Monday, January 20, 2014

How 3,000 Copies of My Book Found Their Way from the Trash Bin to the #1 Spot on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller List

The story of how Wild Child, one of my early novels, was published is almost as wild as the story itself.

The idea for the book came to me in a dream.   I started madly writing it down the next morning, and  couldn’t stop.  In 40 days of frenzied typing at the keyboard, I finished the entire book.

The first literary agent I sent it to was Laura Rennert, at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in Manhattan.  She loved it.  Laura sent it out to three of the biggest YA (young adult) publishers in the USA.  They loved it, too.  I was thrilled—my very first YA book, and I had already found an agent and willing publishers.  My baby was about to be read by thousands, and perhaps millions, of people.   It was a dream come true.

“But,” she told me on the phone, “there’s one problem with your book.”

“What’s that?” I said, my euphoria fading.

“It’s too short.  Can you add another fifteen thousand words?”

Fifteen thousand more words?  I was dumbfounded.  I didn’t understand why I had to add 15,000 words to a book that seemed perfect as it was.

“It has to do with the cost of paper,” Laura explained, "and retail price points, and so on.  It’s complicated.”

I spent the next two months struggling to make Wild Child a longer book.  Nothing about the process felt right to me, but I like most writers, I badly wanted to see it published.  When I finally finished padding it with all the extra words, I gave the manuscript to all my friends and trusted readers to read again.  “Mike,” one of them said, “congratulations! You totally ruined a really great book.”

Unfettered, I started packing up the manuscript to send to Laura.  But at the last moment, I changed my mind.  Why should I add 15,000 words to a book that seems perfect just as it is, just because of some rules about the cost of paper and cardboard boxes?  Would an artist make a finished painting three inches bigger on all sides to make it fit into someone's frame?  To hell with the big publishers, I thought—I’ll publish Wild Child myself, in its original form.

I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time.  As I needed a book cover designed, I decided to hold a city-wide student art contest for the best cover illustration.  After all, Wild Child was a story about young people, written for young people—why not have young people come up with the cover picture?

The winning illustration came from a 17 year old at North Atlanta High School, a laid-back African American by the name of Seron Fuller.  Everyone agreed that his amazing, magical illustration for Wild Child perfectly captured the main characters, Kyle and Brianna, and the overall feeling of the story.

I excitedly arranged for 3,000 copies of the book to be printed with Seron’s cover illustration on the front, investing my own money in the project.  Then, as fate would have it, my work situation changed.  Within a week of the books being delivered to my apartment, I moved across the Atlantic, to Europe, to Riga, Latvia.

Printed books are heavy.  I could only afford to take two boxes of Wild Child with me—200 books, total.  I shipped the rest up to Nashville, to my parents’ garage.  My stepfather wasn’t too happy about keeping them for me, as they took up a lot of space, but he grudgingly agreed to do it “for a while.”

I settled in Latvia and began my job, teaching at a Latvian university.   My wife is also a teacher was working at a local high school.  One day she said, “Mike, I told our English teacher that you were a young adult writer and she wanted her students to read Wild Child.  Can you spare a few copies?”

Why not? I thought.  They’re just sitting here in a box, collecting dust.  So I gave five copies to my wife to pass along to the teacher.  A few weeks later, the teacher asked for five more copies.  And five more.  Then an English teacher at another Latvian school became interested, and I gave out more copies.  And the book began to spread.

In short, hundreds high school students in Latvia went crazy over Wild Child.  I had soon given away half my copies to schools and libraries.

Meanwhile, my stepfather had contacted me several times, asking me when I was going to get all the damn books out of his garage.  I investigated shipping them all to Latvia, but the cost was astronomical.  Finally, backed into a corner, I said, “Just have them recycled, I don’t know what else to do with them.”  It killed me to tell him this, but what choice did I have?  None of my American friends wanted 28 huge boxes of books taking up spaces in their garages.

To add insult to injury, my stepfather called me back the next day.  “Mike, it will cost two hundred dollars to have these books hauled off for recycling.”  Two hundred dollars!  I had to pay to have my precious babies thrown into the trash!

Feeling sick, I sent him the check.

More time passed.  I soon had given away all 200 of the books I’d brought with me to Latvia.  I sorely regretted having the others hauled away.

One day I ran into a student who had read Wild Child in his English class—he recognized me from my photo from the back cover of the book.  He asked if I had any more copies.  I told him, with pang in my heart, that no more copies existed.

“You’re wrong,” he said.  “They’re selling your book on”

I blinked once.  “That’s impossible,” I told him.  “All the copies I had in the United States were thrown in the trash.”

He shrugged.  “See for yourself.”

Certain that he was mistaken, I went home and pulled up the Amazon website.  Lo and behold, there it was.  Wild Child, by Mike Wells. 

For a few seconds, I stared at the computer screen in a state of total confusion, overwhelmed by a surreal feeling.  I thought I was having some kind of strange dream.  How could this be?   All sorts of crazy thoughts flew through my head.  One of those publishers that Laura Rennert sent the manuscript to had printed it without my knowledge, somebody had stolen it, the story had fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum and had magically published itself...

But then I looked more closely at the book cover image, and I realized that there was a much simpler explanation.

These were the copies I had printed myself!  Somebody had pulled them out of the trash and started selling them.

After some reflection, I decided that even though I wasn't making any money from the book, I was happy that lots of people were reading and liking it.

Not long thereafter, I moved to the UK and started teaching in the University of Oxford Creative Writing Program.  In 2010, I witnessed the explosion of ebooks and reading devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, the Sony Stanza, etc..  It seems like everywhere I went, someone was reading a book on one of those gadgets, or an iPad smart phone or notebook computer.

I decided that Wild Child’s time had finally come.  Publishing the story as an ebook was perfect!  Ebooks don’t have any physical form—they can be as long or short as they need to be.

I converted Wild Child to ebook form for the Kindle, the Nook, the Sony,  etc.  and of course the iPad and all  the other Apple devices.  Young adult book bloggers started reviewing it and the book has received great reviews.  In July of 2011 it climbed to the #3 spot on in the Young Adult/Juvenile category on the Amazon USA Kindle Books Bestseller list, and in September of 2011 hit the #1 spot in Children's Fiction on the Amazon UK Kindle Bestseller List.

I have to say that I feel 100% better about myself now that I'm actually helping Wild Child find its way into the world.

Sometimes I think that Wild Child should have a subtitle:  The Book That Wouldn't Die.

This story was covered in the UK Daily Mail

NOTE (August, 2013):  The 3,000 copies I threw in the trash have become collector's items—the current price in the UK for an original copy of Wild Child, unsigned, is £600, or almost $1,000! 

However, for the much more reasonable price of $3.99 you can download the ebook from any of the following stores (click links): 


  1. Great trues story Mike. "Wild Child" is on my read list and loaded in my kindle. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It reaffirms my belief that stories tell themselves and a story's length should be determined by the story, not the publish or agent (or even the author). I recently tried to pad a novella into a novel and I gave up after a few weeks because I knew I was ruining the story. It started to feel forced. Some of what I added did improve character development, so now it's sitting around waiting to be trimmed back again.

    Kudos to you, Mike, for following your heart (and gut), and congrats on Wild Child's success!

  3. Wow...I have to say, this is really very inspirational. Suddenly the discouraged writer in me is feeling like she needs to get off her rear and get in gear!!! For those of us fairly new to the wild world of publishing this shows that there really is more than just the traditional way to get your work out there. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  4. Wow, Mike, reading the account of the journey of your book so far, literally gave me goosebumps! Truly. I was pulling for Wild Child all the way through ;) and glad it made it into Amazon. Putting in the Kindle today. Thanks!

  5. Hi Mike: Your Wild Child sounds a lot different from my Wild Child - The Guardian's Wildchild published by Omnific Publishing last year. Amazing - one character, two different stories.

  6. Amazing indeed, Mike--and congratulations! This story is one to remember for those dark nights when hope seems farthest away. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Mike,
    What a fascinating story. I have 100 copies of "Mixed Messages," the first novel in my Malone mystery series, sitting in boxes in my bedroom, waiting for the book launch event next month. I can only imagine how you felt when you had to throw out those copies of "Wild Child." Actually, I feel a little sick, just thinking about it! Fortunately, your story has a happy ending. Best of luck with your novel!

  8. This was an amazing story and I am so glad that you shared it! I couldn't read it fast enough!

  9. That's a very inspiring story. Surely,that's one book that refused to die.I will reflect on your story as i write my post on Thank you.

  10. This is such a great story! I can't wait to show my husband. It's like - what's that book, my mom used to read it to me.. The Little Engine that Could. Do you have any idea who the dude was who went through the trash? I wonder who will play him, in the film.

    I just found you through the conversation with Jenny Bent, on her blog. I'm so old fashioned, I truly assumed I had to go through the Literary Agent route. I've managed this far in my career without an agent - even been in development for creator/writer for a TV series - but assumed when it came to books, we had to play by the rules.

    You make it sound so easy: soon as I post this, I'm going to explore how one goes about converting it to eBook as you did. I feel like I've woken up in a parallel universe.

    And now I can't wait to read Wild Child! Thank you.
    (Jill Carin Adams, btw: in case you ever come across my novel).

  11. That's a crazy story, but I totally got stuck on you saying you had to PAY someone to recycle them, and then someone had the nerve to sell them without purchasing them or paying royalties. I'm all for not destroying books, I can't even recycle books I own but will never read, but that seems so shady I would have been mad and at least want my $200 back lol

  12. I loved Wild Child and am so glad you didn't give up. I almost cried when I read how you were forced to recycle your precious babies. I can't even force myself to recycle the error-riddled proofs of my books much less the final product!

    Thanks to CreateSpace and print on demand, I never had to pay for a print run or store hundreds of books in anyone's garage. (It's a good thing, too since I've sold less than 50 print copies.) The Kindle editions have both hit #1 one on three different Amazon bestseller lists, so it's not the books ;-)

    Thanks for sharing your story; and best of luck with your writing career!


  13. This is a great story! Makes me want to print out my books and throw them in the trash so they can be best sellers too...happened once right?
    Okay...maybe not, but at this point I am just happy to hear someone with a success story under their belt.

  14. You must be extremely proud!!

  15. Wow! This is an amazing example of good coming out of bad. Someone thought they could make a quick buck selling your "free" books. What the book-stealer didn't know was that they were marketing Wild Child & Mike Wells!

    How much would you have had to pay someone to market you or publicize you like that? I don't know what you paid for your 3,000 book print run, but as an investment in giveaways, it sounds like it paid off! Wow.

    Think about how much money you saved on shipping alone! The book-stealer paid your shipping costs for you! And the book-stealer was the one running back and forth to the post office mailing everything! How much gas money? Time spent?

    Not that I'm saying this is the way to go, but it sure worked out for the best!


  16. Great story. Maybe I need to trash my novel before I try to sell it! Thanks for that. (only kidding btw!)

  17. After living for 40 years I’ve learned that there are two types of self promotion….

    Folks who self promote by association….Guess who I had dinner with last night. I was backstage at…. Mr. Bigshot sent me an email because he liked the dingleballs I sent him….etc. Basically, aren’t I cool because of who I’ve rubbed elbows with?

    Folks who self promote by contribution…Hey, I may be ahead of you in the (insert your line of work) industry, but here, learn from my mistakes and experiences. And when one shares these contributions for FREE it’s bonus Karma points time!

    Thank you, Mr. Wells, for being one of the latter…

    I’m working on my own “project”, as I call it, so that, as an accountant turned housewife, I don’t sound like a pompous arse who styles herself an author, and have found your site very helpful.

    I’ve had an ongoing conversation with myself for the last year that goes something like this:

    Me 1: Who are you kidding? No one is going to want to read this drivel!
    Me 2: Screw it, just write it to say you’ve done it.
    Me 1: But what a waste of time…You’re spending all this time on this “project” when
    you could be reading real books.
    Me 2: Yeah, but maybe it’s a growth experience…Push yourself. You’ve read books
    for years, now try to write one.
    Me 1: You’re an idiot.
    Husband: How’s the project?
    Me 2: Oh fer f@#*’s sake!

    I’m glad to see you have had the same experience with doubt and survived, and I really appreciate the stories about overcoming phobias, self-publishing (because even if an agent laughs me off the planet, I can self publish and send out e-books as Christmas presents), and the success of Wild Child which I can’t wait to tell my daughter about now that summer has arrived…

  18. That is an amazing story , i'm so happy it turned out good , and rightfully so . this will be added to my tbr list for sure .

  19. Great trues story Mike. "Wild Child" is on my read list.

  20. Great story mike! Just goes to show you should never give up! Come to think of it you might want to write a book about it!

  21. Such an inspiring story Mike! I'm bookmarking this so I can come back to it whenever I'm feeling despondent about dealing with the big, scary, world of publishers. Thank you for sharing it with us. Just downloaded Wild Child onto my Nook and can't wait to read it.

  22. Well, Mike...I loved this story.Great post.Another reason to believe in what goes around just might come around again, in good fortunes~


  23. I would most like to read one of your novels.
    To learn from one of the best in the business,Because someday I myself write quite
    alot .

  24. I also think this is a great story..with a great ending. Kudos to you Mike. :)

  25. That’s very interesting. I have discovered the best way to make your book much more available on Amazon, with many sellers at many low prices, is to donate them to Goodwill. I donated several hundred copies of my award-winning novel, Reternity, and before long there were 18 different sellers on Amazon selling at very low prices. I never saw any of my books in the local stores I donated to.

  26. Fantastic story!!! Did your stepfather happen to hold on to one of the originals? :)

  27. Congratulations! And thanks for sharing your words of wisdom... My question for you is: HOW did you sell all those e-books on Amazon? You can't tell me you just put the book (or any others) up on the site, and 3,000 copies were sold. This past spring, I self-pubbed my first YA novel after publishing 3 books with a "real" publisher. Yes, my loyal readers (several hundred) bought copies, but I couldn't even get YA book reviewers or bloggers to look at the novel due to its "self-pubbed" status. And as someone who has NO money to invest in marketing, it seems that my book -- the best one I've written so far -- will not reach the same thousands of readers who've read my other 3 books, because they don't know the book exists. I'm beginning to think that self-publishing only works if you already have money to invest. I want someone to PAY me to write -- I don't want to have to pay them, or anyone else.

  28. Mike,

    There couldn't have been a better time to come across your post. Thank you So much for guiding me!

    My book Until death do us part published on October 31, 2012, this year, is in Kindle format and is selling in

    There are a huge number of takeaways from this post and I will IM you on Twitter. I am also sharing this on my page on Facebook, Until death do us part and of course on Google+. I am sure many will gain from your experience.

    Julia Dutta

  29. I have hope for my over enthusiastic stock of first 'baby' now. Perhaps I should throw them in the trash! Super story.

  30. Just brilliant!

    On length, I have a similar story with my children's book 'Eeek! The Runaway Alien'

    The Children's Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books in London here, wrote to me when I sent her the manuscript over 10 years ago saying that she had really enjoyed it but it was the wrong length for their lists (too short for a standalone kids' book), but would I like to contact her with other ideas. (At least she didn't ask me to rewrite it!)

    It sat in a drawer for 10 years after that and I then self-published it last Feb. It's now featured in the 'Reluctant readers' list (Age 7+) on the respected LoveReading4Kids website in the UK (this list is curated by Julia Eccleshare, Children's Editor of the UK's Guardian newspaper, and The Literacy Trust ) . They also have it their curated list of great 'Books for Boys'.

    I've also had several schools contact me about it who have been using it for literacy/book clubs... and letters/reviews from children. And just the other day a wholesaler to sells to libraries and schools contacted me about it.

    Not quite your success story but little by little it is getting noticed! For anyone reading with kids age 7-10, it’s about a soccer-mad alien who runs away to Earth from space because the World Cup is on! You can see a couple of sample illustrations on @eeekthealien’s twitter feed!

    It lends itself far better to print but is also on kindle (complete with its black and white illustrations). And it’s sold mostly in the UK - I need to try to raise its profile in the USA.

    But back to your story – very well done! My illustrator is Bosnian – I should maybe ask him to place a few copies of Eeek! in his local schools!!

  31. Cheers!
    Great post! Very informative.
    Thanks for possibility to write on your website,
    it's great!
    I’m still hoping there will be more posts on this site.
    Thanks a lot!

    geothermal wells new hampshire

  32. That is an awesome story. Congratulations!

  33. This is surprising, ethical, horror and so on......

    Sell on Amazon

  34. Hi Mike eye I here. Rsrs. My God 40 days? Our wanted to have all this ability, my book I passed a year writing and still thought it was crushing in the time's short space. I seriate that they talked that of your book: "You totally ruined a really great book.” Our that was doing well sincere. It is good to have people this way, there the author knows how really is the book. Our it got shocked, had you to play your baby's in the garbage? Uau! Sad, but tá now in the 1st Amazon's Place, hope it sees a day my books there as well. It has post new there in my blog, if can goes pass there.

  35. Good job!

    Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American drug culture available on NOW!!

  36. Thanks for sharing the above, and I love the cover! Nice to see fellow Atlantan is artist.

  37. This is cool. I think this would really help for water well drilling alberta.

  38. What a fab story- congratulations for keeping the spark alive!
    Laura x

  39. This blogpost was quite an inspiration. Thanks a lot! So happy that it works out so well now with your book. It´s nice to take charge of all the work that comes with making one´s book recognized and famous. I´m not there yet but I´m aiming toward that goal : )

  40. Thanks for sharing this story. I've been back and forth about self-publishing my first novel and I'm ever closer to finally taking the plunge.

  41. Great and inspirational story..thanks for sharing..

    write a book

  42. Wow, what an unbelievable story. You are one tough cookie. You need to be in this industry (I found out). Writing your book is one thing, getting it notice is another, but watching someone else profit from your work must have been tough.

    Do not worry, they say that anyone who is destined for greatness must be tried and tried again.

  43. Hey Mike, Did you ever discover who found the books and sold them and how all that happened?

  44. Not exactly, Sandy, it's all pretty sketchy. One Amazon reseller told me she bought a couple of boxes at an estate sale in Missouri, others have told me they bought a box at a flea market in Ohio, and I've heard from several teaches at high schools around the USA that they got either a box or 10-20 copies donated to their libraries, etc.

  45. If my stepfather wasn't such a straight arrow type I would suspect him!

  46. A great how the art shouldn't be compromised for commerce