How Long Can the Life of a Book Be?

At first glance it would seem that my experience reflects both ends of the publishing spectrum: a first book brought to market by a large publishing house that became a bestseller in three European countries, and a second, self-published book that has yet to achieve anything close to the success of the first. 

In fact the two experiences are not comparable at all.  It took 16 years for the first book (Katyn: Stalin’s Massacre and the Triumph of Truth) to become a bestseller.  By then the original hardcover publisher (Scribner’s) had long since passed from the scene; the book had been published in paperback by the Naval Institute Press; the country rights for Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia and Hungary had been sold; and it became a bestseller in each of those countries (twice in Poland) except Hungary.  Sales in Poland alone were about 100,000 copies.

My experience tells me the key number in the paragraph above is 16 years.  In all that time the book was only briefly out of print.  Each time its coffin was about to be nailed shut, it popped up in a new form.  All by way of saying books can live for a long, long time. 

In book years my latest (Honey the Dixie Dingo Dog – Champion of the Strays) is a mere neophyte; it has only been in print for about nine months and its promotional campaign is just revving up now.  Along the way I have shelled out a considerable sum to get “Honey” into the print pipeline.  First, I engaged a savvy and skillful firm, Telemachus Press that specializes in self-published books.  That means I own the book’s ISBN number and all rights to the book.  For its fee, Telemachus provided copy editing and other forms of editorial support and drew on a wealth of knowledge on pricing, the distribution chain and other matters that I know absolutely nothing about.

One service Telemachus does not provide is promotion.  From the outset I felt sure I would need help in getting the book sold—something more than one news release and a mention in a catalogue.  I looked at several companies that provide promotional services to authors and finally chose New Shelves Distribution (NSD).  They offered a straight-forward plan for getting reviews and blogs, distribution through large municipal library systems and selling through large independent book chains and big box stores like Costco, Target and others.  One of the things I liked best was that NSD priced its services on a flat fee basis.  There have been no add-ons, and thus far NSD has delivered everything it said it would and, perhaps, a bit more.

What impact have these efforts had on sales?  Well, thus far I’m still waiting for the gusher; so far I’ve only got a trickle but it is increasing.  Believe me, NSD monitors sales closely and provides me with updates on a weekly basis.

So, how do I rate the two experiences?  The first experience was one of the most frustrating of my life.  When the book came out in the fall of 1991, the Katyn Massacre was a white hot controversy.  Former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev had just been deposed by hardliners who bitterly opposed his liberalizing policies, such as the admission in April, 1990 of Soviet guilt in the Katyn crime.  The timing for my book was perfect: it attracted favorable reviews in leading U.S. newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books.  The book had a meager first printing of 5,000 books which sold out right away.  In the midst of a takeover by MacMillan, Scribner’s never reprinted; its promotional effort had consisted of one news release and mention of the book in its fall catalogue for 1991.

That experience was so disappointing that it soured me on writing and I quit until the opportunity to write a novel came along several years later.  That, too, became a long term experience.  I finally finished a draft but wasn’t completely satisfied with it, so I put it aside in order to write my Honey book.  This raises the question, why such a sharp turn in the road—from non-fiction history in in World War II to dog book for middle graders.

My only answer is that it felt right; I fell in love with the story and wanted to bring it alive as only a book can.  Perhaps this book, too, will take 16 years to find a substantial audience.  I certainly hope not.  What I can say is that I haven’t felt any of the angst I felt before.  This time at least I’m in control for better or worse; and I like and trust the people I’m working with.  If my Honey book does not become a bestseller, it won’t be the end of the line.  I wrote a book I’m proud of and feel better about being a writer than I ever have before.

Honey the Dixie Dingo Dog
Written by Allen Paul

Synopsis of the Book:

A young swamp dog named Honey yearns to rejoin her pack after being trapped and nearly shot; luckily, she gains allies who can help her, even as a two-legged killer stalks her old haunts.     

A coyote trapper named Topper Guy is about to pull the trigger when his sidekick, Raghead, warns, “That ain’t no coyoto.”  While they discuss Honey’s fate over beers, Miss Jane drives up.  She has a rescue operation for Dixie Dingos and often drives back roads around Savannah River swamps looking for stray dingo pups.  Sensing Honey’s peril, she tells Topper Guy he trapped a rare breed of dog – not a coyote – and ends up paying fifty dollar to ransome for Honey and take her to the farm where other rescues live.

Soon after that dead critters start turning up in the swamp.  A game warden points to poison.  Miss Jane and Honey are convinced it’s the work of Topper Guy.  How she uses Honey’s speeed and agility to get the best of the notorious trapper and put an end to the killings in the swamp… and how Honey’s pack gets rescued from the swamp … make for an unusual and exciting read.


Bio in Brief:

Allen Paul’s bestselling book, Katyń: Stalin’s Massacre and the Triumph of Truth, has been called the definitive work on a crime that arguably remains the thorniest issue in Russo-Polish relations nearly 75 years after it was committed.  In 2008, the Polish government awarded him the Commander’s Cross, its highest honor for non-citizens, for his work on the subject.  In 2010, he received an Honorary Diploma from the Polish Foreign Ministry for “exceptional contributions to international understanding of Polish history.”

A lifelong writer, Allen began his career with The Raleigh Times and the Associated Press, where he covered state government and wrote feature stories.  Later, he wrote speeches for prominent members of Congress and a member of the President’s cabinet.  While serving as President of the Agriculture Council of America in the 1980s, he pioneered grassroots lobbying methods to fight and eventually end economically crippling grain embargoes.  He has consulted widely on non-profit organizational development and fundraising.

His first love, however, has always been writing.  His Katyń book tells a gripping story based on the lives of three Polish families.  Published originally by Charles Scribner’s, it has been translated into five languages; Polish editions alone have sold more than 100,000 copies. In a New York Times review, Robert Conquest of Stanford University, one of the greatest living authorities on Stalinism, called the book “a moving reconstruction of the human [story].” The Boston Globe credited Katyn for “[laying] bare the massive cover-up of the murders and of the Soviet guilt—a cover-up that appears to have involved Roosevelt and Churchill, as well as Stalin.”

Allen recently completed his first novel, The Amber Eye, which is based on a daring raid carried out by the Polish underground in 1944 to capture evidence of Stalin’s guilt in the Katyn murders.  He researched the novel on a Fulbright Research Fellowship in Poland in 2010-11.  His first children’s book, Honey the Dixie Dingo Dog: Champion of the Strays has just been published by Telemachus Press.

He holds an undergraduate degree in English from Guilford College, and a Masters of International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  He first encountered the Katyn issue in 1986 during studies at the SAIS Center for European Studies in Bologna, Italy.  He and his wife, Betsy, grew up in Aurora, NC.  They have a daughter, a son and four granddaughters. 

Enter to win a copy! Provide a comment telling us why you're looking forward to Honey's story.