IndieJourney: Kenn Amdahl

There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings

After 28 publishers rejected my first book, I decided maybe they were right. I slid the manuscript into a drawer and wrote another book.

After 89 publishers rejected the second book, (“There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings”) I decided they were all wrong. I formed Clearwater Publishing Company and published it myself.

That book has been paying my mortgage for 18 years now. It’s sold nearly 100,000 copies and inspired all the books for Dummies and Idiots. Since then, I’ve released a few more of my books, including Algebra Unplugged, Calculus for Cats, The Land of Debris and the Home of Alfredo, and Joy Writing. Each has done quite well; they all continue to sell in bookstores and on the Internet.

I’m glad I self-published. If you print enough copies at a time, your markup is better than a drug dealer’s. Reprinting three thousand copies of Electrons costs about a buck and a half each. It sells at retail for $12.95 (wholesale is about half that). Tony Soprano would be proud.

Plus, it’s an easy business. Sure, you have to market your books, you have to get them printed and ship them out; you have to keep track of the money. But a restaurant owner has to market, cook, clean, hire employees, meet health codes, and learn to make dozens of meals. His success hinges on dozens of details. Mine depends only on writing well and constant marketing.

I haven’t had much trouble getting my books into stores. My marketing strategy is to get them reviewed in smaller publications with very specific demographics. When someone marches into a store and says, “hey, I just read a great review of this book and I want to buy it” the bookstore usually figures out a way to sell it to them. The bookstore doesn’t care if the review was in The Daytona Math Teachers’ Newsletter or the New York Times. They want the sale. Interestingly, I’ve had more success selling to chain stores than to small independent stores.

The best thing about self-publishing is the people. Think about it: nearly everyone in the book industry loves to read. You’ll never stumble onto a more verbal, funny, passionate group of folks. They’re just like you. Your lost tribe awaits you.

Would I consider going with a big New York Publisher? Sure, under some conditions. Who wouldn’t want a big advance and someone else doing all the work? After the success of There Are No Electrons, several publishers contacted me wanting to “take it off my hands” for a tiny advance. I rejected them as kindly as I could. But I’ve also written several offbeat novels, and have recently sent them to agents and editors. So far, about thirty have rejected my latest novel. After my previous experiences, that does not devastate me, because I can’t lose. Either one will ultimately take it on, or I’ll self publish it, make a ton of money, and have a great story (“120 publishers rejected Amdahl’s new bestseller”).

Did I mention that it helps to have a healthy ego?

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