Books & Writing,  Fandom

How I sold my first book: TV Toys and Shows That Inspired Them

When I moved to California, my goal was to become an entertainment reporter. Once I got the taste of getting paid to write, my goals shifted. I just wanted to work as a writer full-time, I didn’t care if I wrote about tuna fish or TV! I honestly can’t remember the exact order things happened in, but I know that two forces pushed me down a new road while I was working full-time as an admin at a bagel factory.

I have always been a collector of TV memorabilia so I started pitching and selling articles about my collection and then about collecting in general. I wrote one-off pieces for a lunch box magazine, a gum card collector magazine and a couple of toy magazines. Then I landed at Toy Shop.

Toy Shop was an over-sized newspaper covering all manner of collectible toys. This was pre-eBay so their big draw was pages and pages of classified ads for people looking to buy and sell toys. I pitched and was hired to write a column on TV and Movie toys and later (or first) a column on SciFi toys.

Around the same time, I found a job as a writer / community manager for a brand new site called CollectingChannel.com. It was a super idea; a hub for all kinds of collectors with forums and articles and expert moderators. I was in charge of the entertainment collectibles section. I wrote daily news pieces, feature articles and kept the forum talking. It was my first full-time, online gig and it opened a ton of amazing doors for me. Thanks to CollectingChannel, I was invited to the Saban Summit two years in a row – a fabulous, circus like unveiling of the Saban’s new TV shows. (Power Rangers! Beetleborgs!)

I also ended up on the mailing list for Burger King, which meant getting the entire collection of movie related kids’ meal toys upon release. The best item I ever got was an vintage trunk loaded with Wild Wild West movie toys.

All of this boosted my confidence and so I decided to take the next step. Toy Shop’s owner, Krause Publications was the largest publisher of hobby books. Since I was already working for them, I thought I had a better than average chance of getting a book deal. I developed the pitch in the lunchroom at the bagel company with the aid of my officemates. Really, if it hadn’t been for them, I probably would have procrastinated until it was too late. They kept me on track and they were so excited about the process, I didn’t want to let them down.

The Birth of an Idea

What we came up with was the pitch for TV Toys and Shows that Inspired Them. Each chapter would reintroduce you to an iconic show from the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, with an in-depth look at the licensed merchandise. I didn’t want it to be a price guide. There were plenty of those out there and two years after publication the prices are all wrong. I wanted this to be a trip down memory lane. I wanted people to have that “I had that toy when I was little!” feeling over and over again as they flipped through the pages.

I put together a cover letter, an outline with a list of TV shows, and a few sample photos from my collection. I mailed it off and waited. Much to my surprise, the answer came back “yes”!

Then the process kicked in. Contracts, editorial guidelines, photography rules and deadlines. Yikes. Deadlines! Once I cashed and spent the advance check (I negotiated enough to buy a new, desperately need computer), there was no turning back. I was an author. Sure, I’d sold a dozen articles to magazines and newspapers; but this was a real – buy it at the Barnes and Noble – book.

The largest rock in the road turned out to be the photos. Krause wanted hundreds, some for a color spread and others to use throughout the book. And they wanted prices – grrr…it’s the one thing that makes the book no longer relevant today.

Picture This

2005_0323_230057AAA friend of ours shot photos of our collection, which was massive so that helped. But our collection was very scifi oriented. I need more. So we all headed to the next collectible show, cameras in hand. And the one after that and the one after that. It’s not that we couldn’t find amazing toys to photograph. No. The problem was, many of the dealers didn’t want us taking pictures of their stuff. (Who knows why!) And then there was the problem of a background. We were forced to shoot the toys on whatever empty surface we could find, which meant there was a lot of clutter in the background. Not good for an example in a book.

If we were to do this today, I’d have a portable backdrop and a flyer explaining what we wanted to do. I’d offer credit in the book to every dealer including links to his online store. Of course,these days, no publisher would even want a book like this because eBay has totally changed the collectibles market. eBay is also the reason the pricing in the book is totally wrong. A 60’s TV show lunchbox that sold for $800 at the time of publication, only sells for $100 and you can find ten on any given day on eBay.

I missed my first deadline, but Krause was kind enough to give me another. I made that one but it was more of a “settled” than “I’m finished”. There was always one more toy I wanted to find or one more show I wanted to cover.

Then there were proofs to review and mislabeled photos to fix and all kinds of minutia that comes with publishing a book of any kind. Months later, I had it in my hands. A professionally published book with my name on the cover. And my toys. My husband and I created the cover ourselves and I still get a kick out of the concept.

The book was shipped out to all of the major retailers. My sister told me that she would go into her local bookstore, pull my book off the shelf and leave it facing front so more people would see it and buy it.

The book got some press coverage. I did a couple of interviews including a radio show and I thought I had it made forever.

The book sold moderately well. I received the second half of my agreed upon fee and a few small royalty checks over the next couple of years.

I kept writing collectible articles and I kept working full-time as an admin in an office while raising a small person. The book didn’t change my life like I thought it would. Not at that moment, anyway. But it was a solid stepping stone on the path. It’s easier to sell a book when you’ve already sold one. Other publishers are more willing to take a chance on you when there’s proof that you can deliver. The publication of TV Toys and the Shows That Inspired Them also gave me the confidence to continue pursuing writing as a career. I’m glad I did, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to get an even bigger book deal with an even bigger publisher. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was coming and lucky for me, I was prepared.

 

Stay tuned for part two: How Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life.

 

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