Matt Stewart knows what it feels like to be the underdog. As a freshman at Northwestern he walked on to the school’s football field and earned a position as the fifth-string free safety. But that didn’t deter him: through hard work and dedication he rose to second-string his sophomore year and in the process earned a full-ride scholarship. Stewart’s rise to success mirrored the team’s. In 1995, after 20-plus years of losing seasons, Northwestern’s footballers won 10 games as well as the Big Ten, and even played in the Rose Bowl.
Life changing for Stewart and his teammates, the school’s breakthrough season was a story he felt he had to tell, and after years of research based on his coach’s own book, the games Stewart’s mother taped, and the programs he saved, he finally finished. The Walk-On was released in May.
“I wrote this book to inspire others, to let them know that no matter what the odds, no matter what the obstacles, anything is possible as long as you work hard, believe in your abilities and approach your goals with a good attitude.”
From the get-go Stewart knew that publishing the book was only one of his goals. Making sure it got into the hands of the right readers was another—and to date his approach has worked. The Walk-On is sold on Lulu, Amazon, BN.com, the iBookstore and a number of brick-and-mortar stores. He secured indie placement by visiting the stores in person and asking them to consign his book — a deal that gives the retailer 40% of the profits and the author guaranteed shelf placement for at least three months.
Stewart’s success is fueled by his strategic thinking and persistence. First, he went niche: targeting Northwestern alumni and football fans. Then, to help spread the word, he sent free copies of his book to radio, TV, magazine, and newspaper reporters in the area. Additionally, he promoted himself as a motivational speaker and gave talks to students, coaches, and even residents of an assisted living facility.
“I have really put myself out there to promote my book, but I believe in my message so much that I don’t mind being persistent with the media. I know everyone who reads it will love it – and they have!”
Promoting himself was one thing, but Stewart was also after credibility. So he submitted a copy to Kirkus, which earned him a rave review, and he purchased Lulu’s globalREACH package to increase his distribution. Because of the latter he was mentioned on the radio in Omaha, Nebraska, after a bookstore worker praised The Walk-On on air!
There’s no doubt about it: Stewart is thrilled he published his book independently. In the past he’d received numerous rejections after querying agents and publishers about another piece, so after completing The Walk-On he didn’t feel like going down that road again — especially when he discovered how much more control of the marketing, packaging, and profits he’d he have if he skipped the traditional publishers.
With college football season underway, Stewart plans to continue promoting The Walk-On via social media, by entering it into contests, and lining up his own bookstore visits — all the while have a great time doing so.
“Keep writing,” he urges fellow hopeful authors and, “make sure you are proud of your book before you publish it.” After that, go to Lulu, start your own journey, and hopefully you’ll score big, too.