It’s the kind of marketing opportunity that experienced publishing folks often find tough to pull off, a window and launch event at Neiman Marcus. But then self-publisher Mandy Williams, the “Black” of the sister writing duo, “the Red and the Black,” is not an easy person to turn down. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the store manager of the Houston Neiman Marcus compares the book that she and sister, Tina Pennington, wrote, What I Learned about Life When My Husband Got Fired! ($25 suggested list price), to a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and a practical book on finance. The book will be rolling out to other Neiman Marcus stores in Texas and be available online in a special Neiman Marcus edition.
There are a few other unusual twists to this tale, as might be expected when one author, Williams, has an MBA in business from New York University and the London Graduate School of Business, and retired at the age of 39 and races Porsches and Ferraris. Pennington is a mother/homemaker who had a severe jolt when her husband lost his job in 2004 and she realized she didn’t have a clue about their finances. Shortly after Williams began helping her sister understand financial basics, she decided that she should start taking notes because she realized this could be a book. What I Learned about Life When My Husband Got Fired! weaves together their e-mails, IMs and conversations on time management, insurance, credit cards, exercise, stress and values.
Part of what makes this an unusual self-publication, besides the launch, was the decision to use a big printer in the U.S.—Donnelley has a plant in Houston—which meant starting with a first printing of 25,000 copies. Not all have been bound yet. There are several covers, including the one for Neiman Marcus and one for the ARCs, so Williams has been binding as she goes. Initially Williams did consider a more traditional publishing route, and sent the manuscript to Grove/Atlantic’s Morgan Entrekin, who she knew through a mutual friend. Although he turned it down as too commercial, she says that “he was my guiding light through the publishing world.”
Bright Sky Press in Houston also turned it down, in part because Williams wanted to move from manuscript in March to finished books in August. But they became consulting publishers. Even if a traditional house had accepted the book, Williams isn’t sure she would have been willing to let go of the project.
Another luxury she and her sister have chosen is to support independents by not selling to Amazon or other discounters; it is available on their Web site RedandBlackBooks.com. In the first two weeks, the book has sold 150 copies.