Out of the dragon’s egg

Homeschooling makes you rich: A fantasy book about a dragon, Eragon, written by a homeschooled teen-ager in Paradise Valley, Montana, is outselling Harry Potter. From The Telegraph:

For a young man of 20, Christopher Paolini has lived a rather sheltered life. He has never been to school, never held a regular job and still lives in the old farmhouse along the banks of Montana’s Yellowstone River, where he grew up.

When he is not busy constructing a hobbit hut with an 8ft tunnel near the river, he spends much of his time happily lost in a fantasy world of his own creation – a place he calls Alagaesia, where dragons roam and battles rage among sword-wielding tribes.

This time last year, he was just another geeky teen with too much time on his hands. But now, thanks to Eragon, his 500-page rousing adventure story set in his imaginary world, young Christopher is suddenly rich.

His parents, former members of a survivalist cult, self-published the book. Then novelist Carl Hiaasen took his son fishing in Montana, discovered the book and touted it to his editors at Knopf.

His father greeted the news of Knopf’s interest with caution and decided to drive a hard bargain. He hired a powerful New York agent to do the deal. In the end, they secured a considerable advance from the publisher.

“We may live out in the middle of nowhere,” Kenneth says, with a sly grin, “but we didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.”

The family has used the profits to buy a new computer and a plasma-screen TV.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Public and private high school students get rich: Intel Science Talent Search Winners receive scholarships worth up to $100,000 after completing amazing projects with teacher supervision.

  2. PJ/Maryland says:

    It’s a little bizarre to note that the paperback edition (which is the self-published one, and came out in 2002) is $23, and Amazon offers no discount. The hardcover from Knopf came out this past August, lists for $19, and Amazon has it for $11.37. Are the economics of self-publishing really that bad?

  3. Self-publishing is a hard business to crack. To get a quality book published at a reasonable price costs quite a bit of money: the more copies, the lower the cost per copy. This is true with all mass printing (not true with fine quality art prints and similar jobs). So an author must put up quite a bit of money for a short run which might sell, or more money for a much higher run which again might sell. And that’s the printing.

    Then to sell the book, an author can buy advertising, go to events, become infamous, or hire an agent. The Unabomber tried threats, and that didn’t work out so well. I read a NYTimes article which said that Eragon’s author talked at schools, which is much less troublesome.

    And then if the self-published book sells, but not too well, the option to reprint the book is available. This is generally cheaper than the original printing, since the printers don’t have as much prep work to do. But if it really sells, publishers might bang down the door. But probably not.

    My experiences from working at a printshop taught me that most self-published books have an extremely limited potential audience. But I wasn’t asked.

  4. Homeschooling makes you rich? Every kid who is homeschooled is going to write (an adequate) novel and have it noticed by an established author who’d champion it to a big publishing house?

    Homeschooling makes you write well? If you read the intro, the parents edited the book extensively.

    All that said, it is an ok fantasy.

  5. PJ — jon gives a nice description of the economics involved. I own a (mostly defunct) private press, and the economics of getting a modestly designed book to press and market are prohibitive, especially if you are working with small press runs. You need to find the few shops that specialize in short runs… I used one in Ohio. All the luck in the world to this kid.

  6. Um, not exactly a new story, since it’s been on the best seller lists since August. I blogged it back on October 7th, and was very late then.

    I haven’t read it, but by all accounts from people I respect in the field, it’s quite terrible. See Timothy Burke’s commentary, for instance, on how very much this book does not reflect good writing. It’s a remarkably bad example of the virtues of home schooling, I’m afraid. Sorry. It’s not like I have any ax to grind here (other than being against terrible fantasy).

  7. I was being sarcastic about home schooling making you rich. I like the ex-survivalist parents who say they didn’t fall off the turnip truck and invest the dragonbook profits in a plasma TV.

  8. Mark Odell says:

    Rita C. wrote: the economics of getting a modestly designed book to press and market are prohibitive, especially if you are working with small press runs.

    Well, there is such a thing as book-on-demand publishing….

  9. See, the trick about “on-demand publishing” is that there is actually not much demand for it. And selling your book by going around giving readings, and then telling people you don’t actually have a copy to sell them, but they should go order it works particularly well. That’s why on-demand books have become all the rage on best-seller lists.

  10. Gary Farber: “It’s a remarkably bad example of the virtues of home schooling, I’m afraid.”

    Learning how to make big piles of money seems like a pretty good thing to learn, regardless of the literary quality of the work…

  11. Kris declared “Learning how to make big piles of money seems like a pretty good thing to learn”

    but that goal had remarkably little to do with learning, save for the forger’s appretice. I really hope that the home school goal is education, rather than money.

  12. PJ/Maryland says:

    Gary Farber: “It’s a remarkably bad example of the virtues of home schooling, I’m afraid.”

    Cris: Learning how to make big piles of money seems like a pretty good thing to learn, regardless of the literary quality of the work…

    Well, it sounds like the big piles of money only came with the Knopf offer, which involved a certain amount of luck. It sounds like the family was making money on the self-published book, tho, which shows something. Hey, he finished the book, which is more than most would-be authors do.

    I’m completely unbiased, since I was not home-schooled and haven’t read the book. From the reviews, it sounds like the book could be much worse, and that the content (if not the style or writing skill displayed) has struck a chord with its audience. With luck, Paolini will improve his skills with his next few books (as JK Rowling has done, IMO).

    I’ve always thought that home-schooling kids at the high school level would be very hard. Any competent adult should be able to teach a kid or two the basics through (roughly) 8th grade, but how many of us adults remember enough chemistry and bio and history and English lit to supply a reasonably well-rounded high school education? I think the packaged curriculums can only go so far.

    Paolini not only has been home schooled his whole life, he hasn’t been to college. (I wonder if part of his success was because he didn’t realize how hard a goal he set himself.) I hope he uses some of his money to take some online college courses (I don’t think he’s ready to attend a real college, given the cocoon he’s been wrapped in). And some travel might be broadening…

    P.S. Thanks to all for the self-publishing commments.

  13. At least some parents farm out subjects they are not comfortable teaching themselves. I’ve worked with a home schooler on composition — something I wouldn’t mind doing more of when my schedule gets under control.

  14. Mark Odell says:

    Gary Farber wrote: See, the trick about “on-demand publishing” is that there is actually not much demand for it.

    See, the trick about “demand” is that it occurs when an author actually writes something that people want to read, which might help to explain the “not much demand” you purport to observe.

    And selling your book by going around giving readings, and then telling people you don’t actually have a copy to sell them, but they should go order it works particularly well.

    There’s nothing about “on-demand publishing” which requires the author to have no pre-printed copies to sell to interested buyers, as you seem to assume he must. Nor is there anything about it which necessarily precludes an author from bringing his publication equipment along to his readings — especially considering what “publication equipment” means at this small a scale.

    That’s why on-demand books have become all the rage on best-seller lists.

    (pauses to wipe off the dripping sarcasm)
    Once again, there’s nothing about “on-demand publishing” which requires them to be so.

  15. It should be noted that not all home education takes place in a cocoon. My son, whose first classroom experience was auto shop at a community college, went out and landed his first job when he was ten, passing out pizza flyers with the twelve year olds he ran with.