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
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  1. HTGillis
    HTGillis says:

    Dear Penelope,  I am hoping some day I will be in a position like you are now – having written abook, about mainly my life and all I have been though.  I am writing my web blog and taking TIPS from you off your blog,( what a help ! ), and putting them into practice.  I am trying to get the topic of Alcoholism into the Social Media, and out of the closet, it has consummed my life, taken loved ones fromme, and I have been in recovery since i was 23, if you can believe that.  I want to thatnk you for your upbeat inspiration! 
    Lots of luv ………… : )
    Thomas Gillis
    founder / nonprofit

  2. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I want a signed book. I’m taking in tons of information, digesting it, applying it, and damn if I don’t want a signed book. HAHA! Forgive me, I’m in my favorite Mexican food restaurant trying to work and reading blog posts about blogging.

    I’m seriously too enmeshed with my work.

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