Wow, that was a pretty wild ride. I’m referring to the period of the last four or five months, during which I started my own small-scale book operation with publishing, retailing, and wholesaling functions and also simultaneously finished writing and editing three books for three other publishers, not to mention teaching night classes, parenting five children, and husbanding one wife. For the most part, the insane workload is behind me now, and I’m able to stand back, relax a little, and take stock.
First of all, I’m very pleased that I was able to make an ambitious plan and execute it as well or better than I’d hoped, at least in terms of my own performance. Starting Zarahemla was fairly complex and intense as I envisioned it, involving coordinating a website and a direct-mailed brochure and three book releases, but I did everything I wanted and kept my self-imposed deadlines, and I now feel a sense of accomplishment. In fact, I even started to feel some workaholic tendencies, so now I’m trying to slow down and relax and take more time with the kids and with pleasurable activities of my own, such as reading (I’m about 100 pages into Levi Peterson’s fascinating new autobiography). One thing I’ve reaffirmed is that I don’t wish to focus quite so hard on work as I have during these last few months, at least not without much larger rewards, financial and otherwise.
It’s been a pretty crazy emotional ride, wondering how things would turn out and how people would respond. At times I’ve taken this whole business too seriously, and at other times I haven’t taken aspects of it seriously enough. Sometimes I’m full of optimism about it, and other times I have some doubts. They say running your own business teaches you a lot about yourself, and I’ve learned much about my own capacity for patience, discipline, weathering disappointment, overcoming obstacles, and other traits. I’m just glad that I haven’t put anything serious on the line, such as my life savings or my regular livelihood, as many people do when they start a business. At one time I was seriously considering borrowing $50,000 or more to start an eBay drop-off store, and after this Zarahemla experience I’m grateful that I didn’t bite off that big and risky an endeavor. (Several of the eBay stores that opened after I shelved the idea are now closed.)
I’m very pleased with how the three books are turning out. One is already printed, one is at the printer right now, and I’ll finish up my own novel within the next month or so. I’m not in any big hurry on my novel because I’ve received only five orders for it so far, but I’m feeling that it will be much more enjoyable for people to read with all the baggage I’m cutting out of it. Fortunately, I honestly enjoy editing people’s work and laying out books. I’m not great at working with authors on a conceptual level because I don’t like to do people’s thinking for them, but I really like smoothing out their work and making it shine and publishing it.
I am hoping to establish a business based mostly on selling books through my own website and mail-order brochure. I really enjoy running a mail-order business and selling at retail, but I don’t enjoy dealing with bookstores as much. I don’t like trying to get them to order. I don’t like packing and shipping larger boxes of books. And I don’t like collecting money from them and then dreading their return of unsold, shop-worn books. Plus, I make so much more per book when I retail it myself rather than giving the 40% discount to another retailer. I am hoping I can generate enough mail-order business to mostly bypass the bookstores and still be viable. I hate the idea of giving a wholesale distributor a 55% discount, which leaves me only a dollar or two per book after digital printing costs, but that would certainly be better than selling fewer copies, if I can eventually find one.
And the future looks good. I’ve received three or four submissions that I actually quite want to publish, based on my advance knowledge of them and comments given by some guys who are doing some reading for me (I won’t start doing my own serious reading until next month). I am spending a little extra to upload the books into Lightning Source’s national distribution pipeline, in case one catches on outside the Mormon community or reaches Mormons better through channels such as the national wholesaler Ingram and Amazon.com.
It’s still rather early to say just what role Zarahemla will play in my future, I suppose. All I know is that I’m relieved to be through this period of sprinting, as invigorating and challenging as it was. I've come to realize that doing Zarahemla is partly to get out of doing my own writing projects. Deep down I've hoped that running a publishing business could replace most of my ambition to be a writer. I’ve experienced enough frustration with writing so far that I would love to give up trying to write my own novels, memoirs, etc. At the same time, I find myself often wondering if and when another novel idea will occur to me. Although the prospect of another book-length marathon kind of makes me sick, another part would like to write another novel, something more plot-driven than character-driven, perhaps with some speculative or magic-realism elements.