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Small Business

An Author Swims Against the Tide

John Mese co-creator of Flippy the tadpole formed a company with his wife to self-publish their book and merchandise their character. <b>As told to Jane Bennett Clark</b>

Through his Flippy books, John Mese tells children they can be anything.

Why did you self-publish the books? I'm in the film business. I've written scripts and gone the route of trying to get a literary agent and find a producer. You spend a year of your life on a script, and more often than not, it ends up as a stack of paper in your room. Based on what I'd heard about the children's-book business, it works the same way. So I thought we should investigate how hard it would be to publish a book on our own.

And you're also doing the merchandising? Dawn Kelsey, my wife and coauthor, introduced me to the world of art and merchandise. She had the idea of turning the character into a little company. Now we own the rights to everything.

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How much start-up money was involved? Dawn and I put up $2,000, and illustrator Chanler Holden and her husband, Major Mittendorf, put up $2,000. For $4,000, we ordered 2,000 copies of our first book. That was in 2002. We have made a profit for several years but have always channeled it back into the company.

You recently sold shares in the company. Why? We wanted to break into the big bookstores. So last year we began working with a distributor for independent books. We didn't have money to buy another 15,000 books to send to a warehouse, and to pay marketing and other costs. So we approached family and friends and sold 80 shares of stock at $1,000 a pop. The books are now being sold on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and in some stores. It's up to the distributor to get the books in stores nationally.

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What's the payback for investors? Once the investors have been paid back in full, they'll get a percentage of the dividends based on how much of the company they own. We think we'll reach that point in three to five years.

What's the deal on stuffed animals? Our goal and love is the books, but we stand to make a lot more money off the merchandise.

Has it been all you had hoped? I'm an actor. I love the creative endeavor and creating the books. Figuring out the business side has been way more involved than I ever imagined.