More About the Author
How I Coped with Being Fired
By Alton Pryor
I was fired after working for 27 years as a writer for a statewide magazine that circulated to virtually every farmer in California.
It came as a real surprise in a telephone call from a man I didn't know and had never met. The magazine was sold to a midwestern company and that company was literally cleaning house.
That included the writing staff, which was me.
Because my finances wouldn't allow me to retire, although my age had reached common retirement demands, I sought freelance writing assignments. I received a lot of assignments, but the pay was miserable.
Included in those freelance wars was the writing of 500-word historical articles on Southern California. Each one paid $125, or less than a week's groceries, especially if you wanted a dinner at a fine restaurant for me and my wife.
In all, I sold eight of those 500-word articles to Fedco Magazine, a monthly publication that doubled as a catalog for the membership department store.
A magnificent thing happened during my research of those articles. I kept finding other promising ideas on historical articles. The bummer was these newfound ideas did not fit the format of Fedco Magazine. Still, I collected the stories, storing some on my computer, not knowing what I would do with them.
During a particularly dismal day while wondering what to do next without resorting to pulling weeds, my son said, "Dad, you know how to write, why don't you write a book?"
This is the first time I confronted such an idea. I began by reconsidering the historical stories I'd collected. With a great deal more research, I turned each idea into a brief chapter on California history. The result was my first book manuscript, "Little Known Tales in California History." There were 41 chapters, each a stand-alone bit of California history.
Now came the moment of truth. "Well, I've got a 200-page manuscript, so what the hell do I do with it?" I said to my wife.
When I began investigating book markets, I soon learned that unless my name was Tom Clancy or Stephen King, I had little chance of becoming a published book author. Vantage presses turned me off.
Through a little investigation of the publishing industry, I learned that even if I did sell my book idea to a major publisher, I would receive only 8 to 10 percent royalty on the copies sold.
During a trip to a bookstore, I bought Dan Poynter's "The Self Publishing Manual", and it gave new life to my publishing possibilities. I found that publishing your book was rather simple. The difficult job was promotion and marketing.
I decided to jump into the self-publishing waters. While I was 70 years old when I wrote my first book in 1997, to my own mind, I was healthy and had no reason to quit writing.
Following the steps itemized in Dan Poynter's book, I formed my own company, "Stagecoach Publishing," just to publish my own books.
I printed 3,000 copies of "Little Known Tales in California History", with high hopes but little money for promotion and advertising.
One of my first efforts at promoting my new book came at the "Mountain Mandarin Festival", a craft show in Placer County near where I lived. It was my first but not my last craft show.
Not knowing that properly-equipped crafters had sparkling tent affairs called "E-Z Ups" where they could display their wares in comfort rain or shine, I arrived with a card table and a patio umbrella.
It rained and drizzled most of the day. As I fought to keep my books dry, people actually lined up to purchase my 200 page "Little Known Tales in California History."
By the end of the two-day craft show, I tallied ninety books sold. "This," I told myself, "was a bird's nest on the ground."
It didn't take long to learn that selling books through craft shows was a far cry from the riches I envisioned. Some affairs were abysmal, hardly returning the fee for the booth space. Others were real ego boosters.
My next bit of promotion came with a trip to my local Costco Store. As I wandered through the store's book section, I asked myself, "Why can't my book be sold here?"
The next step was to locate the store manager and learn the procedure of book acquisitions. Costco's book buyer, I learned, was located at the firm's headquarters in Issaquah, Washington. I learned that most book purchases were made from book distributors. Costco wanted to buy 50 or more titles and write one check. They didn't want to buy 50 titles and write 50 checks.
With some optimism, I wrote a cover letter to Pennie Clark, Costco's book buyer, and sent her a review copy of "Little Known Tales in California History." In that letter I was able to include the name of my newly-acquired book distributor, Sunbelt Publications, in El Cajon, California.
Five months went by without any word from Costco. Then, that fateful phone call came. Terry, the book buyer at Sunbelt Publications, called and said he needed 7,950 books for Costco Stores. For a moment, it sounded like a "crank" call.
"I can fax you a purchase order", he said.
"Please do," I said.
As luck or fate would have it, I was in the process of reprinting another 3,000 copies of the book. Somehow, in that first six months after publication, "Little Known Tales in California History" had sold out of its first printing.
With the Costco order, I would need more than the 3,000 copy reprint that was in process. With a phone call, I bumped the print order to 10,000 copies.
My self-publishing venture paid off. While I'm still not getting rich from it, I have never had such satisfaction in my life as I am having with writing and publishing my books.