I could sell, I had a company, but I didn't have $6K in start up funds. I worked on the book slowly, but did not involve any contractors other than to take bids, because I wasn't sure I'd ever even get the project rolling.

My daughters had been in a magic camp and took up balloon twisting in earnest. I decided to buy them another book on how to make balloon animals so we could play with their new talent.

But Amazon surprised me. Yes, there were balloon twisting books, but the reading levels were too high. I finally settled on one even though it was going to be too hard, figuring I could help them. But I started to have a glimmer of an idea of a book we could do together.

Sure enough, the book arrived, and the words were big, the descriptions long, and the drawings sometimes hard to follow. The girls had more tears than fun, and I decided, that's it, we're doing our own book.

The girls set to deciding on what twists were easy enough for kids.

I read Aaron Shepard's book Aiming at Amazon religiously. The twists and turns of the industry seemed impossible.

Following his advice, I applied for an account with Lightning Source to do the book print on demand. I decided against Shepard's recommendation of a 20% short discount, which would make it ineligible for bookstores. I instead stayed with the standard 55% trade discount for the wholesaler/bookstore combo, just to see if I couldn't get some local bookstores to stock it.

The project took about two weeks to photograph, all in full color, and I sent it to a book designer with a master's degree who wanted some practical experience. I'll go into my Lightning Source experience in another post, but in the end, I was able to get this book from concept to proof for less than $100 in about eight weeks.

I also seized a couple great opportunities. One was the Texas Book Festival, only a few weeks away. Our local writers' organization would let members buy a two-hour time slot at their booth. We could get the legitimacy of being at the book festival with a small enough window that my young authors could handle the appearance. That same week, Lightning Source ran a special on short runs, and I was able to get 100 copies of the book to sell at the fair for about $2 a copy. I set a list price of $9.99.

Then the magic camp itself was willing to back us. And they were having a week of demonstrations at a local Barnes & Noble, including a day of balloon twisting. As soon as our book hit Ingram through Lightning Source, I let the B&N know it was available, and they ordered 50 copies for their store. Amazon picked it up (and listed it incorrectly, another post), then got it online, and both ordered initial stock copies.

My company's first book was off and running.

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