Patrick Schwerdtfeger didn’t set out to secure a contract with a traditional publisher, but by publishing on his own, he managed to attract the interest of Wiley and had one of his titles picked up for wider distribution. This is how he did it.
The path to success is not always linear. Patrick Schwerdtfeger proves that. In 2009, he started publishing weekly tips on marketing as an e-course. It was titled “Webify Your Business, Internet Marketing Secrets for the Self-Employed”. Once a week, he’d send out a marketing tip by e-mail and grew the list to a respectable size. Then, his subscribers began asking him to publish those tips as an e-book.
“I took those e-mail tips, added eight more so I had an even 60, and added an intro and a conclusion,” he said. Instantly, he was an author.
Schwerdtfeger admits the book was simple. Each chapter could be read in eight minutes and ended with an itemized checklist of things the reader could do to succeed at employing that tip. The surprise came when the author met with reactions from readers.
“One time, a lady bought the book and wanted me to sign it,” he said. “The whole book was full of squiggly lines, highlighter notes, and check marks for all the things she had accomplished. You feel like your pants are around your ankles when you realize people actually read your stuff.”
At the time, Schwerdtfeger’s book was available only in paperback. But it became such a huge success that Wiley wanted to pick it up and release it in hardcover and digital versions.
Book sales are like rain. Money falls everywhere.
No fancy software for Patrick Schwerdtfeger. He wrote in Word and had a friend of his design a cover for his first book. He paid his friend’s wife $400 to proofread it.
“It wasn’t worth $400,” he said. “Some people only notice your tenses aren’t right and other people go into more detail. She didn’t provide much detail at all.”
His publishing platform was Lulu because at that time it was the only option. There was no CreateSpace, no Lightning Source, and few book publishing consultants to take you by the hand. Schwerdtfeger was truly a pioneer.
And he didn’t have a marketing plan. He simply published his book and started promoting it, throwing paint on every wall he could find.
“It was pretty unsophisticated,” he said. “I listed it in a million different places, but I started my speaking career at that time and spoke everywhere I could.”
As a result, most of his book sales came from his own efforts at those speaking events. Those included local chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, Meetup groups, and business networking groups. In one year he booked 27 speaking engagements. No matter the size of the audience, he could expect 25% to 30% of them to buy his book, teaching digital marketing to self-employed business owners.
“I could set my watch by it,” he said.
Schwerdtfeger credits his sales numbers to one trick he employed in his presentation, which consisted of 18 highly visual slides with very little text.
“At 18 points in the presentation a picture of the book would come up with the chapter number where that marketing tip could be found,” Schwerdtfeger said. At the end of his speeches, audiences would line up to buy the book. Of course, Schwerdtfeger had to buy his own books and take them with him to sell at those speaking engagements, which meant there was an upfront expense.
He carried his books in a suitcase that weighed 49.5 pounds. He could carry 40 books at a time. To keep his costs down, he would order 500 books at a time and keep them in boxes until it was time to speak at an event. For two years he managed to pay his rent and live on the income from book sales.
“That presentation,” Schwerdtfeger said, “took me all over the world.”
It was due to Schwerdtfeger’s success as a self-published author that he was able to secure a contract with Wiley, but he had to seek them out.
“I sent a proposal to 68 literary agents,” he said. “I heard back from a few, and one was Michael Larson in San Francisco.”
After speaking with Larson, Schwerdtfeger scrambled to put together a presentation for a book show that was taking place in New York the next week. Eight publishers expressed an interest, but Schwerdtfeger chose Wiley based on Larson’s recommendation.
“For me, as a professional speaker, it was very important to go with a well-known, reputable publisher,” Schwerdtfeger said.
While Wiley was interested in his book, they didn’t want to publish a second edition under the same title. So they decided to give “Webify Your Business, Internet Marketing Secrets for the Self-Employed” a new title. Thus, “Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed: Leverage Resources, Establish Online Credibility and Crush Your Competition” was born. That was 2011.
I agreed to buy 2,000 copies (of his book). I ended up buying 5,000. They couldn’t believe it. But I knew I could sell them.
“I agreed, as a part of my contract, to buy 2,000 copies,” Schwerdtfeger said. “I ended up buying 5,000. For them, it was a big deal. They couldn’t believe it. But I knew I could sell them.”
He maxed out his credit cards with an $18,000 book order. A truck showed up at Schwerdtfeger’s house with two pallets of books and a motorized forklift.
“I did that three times,” he said, “and I’ve done it even more since then.”
Many of those books were hardcover books, but he doesn’t sell many hardcovers any more.
“Companies that hire me to speak will buy 100 books, or whatever they need,” he said. “The event planner has a budget for a speaker but also a budget for gifts to attendees.” Just like Oprah gives away guests’ books to her television audiences, company event planners give away Schwerdtfeger’s books to employees attending his speaking engagements. But until he could position himself where 95% of his income was from speaking engagements, he had to buy his own books to sell at the events. It was his way of injecting serum into his career to provide it the boost it needed for take off.
Today, Schwerdtfeger’s average speaking fee is $7,800 and only 10% of his income is from book sales, but to get there he had to sell a lot of his own books.
“Book sales are like rain,” he said. “Money falls everywhere.” In the two years before Wiley, he sold 8,000 books. That’s a ball park figure, he said. “I don’t know any self-published authors who have sold anywhere close to that.” But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have struggles. He listed his book on book club websites and offered freebies for promotional purposes. He used all the same tactics other independent authors use, but, he added, “I’m not convinced any of it did any good.”
His third book, “Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker,” also self-published, released on January 4th. This time, he’s spending $40,000 on production costs and marketing. Again, he bought $5,000 books and resells them at speaking engagements. He won’t have to worry about formatting and publishing SNAFUs (with Lulu, he went nine rounds uploading his book manually before he got it right) because he’s using a hybrid publishing company to handle the details.
“Your bio is just a description of what you’ve done,” he said. “If you want to be happy, you have to do happy. Do what successful people are doing.”
That’s how Schwerdtfeger became the guy who spoke in Dubai.
“Success is the accumulation of 1,000 tiny victories and 10,000 tiny failures,” he said. And sometimes you have to buy your own books.