Who would have guessed that self-publishing a full color, illustrated search & find activity book would be so fucking complicated? Not only has it been a semi-expensive lesson in creating a physical product, but it has also led to death threats, legal threats and a shit ton of hate from people online. Listen, I’m not complaining, I’m just making an observation; I guess it was kind of expected when you create a book as controversial as Where’s MH370.
It was around March 2015 when Ship Your Enemies Glitter was starting to wind down & I was starting to seriously think about what I wanted to work on next. I had a few ideas floating around but I wanted to change things up and devote a bit of time into something that I could be proud of. This means no websites created in a couple of hours & no products put together over the weekend. So I opt for a search & find activity book. I remember the day the idea came to fruition when we were spitballing what the hardest thing to find in the world was.
“What about that missing Malaysian airplane?”
It was perfect, no-one could find this fucking plane & it instantly spurred on other cool ideas because of all of the conspiracy theories surrounding it. We could put the plane in all of these absurd locations, incorporate cameos by C-List celebrities, cause a bit of trouble & hopefully sell a few books.
So the first thing we did was plan this shit out & not rush the project which is something I used to always do. Granted it’s worked for me in the past but whatever. I got a bit of help from an old friend who helped me when I was drunk talking to the media for SYEG. We talked about potential scene locations such as Russia, North Korea & Hell and decided who we wanted to put in each. This part of the project was super fun, especially when a friend said that I needed to put myself where I belong… in Hell. So I did & there’s now a Sofa Moolah cameo in Where’s MH370. I also included celebrities, sports figures, politicians, CEO’s and more in each scene as well include little hidden Easter Eggs.
Along with the cameos, scene locations & Easter eggs, we needed to decide which parts of MH370 to include. At one point in time we weren’t ever going to even include the debris with the idea that MH370 is literally impossible to find however we decided to ditch that idea once we realized that we might cop too much backlash from customers who were purchasing a search & find activity book only to find out that there’s nothing to find. Bit of a dick move, no? So in the end we decided on 5 common items:
- Travel luggage suitcase
- Captains hat
- Landing gear
- Oxygen mask
All 5 can be found on every single commercial airliner so they were perfect fits for the scenes.
Alright, so the planning for inside the book is done, now I had to find someone to illustrate it. This sounds easy, pay some money & hire a company or freelancer to draw the scenes and you’re good to go. Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Finding good quality illustrators who didn’t charge a fuck ton of money was extremely hard.
Finding good quality illustrators who were available for months of work was even harder.
Finding good quality illustrators who would take on a project about a missing plane full of passengers & crew was next to impossible. A lot injected their own moral stance and wouldn’t include certain elements in scenes. Censoring is a massive turn off for a project like this.
Luckily for me a friend recommended an illustrator who had a set of balls and was keen to take on the project. We were introduced on April 14 and I sent through the full brief which included all of the cameos, scenes and whatnot. By April 19th, questions were asked & answered, samples were done, concerns were addressed, payment was sent & the contract was signed. The illustrator liked what they saw, we agreed on a price and a turnaround time of 3 weeks which turned out to not be very realistic but that was no-one’s fault in particular. I also gave them a lot of creative control, allowing them to pitch ideas, add objects into scenes and overall just be laid back with how some scenes are filled. I think doing this makes projects a lot more relaxed and you end up with a better end product.
By April 19th, sketching had started. Things were quiet for the next week as a massive storm wiped out my power and I was without the internet/electricity for the longest week of my life. So April 28 rocks around and I get initial sketches for a scene. It was tough to envision the finished product, I was a bit worried because of the lack of detail but the illustrator reassured me that once inking & coloring was done the scenes would be perfect. I put a lot of trust in the people I hire so we kept going.
Fast forward a full 10 days later & I realize I’ve fucked up. In what I can only refer to as me being a fucking idiot, I had the illustrations being drawn 9×6 whereas they should have been 6×9. Such a stupid mistake that cost us time & money. It also made me reevaluate whether or not I’m mentally retarded. That mistake did make me focus a lot harder on this project. I put a lot of things aside and knuckled down to getting it perfect and by July 22 I had the 1st proof copy in my hands. I had the printer publish both a hard & soft copy to see which would look better. Turns out the hard copy was 1,000 times better. Because the book only had 12 scenes, the soft copy looked like a fucking brochure, not like a book. No-one would pay $15 for a brochure. It wasn’t long after receiving the soft copy that I had already decided that I wanted the book to have a hard cover.
Whilst the illustrations were being created, I hired a friend of mine to design & code a website. I could have done this myself however my design skills are extremely limited so I forked out a few bucks for it to be professionally done. You can check out the website here: http://wheresmh370book.com. Creating the content for the website was again, really fun. We through in jokes, hidden Easter eggs in the source code, had MH370 fly across the page when you first visit the website only for it to never appear again & loads of other shit.
Alright, so a few tweaks were made after receiving the proof copy & eventually I decided to place a starting order of 50 books with the idea being that they will be sent to reviewers, press & people involved with the book as gifts. Those first 50 copies cost me a total of $941.95 which brings each book down to about $18.85 which is extremely expensive. At this cost, for the project to be worthwhile I’d have to sell each book for $25-$30 which isn’t something I was interested in. In my opinion the book just wouldn’t sell at that price point. So I now had to get this pricepoint down.
I had the first 50 copies & now had to get these in the hands of influential people. I paid a VA to scrape all of the journalists information who covered Ship Your Enemies Glitter & create a simple spreadsheet that included their contact details. I sent off emails to each of them that included a bit of information about Where’s MH370 & asking whether or not they wanted a free copy of the book to review. Majority accepted & now all I had to do was send the book out.
The review copies were sent out including an embargo date. Unfortunately Australia Post sucks dick & majority of the books didn’t make it to their destinations on time even though they were sent out 3 and a half weeks in advance. Heck, 1 copy didn’t make it to the Philippines for 6 weeks even though the Australia Post website states a delivery time of 2 weeks. Classic.
Moving back to getting the price per book down, I decided to take a gamble & invest a bit of money into purchasing the books in bulk. Using the same printer, I received a quote for 2,000 copies. The total price was $10,132.47 which is a cost per book of $5.06. This was so much better, it allowed me to charge a modest $15 per copy. When every book sells revenue will be close to $30,000 with a profit margin of around $20,000. Not too bad, especially considering I can reorder in the future & have this recurring income or even sell the entire project.
It’s now October & it’s time to launch this book. Vice was the first to write about the book & got the exclusive. On October 20th, this article went up. From there things snowballed with other media outlets picking it up including A LOT from within Malaysia. The orders started flooding in & a few other weird things happened including death threats & relatives of victims getting in touch with me. From October to the end of November things were HECTIC especially with Christmas around the corner.
As December hit I decided to do a Reddit AMA on the 12th of December. To my surprise, it went well… like really well. As of today, it’s sitting on over 4,000 upvotes & over 2,500 comments. I actually started on a Saturday night & didn’t stop answering questions until Sunday afternoon. I had a few drinks during the AMA so some answers were quite strange, but fuck, people liked them. I published a post earlier that detailed the analytics for the Reddit AMA in terms of book sales which you can view here which included over just under $10,000 in sales, 36,000 unique visitors to the website and over 600 copies sold. Pretty good for a Saturday night that I probably wont remember. You can view the AMA here.
As the orders were coming in, it was quite reminiscent of glitter. So many orders however now I was more organized with packing slips, padded bags etc. I’m so fucking glad that this project didn’t involve anything messy, all I had to do was put books in bags with an invoice & fill out addresses. They started piling up pretty quick.
But I mean, this project was so much funner than anything I’ve done before. I’m not sending shit to peoples enemies, I’m actually sending a book that people find fun & entertaining. The response, surprisingly has been overwhelmingly positive.
So where to from here for Where’s MH370?
- I maintain the Where’s MH370 official Facebook page where we post illustrations every week. I suggest you like the page, some of the stuff we post is pretty funny.
- I’m constantly thinking up fun, controversial ways of getting the book noticed.
- Every day we’re receiving orders from people who want their own copy of the book.
This post is sort of half finished, I’ll update it later on.