Rob Kaye (Biological Sciences Technology – Environmental Sciences ’76) is used to going it alone. During many of his 33 years as a Parks Canada warden, he and his horse patrolled Jasper National Park’s backcountry solo, with trips lasting for as long as a month at a time. There was risk, but he loved it. And when he retired in 2010, he missed it.
So he started writing.
“Many people have trouble adjusting to retirement,” says Kaye, now 61 and living on Vancouver Island. “But park wardens really have problems because we went from intense, high-pressure, high-adrenaline lives to having to find new ways to keep our minds and bodies active. Writing the book helped me ease into retirement. I’d sit down at my computer for 3 or 4 hours, barely lifting my head, writing about wolves or grizzlies in the backcountry, and I was living it again.”
About halfway into writing what would become Born to the Wild, a memoir and call to action to protect Canada’s parks, Kaye briefly considering seeking a publisher. Soon realizing he wanted more creative control, Kaye opted for self-publishing. As usual, he’d go it alone.
It worked. After its release in June 2015, Born to the Wild appeared on the Vancouver Sun’s “Best of B.C.” list 16 times between August and April. Now in its third printing, it has sold more than 2,300 copies. It also earned a bronze medal for best regional non-fiction, Canada-west, at the 2016 Independent Publisher Regional and Ebook Awards.
“It may seem daunting,” says Kaye of producing your own book, “but anybody can do it.” Here, he explains how.
Editing and design
Kaye (pictured at left with his award) found other lone wolves to help. After his wife and his sister-in-law gave his manuscript a once-over, he sent it to a pro, finding one online at the B.C. branch of the Editors’ Association of Canada. “Editors work for publishers, but many of them are also freelance,” says Kaye.
He found his designer online as well, and consulted with her in person in Victoria as she prepared the book, cover to cover, for the printer. “The wonderful thing is that I had total control all the way,” says Kaye, who contributed to design decisions. “This was all very personal.”
Kaye also found printers online that will make anywhere from 1 book to several thousand. In the end, he picked Friesens in Manitoba based on reputation and printing options. The challenge was determining volume. Kaye decided on 1,000 at first, at a cost of about $4.70 a book. They sold out in 3 months. So he did the same again at a slightly reduced price, and then again once those sold.
“If I knew what I know now, I probably would have ordered 5,000 right off the bat,” he says. After that first 1,000, the cost of printing would have dropped below $2 per book. “That’s where you start to make money.”
Going into business
Since he was selling a product, Kaye needed a business licence. He applied for it online, incorporating as Grey Wolf Books.
He also had to handle other administrative duties fundamental to book publishing. The first was getting a free International Standard Book Number (ISBN) from Library and Archives Canada. This uniquely identifies his book and allows him to sell it, and also is necessary to get cataloging information for booksellers and libraries. Private companies handle barcoding.
There’s no need to register copyright – self-publishing authors in Canada automatically hold the copyright of their work.
Kaye’s local bookseller suggested distributors who might manage sales by getting Born to the Wild into stores in B.C. and Alberta. Kaye cold called them and, after reading the book, they agreed to handle it, buying copies from him for 40% to 45% of retail. “They do all the paperwork,” he says.
Kaye has paid little for traditional advertising. Instead, he mailed the book to newspapers and magazines, earning reviews from several publications that bumped sales.
"You don't have to be a door-to-door salesman."
Rather than rely on readings and signings (which Kaye hasn’t found to generate many sales), he leans on social media to target sympathetic readers on platforms including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. And his distributors also help him market the book. “You don’t have to be a door-to-door salesman,” says Kaye.
Reaping the rewards
Kaye knew Born to the Wild wasn’t going to fund a lavish retirement. “I just wanted to break even,” he says. He did better. His first 2 print runs cost roughly $8,000, with editing, design, photos, stamps and so on costing another $6,000. To date, he’s made about $22,000, netting $8,000, or enough to fund the third printing, costlier because of new glossy photos and colour maps.
More importantly, what he’s gained in knowledge could be invested in another book. “I’ve got the itch to write,” he says. “I have many more stories to tell. In laying the groundwork with editors, a printer, a designer and distributors, I've discovered that self-publishing is not really a daunting task at all. I wouldn’t think of going another route.”