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A Self-Publisher's Write Approach : Author Dan Poynter Doesn't Go by the Book, Cashes In

April 11, 1986|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — The literary journey is as familiar as a family classic. Writer perspires and creates, publisher buys and prints, book shops display and sell and an author is born. But, says author-publisher Dan Poynter, what is tried is not necessarily true . . . as in reliable, constant, certain, exact, flawless.

Consider the odds against our sweaty scribe: "There are 300,000 book manuscripts a year that don't get into print," Poynter points out. "The chances of an author without a track record selling to a large commercial press probably rank somewhere between slim and none."

Accept this fact of publishing life: "New York markets books the way Hollywood sells films: They test a new product for audience reaction and if the results are positive, they invest heavily in promotion. If the initial reaction is negative, they withhold the promotion money and let the product die an early death."

About those book stores: "A lousy place to market books. They complain about (receiving only) a 40% discount, order one book at a time, pay in 60 to 90 days if you are lucky and then return the book after several months. Damaged."

What's the Solution?

So what's a poor writer to do?

Publish yourself, Poynter says. Write, publish, promote, market and do everything yourself. Forget about being a fragile, creative flower and see yourself as a packager of information. Follow your interests to where you know the market and mailing lists are. Know that there will always be better sales for a book on successful breast-feeding (one self-publishing author, a woman doctor, found her audience among the 2.5 million American women who each year become nursing mothers) than any doorstop tome on Napoleonic politics.

"And why settle for a 10% royalty when you can have it all?" Poynter asks. It's also a question presented in a masterpiece of self-puffery that he suggests as essential for any self-publisher--a self-published, 21-page "Interview With Dan Poynter" on the advantages of self-publishing. It continues: "If you invest your own money, you should get about 40%. So the question to ask yourself is: Can the publisher with all his connections and distribution system, sell four times as many books as you can?" That was the question Poynter did indeed ask himself in 1972. He was a man with a manuscript on parachutes. He had the connections from seven years in the selling, instruction and administration of sport parachuting. He knew his marketing could be through the sport's two organizations, its national championship, its magazines and mailing lists.

"I knew that by going to the (sky-diving) meetings and advertising in the magazines, I would be reaching everyone," he explained. Now it's Dan Poynter, away from his press releases, talking in the flesh. "But the New York publishing houses don't know that because they just don't know the specialty market areas."

So Poynter published himself.

His 600-page, 2,000-illustration "The Parachute Manual" has become an industry standard. There are 76,000 in print. He sells more than 1,000 copies a year. At $45 a copy.

In 1973 he banked on another expertise and self-published a book on hang gliding: "It skyrocketed. It is in its 10th revised edition with over 130,000 in print. As a matter of fact, that's what bought this house."

The house is an aerie. It's a former ranch building on a high hilltop with a view that looks down on the Channel Islands and about 50 miles of coastline. The home, headquarters for Poynter's Para (as in parachute) Publishing, is on two acres with a prickly pear fence, citrus trees, deer and Cricket the cat.

'Remote and Peaceful'

"For a writer it's remote and peaceful enough without being isolated," Poynter said. It was one of those wind-washed mornings that makes Waterford crystal look scummy. "And on days like this, you feel like a million dollars."

More accurately, Poynter can feel like $2 million. That, he says, is his sales figure from 14 years of self-publishing. He has moved about 250,000 books, Para grosses more than $200,000 annually and last year shipped 50,000 books.

Poynter has produced 21 books, his "Frisbee Players Handbook" (25,000 sold and translated into Japanese) has disc manufacturer Wham-O as its largest dealer; he is considered the sire of self-publishing by New York publishers and remains the largest in an expanding field of home-made publishing.

All of which implies that Poynter is the adversary of conventional publishing. Not so.

"New York publishers are pretty good at selling entertainment fiction," he said. "They do a good job selling a Yeager or an Iacocca, that kind of nonfiction, a celebrity book.

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