Sometimes we do well without knowing what we’re doing. This is commonly referred to as “dumb luck” and that’s a good description of how I got a book contract and a nice advance from Wiley and Sons Publishing. Of course, luck doesn’t preclude cause and effect and there are certain types of actions that lead to opportunities. So, even if we do not see the path beforehand, we can always look back to see how we got to where we are.
My particular path started over eight years ago with a funky little website about unusual ways to make money (add a “.com”). I didn’t know anything about the Internet or websites but I had made money in seventy or more ways, including repossessing cars, playing chess, and carving walking sticks. I thought writing about some of these income sources would be fun. My wife had the patience to learn the necessary technical details of building this and our other websites and, within a year, we were making a living with them.
Around 2007, I added a simple subscription form on that first website and started the “Unusual Ways Newsletter,” a weekly email that went out to a growing number of subscribers. Among many other projects, I also wrote and self-published a paperback, “Secrets of Lucky People,” in 2008, which I sold through Amazon and promoted on our websites. Royalties may not have covered the $900 in costs for a couple years if it wasn’t for a Japanese agent who happened to see the book. He convinced a Tokyo publisher to pay me $2,000 for the rights to publish the book in Japanese. Unbeknownst to me, the right elements were lining up for a bigger deal.
In 2010, I was sitting at my desk, looking at the deer in the backyard (we lived in Colorado at the time), when a senior editor from Wiley called, and asked if I wanted to write a book on strange ways to make money. He had seen my websites, and noticed I had a weekly newsletter. In fact, one of the first things he asked was how many subscribers I had. There were about 5,000 on the “Unusual Ways” list, and another 25,000 more on various mailing lists for topics like real estate and brainpower. Had I sold many copies of my book on luck? Maybe, I told him, if you include the Japanese version.
I had heard the name Wiley and I quickly discovered they publish the “For Dummies” series. Obviously I knew very little about the book business but I was learning fast. I quickly understood that publishers want authors who already have an audience and, as I knew from experience, this can be developed online more easily than elsewhere. Within a year, I also learned what a traditional publisher can do some things more easily than a self-published writer. For example, the publicist at Wiley got me an interview on Fox News and other television networks.
I almost walked away from the deal over some clauses in the contract (our Internet business was doing well in any case) but, after a few changes, I signed, and got a check for half of the $10,000 advance, receiving the other half a few months later. I spent six weeks writing “101 Weird Ways to Make Money,” and it was published in the summer of 2011. It hasn’t been anything like a best seller, but I did get a couple nice royalty checks in the mail after I “earned out” my advance (yes, I learned new jargon as well). I also have several people I can talk to at Wiley if I decide to write another book. I may have stumbled into this opportunity, but, looking back, the steps I unwittingly took seem repeatable.
Steve Gillman’s website, www.UnusualWaysToMakeMoney.com, inspired his most recent book, 101 Weird Ways to Make Money: Cricket Farming, Repossessing Cars, and Other Jobs With Big Upside and Not Much Competition, which, in turn, led to the creation of the ever-growing website, www.EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He has created over two dozen informational websites covering various subjects, ranging from metaphors, to wilderness survival, to real estate investing, and has written books on subjects as diverse as backpacking, meditation, and creative problem solving.