Self-publishing update: My import/export business

I want to thank everyone who bought my book. I loved the process of selling the book, making it, and shipping it out. I learned so much.

Melissa and I were so excited when the books arrived. But there was not a lot of pause for celebration because the books were literally three months late.

You’d think, since we printed the books in China and then had them shipped on a boat, that the delay would be due to the Chinese. But in fact, the Chinese printer was amazing, and the shipping company was good, too. The problem was a US company: PayPal.

Our plan was to get people to pay for the book first, and then we’d use that money to print the book. But PayPal put a hold on our account as soon as we took in money. And—I’m not joking or exaggerating—PayPal has been holding our money for the last 90 days.

When I twittered about how much I hate PayPal (two tweets, actually) I got a surprising number of responses from people saying they had the same problem with PayPal. So here’s my warning to you: PayPal has put a hold on lots of funds.

Okay. So, PayPal managed to turn our small-scale, smooth cash-flow operation into a mess. Eventually, Melissa caved and put everything on her credit cards.

Here’s a picture of the book cover — not to make you want one, because we are sold out. But it’s to make you want the next book we do. I think there will be another one. It was really fun to make a product I can hold, and give to people. I like that the book is pretty, like a treasure. It’s the type of thing I’d like to have in my hand or give to a friend. (If only I hadn’t sold all the copies I was planning to give to friends…)

So for a week, we had sort of a nice rhythm. While I put the kids to bed, Melissa organized envelopes and labels and numbered books. (There were 1000 books printed. All but six were pre-sold. And each book has a number.)

At first things went slowly. We didn’t really have a system. Melissa gave me an envelope and a book and I signed and put the book in the envelope. I told her that when I signed books (my first book) in bookstores there was someone sitting next to me to open books to the page I was signing. That made it go really fast.

So Melissa did that. And then I couldn’t stop thinking of Esther Williams. Do you know who she is? She was an Olympic swimmer who couldn’t go to the Olympics because of World War II so she went to Hollywood and became a pinup doing swimming pool musicals.

I used to have a job signing her autograph. If you click to her fan site, and scroll halfway down the page, there’s an autographed photo of her. That’s the one I would sign. I’d open her fan mail and sign her name and send the photo in the mail. She would give me oversight like, “make the E’s loopier.”

I found myself making my P’s extra loopy during the nights I couldn’t get her out of my head. I also found myself signing my name a little differently each night. And I remembered the autograph collector who sent me two signed photos of Esther that looked very different and he said one of them must be a fake and he was upset. And I wanted to tell him, “That’s not true. Both are fake.”

So I signed tons of books and then Melissa handled all the addresses and envelopes.

The books were late, but of all the people who bought books, I only got one really angry note. Unfortunately she put the note in my comments section on the blog, for everyone to see. Fortunately, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want, so I deleted the comment. I sent her a nice response, though. I did not tell her that she is outside the US and because I am a mail-order rube, I gave all international orders free shipping. But at least now I can say I’ve got experience in the export business.

Actually, it’ll probably be Melissa who puts the import/export thing on her resume. She is a resume writing genius. She probably already has something on her resume about building a small planet.

Okay, so we got a pretty good book system going: Just around the time when fireflies come out, the kids would fall asleep and I would want to fall asleep, but downstairs, in Melissa’s room, I’d hear her sliding stacks of books across the floor. I said, “Melissa, let’s go out and see the fireflies.”

She says, “No. We have to do books.”

I go outside for a quick firefly check while she does books inside. And then we begin.

I read each comment I get on the blog, and I read about 300 emails a day, so there are lots of names that are familiar to me. And each name I saw I would think, “I think I know this person.” And my inclination would be to want to check to see if it’s the Mark I know, or if it’s the Kate who comments a lot. But it ended up taking way too much time. So unless you have talked with me in person about 20 times, I probably didn’t recognize your name as your book came up.

You’d think I’d just write the same note for everyone, but I’m not a person who can easily write the same thing over and over again. So I tried variations, but I kept making mistakes in things like spelling a person’s name wrong, because I was thinking about what was a good thing to write. And then I’d have to write a big long apology for misspelling the person’s name. (Although I have to say that there is a trend among my female readers to have names that begin with K that are difficult to spell.)

For the most part, I signed each book, “Good luck with your career! – Penelope Trunk.”

When the Farmer saw the inscription he said, “Good luck?!!!? They don’t need luck if they read this book! They’ll have skill!”

“Melissa,” I said. “This is terrible. He’s right. It’s a bad inscription.”

“No,” she says. “No. No. No. It’s a good inscription.”

We look at each other.

I say, “Talented people make their own luck. I am wishing them the talent to make their own luck.”

“Right,” said Melissa.

“Yeah,” said the Farmer.

And then he looked at our piles and piles of books and smiled and said, “Good luck.”

126 replies
« Older CommentsNewer Comments »
  1. Zingus
    Zingus says:

    Oh, well there are reasons for paypal’s policies, they do little ID checks on the receivers and guarantee a lot to the customers.

    They have little to no idea if they can actually get back at you if you’re scamming their customers.

    It’s nice to know one can’t start selling over it without upfront financing. I always wondered why some ticket sites never considered accepting it. (And I though it was only related to commission fees)

  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    The image on the front is a magnifying glass, to inspect your inner being.

    I like the inscription, any mention of talent and I would have been disappointed.

    As a Melissa doubter, I am relieved of doubt temporarily.

    I rarely notice these “typos” commenters always speak of, yet I’m sure I have “detail-oriented” on my resume. =)

    I wish I had bought two. My cousin needs one but I absolutely will not part with mine. It needs to be read a few more times. Self-preservation trumps generosity.

    P. you were right about a book. The order of the chapters provides fresh meaning.

    Thank goodness you are out there.

  3. Alan
    Alan says:

    In addition to their onerous fees, PayPal makes zillions of dollars interest on the money that they kidnap and hold from people. They are bastards and nobody can do anything about it as far as I can see. Although, it’s just the kind of thing that we would want government to prohibit. Are there any legislators in the room? Anyone?

  4. Valerie Williams
    Valerie Williams says:

    I always learn interesting things reading your blog, but I was surprised when you said you used to sign fan mail for Esther Williams. I happen to be a synchronized swimmer in Los Angeles, and I had the privilege to meet and perform for her last spring. ( That’s me in the back, on the right! She gave us signed photographs. Now I’m not sure its her signature! *I mistakenly left this comment on the wrong entry, sorry :)

  5. Tatiana
    Tatiana says:

    Aw man. I wish I had a book.

    But I didn’t have any money when you offered it. And I still don’t. :p
    Plus I moved.

    But I can’t wait to buy your next book!! :]

  6. Patrick Pho
    Patrick Pho says:

    I was pleasantly surprised when I got your book and I was really touched when I read your comment ( it inspired me to write a blog post about how much I truly appreciated the time you took to sign it! After reading this post I feel even more special! Thanks so much PT!

  7. Jani
    Jani says:

    I was another one of the “too poor at the moment to buy” readers (still am), but I like to think that maybe one day I will meet one of the 1000 people who ordered it, and become friends enough to borrow it from them for a day. At any rate, congrats on completing the project. (:

  8. Libby
    Libby says:

    Yes, I can attest that you really do read your emails and I’ve been honored to get answers back. I hope you do make it an e-book so I can get a copy some day. Congrats to you! I’ve only published one little op ed and it had 400 or so “likes.” But it was a start.

  9. K
    K says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Thanks so much for the book — I feel lucky to have a copy. And for signing it! As one of your female readers with a difficult K name, I am especially grateful! I am a devoted reader, but I have never commented. You always give me a lot to think about and have inspired me to make several changes in my life. So I’m thrilled to have your thought-provoking inspiration in book form. Already looking forward to book #2!

  10. Angela L
    Angela L says:

    I loved the inscription, it was very touching. And I was delighted to find a personalized note! Thank you! Book 794.

  11. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Ack! I missed the book – when can I pre-pay for the next one?

    Maybe this time cash flow = checks to a P.O. Box and, somewhat Kickstarter-like, the book gets written after it’s fully subscribed to?

  12. Kat
    Kat says:

    The delay with the books is very long but somehow it’s acceptable. I’m not quite sure how you did it, as if it was someone else (like Amazon) a lot more people would be pissed off. Perhaps it was due to you explaining it’s a new “project” with the import/export element, so it makes it seem like we’re included and part of something exciting. Plus we trust you. We know you’ll deliver…eventually ;) I can’t wait to receive the book!

  13. Mark
    Mark says:

    Penelope, Thanks for the update – as one of your overseas customers I appreciate the free shipping (not expected next time) and don’t mind the slight delay. One thought occurs: there is a lot of positive feedback coming through on this book (mine hasn’t arrived yet) so you might want to consider a second print run, or even cutting a deal with a publisher (the book’s done, let the publisher handle the logistical headache). After all we early-adopters have our “limited-first-edition-beautifully-bound” iteration – this book could sit well as a paperback in someone’s summer reading pile (or Christmas). As for paypal – next time why don’t you use Kickstarter?

  14. Leonie
    Leonie says:

    Congratulations Penelope on getting the book out. I hope you will soon get your funds released from paypal. Perhaps cheques would be easier than paypal? Good luck on the next book (or rather I am wishing you the skill to get through the payment process) :-)

  15. Helen
    Helen says:

    I don’t have my copy yet but I know the delay is due to backlog with the canadian post strike that occurred here in June. Really excited to get it now.

    I refuse to have anything to do with PayPal anymore. Someone hacked into my account and charged almost $1700
    . Although it was immediately credited before I even knew about it, they have frozen it and want me to call them so they can authorize me. You know what? Too scary, it can stay frozen. Good thing I bought the book pruor to all of this happening!

  16. Evelyn
    Evelyn says:

    I’m #512.. I received mine and it looks so pretty, you could tell that the spine will crack when opened and it will have that lovely book smell. I haven’t read it yet. It sits on the night table tempting me but I want to have the time to just sit back and enjoy it. Maybe read it on a hammock, with a drink, like a summer novel. In 4 more days.

    BTW – Perfect inscription.. “lots of luck and lots of fun”.. as I’m changing careers and deciding what to do next.

  17. Susan
    Susan says:

    Your book is beautiful! I am a real book lover, and so appreciate its beauty and quality.
    I bought a copy for my husband, who is always studying career development, people/project management, personal development, etc. He was thrilled to receive it, and I intend to read it as well, as soon as he is finished.
    Thanks! #892

  18. Rebecca Gonzalez
    Rebecca Gonzalez says:

    I love my book!!!! It was worth the wait. I quickly read a few things, and realized what a true treasure it is. I immediately gave it to my friend to borrow who is struggling a little with choices, career, life, etc. She found it profound and we discussed it and you on the long walks we take together to solve the world problems (and our own). Of course, I would have bought her one but I knew you had sold out. Anyway, good job… I only buy e-books now, except books that are signed treasures. So, thank you for the opportunity to own a piece of your latest endeavour. It meant a lot to me (and to my friend).

  19. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Pretty sure my book has a perminate spot on my nightstand. I love it and I got a kick out of the farmers comment. When my book arrived my hubby said “I guess the goats didn’t eat your book after all.” I’d showed him your email when the book delivery arrived. He got a huge kick out of it as we have goats that get into everything as well when they try to help out. Thank you it’s a very helpful, soulful, and thought provoking read.

  20. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    It’s a really beautiful book. I love the cover. I’m jealous of everyone who has a copy but I’m seriously poor right now and had to stop myself from ordering a copy that I really wanted. I’m living paycheck to paycheck and the paycheck isn’t even mine. I hope I can get the next one.

  21. retroandi
    retroandi says:

    Dear Penelope and Melissa,

    Thank you both for this lovely book: Melissa for inspiring it (then seeing it to fruition) and Penelope for thinking that a handy pocket sized guide of her advice was just what we needed while stuck in the rut. I was so happy to get mine and read it ravenously while walking to and from the T.

    I hope there’s a next one!

  22. sandy
    sandy says:

    It sometimes (not always) helps if you call PayPal before you expect a large influx of cash into your account. But if the cash goes over a certain amount then they automatically freeze the account. This is what PayPal told an IM friend of mine. There are rumors that action is being taken to regulate PayPal like a bank which may help. I use PayPal as part of my business and never ever leave large amounts of money in the account. I’ve never heard of an attached bank account being frozen.

  23. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Penelope, I love the book, and I’m sorry you had to deal with an irate person over the delay. (Though glad it was only one person!) I think that more people were not mad because you did a good job of keeping us informed about the delays and why it was happening. I’m glad to know about your issues with PayPal; some feedback for you is that I bought your book as soon as I saw the announcement precisely because you offered PayPal as the payment option, which was convenient for me. If I have to enter my CC info on a site I am more likely to sit on a purchase, and then I would have missed out because it looks like the books went fast.

  24. John Michael
    John Michael says:

    You’re one of the reasons that there’s a trade imbalance…


    What’s wrong with printing it right here in the US of A?

    I just wrote a book and it’s printed HERE, Charleston SOUTH CAROLINA … UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

  25. NikkiWDC
    NikkiWDC says:

    I’ve decided that my new lucky number is 372, because that’s the number in my book. And I have the talent to make my own luck!

  26. Dana
    Dana says:

    If I could ask anything of your next book, it would be that you have it made here in the USA.

    With the recession, and millions looking for jobs, it’s irresponsible of all of us, especially those of us looking for work, or giving advice about jobs, to export work overseas.

    Yes, it may be a bit more expensive. Of course, you may be able to find it at the same price if one looks hard enough. Or you may be able to make a deal with the self-publishing company.

    We all complain about the economy, jobs heading overseas, the banks etc. yet we don’t do all we can to ensure things change. For instance, buy American made products,write businesses and let them know that we won’t spend our hard earned money on their products when they outsource work,or switch our money to the local credit union.

    Your book is beautiful by the way.

  27. Karina Griffith
    Karina Griffith says:

    I’m kind of hoping you spelled my name wrong and crossed out a few words in my inscription.

    Same reason I love hand crocheted shawls with flaws in them or vintage dresses without tags and mis-matched pocket lining.

    Thank you so much for the free international shipping. I can’t wait to get mine here in Berlin.

  28. Sam Davidson
    Sam Davidson says:

    I got my book – I love the look and feel of it; can’t wait to dive in a read it. It’s a really well-done product. It’s not a book; it’s an experience.

    That said, PayPal also held funds of my company. We had a product of ours appear on CNN and the next three days, sales were through the roof. PayPal thought it was fraud and we had to go through a huge ordeal and it took a month to clear up. It was ridiculous. They were helpful, but it was still a massive headache for us.

  29. Michi
    Michi says:

    Hi Penelope (and Melissa of course!)

    I just wanted to let you know that my book arrived today…all the way to Sweden!
    It’s a YAY-moment for me. Thank you and I will dive into it as soon as I posted this comment.

    Frankly, when I got a email from PayPal a few days ago about a confirmed purchase, I went blank. What purchase?! So I had to do a little detective work and found out that I bought this book three! months earlier. I had forgot. Hmm…bad PayPal, go sit in the time out chair! :)

    Anyway, I am happy to have received the book.

    In’Lakesh, Michi

  30. Maren
    Maren says:

    Hi Penelope and Melissa,

    The book arrived in Stockholm today. So happy!
    Tack så mycket (Swedish for Thank you so much)!
    It´ll follow with me on vacation in a few days: right timing! :)

  31. James
    James says:

    I’m such a competitor that when I received my book in the mail (after the initial confusion of why I was getting a package from Wisconsin) that when I saw I had copy #36 my first thought was that I wished it was a lower number :)

  32. biffpow
    biffpow says:

    Congrats on the success of the book, Trunk! And for finding a (mostly) effective way to bypass the publishing industry. Via “conventional” channels, this would not even have been printed yet (as I think you know).

    I look forward to the next one. Which I will help proofread if you need such help by then. I can also outline how to set up a payment gateway on your site so as to bypass paypal, if you care to.

    Like other posters, I’m also curious as to what Chinese publisher you used as well as how you decided on them. Was that process detailed in a prior posting I somehow missed? Thanks!

  33. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    And my sister had the same PayPal issue with her business. It slays me that it’s possible for that to happen. I recently hired a dog trainer, though, and she charged me via Google Checkout. Said it was way better than PP.

  34. Howard Stein
    Howard Stein says:

    There is a new ease and relaxation in your posts that has grown in the past months. I really like it, it’s homey, and non-competitive and secure and dare I say safe. Which is fine. Everything else in my inbox has an urgency. Theirs, not mine. So now you are a rest stop with a purpose.
    Good luck!!


  35. Abi
    Abi says:

    London calling

    Book 393 checking in and so far def worth the weeks of pasta, pasta sauce and no cheese back in March.

    Thanks for paying the postage too – I figured you’d prob send it ship mail so didn’t expect it for another few weeks a good surprise as it has come on a day of utter career despair so I’m in bed reading it now.

    Thank you


  36. Amy Gibson
    Amy Gibson says:

    Hello Penelope.

    Will there be more books? And what is the title please? Would anyone like to sell it on once they are finished?

    thank you

  37. Heather
    Heather says:

    I have your book in my hands -it just arrived. I LOVE it! Worth the wait. My husband wants to know if it is too good to read in the toilet.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      I have book number 619 and PT paid $11.39 cents to post it to me in Australia. Thanks to Melissa as well.

  38. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    I meant for ages to come here and tell you I got mine– it’s beautiful. A read it in a day or two, but to be honest I just really love looking at it on the bookshelf.

  39. Richard
    Richard says:

    How did I miss the post about your book becoming available!! I missed out on buying one! Sad, very sad. Hope it’s all gone well.

  40. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m in the process of doing some housecleaning of my browser bookmarks. I find this bookmark on luck by Dan Pink ( How to make your own luck – ) in my Bookmark Manager – unsorted. Now I’ve found a category for it in my browser and a place for it on this blog.

« Older CommentsNewer Comments »

Comments are closed.