Ten years ago we put the first Unshelved strip on the web.
Our expectations were low, to say the least. The only reason we even bothered posting strips was to keep ourselves honest in the eyes of a few dozen friends and family. The plan was to churn out strips for a few months, then start over again using the lessons we'd learned, and finally apply to syndicates. (Remember newspapers?)
But after just a few weeks our friend Dawn outed us to her friend Jessamyn West, who told the world (scroll down to 05mar02). Then things went crazy. We gained thousands of readers overnight. Now, ten years later, we're up to about 75,000. It used to be almost all library workers. They're still the majority, but lots of teachers read it now too, and assorted book nerds. The whole newspaper thing fell by the wayside. Our audience had found us, and over time we developed a business model of a sort.
I took a few boxes of that first book to Toronto for ALA Annual 2003, where we had bought a small press table. Gene told me we wouldn't sell any because everyone else at ALA was giving away books. "But they aren't giving away ours," I said, and I was right - we sold almost all of them, and the T-shirts we brought too. Now we exhibit at half a dozen major conferences every year, with over a dozen shirt designs and lots of other fun merchandise.
I managed to talk a regional library conference in Pennsylvania into hiring me to speak. They liked it, someone told a friend, and I got hired again in Florida. Eventually Gene joined me on stage. Now we do about a dozen talks a year.
After a few years we started running book reviews, first in comic strip form, and more recently using plain old-fashioned words too.
For five years we ran an awesome book cart contest with over 500 entries from around the world. We'll probably do it again, one of these days.
With the books, and the merchandise, and the talks, and finally our sponsorship program, Gene and I were finally able to quit our day jobs. We're never going to get rich doing this, far from it, but we have more fun at our jobs than anyone has a right to, and we are deeply grateful to all of you for making it possible.
What do you say, ten more?