Catching up with a Cinderella story, Holman-style

February 21, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Sandy Lynne Holman wanted to write a children's book, so she did.

"It took about 20 minutes," she said.

And that began a frustrating, exhilarating, discouraging, grueling and wonderful trip to the Land of Self-Publishing.

As Holman will ruefully tell you now, writing "Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?" was the easy part. Her story describes the doubts a little boy has about his self-worth and his grandfather's wise guidance.

The next step was getting the book published. She soon discovered that the likelihood of getting her book picked up by a big house was slim, and even if she got lucky in that regard she would lose all rights to her material. She went to several workshops and conferences aimed at children's book publishing and met a woman who made a very deep, very negative impression. Why? Because that woman had been trying to get published for 30 years.

"That scared the heck out of me," Holman said. "I didn't have 30 years to wait." So she decided to do it herself.

"I plunged into it not knowing much about the publishing industry," she said. "We knew we would be taken advantage of, the only question was how much."

After weeding through dozens of candidates she found a wonderful illustrator. Then her book fell in the hands of a dishonest print broker who nearly torpedoed the whole project. Fortunately, she also learned to deal with an honorable printing house (inconveniently located in Hong Kong). Let's just say that Holman learned the ropes one mistake at a time.

Against all odds, Holman succeeded in having 5,000 hardback copies of her beautifully illustrated book printed and delivered. It cost $30,000 but she is not bankrupt, she is still married to her extraordinarily supportive husband, Mark, and she is now something of a businesswoman.

"I found the whole process daunting, but we decided that if we waited until we understood everything, we'd be in our graves," she said.

She will never forget the day a year ago when a big truck pulled up in front of her Davis home. In it were boxes and boxes of her book. But that meant it was crunch time, time to sell the book or die trying.

So, let's catch up with her. How is the book selling? Is she financially solvent? Has she become a marketing whiz in addition to a self-publishing guru? The answers are: Well, yes and yes.

Holman's book has been reviewed in local newspapers and on local TV stations. That led to sales. Then Essence magazine did a piece, as did the School Library Journal. More sales. Holman goes to conferences and conventions and doggedly hand-sells the book, which also is carried by 12 distributors across the country. Word of mouth has been good, too.

"Now we can barely keep up with sales," she said. "And three large publishers have come to us, but we still don't want to give up the rights to the book."

She also has earned back the initial investment.

"Our goal was to break even and we've done that and more."

Now she and Mark are going to reprint 10,000 copies of "Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?" plus print a new book. Longterm, they have decided to publish three books and then see where they are and where they want to go.

"This is the Cinderella story of self-publishing," said Holman. "I would tell anyone to do it, even though I don't want to downplay how hard it is or how rude people are."

The people at Disney shot down her sales pitch faster than she could explain what the book was about. They may live to regret that.

"This is the book that will sell forever," said Holman. "My goal is to get it in the hands of children and I'm doing that."

Holman says she has learned several important lessons.

"I no longer believe in the concept of experts," she said. "Rules are made to be broken. And don't let the critics decide your future. But do the marketing, which is a game of numbers."

Holman still has one big goal to reach in terms of marketing her first book. "Does anyone know Oprah?" she asks.

If you know Oprah, or want to order a copy of Holman's book, which sells for $18.95, phone (530) 792-1334.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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