How to be a Better Me book cover
How to be a Better Me, self-published by Walter Swan

There’s a lesson all of us would-be and aspiring independent authors can learn from Walter Swan.

I met Swan in December, 2013. Not in person. That would be tough since he passed away in the 1990s. I picked up an autographed copy of Swan’s book “How to be a Better Me” at a Goodwill store in Tempe, AZ.

My first two thoughts when I saw the book:

  1. There is no way somebody could market a book like this
  2. If this guy can sell books, so can I.

You know the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” That was certainly true with this book.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

I cracked open the book to get a taste of the author’s style. What I discovered intrigued me: Short chapters of two to three pages with simple lessons on how to be a better person, written in the language of a good ole boy. I plunked down my dollar-fifty for the book, zipped over to the nearest Starbucks and dug in. Walter had me hooked. I felt like my grandpa was telling me these stories about doing kind things for people, saying no to vices and more.

After reading the book for a few days, I decided to Google the author and find out more about him. (You should too.) Swan was a retired plaster contractor in southeastern Arizona with no higher education and no prior experience as an author. He couldn’t find a publisher to pick up his book, so he decided to publish it himself, with the help of a printer in Tucson, AZ.

He couldn’t find a publisher to pick up his book, so he decided to publish it himself.

Only a few stores agreed to put his book on their shelves, so he rented retail space in downtown Bisbee, AZ and opened a store to sell his book. He called it “The One Book Store.” Any guess as to what he sold in that store? It wasn’t the book I picked up. His first book was titled, “Me n’ Henry.”

Turns out “How to be a Better Me” was one of many he went on to publish, although it’s hard to pin down all his titles. One person blogged about meeting Swan in 1994 and mentioned he had sold over 35,000 copies. I’m not sure if that’s in reference to his first book or all books combined. Nevertheless, it’s an inspiring number.

Walter has inspired me not only to be a better person, but also to become an author. I have several book ideas and one book that’s about 90% written. I have been sitting on it for several years since I didn’t feel like I have enough clout. Neither did Swan.

What every independent author can learn from Walter Swan:

  1. If you have good stories (and who doesn’t?), people will read them
  2. Previous experience is not required; nor is higher education
  3. We don’t need the approval of a publisher to publish a book

These days it’s easier than ever to self-publish books in electronic format with the help of sites like lulu.com and etsy.com. All we have to do is have a vision, a story to tell and the determination to follow it through. It’s that last item that Walter Swan has inspired me with.

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