I’ve tried pretty much everything in the writing business. I got my first check for a magazine article 22 years ago, and writing has been a slow, steady sideline ever since.
I self-published two nonfiction books in the mid-90’s. For my third book, I went with a trade association press. My fourth was a little thing (40 pages) put together for a local historical society. Not enough to make a living on, but they’re bringing in enough money to make me realize it’s possible to get there.
Writing is a numbers game, so I crafted proposals for three different books and sent them all out at once. The first (another book on my specialty, closed captioning) was rejected once, but picked up by the second publisher I sent it to, a big publishing house. The second proposal went nowhere. The third one (a coal mining book) got me in the door at the third publisher I took it to. After a long discussion with the editor, she asked, “what other good ideas do you have?”
Well, it turns out I did have another idea percolating in the back of my head: a kid’s guide to scats and tracks titled, Who Pooped on the Farm? She asked if I could move it into Yellowstone National Park. I put together a proposal for a story about a little boy who is afraid of bears. They go camping in Yellowstone, and his family teaches him about the animals through their scats and tracks.
Next thing I knew, the coal mining book was on the back burner and I had contracts for THREE editions of Who Pooped in the Park? — one each for Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton National Parks!
After signing all four contracts (the closed captioning book, too), I was diagnosed with cancer. I spent the rest of the year alternating long days of writing with chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody treatments while my wife kept our family bookstore afloat. That’s another story entirely, but by the time all was said and done, the cancer was gone and four manuscripts were sitting at their respective publishing houses.
It took me over a year to sell 1,000 copies of my first book. The publisher shipped over 1,000 Who Pooped in the Park? books in a WEEK. In less than five months, we had sold out the first print run on the Yellowstone edition. I was told last month that Who Pooped in the Park? is now the top-selling book in both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. I’ve signed contracts for three more books in the series, with four more tentative after that. I’m averaging a new book contract every two months.
After all these years establishing myself as an expert in the serious field of closed captioning and other accessibility technology for deaf people, I’ve become the poop guy. That might bother some people, but I’m having a blast with it. Had I stuck with my “serious” writing, I’d be working harder, earning less money, and having less fun.
It’s a good thing to have goals in life. But when you have an opportunity to head off in a different direction, give it a shot. It worked for me!
Gary D. Robson has published hundreds of articles in magazines, encyclopedias, and websites. His books include Alternative Realtime Careers (2000, NCRA Press), The Closed Captioning Handbook (2004, Focal Press), and the Who Pooped in the Park? series (2004, Farcountry Press). For more information, visit his website at: http://www.robson.org/gary.