Susan C. Anthony

The Facts Plus Story

The idea for Facts Plus came to me after a difficult day of trying to teach 5th graders to use almanacs. It seemed clear that the difficulty the kids were having was not because of the activity or my teaching, but the almanac itself. It wasn't child-friendly. Someone must publish a children's almanac, I thought. After all, there are children's dictionaries, children's encyclopedias, children's atlases. After an extensive search, I was surprised to find nothing usable. A teacher friend who thought a kids' almanac was a great idea suggested that I write the book myself. I've always enjoyed researching and compiling information. I thought, "Why not?"

I took an unpaid leave of absence from teaching in 1985-86 to write the book. I found a Writer's Digest book called How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen. I followed its guidelines and submitted a proposal to a major publisher in the fall of 1985. Within a few weeks, I received a call from a vice president in the reference division of that company. He was very impressed by the proposal and wanted to have the book published in time for the American Booksellers Association convention in May of 1987. As any aspiring author can imagine, I was thrilled! He said he'd call back soon and discouraged me from doing much more work on the project until we firmed up a contract.

This began week after week of delay. My precious year of unpaid leave slipped away. I faithfully waited by the phone and accepted the many reasons I was given for why things moved so slowly. There were always encouraging comments. There had been a very positive reaction from the school division, I was told. The marketing people in the trade division were quite favorable. The proposal would soon be presented to the publishing committee and a contract would be forthcoming. Everyone at the company was impressed with the quality of my work. I would be given an advance and a ticket to company headquarters back East to discuss the book with the editor and team. On and on and on. Eventually, my leave was over and I had no choice but to go back to the classroom. On October 28, I was told that two possible editors had been selected for the project and everything was in the final stages. Not until December 1, 1986, a full year after I submitted the proposal, did I receive final word. The project had been rejected.

The process left me exhausted and discouraged. I was completely out of control. That Christmas, I sent copies of the proposal to several other publishers. A few called back, but there were no real sparks of interest. Things were at a standstill.

After another year of teaching, I took another year's unpaid leave, this time to fulfill a longtime dream of traveling the world. I needed time to consider what to do next. Part of me wanted to give up on the book idea, but I couldn't. The idea, once conceived, took on a life of its own. I knew I would regret it if I didn't follow through and make Facts Plus available to the world.

In Tanzania, we teamed up with an Australian couple to rent a Landrover and driver for a trip to the Ngorongoro Crater. During our 4-day trip I first heard the term "desktop publishing." I didn't own a computer at the time. But Barry from Australia knew a lot about computers and suggested that I could publish the book myself.

When I returned to Minneapolis, I eagerly researched desktop publishing and self-publishing. At the time, Apple Computers were the leaders in desktop publishing software. Even IBM fans told me so. Back in Alaska, I bought a MacIntosh SE and began taking computer classes. I gradually invested in software: Microsoft Word, Aldus Pagemaker, Adobe Illustrator. I had a strong desire to complete the book, but it was impossible to get much done while teaching full time. In the summer of 1989, I worked long and hard, spending many gorgeous days inside my little Quonset hut hard at work. My enthusiasm buoyed me up! I taught again in 1989-1990, then applied for a third unpaid leave in 1990-91 to complete the book and get it into print. Before it even went to the printer, we'd presold hundreds of books in local schools. Presales covered the cost of the first printing.

I finally got everything ready and sent the book to the printer on December 17, 1990 and we left on a trip to Mexico the very next day. En route to Mexico, I stopped for a consultation with Marilyn Ross, author of several books on self-publishing. She stressed the importance of immediately sending the manuscript to major national reviewers. I did, en route, and the two reviews her advice generated brought in tens of thousands of dollars worth of orders over the next few years.

Part of me always hoped that I could prove with success that my ideas were not only good but marketable. I hoped that an established publisher would step in and take over the business side of things. I have never been interested in business or marketing, but without some marketing and promotion people can't even know what's out there. Now, 22 years after the publication of my first book, I am glad that first publisher rejected my book. I've read standard author contracts and talked with well-known authors about troubles with their publishers. The frustration of that first year might have been just a foretaste of things to come had I ever actually signed a contract.

When people ask me how to get their books published, I say self-publish. Your chances of getting even as far as I did with a large publisher are abysmally small. Most will not look at unsolicited manuscripts. They have more than enough to do as it is! Even if a publisher accepts and publishes your book, the chance that you'll make any money after the advance are abysmally small. I once read that of every five books printed by major publishers, two break even. Two don't even earn back the advance. Only one of five becomes profitable. That statistic may not be accurate, but if your book does not fly off bookstore shelves, it will be returned to make room for more profitable books. The publishing business is a business. The point is to make a profit.

These days, there are many more options than there were in 1985, including publishing your work on a web site. For me, the joy of publishing involves sharing ideas that benefit others. The Internet makes it possible for me to share lots of ideas that don't merit a whole book. Digital copying makes it possible to print just a few books at a time, according to demand.

I encourage aspiring authors to check out all possibilities before committing much time, money, or energy. Then decide on an approach, make a plan and go for it!

Go on to General Information on Self-Publishing and Marketing Your Book
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