Successful self-publisher has sold 300,000 books: “I want power myself”
For 25 years, author Henrik Frederiksen has published his books himself.
He encourages everyone to do the same.
Frederiksen has been called the king of the literary underworld, having written 11 novels since the mid-1990s. Plus, he’s the sole author and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies without a publisher.
Reviewers have called his novels “deeply gifted,” “subtle” and “stand-up comedy in print,” and well-known Danes such as Casper Christensen and Hella Joof have expressed enthusiasm for his books.
Still, his name is not known to the general public.
But Frederiksen is considered one of the country’s most successful self-publishers and, rightly so; according to his own statistics, he has sold over 300,000 copies of his books.
Every day in December, Frederiksen stands in line for eight hours in a booth in the department store Kronen in Vanløse (and elsewhere) and sells his books directly to customers.
Today he can live off his book income without the help of a publisher to market his books and get them in bookstores.
As Frederiksen says, “Why should I give the publisher a slice of the cake when I can do it all myself?”
“Over the years I have been offered publishing [contracts],” Frederiksen says. “After all, my second book has sold 145,000 copies. But on a publishing contract I might get 15 percent of the sales.”
That is an arrangement that Frederiksen says “has always struck me as profoundly ridiculous…” to get such a tiny portion of income for something he alone created.
Frederiksen says he likes to write books, but he also wants to make money from them. In addition, it’s important for him to own his book and not give up the rights.
“By not being at a publishing house, I have the power myself,” Frederiksen says. “If my book is a failure in sales, it is my own fault and not because… a publisher has not marketed it well enough.”
“I’m an ex-boxer,” Frederiksen adds. “And I’d rather be in the ring alone than [rely on] someone who might do well.”
For Frederiksen, who has also worked as an external lecturer at CBS for five years, standing in the ring alone also means that he himself has to deal with the trouble of producing, publishing, marketing and selling his books.
Initially, he drew on friends and acquaintances to help him copyedit and set up the book, but today Frederiksen earns enough to have eight employees, including an editor, two reviewers, a graphic artist, a marketer and a number of sales people.
All told, it costs around 120,000 kroner to produce a book. But if he sells enough of them, the profit is impressive.
Frederiksen’s latest book, “Failure” cost him seven kroner per copy to print, and he subsequently sells it for 149 kroner.
The idea of selling the books in a booth originated from the time when Frederiksen first decided to try his hand as a self-publisher.
In 1995, he had for a number of years appeared as a comedian—including with Casper Christensen—at the iconic DIN’s restaurant in Copenhagen.
Frederiksen didn’t really like to be on stage, but he had so much good material that he decided to use it in a book — the essay collection “Brainstorm.”
When not working as a doorman at discos and cafes, Frederiksen went around town to see if any publishers were interested. But the publishers slammed the door in his face.
“I got maybe six or eight rejections,” Frederiksen says. “So I thought, ‘I’ll publish it myself.’
With a loan of DKK 10,000 that his father’s wife provided him, Frederiksen printed 2,000 copies of his book.
Then he went to Illum in Copenhagen, walked up the aisle and burst into a board meeting to tell them that he had written a book that he would like to sell in the department store.
“I was shown nicely outside,” Frederiksen says.
“But the Deputy Director followed me and said that he could give me a booth in November and December. So I was allowed to stand next to the fishmonger. The first day I stood for eight hours [and only sold] one book to a tourist and thought, ‘It’s going to be a long Christmas.’”
But Frederiksen was persistent.
He remained in the booth for two months, and a few years later, in 1998, he reached out to Tuborg Brewery via an old friend from his student days, and something started to happen.
The book was adorned with Tuborg’s iconic label with snowflakes on the cover.
Tuborg also arranged for Frederiksen to have a five-minute meeting with the marketing managers at Coop, and he succeeded in convincing them to sell “A Magical Christmas” at SuperBrugsen across the country.
The book was also made into an audiobook and serialized, then broadcast on 22 local radio stations across the country.
“I was living in a small apartment at that time, but suddenly I got a check of DKK 640,000. It was crazy, and I thought, :”Okay. It works,” says Frederiksen.
Today, according to Frederiksen’s figures, “A Magical Christmas” has sold 145,000 copies. He has continued to work with Coop, which still buys a lot of his books to sell in their stores, including “Unfaithful” from 2018 and “Failure” from 2019.
“That alone has given me half a million a year for the last two years,” he says.
At the same time, since his debut in Illum in 1995, Frederiksen has manned a booth in December and sold books, although in his own words he has been traumatized by bad Christmas music.
Frederiksen markets his books by getting opinions from reputable reviewers and well-known cultural personalities, which can be put directly on the cover.
“I have had Casper Christensen, Kim Skotte from Politiken, film director Peter Aalbæk and all sorts of others review my books by contacting them [directly]” Frederiksen says.
“I [approached] Hella Joof at one of my local bars at Frederiksberg Allé and asked if she would read my new book and give an opinion on it,” he says.
And Joof agreed.
As with everything else, Frederiksen takes the helm of marketing in order to manage the process himself.
“If you are at a publisher that maybe publishes 200 books a year, only a handful of the books that the publisher really prioritizes [get marketed well,]” he says.
“Obviously, if I had as much money…for marketing as Sara Blædel, then I’d rather be at a publishing house,” Frederiksen says.
But, he adds, you can count one or at most two hands how many authors get that kind of treatment.
Frederiksen recently hired an employee to build up his presence and visibility on digital platforms because, in his own words, he has been too busy writing to fulfil that role himself.
In the near future, Frederiksen says he will begin to record his books for audiobooks in a studio he has built in his laundry room.
Although it takes legwork to publish his books himself, Frederiksen encourages everyone to do so.
“There has been a lot of cultural snobbery about being a self-publisher, but I am increasingly convinced that it is an old, dusty thought,” he says.
“I know self-publishers who earn significantly more than when they were [with publishing houses], and they even own their books.”
“So if you work professionally…I would encourage anyone to publish their books themselves. I have proven that it can be done,” he says.