Douglas Keister’s Race To Publish A Book About The Paradise Fire

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Traditional publishing seems to be mentally moored in a slow-lane ethos. What if you don’t have the luxury of time to publish a book?

When you scan the extensive bibliography of BookBaby author Douglas Keister, it’s difficult to state exactly what kind of writer he is. He’s written or co-authored 44 books on topics as diverse as architecture, recreational vehicles, and cemeteries — with a handful of novels and children’s books thrown in for good measure. So I guess I’ll go with this title: Prolific!

But, as Keister described to me last month: “On November 8, 2018, my 45th book came to me.” That was the day the infamous Paradise Fire was sparked in the dense forests of Butte County, California. In just a few short hours the entire community was in ashes. 85 people lost their lives. 19,000 structures were destroyed.

As part of my series spotlighting some of our notable authors, Keister shares his BookBaby self-publishing journey in producing his latest book: People, Places & Pieces Of Paradise: The Inferno, Aftermath and Recovery from the Most Destructive Wildfire in California History.

In Keister’s own words:

Like most people living in California, I had become somewhat accustomed to seasonal wildfires that percolated up during the almost always rainless summer and fall months. So, when I awoke to rolling black clouds fringed in an orange glow on a crisp early November day, I didn’t think all that much of it. Soon though, local media reported that this fire had every indication of becoming far more devastating than most wildfires.

My photojournalism instincts kicked into gear. For the next 10 months, I journeyed over 80 times from my home in Chico, California to the fire zone (about 30 minutes away) to document the aftermath, devastation, and recovery of what became known as the Paradise Fire. (The official name is the Camp Fire, since its ignition point was on Camp Creek Road in a rural area a few miles from Paradise).

Almost immediately after I began photographing the aftermath of the fire, I posted photos on Facebook. Shortly after that, Facebook friends and others who were familiar with my books started asking me if I was going to publish a book on the fire. My immediate response was a resounding, “no!” Why? I thought properly documenting the fire in words and pictures was an enormous undertaking. Even more problematic was that, despite the unprecedented nature of the fire, most publishers would see it as a local story. Still, my friends persisted and I somewhat relented saying I would look into it.

I took to social media, emails, and phone calls and posed the question: “If I did a photo-driven book on the fire, would you buy a copy?” Amazingly, within a few days I received about 500 positive responses. Armed with that information, I cast out a broad net and sought out a publisher. Although I did find a small publisher that was willing to produce the book, problems soon arose. Traditional publishing seems to be mentally moored in a slow-lane ethos. Most troubling is that it is not at all unusual for a year to elapse between submitting content to having books in hand. I didn’t have that luxury. I wanted the book to come out well before November 8, 2019, the first anniversary of the fire.

Enter BookBaby.

In the summer of 2019, as I was wrapping up the photography and writing of People, Places & Pieces Of Paradise, I knew the publisher that had initially expressed interest in the book was not going to be able to produce the book in a timely manner, so we agreed to sever ties.

I had heard of BookBaby, and after doing some preliminary research using the quotation guide on the BookBaby website, I decided to give them a call. My first surprise was that an actual human being answered the phone. His name was Damon Glatz. I explained what I wanted: 1,000-2,000 hardback, full-color, 8 1/2 x 11 books. Damon got back to me the net day with a dollar figure and delivery date that would suit my needs.

While I enjoy the convenience of modern technology and communication, I truly appreciate being able to have telephone conversations. That, for me, is a big plus for BookBaby.

Besides producing a quality product at a competitive price, my other absolute requirement was doing it quickly. I was rapidly running up against a couple of deadlines for book events. I had next-to-no wiggle room. People were counting on me. To be sure, producing and delivering 2,000 coffee table books in a little over two weeks was going to be a big challenge for BookBaby.

To BookBaby’s credit, when they were unable to get books to me on-schedule using standard ground shipping, they expedited shipping (at no additional cost to me) so I received 500 books in time for a special weekend event. I sold all 500 of those expedited books in one weekend. All 2,000 books sold in three weeks, necessitating a second printing of 1,500 books. I fully expect the book will go into a third printing in early 2020.

The question that looms for all self-published authors is: “How do I market my book?” The hard reality is that it doesn’t matter how wonderful your book is if no one knows about it. And even if they know about it, they need to be able to easily purchase it.

My first piece of advice is to build a simple website (I used GoDaddy, but there are many others that have easy-to-use templates). Use the website to post previews and updates for your book and, most importantly, make sure you can put PayPal buttons on it to purchase your book. Go to www.paradisebook.org to see mine. Do not expect people to navigate elsewhere to purchase your book. Once they have shown interest by going to your website, you need to capture that sale then and there.

My second piece of advice is to set up a Facebook page about your book and invite comments and dialogue. Frequently link to your website from your Facebook posts.

Third, the easiest books to market are books with local or regional interest. It is much more difficult to market a book to a national audience. No individual has the time or resources to fully explore such a vast territory. One exception would be a book with a specialized national audience of enthusiasts. Perhaps you are a member of a club or group of aficionados in a particular subject area.

Another thing to consider is the longevity of your book. Almost all books have a life span. Can your book withstand some fits and starts and hiccups along the road, or is it time-sensitive? If it is time-sensitive (mine leans that way), go on an all-out blitz to put it in front of the public before interest fades.

I have been fortunate to have found an appreciative and enthusiastic audience for People, Places & Pieces Of Paradise, and thanks to BookBaby, I was able to get the book to them in a timely manner at an affordable price.


Free BookBaby Catalog - Your path to publishing

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Steven Spatz
Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Steven, I hope to see and hear more about the books you guys have coming out, your involvement with the Red Cross if any, and I, too hope to become more published as in for profit, not having to buy my own books back as I have with my work in them. My books, three of them two with one poem each in it, the other with more that one go overseas to other countries as well. I have to push my books onto others from where I live, usually to no avail. Those that cannot read can in turn hear my work from tapes. I myself find both writing and reading a rewarding experience even if I am getting nowhere with it. My college professor told me I was a good writer and gave me an A in his class. I suppose that meant “good luck to us both! Lisa Heath

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