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So You Want to Publish a Book?

Boomers Are Driving the Book Self-Publishing Trend

— Bambu Productions/Getty Images

“I have decided to try to tell the story in as many different ways as possible,” Green explains. “I contacted dozens of hospitals and organ-procurement organizations to ask them for their most memorable story in transplantation. I chose the 42 that I thought were the most poignant and the most inspiring, and those are the 42 that are in the book.”

The publicity surrounding Nicholas Green’s story seems to have already had a great impact in Italy. Organ donations there have risen to among the highest in Europe. Green and his family have been invited back to Italy several times to meet with the survivors—alive because of Nicholas’ organs—and their families, and each visit provokes a surge of media coverage. Green has completed an Italian translation of his book.

Pursuits in retirement

Not everyone has such a moving—and worldwide—story to tell.

Take Bernice and Andy Tate. When Andy, 65, an IT manager at a New York investment bank, and Bernice, 66, a nurse care manager, relocated to Bluffton, S.C., they saw that children in the rural part of the state needed reading skills. “The situation with reading was abominable,” Andy Tate says. This gave the Tates an idea.

The couple published four children’s books on their own. They drew on their own personal parenting experiences, creating stories that evolved from dramatic tales and plays with original characters that Bernice had turned into homemade puppets for their son when he was young. Intended for children ages 3 to 5, the books contain colorful illustrations that Andy drew. The books tackle subjects such as diversity, bullying, consequences (if you play with matches, you might burn yourself, for example) and magic.

The Tates hope to sell their creations to parents who are interested in reading to their children the kind of stories that will spark a lifelong love of books. “Kids need to be read to in infancy in order to be able to read at age 10,” Bernice says.

Other authors wish to pass along expertise gained from long careers. Former teacher Jerry Parks, 59, from Lexington, Ky., has self-published nine books, some inspired by 25 years in the classroom.

Parks had a difficult time gaining his certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Wanting to spare other teachers similar headaches, he wrote about his experience in So, You Want to Become a National Board Certified Teacher?

“I thought perhaps I could write a book to help other teachers go through the process,” Parks says. “I’m very happy to say that it’s been the one best-selling book on National Board certification in America.”


Big sellers are rare in the self-publishing world, and only exceptional stories will make significant money. In fact, only 9 percent of all books, regardless of the publishing method, will sell more than 1,000 copies, according to Nielsen Book Scan data for 2007.

Reg Green has broken through that 1,000-book barrier. The Gift That Heals has sold 10,000 copies. The Tates have sold 3,600 copies of the four children’s books combined. Jerry Parks says he has sold several thousand copies of the teacher certification book.

But how much money do such books make? If, for example, a book sells 1,000 copies or more and it retails for $20, total sales equal $20,000. If the author’s royalties are 20 percent, the typical amount for a self-published writer, earnings would total $4,000. After deducting the fee paid to the publishing company—anywhere from $600 to $2,000—plus any money spent on travel, marketing, advertising or publicity to sell the book, the net profit might dwindle below the royalty payments.

“Don’t expect to make millions,” Bernice Tate says. “Don’t expect to be on Oprah.”

Other rewards

But authors find other benefits to seeing their words in print.

“The main satisfaction comes from being forced to say as exactly as you can how you feel about something, even something quite trivial,” Green says. “It sharpens your view of life and, hopefully, allows you to experience it more fully.”

Green also has his legacy in mind. “It’s nice to leave something about what you’ve observed for others to look at whenever they want to,” he says.

For Jennifer Bohrnstedt, the intended audience for Views From My Schoolhouse Window was a single man—the main character’s granddaughter’s husband. The granddaughter, who personally gave Bohrnstedt the journals of her grandmother Mary Laurentine Martin, died before the book was published—but her widower kept after Bohrnstedt about the book.

“He was 100, then 101, and he said he’d continue to hang on until I got the book done,” she says. “Part of my joy was the satisfaction of seeing him hold the first copy.”

Bohrnstedt’s book has sold between 600 and 800 copies, but she’s not so concerned with the numbers. “It didn’t matter to me if it sold three copies,” she says of the story that gave her so much pleasure to write. “This book was a labor of love.”

Interested in self-publishing? Our four writers offer advice.

Tom Lombardo is a freelance writer in Atlanta. He was the founding editor in chief of WebMD and editor of the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of  Recovery for Life-Shattering Events.


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