My assignment in a marketing class during my senior year at college was to write about
a topic based on my personal experience. I remembered how hard it was to adjust to
college four years earlier. So, that's what I wrote about.
Unbeknownst to me, my professor passed along my paper to a friend in Buffalo, NY who
called me one day the summer after graduation. "I'm a talk show host and I've got kids
going to college in the fall, and I'd like to interview you about your book" he said.
"What book?" I asked. "The College Survival Kit" he replied.
Now that I figured out what happened, we arranged for the interview the very next day!
At this point, I did not have a printable book, just a class paper.
He called the next day and we talked live for about 30 minutes. He then asked me how
his listeners could buy the book and how much it cost. Knowing a little about printing
I gave my Post Office Box address and a price of $3.50 including postage.
I had no idea what to expect. A couple of days letter, I went to retrieve mail, and the
P.O. box was stuffed! 32 envelopes, each with a check for $3.50 or more for multiple
copies. I was ecstatic until I realized I had nothing to send out to these folks!
After consulting a local printer, I decided the book would be 5.5x8.5, so I started
retyping the entire manuscript on a Smith Corona. It was a real home-made book but
that never made a difference. I learned people wanted good solid information and
didn't care what the book looked like.
The next day there were 61 orders, followed by a total of over 150 orders from
Buffalo and surrounding towns. I got the book - more like a booklet - printed,
bought some 6x9 envelopes and started sending out the books.
Then The New York Times called after hearing my interview. They did a blurb on it
and hundreds of more orders came in. Then the first of two big breaks happened: the
Sunday magazine Family Weekly called, and they ended up doing a super story
right in the center of a popular page, below a photo of kids sitting on a college campus.
The next day, I went to the Post Office. My box was empty except for a small yellow
card that said "Mail too excessive for box. Call at window." When I presented the
card, the clerk brought me a half-tray of letters, about 200 in all. That was
truly an exciting moment. I couldn't wait to get home after work to open them all!
I remember working that night from about 7pm to midnight, slitting open the envelopes,
sorting the return addresses based on the number of books ordered, and endorsing all
the checks. My hand hurt from all the repetitive tasks.
I couldn't wait for the Post Office to open on Tuesday, and I was not disappointed.
Another yellow card, but this time a FULL tray of mail. Followed by three full trays every
day for the next week. I bought an electronic letter opener and had a stamp made up for
check endorsing. Despite that, it was still numerous hours of work and no let-up in
the pain I felt in my right hand!
The Today Show contacted me and I appeared with Tom Brokaw, with the backdrop
being a 6 foot blow-up of the book cover. They said the audience reaction to my
interview was one of the highest ever!
I wound up sellling over 25,000 copies and that's when Bantam Books called. They
published a professionally designed version that sold over 250,000 copies. They sent me
on a country-wide tour as well!
The funniest occurrence from this very-abbreviated story happened during the first
few weeks when I brought shoeboxes of checks to the bank. When the tellers saw me
coming, they all scattered. None of them wanted to be stuck processing hundreds
In addition to Family Weekly, The College Survival Kit was featured in Ladie's
Home Journal, Family Circle, US Magazine, House and Garden, Wilson
Library Bulletin, The New York Daily News, Sunshine Magazine and hundreds
of local newspapers.
I appeared on dozens of radio programs and TV shows in addition to Today, I was on
TV and radio in Chicago, Pittsburgh, NY, LA, Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and many more.
I saved all the news stories, many letters from parents and other momentos from this
wonderful experience that launched my lifelong love of writing!