Perhaps the magic that Diana Zimmerman has performed on stage for decades had a subtle influence on her self-published fantasy novel, Kandide and the Secret of the Mists. It has sold 12,000 copies since its publication in 2008, and has recently been signed by Scholastic for a 40,000-copy print run as a featured selection in September with Scholastic Book Club and Book Fairs.
Zimmerman has long been fascinated with faery paintings and the magical worlds they suggest. “I got the idea for the book after buying a faery painting by Maxine Gadd that I just loved,” she says. “It really spoke to my sense of wonder about the world of fantasy. I was bullied a lot as a kid, and the girl that used to bully me looked something like the one in the painting. It was how I imagined the character of Kandide. I wrote a short fantasy story about a nasty, mean, arrogant princess who’s forced to become vulnerable, and five years later I finished the book.”
She tried unsuccessfully to find an agent or publisher for Kandide, and finally decided to publish the book herself, setting up a company she named Noesis Publishing. “I’m fortunate that I had enough money and a great staff to help me set up my book signings and tour schedule,” she says.
Zimmerman, who in addition to being a magician is also CEO of CMS Communications, a corporate communications marketing agency, has made over 350 presentations in schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country since Kandide was published, and she attributes the book’s success to those visits. Children respond well to Kandide, she believes, because of its message about overcoming adversity and the challenges of being different. The teenage protagonist, Kandide, suffers an accident that leaves her less than perfect. She is banished to a treacherous world where she must battle hideous creatures, called “Imperfects,” as well as her repulsion at becoming one of them. During her presentations to kids, Zimmerman shares her experience with being bullied and ridiculed, and how it turned her into an insecure girl whose self-esteem was shattered. A small magic trick that she bought when she was eight helped restore her self-confidence, and 10 years later she was on her way to performing magic in theatres and auditoriums and on TV. Zimmerman also does a few magic tricks during her book appearances.
Scholastic’s commitment to Kandide is likely to help Zimmerman’s novel find a larger audience via the book fair market. In 2009 Zimmerman approached Ed Masessa, senior manager of product development for Scholastic Book Fairs, through a mutual acquaintance, after which she followed his editorial suggestions and rewrote the book to Scholastic’s satisfaction. They signed a deal this past March.
It is extremely rare for Scholastic to buy a self-published book; in fact, Masessa can only recall two other such acquisitions in the last several years. “Diana’s willingness and enthusiasm for self-promotion is every publisher’s dream,” he says. “She really pounds the pavement and does whatever it takes to sell books, something that we just don’t have the budget for these days. Anyone who sells 12,000 books, and has her passion and marketing savvy, deserves our attention.”
Scholastic created a new cover for Kandide meant to appeal to both boys and girls; the self-published edition features a princess. The revamped cover art conveys a mystical image that is more gender-inclusive (or gender neutral).
The first time Zimmerman walked into a classroom of kids who had read Kandide, the students stood up and applauded. “It’s one thing to be on a stage performing magic and get a standing ovation,” she says, “but this touched me more deeply than anything I’d ever experienced.” When Zimmerman appeared at a Barnes & Noble in Phoenix last year, the store sold more than 250 copies of her book, and fans waited in line three hours to see her; she has had similar turnouts at events in other parts of the country. Zimmerman describes this response as a result of an active online presence and social networking outreach, as well as her “Golden Triangle” theory of marketing: visiting schools, the book itself, and suggesting that the students buy it at their local Barnes & Noble store. She says she was able to overcome B&N’s usual resistance to buying from self-published authors because of her commitment to promoting the book, but found indie bookstores resistant.
Zimmerman has just completed the second book in the Kandide trilogy. She’ll soon embark on another extended tour, and will produce online magic tricks, contests, and faery artwork that can be downloaded on her Web site. She’s even created a Kandide perfume. “I want to turn Kandide into a brand,” Zimmerman says, and her love for the character, combined with her marketing expertise, may indeed make that happen.