Before I was a writer, my entire adult career had been spent as an actor and model for TV, films, TV and print as well as an acting coach specializing in young people. I earned big dollars, enjoyed glamorous off-screen activities and loved my life.
Then tragedy struck.
My beloved 16-year-old brother was killed in a tractor accident on the farm where we grew up. My adored grandfather died when a tree fell, crushing him as he mowed his lawn. Not long after, my father died in my arms, the victim of a rare cancer. His final gift to me were his words that he was dying a happy man because he had enjoyed a long happy marriage, adored his five children and had had the privilege of being a farmer and feeding people. He whispered, "I have lived my dreams!"
A light bulb flickered on in my head. Thinking about it, I realized that a successful life is not measured by the dollars we have in the bank but about the meaning and love we share. My new mission became to help other people achieve their goals to live their dreams. As a catharsis to ease the pain, I wrote, spoke, coached, volunteered and searched for ways to be of service to those in need. My work as a coach led to my first foray into self-publishing.
How I Turned a Booklet Into a Career
With my background in acting and modeling, I was determined to help actors and models not get scammed by the plethora of people who steal from unsuspecting entertainment wannabes. To help with that, I wrote a small booklet titled The Business of Show Business. It contained all the information that I wished someone had given me when I first began.
When I was the new kid on the block back in the 1970s, no one was coaching or advising young actors. Fellow actors didn't proffer accurate advice, possibly because they, too, were stumbling. I made plenty of mistakes that cost me money, time and even my safety. I spent money on bad headshots, went on auditions that went nowhere and knocked on too many of the wrong doors. Once I figured out a constructive way to be successful, I wanted to share my hard-knock knowledge.
After spending three months designing a seminar series that would provide honest details and personal experiences to newcomers, I let colleagues and agents know that I was offering classes on the business side of the entertainment industry. I printed the first run of the booklet on a copier to sell as an adjunct to my seminars and drama classes. They sold out immediately, and I soon received hundreds of requests for more copies. Even people who had been in the business for years wanted the book. The demand indicated to me that my booklet filled a very real need.
As my acting career soared, so did my classes and my pamphlet. Over the next few years, it expanded from a 20-page handout into a 303-page book, and I became a bona-fide publisher with Starstyle Productions. Talent agents and thespians bought the tome because there wasn't anything on the market like it. Offering comprehensive career guidance in simple language with up-to-the-minute information on exactly how to get going and stay going while avoiding the scams, The Business of Show Business is now in its 13th edition and is considered the bible of showbiz. Since 1984, the book has been selling consistently for $19.95 per copy, and I have never had one return
The Secret to Writing Success
As my book sold, I began receiving requests from nonactors to help them become more confident. Using principles from my acting classes while sharing personal stories of overcoming adversity, I started writing short lessons that could help adults in transition be happy and successful. These chapters expanded into what I term my "heart" book, Be the Star You Are! 99 Gifts for Living, Loving, Laughing, and Learning to Make a Difference. It was published by a traditional press, and the rest as they say, is history.
In my case, my success hinged on specifics. I wrote what I knew with passion. I knew who my audience was and who would buy the book. I targeted a niche market. I kept reediting, revising and republishing as needed, and I donated a portion of the proceeds from every sale to the literacy and positive media charity, Be the Star You Are.
My experience writing all my books is that readers purchase books from authors who give back and who authentically want to make a difference. My ongoing platform is to market through speaking, teaching, TV, radio, writing, coaching and charitable work. It doesn't matter if you are self-published or traditionally published: It's always up to the author to continue to promote her books until the day she doesn't want to sell any more.
Making Your Ideas Pay
An ever-growing number of people are using self-publishing to launch their careers. According to Publisher's Weekly, of the million plus titles produced in 2009, an astounding 764,448 books were self-published or created through micro-niche publishers. With an ever-expanding array of online tools available, it's getting easier and easier to turn your ideas into books -- and money.
How much will does it cost to self-publish? That depends on the length of your book, the amount of publicity you'll do and the platform you possess. As a self-publisher, you'll incur all the up-front costs of editing, proofing, legalities, obtaining copyright, ISBN, layout, printing, cover and interior design, marketing, distribution, fulfillment and promotion. On the other hand, you'll also keep 100% of the profits, and you'll get your book on shelves within six months of completion.
Can you make money as a self-published author? Do the math. If you print 1,000 copies of 160 pages or less, your costs could total less than $3,000. Charging retail at $15.95 per book, your profit is $12.95 per book. Selling direct to vendors while giving them a 40% discount, you'll earn $6.38 per unit. Using a distributor at a 55% discount, and you're still in the black with $3.38. Compare that amount with the normal $1 to $1.50 royalty an author earns with traditional publishing. Remember to factor in shipping costs, taxes and administrative expenses, slightly lowering your profit margin.
The secret to not having a garage filled with books that no one wants to purchase is to know your market before you begin to write, start selling before you've published and never, ever stop promoting once your book is published. While my book hasn't made me millions of dollars, it has enabled me to earn a living and learn a life.
Most important, I've learned that true wealth comes from doing what you love while making a difference.
Cynthia Brian is the co-author of the New York Times best seller Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul and author of Be the Star You Are!, Be the Star You Are! for TEENS, The Business of Show Business, and Miracle Moments. Read her blog on Red Room.