Eight surgeries down. Six more to go, and then a year or two of rehab. What was a fire lieutenant out on injury leave from being hit and thrown 37 feet by a van, going to do?
Why, write a book, of course!
I needed something to take my mind off of the injuries and upcoming rehab. When I went to my college reunion that year, another former firefighter and I were talking to a guy that was on our college fire department 10 or 15 years before us. After he wandered off, Jeanne looked at me, and said, “Someone should write a history of Maples (the nickname for the department), before all these old guys die off.”
“Hey,” I thought, “I can do that!”
I jumped on it. I had the time, I had the knowledge, and most importantly, it would keep my mind occupied for the next year or so. I thought I would sell 50 copies. Maybe.
Fast forward a year. I sold 2600 copies and cleared $23,000! Holy crap, I think I can do this! Soon, I wrote a second, a record price guide. Then a third, soon followed by a fourth. I was hooked.
I did a lot of things right, most of them without even knowing what I was doing was right. I had some screw-ups, too.
Things I did right – first, I picked a subject I knew a lot about, and was passionate about. Ask any of my friends – when I meet someone, within two minutes they know I was a firefighter and now I write books.
The second thing I did right was crowdfunding that book on GoFundMe.com so I would have money to live on. Within five minutes of posting it one night, my old roommate from Antioch gave me $100. By morning, I had over $500. Anyone who gave me anything got a PDF of the book. For $25, they got a physical book, and for $100, they got a t-shirt as well, plus a deluxe hardbound edition. Interestingly enough, everyone else that gave me $100 or more besides my roommate was unknown to me. The sweetest one was from a woman that remembered I had saved her life back in 1989. (She went into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting and I gave her the epi shot.) This also gave me their email address, so I could tell them about my next book.
Antioch was also a huge help. They let me use hundreds of photos in exchange for donating five books to the library. For an out-of-pocket cost of $20, I saved a couple grand. That December, they published an interview with me. A few hundred books sold. Three months later, they published that interview in their print alumni magazine. A lot more sold. Then, they invited me to hawk my book at the reunion that year. The theme, amazingly enough, was authors who went to Antioch. Never underestimate how much your school will love (and promote!) you if you write a book about them. It only took me four years to figure this out – I’ve since done an Antioch coloring book, and am working on an early history book.
This one was total luck. I pitched Chris Brogan. He wrote back, “Holy cats. You can write. I’m impressed. Can I interview you? Please say yes.” That interview went live the month before the book came out – I sold hundreds. Thanks, Chris.
Other things – I had a mailing list of former Maples firefighters to use for research and to sell my book to. Since the book involved local history, two local history groups bought a dozen books each. Being fire history, several fire museums bought – and continue to buy – books for their gift shop. You get the idea.
To date, I’ve sold over 4000 copies of that book, published 6 more, with 3 more due out next month. I make a full-time living writing books and articles, mainly fire-related. My work has been published by Huffington Post, Village Voice, ESPN.com, and more. Good thing, too, as I never could again pass the physical again for the fire department.
After a 29-year firefighting career was cut short by injury, Mikey Chlanda turned to writing what he lived. His first book, “Maples, A History of the Antioch College Fire Department”, came out in 2012. His memoirs, “The Last Noble Profession – 29 Years of Kicking Down Doors and Helping People”, comes out next month. His work has been published by Huffington Post, ESPN.com, and the Village Voice, and more.