Making a full-time living as a writer is all about multiple streams of income, and bulk sales are a great way of making revenue by doing direct. In today's show, Dave Hendrickson talks about the joy of selling books to schools – and takes us behind the scenes of the financial side of bulk sales.
In the intro, I comment on the joy of GDPR and how I hope it ushers in a new era of respect for data. Yes, it might be a pain temporarily, but better data protection will be good for all in the long run.
This week is the launch of How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words, available on 31 May in ebook and print, as well as Large Print and workbook editions, with audio coming soon.
I'm doing a Facebook Live Ask Me Anything session for the launch on Thurs 31 May at 3 pm US Eastern/8 pm UK with giveaways! Click here for the Facebook event, or just join me on www.Facebook.com/TheCreativePenn on the day!
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
David Hendrickson is an award-winning, nonfiction and sports writer, as well as an award-winning short story writer and novelist. His latest book is How to Get Your Book Into Schools and Double Your Income With Volume Sales.
- On the specific types of books to pitch to schools
- Identifying school decision-makers and getting your book into their hands
- What to include in your mailer to schools
- Three factors for pricing books correctly
- Taking advantage of volume discounts at Ingram Spark
- The ideal time of year to reach out to schools and teachers
- Managing cash flow and getting paid
You can find David H. Hendrickson at HendricksonWriter.com.
Transcript of Interview with David Hendrickson
Joanna: Hello, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Dave Hendrickson. Hi, Dave.
Dave: Hi, Joanna. I'm really delighted to be here.
Joanna: Oh, it's great to have you on the show. Now, just a little introduction.
Dave is an award-winning, nonfiction and sports writer, as well as an award-winning short story writer and novelist. He really is multi-talented. And his latest book is “How to Get Your Book Into Schools and Double Your Income With Volume Sales.”
And for the people on the video, I think you have the book there, don't you, Dave?
Dave: Yes, I do. I'll put it in front of my face, that will improve all video aspects.
Joanna: That's fantastic. You have a really interesting background. I've met you in person, we've been in Oregon together on writing workshops. But when I started looking at your bio, I was just surprised by all these things you've done.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing, a little potted history.
Dave: Actually, when I was growing up, everything was about science and mathematics and technology, and that's the direction I went into. I didn't get bitten by the writing bug until I was about 20.
A friend lent me a book of short stories by Harlan Ellison, I read the very first one and I said, “That's what I want to do with my life.” And I promptly sat down to write my first story.
I got two paragraphs into it. I looked at it and realized how horrible it was. Even though it felt powerful to be doing the writing, somebody came up behind me and said, “Oh, so what's that that you're writing?” And I kind of dove on it like it was a grenade about to go off because, initially, I was just pretty terrible.
It took me quite some time before I really started having any success at all with fiction. I actually had a lot of success with nonfiction, especially sports writing earlier on. I was winning awards, was becoming a reasonably big fish in the small pond of college hockey, but my passion was fiction.
And so, I finally got in the right direction, got hooked up with people like Kris and Dean and Jeanne Cavelos was very instrumental in helping me believe that I actually had some talent. And so, things are going quite well now, but it took a long time to get here.
Joanna: You still have a day job, right, as well?
Dave: Yes, I do. In fact, I have a couple day jobs. I write software, so if you get an ultrasound by the company that produces the ultrasound machines, I write the software in there so that you might feel good about that or you might feel scared about it.
I also teach at a couple colleges in the evening, part time, and then I still do the college hockey writing from, essentially, October through April. And I manage to go and fit some fiction writing time in there because it's a passion.
I always kind my eyes a little bit when people say, “Oh, I just don't have time.” You have to force the time. I do have a busy schedule but I've got the most amazing, supportive wife in the universe, and that helps as well.
Joanna: That's really good to hear. And I think it's so important for people to know about all these different things that you do and that all of us do.
There's this myth that to be a full-time writer means that you only write, like, the one thing, like you only write short stories or you only write novels. But you do all these things, so that's fantastic.
Let's get into your book, “How to Get Your Book Into Schools.” Let's just be clear what type of book you're talking about and what kind of schools, because those words are quite big.
For this interview, what type of books, what kind of schools?
Dave: Okay. If I can answer the second question first. In terms of the schools, there's actually all kinds of variability that you can have there. I specifically talked about American high schools because that's where my own personal experience lies.
But you can apply this to middle grade, you can apply this to colleges, and you can even apply it to corporations. One person who's read the book has said, “I'm going to see if I can go and use some of these techniques to try to get my nonfiction book into corporations.”
It really can go and have the full gamut of possibilities. I target high schools because that's where my experience is and I think that's where the greatest opportunities are because a lot of high schools have summer time required reading, sometimes it's a list that students can pick from.
Sometimes schools will adopt a book that everybody in the school winds up reading, an all-school read. And that's where you can really hit a home run as a writer.
Now, in terms of what type of book; young adult is clearly the sweet spot. There are certain genres that are obviously not going to be appropriate for schools, but young adult has really three advantages.
First of all, schools are going to be typically sensitive about extreme language, extreme sexual situations. And young adult, although there certainly are edgier books, young adult will tend to have fewer problematic language issues and fewer problematic sexual issues.
Principals are dealing with parents screaming at them all the time and they're not exactly accepting of, “Well, let me just add more problems to my plate.” So, those are going to be issues.
The other thing is that because young adult, the protagonists, and most of the characters are teenagers, high school students immediately relate to those type of characters. And so, young adult is really the sweet spot.
Realistically speaking, realistic fiction is easier than, say for example, young adult fantasy. But we've all seen with what's happened with Harry Potter, that there's a lot more accepting of fantasy titles than realistic titles.
But the nice thing is with what I talk about, in terms of doing a direct mail opportunity, if you have a book that you feel is a little bit more of a long shot, you can risk less of your money. I like to think of it as being investing, but if you can design your own materials, you can get the cost down to less than a dollar per school.
If you have what you feel is a long shot, well, are you willing to risk $25 to go and target 25 schools? Well, again, you can go and pick your own choice in terms of what size of the campaign you want.
Joanna: And I think it's really important because we're talking about volume sales, which is something I'm really interested in. We've had Honoree Corder on before and she does volume sales for lawyers with nonfiction.
This is a business model that I find really interesting. A lot of people do this. Having just come off London Book Fair, lots of people doing volume sales and these figures never hit the Amazon best seller lists, like the books you're selling into schools, they don't count towards your Amazon ranking.
But they put money in the bank, which is what you're saying.
I wanted to ask you more specifically what makes your book “Offside” a great book for schools?
Why did they want it, so that people can put themselves in the mind of the principal, or the teacher or the librarian or whoever is buying?
Dave: I've actually targeted two of my titles, “Offside” and also “Cracking the Ice.” They're both set in the '60s during the height of America's civil rights struggle, and so that is a historical era that schools are interested in.
But getting back to “Offside,” in particular, some of the things that that book talks about, and I didn't set out to go and, “Oh, let me write a book that will appeal to schools,” I hadn't even considered that, but it deals with issues of bullying.
It deals with issues of a dysfunctional family or a borderline dysfunctional family. It deals with issues of friendship, of being all alone or having friends that really matter. And so, those are topics that really matter a lot to teachers and schools, and they really relate to students.
For certain titles, if you have themes that really resonate for a school, that can make a powerful selling argument.
Joanna: And I think it's funny you mentioned “Harry Potter” because, of course, huge book, but it was also burned by some American schools, Christian ultra-Orthodox, I guess, Christian, however we call them, for having magic in.
As you say, the race theme, sports, I think is always a good thing, isn't it? And bullying.
Definitely think about the schools you are targeting.
Dave: I mentioned those themes, and again, because it was in the civil rights era, race was an even bigger issue, race continues to be an issue. So, it's an ongoing topic.
But the other thing is that in addition to…it's not a preachy book at all, these are themes that are important to teachers, but teachers also felt this is a book that there's a lot of sports in it, I'll say American football because what I call football…
Joanna: Not soccer.
Dave: …is not what you call football. And so, it has a lot of American football in it and there are a lot of exciting scenes. It's a page turner, and so it's not the kind of book that a student is going to look at and say, “Oh my goodness, this is like James Joyce ‘Ulysses.'”
Dave: Yeah. There's a very charismatic character, it's a character that kids can relate to. And so, as a result, I think character is what fiction ultimately is all about. It's a character that's a winning character that really people identify with. And some of the situations of what he has to deal with really relate to students.
Joanna: I'm really interested, we've decided that this is the book we're going to pitch, we think it's appropriate, we've honed down the themes and everything.
How do you then identify the decision makers at schools and get books into their hands? And is there any kind of timing that people need to consider?
Dave: It's a great question. One of the things when I first started thinking about this, I had my first success just purely based on word of mouth. And one person had to love it, they had to recommend it to another person who loved it and the chain was really pretty intimidating.
I was very fortunate in that respect. So, I figured, “Now, I'm going to be proactive,” so I started looking on the internet and I'm saying, “Oh, it's going to take me forever to go and compile all this information about schools.”
If somebody is looking just to go and say, for example, target the schools in their community, then they can do something like that and it's a reasonable amount of time. But I wanted to target a larger number of schools.
If you're going to do that, I found a resource on the internet, it's, I'll tell people, it's, you don't have to buy my book to get it, it's, “high-schools.com.” There's a hyphen in there, so “high-schools.com.”
For $50, you can get a database of all of the American private and public schools. It's about a five or six-year-old database. And so, there will be the occasional change of address or whatever.
But for me, $50, my time is worth a whole lot more than $50. I've talked about my schedule. I want to be able to go and if I'm going to be sending out 300 pieces of mail to 300 different schools, I don't want to have to go and research all those, it'll take me forever.
I can completely get that, it lists everything from what the enrollment is to…it gives all the information except for an email address. You can't go and start becoming an email spammer, you're going to have to go and do this the old fashioned way through snail mail.
But they give you all the information, so you can go and say, “Okay, well I'm going to target the larger schools first,” or “I'm going to target schools in certain communities because I feel that this will be ideal.” And by doing that, then that makes it so you can put it in the hands of the decision makers.
Now, for a novel, I figure it's typically going to be an English department that is going to be at least the starting point for summertime recommended reading. I initially was listing it for the English language arts department, but then I realized that well, if a school doesn't have an English language arts department, it might go to the language department.
I really want it to go to English. So, I just put it to English department and it always gets routed to the appropriate, usually the head of the English department who's the key decision maker that I want to go and talk to.
Joanna: I think the actual physical mail is probably a better option these days because everyone's got all these emails, and from what I've heard from teachers these days, they're getting emails and texts from parents all the time.
Having a physical something will remind them about your book.
You mentioned 300 schools there, you mentioned direct mail at less than a dollar per school.
What were you putting in an envelope? Did you do postcards? What did you put and send to them?
Dave: I did a two-page mailer. I did a two-page flyer that I put together. I've tried to make it as attractive as possible and actually people can go to my publishing website and look at that material because that wasn't the kind of thing that I could include in my book and have the format be right because I needed 8.5 by 11 format and that wasn't going to work in my book.
You can go to pentucketpublishing.com, or I've shortened it, pentpub.com, and you can go and see the materials there. You can also see some other material as well that I will talk about.
I had one page that's about “Offside” and one page about “Cracking the Ice.” And I put that together, put it into an envelope with labels and all that.
I made it so it's color; you want it to be visually attractive because people get junk mail all the time. You want it to be something that's visually arresting and also will capture the teacher's attention. So, I did that.
I also found a resource online to go and get cheaper color reproductions than going to the local Staples. I went to Staples and nearly fell over in shock at what it was going to cost me.
I went to printdirtcheap.com and got a great deal, and so that made it so that I could have a two-page flyer, I could contact these schools and I could really see what my chances were.
Direct mail is not something that…you're not going to get a huge percentage return. Typically, direct mail is considered, well, if you get 1% to 2% return, you're doing good.
What I do is I have the teachers go and either email me or else fill out a contact form on the website, and then as a result, I will then get them a preview copy of either of the books that they choose.
Joanna: That's an important point. You're not sending the book. Even though you are doing color printing, you're not sending a book.
The postage itself is not too expensive and we're going to come back to cash flow and everything in a minute.
You did mention Pentucket Publishing, your publishing company. Let's face it, English teachers in schools are probably not really up to speed on how cool being indie is.
Is it important, do you think, to have an imprint, to have a name that is not your name?
Dave: Yes. You and I both believe in being indie. We love it, it's great but the reality is is that there're still going to be a lot of people who view it in a negative fashion.
We all know that it isn't an indication of quality but you need to go and make a professional impression, you need to go and look as though you're right up there with the New York publishers. And so, I think you want to have a publishing unit.
Yes, I know that Simon and Schuster was originally formed by a guy whose last name was Simon and a guy whose last name was Schuster. But these days I think there are negatives associated with being indie in some people's eyes.
You want to look professional, you want to have a professional website. And also, if you're doing business as, you'll have a professional, you'll have an imprint for a checking account. That's actually important.
One of the things I found out, and I already had it, but one of the things that I found out was that the very first school I dealt with, one of their requirements was if they were going to be using a grant to go and buy these copies of the book, the check had to be made out to a company, not to a person.
If you said, “Well, I don't really need to go and form a company,” it's not like you have to form a corporation, just do a doing business as and have your own imprint, have a professional looking website.
Then when you're communicating with the schools, I have it set up so that the email account that I use to communicate with schools, the name that goes out, I don't want to use Hendrickson, even though Pentucket Publishing only publishes David H. Hendrickson and D.H. Hendrickson. You think they're the same person? They just might be.
If somebody looks at it closely, they're going to go and put two and two together, but I do make it so that I use my wife's maiden name for any communication to the school. I'm not being deceptive there, she helps me in every possible way. So, it's not being deceptive, but I'm using her maiden name so it isn't just like, “Oh, this is just a small potatoes, one-man show”, even though I am kind of small potatoes and a one-man show.
Having an email account, having a website. And most website hosting places will provide you automatically with the email account. So, that usually goes along with the package, but also have that checking account that you've set up in the publishing name.
Joanna: Just a few things there, the doing business as, I've had Helen Sedwick on the show talking about setting up a business in the U.S. for anyone who was wondering what you were talking about there.
And then, on the email thing, I use G Suite, so it's Google Mail, because at the beginning, I just had it with my hosting service and then very occasionally, websites go down, right? And if your email is attached to your hosting service, you lose your email at the same time as your website, which can be a nightmare when you're trying to fix things that are going wrong with your website.
I've since moved hosting services but also moved my email to G Suite, or Google Business Tools so that they are separate. So, just a little tip for people from my opinion on the business side.
But you're right, and you can set up all these different emails and things that still go through your domain. So, I think that's a really good idea. And one of the reasons I set up Curl Up Press is from coming to Oregon and listening to Kris and Dean.
Some of those people have said, “Oh, this is amazing, I would like to order your book.”
How are you sorting out your books at a discount and pricing them correctly? And what services do you use for that, as well as what markup, etc.?
Dave: That really comes down to three factors.
- What is the list price of your book?
- What is the discount you can offer?
- What is the cost?
I spend quite a bit of time in the book talking about cost. Everything revolves around that.
There are things you can do to reduce your cost that make it so that it's better for your bottom line or better for the discount that you can offer.
For example, one of the most basic things that you can do is you can reduce the page count in your book. When I had first produced or when my wonderful designer, Dayle Dermatis, first produced “Offside,” it was a 302-page book. It's a little bit long for young adult but I guess I'm just verbose, that's about how long I tend to go.
I went to her and I said, “What can we do to go and cut down on the page count,” because that can be important and if you're talking about volume sales, that can be really significant.
There were a couple really easy things to do. First of all, we had originally laid out the book so that if a chapter started on an odd numbered page, it was, if a chapter was on the right side, we would put a blank page on the left side. Well, that's not mandatory.
New York publishers do it that way sometimes, they don't do it that way other times. So, it's not at all unprofessional to do away with that blank page. So, we did away with that blank page.
We also went and looked at the start of a chapter, we were starting that a little further down the page than was really necessary, so we just moved that up a little bit. And there were a couple other little tweaks.
The book still looks every bit as amazing as before, it looks absolutely professional, absolutely readable, you don't want to go and just say, “Oh, let me squeeze it down to a font size of eight because teenagers, they're not yet yet having problems reading like their adult teachers.” If you do that teachers are just going to throw the book out the window.
You still need to be absolutely professional and absolutely attractive. I put a before and after up on the website, by doing just those few things, we were able to drop it down from 302 pages to 240. What that did, that…I almost fell off the chair. I had to go and flip through to make sure…
Joanna: It was all there.
Dave: …did something get missed?
It still had every single last word, it still looked terrific, but when you looked at it, the cost was 74 cents less cost per book. If you hit it big, if you sell 1,000 copies to a school, you've reduced your cost by $740. That's astounding.
Another thing you can do for cost, if you get your purchase order soon enough so that you've got enough time to go and deliver the books to the school well before, say for example, their summer vacation.
You don't want to be in a position where the books arrive the day after the school goes on summer vacation and you're there like, “Oh, what do I do now, do I go to the school and I hand deliver them out to their individual locations?” Well, obviously, that's not going to work.
You can't cut it too close, but if you've got enough time, one of the things that you can reduce cost on is, first of all, shipping costs, there's different choices of shipping that vary quite a bit in terms of what the cost is.
More to the point, there are some really significant volume discounts that are available if you are selling enough. For example, at IngramSpark, if you are selling at least 750 copies, their volume discount is astounding.
Here's the point where I'll just make it pretty easy to understand. If you use the volume discounting approach, you can get almost 1,300 copies for less than 700 copies. I'm not talking about less cost per book, I'm talking about the other 600 copies are free.
Joanna: That's amazing.
Dave: It is amazing. What they do is they go through a third party entity, and so you need to go and provide at least an extra 10 business days.
So, if you're tight to the summer deadline, you can't do that. Or if your sale is of 500 copies, it's not going to qualify.
But there are options that you have to drive the costs down if you have enough time, if you planned enough time. If you've gotten the information to the teachers in enough time, those are options that you have available.
What I consider to be the ideal times to send out these flyers to the teachers is actually October, and November, I think is the absolute best time.
Right at the beginning of September, there's so much flurry of activity with things going on with the new school year, teachers might be a little bit flustered at that point.
October, November gives them time to go and look at your flyer, get interested, request a copy, give a chance to read it and then go through all the different approaches that are necessary to get approval through the school department and so on.
January also can can work but it's getting a little bit tight there. If the bureaucracy is turning slowly, then pretty much anything after January, you're going to be in a position where you're tight for that school year.
Now, having said that, I still think there are opportunities to go and send out flyers later on in the year. That will be, those flyers will go out to the teachers, they'll request a book and they'll read it during their summer vacation.
Your payoff will be the following year, because there just isn't enough time to get those books into the students' hands.
I've talked a lot about the bulk sales. Schools can also choose to go and just put your book on a recommended reading list. They don't go and say, “Okay, we're buying 1,000 copies to give to all of our students,” they're going to say, “Well, we really like this book but the way we do it is we have a list of 10 acceptable titles and the student picks the one or two that they're going to go and read in the summer.”
In a case like that, you're not going to be sending the copies of the books to the school, the students are going to be buying them individually. In that case, some of the financial issues or some of the financial risks that you might have go away. The payoff isn't as big, but you will see your sales spike up to be sure.
Joanna: Wow. I love, love, love this business model. On the nonfiction side, again, the “Who Moved My Cheese,” that book sold bazillions to corporate America. And it's still is on the bestseller list because they started out like doing these bulk sales.
What you're describing is exactly the same, from your one man and woman shop.
Of course, you have to be super organized to do this. I'm not surprised really that you're a programmer as well because, to me you must have a spreadsheet with all of this sort of organization on.
I can do stuff like this but this is like a whole magnitudes of organization. So, how do you not go bankrupt because?
When do you have to pay to print the books and then when do you get the money? How can people not lose everything?
Dave: That's a really important thing. And in fact, the chapter in the book that I talk about this, I even put in the headline, “Do not skip this chapter,” because it talks about the dangers of too much success. Is there such thing as too much success?
If you send out a gigantic mailing and you hit what seems to be the pot of gold and multiple schools want to go and buy a bajillion copies, the thing that you have to be aware of is that you're going to have some cash flow issues.
Schools aren't just going to go and give you the money up front, that isn't how they work, they work according to purchase orders. It would be all too easy for scammers to go and say, “Oh, well, give me the cash and I'll deliver on whatever the product is.”
Schools just don't work that way. They give you a purchase order, and I should point out, purchase orders to a governmental agency like a public school are considered in the industry about as safe as you can get.
This is my own personal opinion, but you don't want to go and take a purchase order from a bookstore or a corporation because bookstores and corporations go out of business all the time. I know one publishing entity that lost a quarter million dollars of product, not profit, but a quarter million dollars of cost to them when a bookstore chain went out of business.
They had done a purchase order that was a quarter million dollar hit to them.
Joanna: No, I can't take it. I wish I could take it, but I can't.
Dave: Don't do this with bookstores. I love bookstores but any anything other than a public governmental agency, you really need to go and get cash up front.
But with schools, they're going to give you a purchase order. At the time you get the purchase order, you'll order the books, you're going to be paying CreateSpace or IngramSpark for those books. Presumably, you're going to be telling them to drop ship those at the school's location.
And then at that point, you'll invoice the school and you can put on that invoice, “terms: due in 30 days.”
But governments don't work that way. Things grind slowly with governments. They look at that, say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, 30 days.” And you can even put there, if you want to, you can go and say “beyond that, a 1% service charge.” Good luck collecting that, it's just not going to happen.
When it got to the point where it was close to two months with my very first situation, I had my wife go and just make a delicate inquiry because she actually has some experience in that area, and they said, “Oh, yeah, yes, the books to the high school. We're going to be talking about that in the budget meeting in two weeks from now, and it's on the agenda.”
So, it's not like, “Oh, yeah, oh geez, we forgot to go and send you the check.” It was now almost two months and it was on the agenda. So, it took roughly three months.
That was $9,000 out of my pocket for three months.
Not everybody is in a position to go and handle that. If you hit it big with multiple schools, you just need to be aware of what you're potentially dealing with.
One of things I talk about is potentially you can set up with your bank, maybe they can give you a line of credit when, on the purchase order. Because a purchase order with a governmental agency should be something that a bank could work with.
Or you get a loan on your 401(k) or you go to Uncle Fred and Aunt Louise and say, “I'll even laugh at your jokes when we get together next time if you can just float me this $9,000.”
Whatever the case, you just need to go and have a plan in place for what you're going to do if you hit it big and how you're going to handle that cash flow because there's going to be a time period between when you make that order and when you actually get the check.
It's a wonderful time when you actually get the check, and it will arrive for a public institution like that, but governments don't go out of business often.
It is something that you're not going to be feeling as though you're going to be left out in the cold, but there is going to be a stretch there where times will be tight.
Joanna: I think that's really important. I was just remembering when I was an IT contractor and you would be phoning the accounts payable, and I worked in accounts payable systems, and I still I couldn't get my own stuff through. But it was the amount that you have to sort out on that side, so I want people to be aware of that.
Obviously, we're not giving financial advice, and we're not advising anyone on anything but this is so important, this understanding the cash flow.
It's quite similar in a way to paid ads. You pay for an ad up front and then 90 days, 60, 90 days later, you get the book sales revenue. I know authors have struggled with the money that goes to Facebook before they get their money back from their book sales.
I think this idea of cash flow is so important for people to understand.
Let's just circle round because I know I can hear my audience in my head going, “What? This is crazy. Like, what are you doing?”
Dave, is it worth it? What the hell is going on here? Is it worth?
What is the rewarding side of doing this?
Dave: There are multiple things that are rewarding.
First of all, it can be a very, very nice payday for you. I talked about having to wait for it, but if you handle the cost of your book and making for an attractive discount for the school, it's an attractive payday.
Second of all, you have just gone and touched a good number of readers. Granted, some of those may be reluctant readers and they're never going to read another book that a teacher doesn't force them to read ever again. But there are a lot of other avid readers who now are going and saying, “Oh, what other stuff by this person can I read?”
I encountered that when I went and spoke at a school. I'm hearing a girl behind them say, “I want to order your ‘Cracking the Ice' book.” You're attracting other readers, and readers who are going to be around a long time.
The other thing is that, first of all, it can be really, really gratifying to go and speak at a school. You may get an offer to go and speak at the school.
Sometimes if you're a big enough name, there'll be an honorarium applied to it. For me, I feel that there's a massive benefit to talking to students and making a difference in their life.
I think that this is one of the things that just as a personal goal of mine, if I can make a difference in these kids' lives, it's an awesome thing.
I must admit, there's an ego associated with it as well. When I went and stood up in front of Lynn English High School and the ovation that they gave me was astounding. There were kids off on one side who were chanting the title “Offside, Offside.” And then afterwards, the principal had said, “Would you be willing to sign copies of your book?”
Joanna: Hell, yeah.
Dave: “Hand me a pen.” I signed hundreds of copies of my book. I signed agenda books. I signed Post-it notes for those kids who'd forgotten their copy. I signed backpacks.
And the point that made me feel like an absolute rockstar was somebody had a sharpie and over a dozen kids pulled up their sleeves and said, “Can you sign my arm?” So, there was an absolute ego associated with that.
For somebody who had really struggled for a long time to get going with a fiction, that was a real reinforcement of things. You can get a really nice payday, you can really attract a new reader base.
You can go and have speaking opportunities, but you can also make a difference in young people's lives. And this is a really fragile moment for them. If you can make a difference, that's an awesome thing.
Joanna: Aww, everyone's going to cry now. I think this is really important because if you only were writing for the money, this is not the reason you go into schools. Like you've described, there's a lot of hard work involved. But it's obviously now my goal to sign on someone's arm with a sharpie.
Dave: I feel like I can die happy now, there's something I've achieved that you haven't. I didn't think that was possible.
Joanna: Oh, we are going to get to that now.
First of all, before I ask you this next question, show us the book again. “How to Get Your Book Into Schools and Double Your Income With Volume Sales.” It is by David H. Hendrickson. Sorry, I introduced you as “Dave.”
Dave: Actually most people know of me as Dave. The only person who calls me David is my mother when she's upset with me. So, you're right in there with everybody, but David just seemed to be a little bit more author resonant.
Joanna: Very serious. Yes, it is.
In terms of what you've done that I haven't; you are an award-winning short story writer, which is amazing. And we've had short story writers on the show. And you are a novelist, but you also, and I thought this was a typo on your site, 1,500 hundred works of nonfiction. Fifteen hundred. Is this a typo, and what is this about?
What lessons have you brought from nonfiction into your fiction side?
Dave: Yeah. It's not a typo.
Joanna: You're a bot. You are a bot, Dave.
Dave: But thank you for thinking that that might be the case. But for several decades now, in addition to writing software and teaching, I've been intensely covering college hockey. And in fact, for the longest time, when my fiction was going absolutely nowhere, I would be so frustrated, I couldn't give my stories away.
People would go and say, “Well, you're winning awards for your sports writing, you're attracting this big following.”
My daughter went to a visit to Washington, D.C., and her congressional representative said, “Oh, are you related to Dave Hendrickson, the college hockey writer?” And so, in that area, I put a huge amount of effort.
I was writing features, columns, game stories, and so I was doing a lot there. I wrote humorous pieces. I even had an appearance in a scientific journal. Those of you who are readers of Alta Frequenza, you can look up a scientific piece on ionospheric physics that has my name on it.
I've done a whole lot of things in the nonfiction area but I think the thing that helped me was, first of all, that initially gave me an audience when I couldn't get any audience at all for fiction. That really helped me out but it helped me improve my style.
And also, because I was writing sometimes humorous pieces, it helped me figure out, “Okay, what works to make people laugh?”
The one thing that you always go and say is that “If you write something, you don't want them laughing if it wasn't supposed to be humorous.” And if it's supposed to be humorous, you don't want them just staring at it blindly.
I really learned about humor and also emotion. There were a lot of pieces that I wrote that had emotion and I was always attracted to stories that transcended the sport.
For example, those who are familiar with Travis Roy, the college hockey player who 11 seconds into his career, a fluke occurrence, and he became a quadriplegic after that. I've written numerous pieces about him, and pieces that I was bawling as I was writing them, but to my mind, learning about emotion in writing is something that has carried over into my fiction as well.
Joanna: So true. And of course, you're writing about a character there. And like you say, what does separate, because there's a lot of bots doing sports writing now, but what separates a name writer is that emotion, the human story.
You weren't just reporting on results, right? You were talking about characters and their journey.
Then last question, because, basically, you could have just stuck with that. Like you say, you still do a bit of it, but you could have just stuck with that and you have to start again with writing fiction. You're basically starting at the bottom when you're at the top of another career.
Why do that and what's your advice to other people who might feel at whatever point in their life that they're starting again?
Dave: I just kept coming back to it because it was why I started writing in the first place. It was what my passion was, it was what my dream was. I tell people, “Hold on to your dreams.”
I went decades without being able to sell anything, without being able to give it away to a free market. I was just horrible for a really long time.
Unfortunately, I would be working hard but I would be working hard in the wrong ways, and so I wasn't improving. When I finally got going in the right way, I am kind of proud of the fact that I have a story that is going to be appearing in Best American Mystery Stories 2018, which is an anthology that I've been buying for 20 years and is my number one favorite best of the year anthologies. And I can't believe I'm actually going to be in it.
Dave: Thank you. I've got not one but two stories that are finalists for the Derringer Award that will be presented at the World Mystery Convention.
I think people who may be wondering, “Well, is it pointless?” I was thinking it was pointless for a pretty long time because writing can be difficult; you go and you send out a short story and it comes back with a form letter rejection.
You just have no way of measuring whether you're getting better or not. Or if you try indie publishing, you indie publish it and you sit there and you wait and your mom and your brother and sister buy a copy and nothing much happens.
If you believe in yourself and if you work in the right way, I think for me where things really took off was when I took on the challenge of writing a story every week and sending it out to a market.
Because up until that point, I would just take one story, one idea and just grind it into a pulp, just reworking it for months and months and months. You don't learn to become a better storyteller by doing that.
For me, telling a new story every week and not just shoving it into a drawer, but actually sending it out to a market, to me, that was when things really started taking off.
Joanna: That's great to hear. I've really enjoyed talking to you. Tell us where people can find you and your books and everything you do online.
Dave: All of my books and all of my short stories…I'm wide with everything except for two or three stories that I've got exclusive to Amazon. So, essentially I'm wide everywhere. You can get print from Amazon, you can get print from some other locations, but certainly ebooks anywhere.
My website is hendricksonwriter.com, H-E-N-D-R-I-C-K-S-O-N writer, I hope everybody can spell writer, .com.
And if you want to check out the publishing end of things, I'll give you the short version again, pentpub.com, P-E-N-T-P-U-B.com, and you can follow my stuff there.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Dave. That was great.
Dave: Oh, thank you. I loved every minute. I really appreciate it, Joanna.