Overall, yesterday wasn’t a great day. My tea shop‘s main computer died during a Windows 10 update, our wi-fi went utterly wonky, my phone stopped making or accepting calls, I spent a bunch of time on legal documents trying to collect back wages from a former employer, and the kitchen sink backed up. Plumbing is the worst.
Today, on the other hand, had a stupendous start! I was catching up on some emails, and pulled out my latest royalty statement from the lovely folks over at Farcountry Press. As I am wont to do, I started tallying up the sales numbers for each edition of Who Pooped in the Park. The total sales for the series to date? A whopping 500,853 copies!
Over half a million. I’m gobsmacked. The mere fact that I got to use the word “gobsmacked” today makes this a great day! I’m feeling so magnanimous that AT&T and Microsoft are hereby both forgiven for yesterday’s fiascos.
When I was focused on writing specialized technical books about closed captioning, selling a few thousand copies was enough to make me happy. Ten thousand was a lofty goal. And then—just for kicks—I wrote my first book for kids. The Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park came bursting out of the gate, earning out the advance in just a few months. That edition is by far my best-selling book, being the only single title of mine to have sold over 100,000 copies.
The other Who Pooped books have followed with mixed success. A few still haven’t sold out their first printings. A few (I’m looking at you, Grand Canyon edition) have had really stellar sales. My non-poop books have also had mixed success, but I’m working on that!
When I talk to other authors of children’s books, they want to know my secret. Is it shameless self-promotion? Is it mad skills at writing and/or illustrating? Is it having the best agent in the whole wide world? While all of those things would help, here’s what I think made Who Pooped work:
- Being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. There’s just no substitute for this.
- Having a title that makes people pick up the book, and content that makes them read it.
- The right publisher. Farcountry doesn’t have many contacts in schools and libraries, but their deep connections in national parks and gift shops were, in my opinion, critical to the success of these books.
- The right editor. I’ve had a lot of different editors over the course of my writing career, and I think having Kathy Springmeyer’s advice as I worked on my first children’s book was invaluable. The single best piece of advice she ever gave me was to have my kids read the manuscript out loud to me and look for places where they stumble over words or the dialog doesn’t sound natural.
- Persistence and fearlessness. I was lucky. I only got turned down by one publisher on Who Pooped in the Park? before Farcountry picked it up (your loss, Globe Pequot Press!).
- Asking for help. Nature writer Gary Ferguson gave me a lot of good advice in the beginning, and scat & track expert Jim Halfpenny proofed my original manuscript for me. Using the publisher’s industry contacts has put me in touch with a deep pool of experts. Using those contacts made my books better.
- And, of course, shameless self-promotion. After you’re successful, the media calls you. When you’re getting started, you have to call them.
Agents can make a big difference, from what I hear. I can’t tell you firsthand, as I’ve never managed to land an agent myself. Here’s where I need to be more persistent. I’ve been turned down by a couple of dozen agents, but I have friends that have sent out hundreds of query letters before getting to yes. I’ll get there…