||WITHIN THREE YEARS this nation will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps’ inception with parades, speeches, and book sales. It is very rare that a government program captivates the American imagination. In the first half of the twentieth century only two programs did, the WPA and the CCC. In the second half, it was NASA and the Peace Corps. As we near this anniversary, there will be incredible interest in the program and us, the foot soldiers. If you have a story to share, this is a great time to write it down.
Keep your dreams humble. After all, you write for your children and grandchildren. If you really cared so much about fame, glory, and riches, you never would have joined the Peace Corps. In fact, commercial publishers reject ninety-six percent of all submissions not because ninety-six percent of the writers are that bad, but because they are just not bad enough. How else could we explain the publication of a book about life in the White House supposedly written by George Bush, Sr.’s dog, Millie? Or the publication of a book of how to kick cloth sewn around beans (the hacky-sack)?
Once you have written your book, and assuming that you, like the majority of authors, are searching for an alternative to commercial publishers, consider self-publication. It is cheaper than you think. If you smoke, quit. In one year you will have enough to publish 300 copies of a 96-page chapbook. If your house needs painting, put it off for a year. That money will pay for 500 copies of the same size book. If you decide to self-publish you will join many other Americans including Zane Grey, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Upton Sinclair, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Virginia Wolfe. More recently, best selling self-published authors have included; Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence), James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy), and J. Michael Straczunski (Babylon 5). You will be the project king or queen. Servants will do your bidding.
Who is your audience?
That is easy, your friends, family, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who now number more than 180,000. Then, there are members of local unions, fraternal organizations, community service organizations, local writing groups, regional and national groups directly related to your topic, and even shoppers at local flea markets. One RPCV author I know sells an average of ten copies of his book each time he sells at his local flea market. Do you have any skills or talents that can be used in public presentations? If you play the accordion, schedule a gig and sell books afterwards.
How to have your book printed?
Be aware that the computer and the internet have spawned a new industry called Print-On-Demand. Most of the books reviewed by Peace Corps Writers are actually Print-On-Demand books. You pay a fee, submit your literary work electronically, and they create books for you. You receive a limited number of copies in exchange for the company having the right to publish and distribute your work for an agreed-upon time. They pay a set amount to you for each copy sold, called a royalty. Since everything is done electronically, these publishers no longer need warehouses because they can literally create your work one book at a time. They will have a web page about your book and it will also be listed on large chain bookstore computers and on on-line bookseller sites. As the orders come in, they print and sell. This arrangement has proved successful enough that Barnes and Noble now has its own Print-On-Demand company. If you never aspired to be a king or queen, this might be your choice.
However, this route can be costly. For instance, an RPCV I know paid $900 for a package deal. He received 40 copies of his paperback book. His cost was therefore $22.50 per book for a product that sold for $23.95. Another RPCV paid $600 and received five copies. His cost was therefore $125 per book for a product that was sold for $20.95. The top rated print-on-demand houses that I found listed online are: iUniverse, Wingspan, Press, Lulu, and Virtual Bookworm. They offer services that may include: editorial aid, book permit acquisition, book design, marketing via the Internet, and limited distribution via chain bookstores.
However, you can actually do this yourself at less cost by literally self-publishing. RPCV Craig Carrozzi chose self-publication for his five books because he likes creating his own product from start to finish. If this appeals to you, there is a bit of business housework to tackle.
- You must decide on a business name, fill out the paperwork and publish the required public notice in a newspaper of the formation of your new business.
- Visit your local planning department and apply for a Home Occupation Permit and a Business License.
- Rent a private mail box so that your address will not be “PO Box something,” but rather “Suite number something.” It just looks better.
- Then, set up a checking account.
You may wish to do a few other things like print up business cards, letterhead, and envelopes. Create a web page. Connect to an internet outlet for sales (Amazon.com, E-bay, or Pay Pal).