When his publisher pulled out at the last minute, Immanuel Suttner was faced with a dilemma. To get into a long legal wrangle with the publisher, to abandon the project, or to go ahead and self publish. Self publishing meant taking on all the financial risks of producing a book, with no certainty as to whether the book would sell, or end up as a white elephant.
Legal wrangles are expensive ad often counter productive. Yet Suttner was too in love with his creation to let go of it. So, on the horns of a dilemma (again, an appropriate metaphor, as will become clear) he decided to dig deep into his own pockets and self publish.
Thing was, the publishers withdrew at the end of March 2010, and Suttner’s book needed to be out a few weeks before the FIFA world cup began. Why? Because the book is the story of a soccer world cup that happens at the same time as the FIFA one, but is played by African animals, rather than humans. The book, whose target market is the waves of tourists who have descended upon South Africa for the cup, needed to be at a distributor by early May, in order to have it in bookshops across SA by the time the whistle blew for that first Bafana Bafana-Mexico game on Friday 11th.
So how does one create a book in five weeks? And do it across vast distances, as Suttner, the author and now publisher was in Sydney, Australia. The answer, of course, is the Internet and everything that comes with it – email, Skype, Adobe PDFs, websites, Facebook, LinkedIn and so forth.
Firstly Suttner needed to raise some money to produce the book, to pay the artist (as yet unknown), designer and for the printing. So he put up a website about the proposed book using Yahoo Small Business Hosting as a service provider, and PayPal as a payment mechanism, so that any impulse investors wouldn’t be driven away by a long and complicated payment process. In this way Suttner managed to attract almost R15 000.00 (investors were offered a percentage of royalties on the book) and then topped this amount up with a further R35 000.00 from his own savings. He now had some finance, but still needed an artist, designer and printer.
Previously the publisher and Suttner (via a website http://www.cartoonist.co.za/ which features the work of some of SA’s best illustrators and cartoonists) had found an award winning South African cartoonist called David Anderson (‚Andy‚ of Sunday Times fame), now based in Toronto. But Anderson had turned down the assignment. Suttner began corresponding with other illustrators, getting them to submit ‚roughs‚ (sketches) of the book’s characters. At the same time, and old school friend of Suttner’s, artist and designer Porat Jacobson, began advising him on the practical aspects of book production. Again, the Internet meant that the fact that Jacobson is based in Berlin, Germany was not an obstacle to fruitful collaboration.
None of the illustrators who submitted work were as suitable as Anderson, so Suttner re-approached the Toronto based illustrator and, using Jacobson’s advice as to how to simplify the book, got Anderson back on board. Anderson’s illustrations of African animals had just the whimsical quality Suttner was looking for, and complimented the text perfectly.
So now three South African ex pats living in Australia, Canada and Germany began the process of creating an instant book with about four weeks to spare. There were hundreds of emails, and tons of Skype calls that went on into the wee hours of the morning. (It was particularly challenging to overcome the 15 hour time difference between Sydney and Toronto!) Nevertheless the book grew apace, and Jacobson used his prior relationship with printing house Typo – that delivered incredibly good value for money – to shave thousands of Rands off the production costs. This enabled Suttner to produce the book in slightly bigger format than originally planned, and to go for a slightly larger print run – which in turn increased the chances of breaking even on the project.
Because of the absurdity of the deadlines, everything had to happen simultaneously. While Anderson was producing the illustrations, and Jacobson designing the book, Suttner was revising the text and sourcing photographs for the non-fiction factboxes that accompanied the fictional story. Once again this was all done on the Internet, with royalty free photographs being downloaded from image libraries such as BigStockPhoto (very reasonably priced), or being donated by private wildlife photographers Clinton Matheny and Mark Boulton, after lengthy email exchanges between they and Suttner. A South African distributor, in this case PSD promotions, was also sourced over the Internet (and the deal locked down with some follow up phone calls).
Producing a book is just the beginning. It needs to be distributed and marketed, and given the plethora of product out there, and the limited budget of a self-publisher, the Internet is once again an invaluable tool. Suttner uses the books website to market and sell the book, as well as its Facebook page. He also uses his contacts on LinkedIn to raise the books profile, and has made contact with book reviewers (City Press, The Citizen, Talk Radio 702, Sydney’s Child, Cape Town’s Child) in both Australia and South Africa via the Internet.