AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Great big sales figures have already appeared in this series—250,000 copies, 650,000 copies, well over a million copies, to mention a few— and you’ll see more in “The Bard Press Big Sales Backstory” in this issue; in the Independent’s August issue; and in the reports that follow.
But of course numbers can tell only part of any book’s success story. Other important parts have to do with how well its publisher manages to reach—and to serve and to keep right on serving—a specific market or markets with specific desires and needs.
As IBPA members’ reports on their bestsellers show, fulfilling readers’ needs can be immensely rewarding both in terms of numbers and in terms of making the world a better place.—Judith Appelbaum
A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne has sold 1.5 million copies, and the small publishing company she founded to publish it in 1996 has now published more than 125 books, videos, and other products. The company—aha! Process—provides consulting and training on issues of economic class for people in many fields, including education, business, community sustainability, social services, and law enforcement.
Payne wrote the book to help educators understand the class differences that influence the way students in their classrooms learn. As a central office administrator for staff development for a school district in Texas, she got requests for information and training from teachers whose students from low-income households were struggling.
Framework’s plain language, pragmatic approach, and immediately applicable classroom strategies made it a hit with practitioners—teachers and administrators determined to achieve results with their students from poverty. And its focus on student needs solely through the lens of economic class—thereby transcending racial, cultural, and gender issues, to name a few—won it even broader support from practicing educators. As long as economic disparities continue to affect the way students interact and learn in classrooms worldwide, it will continue to resonate with its readers.
Building on the success of A Framework for Understanding Poverty and its appeal to professionals outside the world of education, Ruby Payne teamed with Philip DeVol and Terie Dreussi-Smith to write Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities, which has sold 145,000 copies to date and is now in its third revised edition.
The popularity of Bridges among social workers, government officials, healthcare professionals, and others testifies to the utility of the resources it provides and of its main point—people from poverty will continue to be perceived as in need of help, rather than as people who can actively contribute to the well-being of the communities they live in—unless they gain access to community policymaking procedures.
aha! Process, Inc.
Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens is among our 50-plus illustrated titles that have sold thousands of copies and are still in print. With text and photographs by Elizabeth Murray, it was released first in 1989, and after 14 printings, we issued a revised edition in spring 2010. Total sales: 165,000.
The book offers an armchair traveler’s guide through Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny along with instructions and illustrations readers can use to incorporate Monet’s garden designs into their own backyards.
Another one, The Twelve Terrors of Christmas with text by John Updike and illustrations by Edward Gorey, has sold more than 70,000 copies since its first edition was released in the fall of 2006.
And a third, Shaman: The Paintings of Susan Seddon Boulet, published in 1989, has sold 120,000 copies.
Pomegranate Communications, Inc.
Fiction That Sells at Train and Toy Shows
My wife and I launched Linden Park Publishers to publish my novel, Christmasville, which we released in hardcover on December 1, 2006. Editors of a reputable publishing house in the Midwest had been interested in acquiring the rights to publish the book, but insisted on eliminating the chapter called “Faith.” I chose not to compromise creative control over my manuscript.
To date, more than 4,000 copies of Christmasville have been sold, 90 percent at regional or state fairs and train and toy shows throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. At such venues, I set up my Traveling Christmasville Show, which includes a Lionel locomotive, model buildings, vehicles and figurines, and a binder containing “rare photographs” of the fictional town of Christmasville (which is situated on a four-by-eight-foot train platform) along with the Group Reading Guide and “Ten Fun Facts” supplement.
In September we will issue a reedited, reformatted trade version in conjunction with the publication of Finding Christmasville, the second volume in the trilogy. The new edition of Christmasville uses a bigger font size (the chief complaint from my readers) and includes a map of the town of Christmasvillle, the Reader’s Guide, and the “Fun Facts” supplement. Also—admittedly—the new edition rectifies a number of typos (the second most common complaint from readers and what prompts me to cringe and shudder, though I have indeed learned an invaluable lesson). Electronic versions of both novels will be available by September, possibly followed by audio versions as well.
I’ve written fiction since I was 11 years old. Of all my accomplishments— including 20-plus years as a controller/director in the hotel and casino industry (8 of them with the Trump Organization)—writing fiction is the only one that is meaningful.
Linden Park Publishers
For Special-Needs Families
The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People is a nonprofit organization providing legal services on civil rights issues, discrimination, and access to state and federally funded programs. Since 2005, we have published five books for a national market that we reach primarily through direct marketing to schools and at conferences.
One of these—The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law by Randy Chapman (first edition, 2005; Spanish/English version, 2007; second edition, 2008)—has sold 10,250 copies so far. We published it to help parents be better advocates for their children in special education and to help teachers better understand the law. We expect the book to keep selling, and it will be updated when the law changes. Parents love it so much they call it “The Special Ed Bible.”
Mary Anne Harvey
The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People
Help for Caregivers
I wrote The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices for Those Who Can’t because so many families are struggling to make the difficult decisions for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, dementia, a stroke, brain injury, developmental disability, or other mental limitation. How do you take away someone’s car keys? How do you make medical decisions when the person didn’t leave instructions? How do you make the end-of-life decisions for someone else?
Having sold 4,000 copies in the book’s first six months, I’m reprinting now.
Although I thought readers would be family caregivers, I am finding a huge market including guardians, conservators, elder law attorneys, social workers, geriatric care managers, physicians, and nurses, among others.
To reach my markets, I speak at a lot of conferences and special events. I have an online radio show and actively pursue other radio and TV appearances. I have a blog and write articles for other publications. And I spend most of my time following up potential leads. Even though people are busy, they usually say, “That’s right; I wanted to book you to speak at my event. Thanks for getting back to me.”
It helps that I am very good at understanding the needs of my audience. People from all over the country write to me and say things such as: “I now have the courage and the peace of mind to make the decisions I have to make.” Some tell me that they feel I am sitting right beside them, helping them think through the complicated issues they are facing. Just recently, a physician’s wife ran up to me and said, “Viki, I did the right thing. I honored my mother’s voice, and she had a good death. I did such a good job.” One comment I liked a lot came from a radio show host who said, “This is a book that everyone needs at home, just like a first aid book. You need it before the crisis.”
Winning Readers on the Water
Fortunately, all our titles sell in the thousands over time. Our first seven books, all nautical titles, were originally published by W.W. Norton. When our editor retired, we decided to publish them ourselves. Since then we have written four more books and created four DVD programs to complement them. My husband, Larry, coined a motto for the first book—Go small, go simple, go now!—that seems a timeless message.
Storm Tactics Handbook provides a good example of how our books sell. Published by us in 1996, it has sold 39,000 copies, and its third revised and expanded edition (2008) sells 2,200 copies a year. For the past five years, this book has consistently been on Amazon’s top 10 list of nautical instructional books.
Paradise Cay, another medium-sized nautical publisher, handles our distribution. We maintain a Web site, issue a monthly newsletter and cruising tips, continue a decades-long practice of writing for relevant magazines, and every few years do seminars at yacht clubs and boat shows. We also try to work hand in hand with our trade distributor, Midpoint Trade Books.
I think our success in becoming publishers came from taking the advice of our previous publisher: Hire a top editor and listen to her; invest in a proofreader and very good book designer. We probably spent more on the presentation of our books than a commercial publisher would have, but since we are getting a larger share of the profits, it seems to have paid off.
Serving Kids with Kids
Because of our special niche—books for and about pregnant and parenting teens—we’ve had quite a few titles that sell 40,000 copies or more, and we’ve sold between 20,000 and 56,000 copies of each of seven young adult novels by Marilyn Reynolds. Most of our sales are to schools. Some specifics:
Teens Parenting: The Challenge of Babies and Toddlers, first published in 1981, sold 56,376 copies as a single title. Revised and expanded, it became four titles in 1992, each of which we revised in 1998 and 2004. Total sales:
Your Pregnancy and Newborn Journey, 113,075; Your Baby’s First Year, 90,238; The Challenge of Toddlers, 59,351; Discipline from Birth to Three, 81,808. In 1993 we added Teen Dads (total sales, 47,469), and in 2000 we added Nurturing Your Newborn (39,736).
All these books continue to sell, as do Did My First Mother Love Me? (for adopted children; 1994, 39,572 sales so far) and Do I Have a Daddy? (for single-parent children; 1985, 58,189 sales).
In 1993, when Marilyn Reynolds submitted her novel about a 15-year-old pregnant girl to us, I knew Detour for Emmy was a fabulous story for young adults. I had vowed that I would never publish fiction because fiction is so often a shortcut to bankruptcy for a publisher, but I decided to take the risk.
I’ve been told since then that a YA novel is “successful” if sales reach 10,000. We have sold 56,711 copies of Detour for Emmy. A few years ago, we put a new cover on it, and it continues to sell.
Because of our success with that book, we published nine more novels by Marilyn Reynolds, her True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High. Several of these don’t have a single pregnant or parenting teen character, but sales of all but two are well over 10,000, with the top seller at 43,971.
Independent Publishers Group has been our distributor since 1997, but we retained the right to sell directly to schools. About 80 percent of our sales over the years have been direct to customer.
We’ve promoted mostly through our quarterly newsletter (PPT Express), catalogs, our Web site, and at least a dozen conferences each year.
Incidentally, before I published my first book in 1977, I took a publishing weekend seminar at UCI. When I told the instructor I planned to do books for pregnant and parenting teens, he laughed and assured me there’d be no market.
Morning Glory Press
A Slave’s Son’s Story
Beacon on the Hill by Linda Kenney Miller tells the story of her grandfather John A. Kenney, the son of ex-slaves who became a doctor and the personal physician to Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver at Tuskegee. Based on his diary and journals dating back to 1897, the book had a first printing of 3,000 copies in June 2008. We printed another 3,000 copies in the fall of 2010, and we got the book accepted into the curriculum at Tuskegee University as required reading for freshman orientation.
It has won two USA Book News Awards (2008 and 2009) and an Indie Excellence Award; it was a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist for Best First Book; the author was a finalist for the Georgia Author of the Year Award; and we have received several inquiries from filmmakers.
Harper House Publishers
Long Lives in Many Markets
Parenting Press has several books that have sold far more than 1,000 copies a year; in fact, some sold more than 1,000 a month early in their lives. During the past five years, our most successful book has been The Way I Feel, a hardbound children’s picture book, the first ever done by the company.
Published in 2000, it has lifetime sales of almost 300,000 today. It’s now in its 19th printing, and it has spawned an abridgement—an 18-page board book that has sold almost 88,000 copies since publication in 2005—and a Spanish-language edition. Both the hardcover and the board book have been licensed to Scholastic for school book club sales, and thanks to approval by California’s Department of Education, we can market both the English and Spanish editions to schools. With new census figures showing growth in the country’s Hispanic population, we’re now working hard on promoting to public and school libraries.
One of the first books we published has been the second most popular Parenting Press title during the past five years. It’s MY Body—a saddle-stitched paperback written to teach toddlers and preschoolers that they have the right to say “Don’t touch me”—has sold almost 285,000 copies since 1982, mostly through catalogs and therapeutic Web sites (with no spine, it’s seldom available on bookstore shelves).
From its start as a pamphlet written for 4-H students, How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, by Clarice Rutherford and David Neil, has been a solid seller for more than 30 years.
First published in 1981, with revisions in 1992, 1999, and 2005 (the latest edition in its ninth printing), the book continues to be our number one seller, with sales approaching 400,000. Back in 1981, there was very little on the market for new puppy-owners. The authors and our publisher, Betty McKinney, worked at Colorado State University at the time, and the idea of writing the book developed during lunch hours.
When the book was ready, Alpine Publications targeted training, breed, regional, and national dog magazines for publicity, ads, and promotion. One of the authors taught puppy-training classes, which helped promote the book, and Betty McKinney, already a well-known exhibitor and breeder of Shelties, attended shows throughout the country that initially served to promote it and have continued to do so.
She also started a breeder referral sign-up program through our publishing company that gives dog breeders an opportunity to earn free books when referring others to books from Alpine. The program continues to be popular, with How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With still the most referred title.
Alpine Publications specializes in dog- and horse-training books. Recognizing a void in the market, the company was able not only to fill that void but also to create an ongoing, long-lasting demand for its first book by firmly establishing it as the definitive reference work. An important key to its ongoing success has been keeping to its main focus—a puppy’s first six months.