A Short History of a Tall Jew: A Tale of Self-Publishing

I am the world's worst Jewish businessman. I don't understand why I'm so bad with money. So self-publishing my novel was something most of my friends and family warned me against.
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I am the world's worst Jewish businessman.

I don't understand why I'm so bad with money. It can't be genetic. My brother is a professor of economics. My cousin Leilah, a college dropout, created a company that trades on the NY Stock Exchange. And I am very good at three-point shots.

Decades ago, my brother scored a 770 out of 800 on his math SAT. Back then word was that SAT applicants were given 200 free points for spelling their name correctly. I spelled my name correctly. Unfortunately, I bubbled it in wrong.

Not only am I inept at everything money-oriented, but I am unorganized and have no patience for details.

So self-publishing my novel, A Short History of a Tall Jew, a dark, romantic comedy set in Los Angeles, was something most of my friends and family warned me against.

"You'll have to do things you're not good at," a cousin warned. "Like reading contracts, calculating sales tax and talking to people."

"Wouldn't it be easier," a friend counseled, "if you just write another novel and if it sells, then this one might sell too?"

"But it took me four years to write. Six months to find an agent. Three weeks for the agent to quit sending it out. I'm too invested to call it quits."

I could have hired an on-line self-publishing company to do the work. They're fast and inexpensive, but I got all snobby and didn't want a name on my book's spine that would instantly identify my work as a vanity production.

So I farmed out the cover art, the page lay-out and the web design to a place where skilled craftsman earn a fraction of what they're actually worth - Cleveland - my wife's hometown.

And before my website was up, I astonishingly received an order from Amazon.com.

An order to buy my book before I had announced to my friends whose books I've been buying, whose plays, concerts and stand-up performances I've been attending for years, that it was time to pony up and reciprocate.

There it was on a single line in my Amazon.com account: 1 copy of A Short History of a Tall Jew.

One copy, which sadly, was not in stock.

Nevertheless, the buyer was guaranteed a copy by a particular date. That is, if I could ship that one copy to Amazon before the window for receiving my book closed.

And here was the problem. I didn't have the books yet.

My guess is that a Huffington Post reader read my most recent blog, saw the name of my novel, took a chance and ordered it.

I was thrilled and yet terrified that I could not fill the order in time and would lose my first sale.

Three days later, the books arrived. I ripped open one of the boxes, examined the book. The covers were not on backwards; no pages were printed in Japanese. I held it for an extra second, smiled, pleased that I hadn't let it live for an eternity in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet, but had published it and was ready to send it out into the world.

I hunkered down at my computer, logged onto my Amazon account and read the line score: List price: $19.95. Discount: 55% Cost: $8.98

Discount? $8.98?

They're kidding, right? It's a prank, right? Amazon probably pulls this same trick on all its new clients.

Or maybe I should have read the Amazon Advantage contract that I signed. Because I had no idea why my book was listed at $8.98. But now was not the time to find out.

I sped to the Marina Post Office, bought at 49-cent padded envelope and added that to cost of a single copy, $5.71. I was up to $6.20.

I asked to send it book rate, but the clerk told me that could take up to six days. Not enough time.

She suggested I send it overnight for $26.80.

I suggested she present me with some better alternatives.

Priority mail, $8.60, guaranteed arrival in two days. I handed over my credit card, then
proudly watched as the clerk stamped my package and tossed it into a bin.

At home I cracked out my solar calculator. The cost of the envelope, the book and the postage came to $14.80. My book sold for $8.98. I don't know what percentage of the $8.98 I keep.

But I know this, at this rate, as soon as I sell all 999 remaining copies, I'll be a relatively well-read author.

And I'll be homeless.

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