In July 2011, Keith Maginn and his close friend, Emily, left Cincinnati, Ohio, for a 3,000-mile road-trip through the southeastern United States. Along the way, Keith and Emily had a simple goal: give away their own money to strangers, who then had to pay the money forward to someone else. Because of my abiding interest in travel, and because of the unique angle of this memoir, I asked Keith a few questions about his book, Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward.
What inspired you to write this book?
When my friend Emily and I started discussing a road-trip to spread kindness, I knew right away that I would write a book about our experience—where we went, who we met and how we gave money away. I started taking notes for Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward even before we got on the road.
How did you plan your trip?
I had just moved back to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. When we started planning our trip, Emily and I realized that we had a window of about two weeks where we were both free to hit the road. However, that period was only a week and a half or so away! We wanted to raise money and solicit donations from companies, organizations and so on, but we just didn’t have the time. The planning was very rushed. Emily and I also would have liked to contact local news stations in the cities that we were going to visit, but we didn’t have time for that either.
We decided to take a leap of faith and head out on this adventure without any set plans at all. We didn’t know if we would ever have this chance again. Emily and I had a loose itinerary of where we wanted to go—and we only settled on that a few days before we set out—but we felt it would be an adventure and that the trip was something we had to do.
Were there any surprises along the way?
Emily and I were actually surprised at how difficult it was to give money away. Neither of us had ever handed a stranger $100 or $300 before. We didn’t want to give money to just anyone, as we wouldn’t know if they would use the money responsibly. Emily and I decided that we would try to put ourselves in a position to meet deserving people and then we would have these people pick someone to end up with the money.
For example, we volunteered at a soup kitchen one afternoon. Emily was working with a nice man who volunteered at the kitchen with his wife once a week. Emily decided to give him our donation, with the stipulation that he got to pick someone to pay the money forward to. We were confident that he would do a better job of choosing someone than we would.
Is there an event that stands out to you from your trip?
The whole experience was amazing, but giving away our first donation was quite special. We met a young woman with an amazing, contagious personality. As a mother of three, she couldn’t wait to share the money with her children. She cried, we cried. It was a special moment and she was very grateful. This was when it really kicked in that Emily and I were really doing this and that our experiment might actually work.
Is this your first book?
Second. My first book is an inspiring memoir of overcoming personal struggles. Turning This Thing Around is a brutally honest, deeply personal account of redemption that takes readers on a moving spiritual journey.
Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
I first went through the whole song and dance of trying to solicit a literary agent with a query letter. Over and over I was told that my book sounded great, but that publishers were not willing to take a chance on an unknown at this time. They said that you had to have a strong platform before a publisher would step in and offer any support. In other words, new authors have to prove that they had a ready audience and that we can sell a lot of books on our own before publishers would get on board. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise, because I chose to self-publish and now I have full control over what I do with my book going forward.
How has that been?
Increasing the visibility of my books is a challenge; I am not going to sugarcoat it. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get the word out and it is time-consuming. But I retain sole rights to my work and have no deadlines or anyone looking over my shoulder. Sure, having a big-name publisher’s marketing dollars would be good in many ways, but there is something to be said for selling books on my own and doing it my way.
Did you have any trouble formatting the book?
I was on a very limited budget for both of my books, but was still able to get a quality product made for extremely cheap. I went with Amazon CreateSpace (paperback) and Kindle Direct Publishing (e-book) and have found their customer service phenomenal. The community forums are also helpful, as other writers are often willing to offer advice and suggestions.
Fortunately, with self-publishing an author can do everything on their own without really paying for anything. The route I took (and would suggest to other writers just starting out) is to pay a professional to edit your book. That is a must. Otherwise, you can do the rest.
That being said, I know nothing about formatting and I wanted to make sure that everything was done correctly, so I did pay to have someone do that for me. I got on a community forum on Amazon and said what I was looking for. Several formatters replied and I was able to choose from among them. It wasn’t expensive at all and was well worth the money. I went back to the same formatter for my second book.
Last suggestion—if you can pay to have your book cover done professionally at a reasonable price, that is probably money well spent. You can do it yourself using templates offered by CreateSpace (Amazon) and so on, but I can’t stress the importance of the cover enough. Now that so many books sell online, the cover is often one of the most vital factors in whether a reader will buy your book or not.
Where can readers find you?
Readers can follow my blog and learn more about me at http://keithmaginn.com or connect with me on Twitter at @Keith_Maginn. Both of my nonfiction books are available in paperback and e-book on Amazon: Turning This Thing Around and Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward.
Do you have any questions for Keith? Ask them in the comments, and he’ll drop by to answer them!