So what chance does a self-published author have of getting noticed in such a crowded field?
Well, a surprisingly good chance, if the experience of Phil and Carol White of Wilsonville, Oregon, is any indication.
The Whites spent a year traveling across the United States in a Pleasure-Way camper van and decided to write a book about their experience. When a publisher who had accepted the book backed out of the deal, the Whites published and marketed the book themselves. They have been so successful that PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, gave them its 2006 Benjamin Franklin award for excellence and innovation in marketing.
The Whites haven’t gotten rich on the project. “We’re not going to fly to Tahiti on it, but we’ve more than broken even,” says Carol. Beyond that, they’ve had the satisfaction of showing a lot of people how to take a year off for travel, and they have learned about the book publishing business.
The Whites were fortunate enough to retire with financial security while still in their 50s. Phil owned a men’s clothing store; Carol had a long career in sales and marketing at AT&T and related companies. As they write in their book, Live Your Road Trip Dream, they led busy lives with family and careers. “Never did we have the luxury of taking off on an adventure for more than a few weeks at a time.”
When they left the workforce, they decided to take the long trip they had always wanted while they still had their health. They planned to visit every national park, play some golf, and in general “be a kid again.” They thought the best way to see the country would be in an RV.
They had never driven an RV, and were not anxious to take on a big motorhome, so they looked for a vehicle that could be driven easily and also would provide a comfortable and convenient place to sleep and to cook meals. Their choice was a Class B van.
As we point out in this month’s RV books column, one of the strengths of Live Your Road Trip Dream is that the Whites came to RVing as novices, so they write for people like themselves who are planning an extended cross-country trip and are trying to figure out how to accomplish it. Should you travel in an RV or car? How much will it cost? What do you do about obligations at home? How can you possibly leave your family and friends for a year?
Carol said the biggest obstacle for many people is family. She said people tell her, “Oh, I could never leave the grandchildren.”
The Whites have four children and eight grandchildren so that was a consideration for them, too, when they first thought about traveling for a year. But they found it was easy to stay in touch through the Internet and cell phones. It also helped that they took a break in their trip around Christmastime to fly to their home near Portland to be with family for a month. Carol said the yearlong trip added interest to their lives and gave everyone something to talk about. Besides, she said, a year away “is only a short period of time in the scheme of things.”
Live Your Road Trip Dream is subtitled, “Travel for a year for the cost of staying home,” and it is filled with practical advice, including cost figures and lists of things you need, such as supplies and clothes, for a year on the road. The Whites spent $76,338 but figure that they could have made the trip for under $45,000 if they had been a little more frugal, by, for example, spending more nights at campgrounds and fewer at motels.
Carol said she and Phil didn’t begin to think about writing a book until near the end of their trip. They were not writers and knew nothing about publishing, but they thought their experience would interest others.
When they returned home, everyone wanted to know how they managed the trip, Carol said, but now people are just as curious about how they were able to write and publish a successful book.
Her first advice for aspiring self-publishers is to decide what your goals are. If you just want to print a book for family and friends, you can take an economical route, but if you want to be widely distributed, you must create an attractive, professional-quality product. She said the book has to look as if it came from a major publishing house. Secondly, you have to figure out your target audience and write the book for them. Then you have to develop a marketing plan.
Articles in major media outlets, such as the Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, Oregonian, Boston Globe and San Jose Mercury News, and interviews on radio and television programs helped generate interest in Live Your Road Trip Dream.
The book has led to speaking engagements at RV rallies and other events, and Carol also has developed a monthly newsletter and a blog.
You can find Live Your Road Trip Dream at major bookstores, Amazon.com, RVbookstore.com, Camping World stores and other outlets. You can also learn more about the book and get more practical information on taking a yearlong trip at www.roadtripdream.com.
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