I’m sitting here, on the floor, typing as removalists take all the boxes out of our house, loading it into orange trucks, readying to head up the country to our new beach house.
That I get to write this today is perfect. New beginnings aplenty.
I’m beyond delighted to announce that today, I’ve signed a multi-year book deal with a US publishing house, BenBella.
We will start with the life and business goals workbooks first and potentially extend the product range from there.
I’ve been incredibly successful with self-publishing since 2009 which I am so grateful for, but knew the next step was to partner with a publishing house for various reasons.
I’ll share them here incase you are interested in the behind-the-scenes!
I’ve wanted to be an author in like for-fucking-ever.
When I was 4, I knew I wanted to write and make art for a living. That dream never changed.
When I was 21, and learned about dreamboards, I immediately included a multi-book publishing deal on it.
I started coming up with book proposals and sending them out, but got no interest. To be honest, I was shithouse at rejection as well at that point, and didn’t put myself out there as much as I could have. I was SO SURE that I was going to be a teacher and an author, and I didn’t know why it hadn’t happen already!
Instead, I decided to create my own empire, and just start choosing myself.
I started blogging in 2004 when I was 21, and running workshops and retreats at 23, and I eventually started creating e-courses at 25.
I created the Life goals workbook in 2009, pregnant with my first baby. I had just started the habit of setting goals, and wanted to create something for the coming year, but all the options out there were bland, black and white, uninspiring. So over the course of a few days, I wrote and painted up pages with questions for myself to answer. When I was done, I thought it looked pretty cute, so I decided to scan it in and pop it up online. I thought if I could sell it to 10 people for $9.95, that would be pretty exciting!
I released it Boxing Day, and in the next month, went on to sell 1000 copies. At the time there was absolutely nothing like it in the market. Over the years copycat products have emerged, but back then it seemed like a lightning bolt of new.
Each year I released updated versions, and the sales numbers doubled or tripled each time.
A couple of years later, I had enough people asking for a business goals version as well, so I produced that.
By 2014, enough people were asking for a printed version that I decided to offer printed versions through Amazon’s Createspace which is a print-on-demand service.
That was great, but I hit limitations in terms of what they could produce (they can only do trade paperback), that I couldn’t set a constant price on Amazon, and everybody had to order through the US. I felt like the next step was to fund a self-published version with spiral binding, printed in China, and distributed through 3 shipping houses in the US, UK and Australia. That way as well I could extend the product range to include a diary/planner, wall planner and to do list pad.
The sales numbers continued to explode which was absolutely amazing and absolutely huge to cope with all at once. Dealing with getting 80,000 products out in a 3 month period is an enormous blessing and challenge.
I honestly was super naive in terms of the difficulty and complexities of printing, shipping, customs, distribution houses, shopping carts and managing the customer service needs of tens of thousands of individual customers. I thought it would be relatively easy. LOLZ NOPE.
For the years that I self-published and printed in China, I learned a LOT about business, and navigated some fucking crazy business situations. I’ve had books held to ransom by a crazy distribution house owner who was extorting my company. I’ve hired contractors to rescue the books and drive them across America in the snow to a distribution house who could help us. I’ve dealt with the surprise additional $10,000 bills from Customs and the major shipping port delays. I’ve dealt with tech staff unable to deliver a shopping cart on time, and releasing a buggy system. I’ve dealt with key staff quitting days before the launch of the workbooks. I’ve dealt with staff who made major mistakes in their printing decisions that I’ve discovered too late. I’ve dealt with managing a whole team of customer service staff to respond to hundreds of customer service requests. I dealt with managing the huge team I had to have in order to deal with the business growth… and discovered that managing staff and their dramas is my worst nightmare, the thing that kills my magic and mojo the most. I dealt with a workload which meant I was editing the next year’s workbooks before I was finished marketing last year’s ones. I found that 99% of my time was spent in managing the logistics and team… and not in what I originally wanted to do… which was to create and write. I was now a CEO, not an author and creative.
When I talked about it to my accountant in tears, he said:
“Leonie, you’re a high growth company. It was going to happen in the end. Business growth is a great problem, but it’s still a problem to solve. Businesses who reach that point either have to insource and hire the team like you did, or outsource and work with another company. Both have challenges, but there is usually one option that works better for each individual company. And you have to try them both out to discover which one is best for you.”
I knew I couldn’t keep going with what I was doing. I was burning out. It was putting stress on my family, as me and my husband had to spend vast parts of each day trying to fix and problem solve the latest drama. My beautiful dream come true was fast becoming something I hated doing. When people asked me what book or product I was going to create next, my internal response was: Never in a million fucking YEARS. I don’t want to add anything to my workload, or to the complexity of the printing processes! It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when an author refuses to write anything more because they don’t want to deal with the print processes of it!
Plus, I had a real, deep vision and knowing of what was needed next for the workbooks. And I couldn’t do it alone.
So, here’s the vision… the vision I have seen for YEARS.
Every year, from November through January, the workbooks are on the New York Times bestseller list. They are in bookstores and newsagencies throughout the world on a big, bright, beautifully designed stand all of their own with their companion products. In every town throughout the world, there are groups of people meeting to do their workbooks TOGETHER. And all these amazing souls start dreaming up what they want to create, and start achieving their goals, and changing their lives… and I really believe the world will change from this. All these conscious creators empowered!
And I knew that I couldn’t do that on my own. Yes, self-publishers often CAN get into bookstores. But it was going to take more staff and expertise and even MORE logistics. And I couldn’t bear to add that to my workload. I was getting firmly out of my zone of genius.
And so I decided the time was right and bright to find a publisher to partner with. They could take care of all the logistics and printing and bookstores. THEY could have the huge team to deal with it. And I could just do what I’ve always wanted to do: create.
The journey to finding a publisher took WAY FUCKING LONGER than I expected.
Again: I was probably naive. I figured: I have books that sell more than bestsellers. I’m handing over a licence to print money here. I already have a large audience and a proven product. I’d already done the hard work. I thought publishers would CLAMOUR over it.
But instead, I experienced a fascinating indictment into why the publishing industry is fucked. (I LOVE you publishing industry. Please keep making books! I like to read! But for the LOVE OF GOD PLEASE INNOVATE!)
I wrote to every literary agent in Australia and got rejected/ignored by EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.
I wrote to every publishing company in Australia and major in the US and got rejected by EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.
I got knocked back because: my books were spiral bound (even though I told them I was open to them being a different kind of binding). Because my books were full colour and illustrated, and they only wanted to do black and white text. Because they were seasonal. Or they would only take them on if I wrote another book instead (even though I already had best-selling books to print! I’m too tired to write another one right now dammit! Just take the bestsellers!). Because ONE person on a committee of 12 on the buying team didn’t “get” them, even though everyone else did. Because they didn’t have “fuck” or “girl” in the title (those are the popular hot words for titles in publishing right now. I AM NOT FUCKING KIDDING YOU GIRL. See what I did there? Because they were a little bit outside of what they were looking for.
In my brain I just kept thinking:
I HAVE BOOKS. THEY SELL A LOT. DO YOU NOT LIKE SELLING BOOKS? DO YOU NOT LIKE MAKING MONEY, PUBLISHING INDUSTRY???????? WHY ARE YOU SO ADVERSE TO THIS?????
So it’s taken me 18 months to finallllly finalllllllly for the looooooove of fuckinnnnnnnng goddddddddddddd someone publishhhh my booooooks goddamit I ammm famousssssss on the innnnnnnternetttttt and theyyyyy selllllll a lotttttttttttttt GET A PUBLISHING BOOK DEAL.
Here’s how it ended up happening:
After being rejected so many times ON MY BEST SELLING FUCKING BOOKS, I got pissy and did a call out on my blog and social media.
PLEASE FOR THE LUCK OF FUCKING GOD SOMEONE BUY MY BEST SELLING BOOKS.
I had a bunch of publishing houses and literary agents get tagged in it. I spoke to all the publishing houses, and they rejected them for the same dumb reasons as I’ve outlined above. (Can you tell I am graceful, compassionate and understanding about it? I AM NOT. BAHAHAHAHA)
I talked to a couple of literary agents, and ended up working with a literary agent Anjanette Fennell.
She was already a fan of the workbooks and used them herself in her business, so it felt like a good fit.
She went to a bunch of publishing houses she had contacts with, and we got rejected for the same reasons as before.
This has been going on for about 18 months.
And then, a month or so ago, she had an intuitive hit to reach out to an innovative publishing house called BenBella in the US.
Within a week or so, I had a call with the CEO, Glenn Yeffeth.
I was impressed by how smart and entrepreneurial and marketing-loving he was (a dude after my own beating business heart!)
And totally dug how differently they do publishing. You can read about it here.
Basically: Glenn’s background is in start-up environments. So he has applied similar concepts to publishing.
Instead of taking on hundreds of titles and throwing them all at the wall to see what sticks, they carefully hand choose about 40 titles a year. They have 20 staff, and they pour all their energy into producing fantastic books and marketing the absolute shit out of them. They also have a partnership approach with authors, so we get more creative control. Important to me as the art and design is mine, and integral to the workbooks and my brand. Plus their royalties model is different: they give zero to tiny advances and instead give a much higher percentage for royalties.
That might not work for every author. For me though, that’s a great fit. Even a $100k advance isn’t of much interest to me as I can earn more from self-publishing. But a profit share model? Woot to the woot. That just motivates me to sell even more books and get them out into the world!
Will publishing make me more money than self-publishing?
Probably not. But it DOES mean:
- I will not perish from burnout
- I can stop hating the business model I was in and start solely focussing on creating again
- I am actually inspired about the possibility of writing more books now I don’t have to actually print and distribute the fuckers myself!
- The books can go out into the world to achieve that big, beautiful vision… of finding all the people they are meant to help… people who likely won’t know or care who I am (WOO HOO!)
And those things are worth more to me.
So, is this information useful to you as an end user? Probably not. But a whole bunch of you are either creatives, business owners or stickybeaks (I am all of these!) so I thought I’d share the in depth behind the scenes with you.
What it’s going to look like going ahead:
BenBella will be publishing 2019 Life and Biz goals workbooks, and they will be available for sale later this year (will let you know dates later on!)
This year is a SUPER fast turnaround, so they will only be available for purchase online.
For 2020 workbooks, they will be rolled out into bookstores. We will start just with the workbooks and potentially add further products/workbooks down the line.
BenBella also has first options for any future books I want to create which I’m muchos excited about. Now that the impediments to publishing are off, let’s see if anything wants to be birthed through me!
I am beyond ecstatic and delighted that I’ve finally achieved that big goal for myself… my 4 year old self and my 21 year old self and all my selves in between are celebrating out the wazoo right now.
Thank you to my dear friends who’ve heard me bitch for years about how long this goal was taking to come true.
I can’t thank YOU ALL enough… for loving these workbooks as much as I do… for making them the shining success they are… for helping them get out into the world to help even MORE PEOPLE! SO.MUCH.LOVE.
And most of all… to my husband. My right arm, my life partner. He has believed that this day would come just as steadfastly as I have. He knew it was in my destiny and my stars just as I did. And he’s walked the path with me to make it happen. It might be my name on the books, but this was a co-creation.
Finally, I wanted to say for any creatives out there:
If you have something to say, don’t wait for someone to pick you. Pick yourself. Publish it yourself. Start sharing it with the world. You can get a book deal later, or you might just find self-publishing continues to be perfect for you. Choose you. Your voice is needed in this world.
Let’s go make miracles happen!