When Calee Lee looked for e-books to read to her two young children on her Kindle, she came up short: Colorful pictures didn’t seem to come alive on the black-and-white screen, and others, especially older classics, didn’t seem to be formatted properly for the e-reader. “I said, ‘I could do better than this,’” says Lee, 29, and she did just that.
She started writing a children’s story based on Queen Helena of Ancient Greece, who is known for sending a boat full of cats to Cyprus to help control the island’s snake problem. When Lee was visiting Cyprus with her family, they had seen the cats that still live throughout the monasteries, and she thought it would make a great children’s story.
Lee, who lives in Irvine, Calif., published that book, The Queen and the Cats, and decided to keep going. Her publishing company, Xist Publishing, has since published more than 80 e-books and began turning a profit earlier this year. At the same time, Lee continues to work full-time on her video production business.
Lee shared her top five tips for launching a successful side business:
Don’t quit your day job.
Lee, who runs her own video production company out of her home, says she wanted a second stream of income, and her publishing company provided that. “I’m making more doing this than I did as a copywriter when I first got out of school,” she says. In fact, she predicts that at the current growth rates, her publishing income could exceed her income from her full-time job within two years.
For now, though, the dual incomes are giving her family the financial security she was seeking. “We experienced the recession like everyone else,” she says. “Now, we’re able to pay off debt, hire help when we need it, and go on vacation this year,” she adds.
Steal time wherever possible.
With two young children and a full-time job, it’s not easy for Lee to find time to write, publish, and promote books. Instead of sticking to a set schedule, Lee fits in work wherever she can, which sometimes means writing when she could be folding laundry. If she’s having a slow week with her video business, she puts in more hours on her publishing venture, and she often works after her children go to bed. “Juggling is the key word,” she says.
Create what you wish already existed.
Much of Lee’s energy and motivation comes from the fact that she’s fulfilling one of her long-held dreams—to write and publish children’s books. And not just any children’s books. “I wanted to give [my daughter] some princess alternatives,” says Lee, which is why she often focuses on royal women from Christian history. “They are beautiful women that were strong in a different way. Helena traveled halfway around the world 1,500 years ago and she helped a village in a tangible way,” she adds.
One of her new books, A Necklace of Virtues, features an English princess, Audrey, who gave up her wealth after encountering poverty. Lee says she was inspired by her five-year-old daughter’s question about why some people have so much and others so little. “It can help parents start that conversation,” she says.
Minimize your upfront costs.
Instead of offering her authors and illustrators advances as big publishers tend to do, Lee offers them what she calls a generous royalty package. In some cases where sales are high, that means they end up earning more money than they would have otherwise, she says. Lee minimized other costs by using family friends with legal expertise to review contracts and working out of her home.
Focus on word-of-mouth marketing.
For a recent book launch, Lee worked with the author to plan a 26-blog tour, which generated online buzz. Lee also finds that potential authors and illustrators now find her through word-of-mouth, as well, and she receives a handful of new submissions for potential projects every week.
For this self-made publisher, reading those submissions is one of her favorite parts of the job.