RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Peter Forman's home office has been taken over by boxes of his new, self-published book, "Wings of Paradise, Hawaii's Incomparable Airlines."
Formula for success
"Self" + "publishing" = work + more work, says one man who took on the task
Self-published. A scary phrase, and in most cases not something to trumpet -- it usually means no professional publishers were interested. The ease of print-on-demand technology has inspired a rash of memoirs by uninteresting people, deep thoughts by shallow intellects, cringe-worthy fiction from plot-disabled wanks who believe that because they can type, they are authors.
Then there are the occasional fabulous examples of self-publishing by amateurs, a feat that does happen but still seems amazing when you see it, like the notion of whales being able to jump out of the water. Such a book is "Wings of Paradise, Hawaii's Incomparable Airlines," by Peter N. Forman, a product of Barnstormer Books of Kailua.
Barnstormer Books? Here's a book from a one-title publisher, and the publisher is also the author. And yet the book is highly professional in all regards (see review, Page E8). We got on the blower to Forman to ask how he managed this juggling trick, and discovered that writing was the easy part.
It's turns out Forman's first career was as an airline pilot. "For most of my adult life, I've made a living as a pilot, including 20 years flying jets on the mainland and throughout Europe for a major U.S. airline. Flying was also a hobby as I spent vacations and days off hopping rides in my Great Lakes open-cockpit biplane -- thus my company name, Barnstormer Books."
In 1983 an aviation book company published his first effort, a how-to book, "Flying Hawaii, A Pilot's Guide to the Islands."
"My joy of holding a copy in my hands was tempered by the book's shoddy production quality. When the publisher sold out their stock and decided against a second printing, I obtained the copyright and self-published the book. My experience with self-publishing was so positive that I never sought a publisher for the second book, and even turned down an unsolicited offer by another publisher."
One key to a successful book is focusing on the subject matter, then ferreting out essential points that fit the subject matter. Don't digress. For Forman, his experiences flying in Hawaii in the late '70s and early '80s led to a fascination with Hawaii's airline industry.
"Three aspects caught my attention. First, Hawaiian Airlines is one of the world's oldest airlines still in operation. ... That Hawaiian grew from this struggling early airline to its current self without ever losing a passenger only magnifies the significance of this feat.
"Second, no two airlines have carried out a more intense feud as Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines -- capacity battles, aircraft upgrades, lawsuits, near-mergers and dirty tricks. This is the Hatfields and McCoys story in U.S. airlines with loads of conflict. An essential ingredient in a good story!
"Also, both these airlines have encountered financial free falls, which would have brought liquidation to a typical business. What was it about these airlines that allowed them to recover from such adversity?"
Forman's mainland airline recalled him to flying status, so he accelerated his research, interviewing pilots and businessmen, digging up sources, finding photographs. He wrote five chapters, then left Hawaii, working full time as pilot.
"It languished for well over a decade until I returned to Hawaii and committed myself to finishing it," said Forman. And so he did, completing the main part of the book a few years ago. But he wanted his baby viewed in the best possible light, so he threw himself into the technical aspects of book production -- editing, layout, graphics, output, shopping for a printer, setting aside funds, arranging storage and distribution deals, Web site design, setting up a charge account for online sales and even acquiring an International Standard Book Number bar code.
Forman points out that beyond giving in to your inner control freak, a real advantage of self-publishing is timeliness.
"A traditional publisher releases a book a year or two after the manuscript is completed. I needed only two to three months. All the 2005 gyrations of Hawaiian's bankruptcy proceedings are included here, and the beginnings of Aloha's struggles are in there as well."
Time also works against you if you have only two hands.
"It's the biggest drawback, the time requirement. I typically put in 12-hour days and wear every hat in the business: author, layout artist, publicist, shipping clerk. I'd love to start writing the next project, but I'll be tied up for several months ensuring that 'Wings of Paradise' gets airborne."
The only part of the job he can't do is the artwork, although you can tell that if he could do it, he would. Correction: If he could do it to meet his own standards, he would. "When people put oil on canvas and a picture appears, why, I'm amazed. How do they do that?"
The toughest part is distribution, said Forman, who chose the Booklines distributor in Hawaii. "Any aspiring author needs to know that publishing success nearly always requires two critical ingredients: an exciting book which generates word-of-mouth referrals, and hard work by the author wearing a marketing hat. Whether you go with a traditional publisher or self-publish, the rules remain the same."
Forman examined work by various printers and chose Bookmasters in Ohio, printing 5,000 copies -- a healthy run for a special-interest title -- and he "has 4,000 books in boxes sitting in my dehumidified and air-conditioned office. An absolute mountain. That's my motivation: To regain my office, I have to sell books."
The other 1,000 are in mainland storage to simplify distribution. The total cost wound up being about $30,000 -- average for a book of this quality -- and he figures he has to move 2,000 before seeing profits. That's not going to happen overnight, but the remaining inventory will bring in substantially more money than an author's normal royalty. Enough to publish more titles, write more books.
"I'll be doing more writing, obviously aviation-related," Forman said.
Their training makes pilots, by nature, detail-oriented. They live by the checklist. Did that help Forman in book publishing?
"Pilots are an interesting breed," he laughed. "The problem is, there are very few pilots who can write. Not because they're incapable, but because, as a group of people, they crave stimulus. They just can't sit down and write; it would make them crazy. Look at me -- I started writing this book 20 years ago!"
Forman later e-mailed an addendum: "There are days when the sun is out, the winds are light, and I'd rather be flying than pursuing any earthbound endeavors. Who am I to complain, though, living in Hawaii and writing stories which matter to me? What I like best about the writer's life is that I am learning quickly these days. I'm a rookie again, no longer the seasoned veteran in my craft. I read passages by aviation authors I admire -- Ernest K. Gann, Richard Bach, Antoine de Saint Exupery -- and I marvel at their skill, the way I used to do as a 13-year-old boy watching an airshow pilot fly glorious, smoke-trailed arcs across the sky."
You can take the boy out of the cockpit, but even while sitting at a typewriter, the boy is still in the cockpit.
Substance, not style, helps 'Wings' soar
Author Forman calls this a labor-of-love project, so much so that he was hands-on with every aspect of editing, production and publishing, and the finished product reflects this obsession -- it's a terrific role model for both the creative control and the financial incentive of self-publishing.
"Wings of Paradise -- Hawaii's Incomparable Airlines"
by Peter F. Forman
(Barnstormer Books, $29.95)
I would quibble only with the centered, san-serif photo captions. But at least he has photos, and they're rare, logically chosen and well-reproduced. (One big find during research was famed Hawaiian pilot Charles Elliott's photo album.)
Once you crack open the cover, however, a book succeeds on the basis of its content, not its packaging. This is where "Wings of Paradise" takes off.
The story of Hawaii's airlines is potentially a complicated stew of mythology and counterclaims, and sorting it out would be like raking spaghetti. Forman has the sense to hone it down to a clear, simple narrative, bolstered with appropriate anecdotes and observations.
Although the book is infused with the romance of aviation and the islands, it is essentially a business story, a bare-knuckle free-for-all within a confined space. How important a story is it? Just imagine life today in the islands without aviation.