In the eighties and nineties I published dozens of Christmas short stories in newspapers and in “little and literary” magazines. I didn’t make much money, but I picked up many legitimate publishing credits. In 2000 I collected twelve of the stories into a self-published book, A Christmas Dozen: Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart. A backyard hit, it sold out its first printing of 1,000 in 40 days and 40 nights, then sold half the second printing of 3,000 in the next 20 days. By the end of a full year I had sold 8,000 and professionally recorded the audio book myself.
I was so encouraged that in 2001 I gathered together nine of my scary campfire stories and self-published Odd Lot: Stories to Chill the Heart. It sold with much the same result as A Christmas Dozen. And I recently followed it with Unk’s Fiddle: Stories to Touch the Heart. Now I’m making a full-time living as a fiction writer.
On May 1st, at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Publishers Marketing Association honored Odd Lot as its silver medalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Mystery/Suspense Book 2001. Two days later, at Book Expo America, elbow to elbow with such big-name authors as Mary Higgins Clark and Barbara Kingsolver, I autographed 130 copies of A Christmas Dozen in my half hour in the limelight. The next day came the ForeWord Magazine Awards. The CD version of A Christmas Dozen didn’t win Audio Book of the Year, not even second or third, but it was one of nine finalists. Odd Lot took the Honorable Mention for Best Horror Book 2001.
How do I manage to be so successful at it? When my agent couldn’t place my story collections with major NY publishers, I read Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual and attended one of his seminars. I realized I could maximize the profit on every book sold by being not only the author, but the publisher and distributor, too. So I created my own publishing house, Burt Creations, and self-published A Christmas Dozen, Odd Lot, and Unk’s Fiddle.
I offered free readings at Christmas programs in nursing homes, churches, senior centers, scout troops, Rotary Clubs, and wherever I could set up a book table after the readings–and I sold a lot of books. I also set up websites, got a toll free number, and read stories around the country on the radio.
But my biggest numbers of sales come from weekend Arts & Crafts shows around New England. I qualify (for most of them) because I’m an artist and a craftsmen, an author and a self-publisher with a hand in my own book’s design and layout. It means buying tables, displays, and craft tents, and it’s long hours. But consider that I sold nearly 500 books at a Christmas Expo in Boston and 400 at another Expo in Hartford–at full retail, not as an author making 8% royalties per book.
Now I write during the week and sell books on weekends.
Odd as this may sound, I was a pastor for 25 years, until May 1, 2001, when I took early retirement because of the success of the self-published Christmas book. I kept a busy schedule, but through it all I kept writing and publishing. That’s the key, keeping at it even when it isn’t paying a lot. Whether it’ll eventually pay off, who can say? But if you can keep doing it and love it while you’re doing it, that’s worth a lot.
Steve Burt is the author of 600 shorter pieces and a dozen books, including A Christmas Dozen: Christmas Stories to Warm the Heart (paperback, hardcover, and audio), Unk’s Fiddle: Stories to Touch the Heart, and Odd Lot: Stories to Chill the Heart. Between selling his fiction and offering public readings of it, Steve is able to make a full-time living as a fiction writer.