Many people know that The Shack by William Paul Young is an amazing read, but few realize the book has a history that is nearly as dramatic.
Young was a Portland, Oregon salesman who began writing his tale in 2005 at the urging of his wife, Kim. It took him about four months to complete the first draft of his novel.
What did he do then? He photocopied 15 copies, which he gave away as Christmas presents that year. For most such books that would have been the end of the line. Normally, people put such gifts on a shelf to gather dust.
Something unusual happened, however. Young got emails from people he didn’t know telling him they loved the book. Friends had given copies to others, and it became viral.
Young was shocked at the response he received. At that point he enlisted the help of clergyman Wayne Jacobson, who loved the book. Jacobson, along with friend Brad Cummings, rewrote the book with Young’s permission, and the duo sent it off to publishers. It was soundly rejected. Mainstream publishers found it too Christian and Christian publishers found the plot too theologically flaky.
Jacobson and Cummings decided to publish the book themselves, again with the involvement of Young. They created a publishing company called Windblown Media and turned a $15,000 investment into millions of dollars in sales.
They sold the first 1,000 copies from their web site, and it took four months to run through their initial printing of 11,000 copies. They ordered 22,000 more copies, and they were gone in 60 days. A third printing of 33,000 sold out in only 30 days. The company only spent about $250 on advertising; the rest of the sales came through word of mouth.
Windblown Media sold 3.8 million copies, and in June, 2008 the huge Hachette Book Group took over distribution. Today, there are 15 million copies and sales show no sign of abating.
This is a tremendous Christian self-publishing success, but it did not come without problems. Young, Jacobson and Cummings sealed their deal with a handshake, and later some inexact legal documents, and now they are embroiled in lawsuits over the division of funds. Nevertheless, these men were present at a Christian self-publishing miracle, one that brings hope to many Christian authors.