How a Self-Published Book Became a Best-seller

Carol Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda Bell, knew they had a winning idea when they transformed their family tradition into a book, “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” But when they submitted the book—about how Santa disperses helper elves to watch boys and girls during the holidays and report back to him nightly at the North Pole—to publishers, no one wanted to take a chance on the concept.

So, in 2005, Aebersold and her daughters, Bell and Christa Pitts, formed Kennesaw, Ga.-based publishing company CCA and B, and published the book themselves. Fast-forward to today, and “The Elf on the Shelf” is No. 1 on’s best-seller list and expected to bring in $7 million in 2009.

Pitts recently spoke with Book Business Extra about how the self-published title found its way on to so many bookshelves—from Twitter giveaways to a catchy commercial jingle, “The elf on the shelf is watching you, each and every Christmas.”

Book Business Extra: How did CCA and B turn a self-published book into a best-seller?
Christa Pitts: … I don’t know if you can really explain how we did it, although I do think there are several components to our success. When we started the publishing company on our own, we began with the belief that we had something so unique, so special and so different, it needed to be shared. In addition, we felt we had a niche that was not being served by “traditional” publishing houses. Those two components—in combination with our can-do personalities, unyielding commitment to our customers and our devotion to building a brand—have all combined to equal “best-seller” status.

Extra: What type of marketing strategy did you employ with this book?
Pitts: Much of our success can be attributed to a word-of-mouth campaign. This campaign of sorts came directly from our customers. One person would buy “The Elf on the Shelf,” and they would tell two or three of their friends and family members about it. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book, “The Tipping Point,” we reached the “connectors”—those who link us up with the world and have a knack for making friends and acquaintances. Those connectors shared our story, and here we are.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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  • http://ChristopherHastings Christopher Hastings

    Interesting story, but it didn’t really give you any good meat on how they did it. How did you get bookstores to trust you? How did you reach the "connectors"? What did either of them do beforehand that made them the success they are today? <br />

  • guest

    should be illegal