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I Published My Own Book and the Critics Noticed

Champ Clark self-published his book, "Shuffling to Ignominy," about the comic actor Stepin Fetchit.

The name Stepin Fetchit has long been used to signify the ultimate negative African-American stereotype -- but almost nothing had been written about him. He made his name as a comedian while becoming a polarizing figure, so I thought there might be some interest in a book on him. As a People magazine correspondent, I felt qualified to do the job.

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Stepin Fetchit left no personal papers, so I tracked down his family, friends and co-stars, including three people more than 100 years old. I researched for more than a year and a half and was well into the writing when I heard that another writer had signed with a big publisher to do his own book on Stepin Fetchit. Everywhere my agent went, she got the same answer: The market can't hold two books.

I knew that the other book was coming out last October, and I wanted my book to be out at the same time. I decided to order a print-on-demand book by iUniverse. I bought the Select Package for $460 and e-mailed iUniverse my manuscript and the photos I wanted to use.

Within a few weeks it was for sale on Amazon and other Internet sites. If anyone goes to Amazon.com and types in "Stepin Fetchit," my book pops up along with the other one, and iUniverse prints and ships each order on demand. You wouldn't know my book was self-published.

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I own the rights to my book, and I receive a 20% royalty on the $14.95 charged for each copy sold. (The other book costs $26.95.) I spent $400 on copies of the book that I sent to reviewers. The book was favorably reviewed along with the other Stepin Fetchit book in the New Yorker and the New York Times. My goal, besides having the book reviewed and read, is to make back my investment. So far, I've sold about 170 books.

I think the Internet is changing publishing. Someone will have a huge book that's self-published, and the rules will have to change a little more. People won't want to miss the next big thing.

--As told to his sister, Jane Bennett Clark

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