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From the Writer’s Desk

How I Had My Self-Published Book Noticed by the NY Guys
By Bryan Chick

The Secret Zoo is coming out in a few weeks and I’m totally thrilled! You may not know that the novel was originally self-published. I’d decided to publish the book myself, after the long and tiresome experience of trying to get an agent left me emotionally drained and a bit perplexed. I figured it would be easier to quit my job, learn the basics of printing and distribution, support my family on a paltry income, come up with quite a few thousand dollars, market the book myself, and prove the merit of the story to the traditional publishing community on my own. Turned out I could.

Here’s how I did it:

1) Sold 12,000 copies; a partial breakdown of how:

  • Visited 70 schools in two years. Sold at least 6,000 this way. (And had a blast with the kids.) Here are a few pictures from the visits:

One school decorated their classrooms as different locations in the novel. The school became the Secret Zoo. Pretty awesome. Each picture in the collage below is a door or office in the school.

(Okay, that last one was my son and me with Boba Fett and friends, but how cool, anyway.)

  • Landed a positive review in School Library Journal, which resulted in at least 2,000 sales into libraries across the nation.
  • My dad sold 1,000 copies out of his trunk. To help accomplish this, he gave out marketing materials to random people on the street (and in malls, restaurants, doctor offices, restrooms, etc.). Since we never had a contract detailing commission, all he got was this “Employee of the Year” t-shirt.

  • Visited a school where the 300+ students were totally wild about the book. Had lunch with the principal, who turned out to be the nephew of a managing editor at Greenwillow. (This one really helped, I think.)

Other general advice for the self-pubber:

  • Accept that your mother-in-law is going to be less than thrilled when you announce the good news that you’re quitting your job to sell books out of your garage.
  • Be financially prepared for the high costs of production and distribution. Or be emotionally prepared to live like a starving artist. (I chose the latter.)
  • Be polite to your family, friends, and neighbors when they repeatedly tell you that you need to get your book on Oprah.
  • If your book is for children, stay motivated by papering your walls with the drawings that kids make for you. I did this; here are a couple:

  • Understand that you’re touching lives. Measure your accomplishments in the number of smiles and fan letters that you receive.

That’s some of the important stuff. Probably the best advice I can give is to just go, go, go. Don’t stop, and don’t get discouraged. It’s your story, but it has a life and will of its own. Be prepared to follow it anywhere.

Bryan Chick is the author of The Secret Zoo. He lives with his wife and three young children in Clarkston, Michigan.


  1. Suzanne Crowley says:

    This was great fun reading about your journey. Congrats Bryan.

  2. Melanie Traver says:

    Our entire family has enjoyed our journey into The Secret Zoo and we cannot wait for the next adventure to begin. Thanks so much for sharing with us how to got to where you are today!

  3. cindy says:

    what an amazing story. that takes
    a lot of guts! congrats bryan!!

  4. Lisa Grapp says:

    So when is the next adventure going to be ready? It was a wonderful escape, even for a 40 year old.

  5. Charlotte says:

    Wow, what a great story–good for you, Bryan! I’ll add The Secret Zoo to my list.

  6. kimberly says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I am just getting ready to press go for my set of ¨Arithmetic Village¨ books! I´m glad I stumbled upon your story:)

  7. Sandy Feltzer/Knudsen says:

    I told you a long time ago that I am a good judge of what most children will want to read. Thank you for sticking with your dreams. Your story has enriched the lives and the imaginations of children at our school and many others.

  8. […] I first self-published The Secret Zoo (a long story which you can read a little bit of here), the prospect of school visits terrified me. Kids can be intimidating. They are small and loud and […]

  9. Doug says:

    Good for you! But for those discouraged by you comments regarding the high costs of production and distribution should check out print-on-demand. There IS an easier way!

  10. Jacob Zinn says:

    Are you going to write anything other then the Secret zoo sereis?

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