An IBPA Roundtable
Books in Action, Part 1
We keep hearing—and talking—about print vs. digital and about whether a book is or isn’t a book if it’s “enhanced” or “chunked” or subject to readers’ revisions. But let’s forget all that for the moment and focus instead on the main event—what books do for their readers and, through their readers, for sizable segments of the world.
After all, a book is a whole lot more than a well-constructed package of physical or digital content, and nobody can make that point with real-life examples better than independent publishers.
Responses poured in after I asked IBPA members what their books do. Selected responses appear below, and more will appear next month. Many thanks to everybody who helped demonstrate the power that books have.
We are a pretty small publisher, but we do well in the highly competitive parenting business.
Our book, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2–12, is in its fourth edition with 1.4 million copies sold and editions in 22 foreign languages. 1-2-3 Magic titles in all forms consistently sell over 100,000 copies per year.
Our readers are parents, teachers, and other caretakers of kids 2–12, with moms the most motivated segment of our market.
Typically in Amazon’s top 10 parenting titles and usually the bestselling child discipline book, 1-2-3 Magic offers a simple technique to get the kids to stop doing what you don’t want them to do (whining, arguing, tantrums, sibling rivalry); several methods to get the kids to start doing what you do want them to do (picking up, eating dinner, homework, going to bed—and staying there!); and four techniques for strengthening your relationships with your children.
Here is a representative Amazon comment: “I have a really independent and strong willed little girl who is pretty sure she knows everything already and is in charge of the home. I also inherited a bad, bad temper from my own father, and a set of unproductive and rage-fueled methods for handling discipline in the home. I was terrified I would squelch my daughter’s independence and irreparably damage our relationship, until I read this amazing book. The book changed my life!”
Deciding About Circumcision
The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents, coauthored with Lorna Greenberg and published in December 2012, has now won the Books for a Better Life Award in the Childcare category, beating four books by mainstream publishers, three of which were New York Times bestsellers.
The book fills an important niche because it is the only (repeat: only) unbiased book designed to help parents make a personal decision about the issue. It covers every single aspect—medical, cultural, personal, sexual, ethical, religious, and other issues. Its final chapter, about making a smart decision, was written with help from the author of a book used at major business schools such as Harvard and Duke.
Not a single pregnancy book gives the issue of circumcision more than a page or two. Ditto for all newspaper and magazine articles. Yet the decision affects a major organ (and a circumcision can never be undone).
The book’s readers are expectant (and perhaps adoptive) parents. Since 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, and since the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other major national medical organizations, issued a report last August that reversed a previous neutral position on circumcision but recommended that all parents have factual, unbiased information, there are millions of likely readers.
How have readers responded? Enthusiastically! Those deciding to circumcise have made sure to get medically licensed circumcisers who administer adequate pain relief and use a protective shield. Those who have decided to leave their infant intact are aware of the importance of not forcing the foreskin off the penis until it has separated and the importance of changing diapers frequently enough to avoid urinary tract infections. Readers who are birth educators are eager to give the book to their expectant parents. Other professionals realize how much time the book will save them by explaining the issue, and maybe explaining it more thoroughly than they could, given time constraints.
Probably because one of us is pro-circ and the other mildly anti-circ, and because the book is written in a style that makes it comprehensive but easy to read, many reviewers have admitted being surprised at how well we covered the issue and how much they enjoyed reading the book. Yet we have not (knock on wood!) received a single attack by the intactivists who normally skewer any book that even suggests the possibility of circumcision. Again, probably due to our lack of bias.
The president of an institute that trains sexual therapists, who helped us with the chapter about sex (and was one of those who was enormously surprised by the book’s quality), asked us to address and explain the ethical issues of female circumcision in a documentary being made. Another reader, the parenting book buyer for the nation’s largest bookstore chain, called me personally to tell me how much she loved the book and how much it is needed (and yes, it is being carried in Barnes & Noble’s brick-and-mortar stores).
We’ve sold nearly 800 copies in the first few weeks; the book will be reviewed in forthcoming issues of La Leche League International’s newsletter, in Midwifery Today, and in other specialized journals. Top mommy and daddy bloggers are paying attention to it as well. With distribution by Ingram, Quality Books, and Rittenhouse (a well-known medical book distributor), we are hoping The Circumcision Decision will be around as long as the record-breaking bestseller What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and that it will achieve the success of The Five Languages of Love, a book that took its author several years to get on bestseller lists. In short, we expect our book to be a standard pregnancy book, read by expectant parents and recommended by their friends, physicians, midwives, doulas, and others.
Carrot Seed Publishing LLC
Dancing with Dad
I love a good story. Doesn’t everyone? I especially love a good allegory that teaches me life-lifting lessons. So about 40 years ago, I made a decision to marry and raise artists to illustrate my stories. And I did. The only problem is they grow up and decide to have lives of their own, and then other people can pay them more than I can.
Somewhere between his graduating from art school, touring the world on art scholarships, and being picked up by major animation studios, I was lucky enough to get a few books out of my son, Paul Linsley.
“It’s time to start our own publishing company,” said the brilliant artist; “We will start with the poem you wrote for Dad.”
So we cashed in a retirement fund and started with May I Have the First Dance? That was in 2005. The book is a metaphorical dance through the life of a father and his daughter. By June 2007, the book had been endorsed by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, sold 7,000 copies, and beat Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter for two weeks running on Amazon.
My job as the author and publisher is to gently remind people of the importance of fathers in every child’s life. I often speak to women’s organizations and remind them to honor their fathers, champion their husbands, and make sure their own child has a father.
I have met amazing people in my journey through bookstores across the United States. One elderly woman entered a Barnes & Noble in Idaho Falls looking like an empress from a northern empire. Dressed in fur from head to toe, she approached the table and picked up the book. As she read, tears came streaming down her cheeks.
“You wrote this book about me,” she said. She went on to tell us how she danced in the kitchen with her father, went on to be a professional dancer on Broadway, and currently owned the major dance studio in town. She bought the book in remembrance of her father.
We have seen grown men fresh from the farm break down in tears. We hear of little girls who want to hear the “Daddy book” every night.
One evening in Texas, after giving a presentation, I opened the floor for questions. A young mom raised her hand. She began to explain that she had recently moved to Texas from California. Her mother-in-law gave her a book before they left California that quickly became their family favorite. Then she proceeded to say, “It was you; you wrote that book that changed our lives.”
Our mission at Higher Ground Press is to “enlighten, uplift and inspire.” We have now published many more authors and illustrators. But our goal remains the same, to provide illustrated children’s literature that will be passed on to the next generation.
Higher Ground Press, LLC
Re-creating for Retirement
As I began developing 65 Things to Do When You Retire, I envisioned that it would be a road map to retirement. I wanted it to contain a mix of firsthand accounts about the ways people created meaningful retirements as well as practical advice from distinguished retirement experts.
Early on, I was able to include essays by such notable achievers as former president Jimmy Carter, who’s had an exemplary retirement, and Gloria Steinem, who’s not retired but has wonderful things to say about discovering yourself later in life. And I was lucky to have Renee Rooks Cooley as associate project editor. Together, we trawled the Internet for months, looking for retirees who had interesting and unusual stories—and who could also write well.
One of the many exhilarating things about putting this project together was hearing wonderful stories of renewal and discovery. People get in touch with themselves and their dreams (like writing a novel or traveling around the world), which may have been long deferred. Or they find they’re drawn to do something to help others that they’ve never done before.
One story I find particularly inspirational is that of Bob Lowry, who rather reluctantly agreed to start doing prison ministry after he retired. This was way outside his comfort zone, and he was apprehensive about his initial meeting with a prisoner. “I had zero involvement with this segment of society,” he writes in the book. But at their first meeting, he learned that the prisoner had been equally nervous and hadn’t eaten for two days because he was so worried that Bob wouldn’t show up and that he’d be “ridiculed” by his cellmates. Bob found his calling in prison ministry, and in helping others he’s growing in ways he never expected.
65 Things to Do When You Retire went into its fourth printing in less than a year, and recently the Wall Street Journal named it one of “the year’s best guides to later life,” declaring that reading the book is “like having your own brainstorming session with 65 highly knowledgeable men and women of a certain age and many different walks of life.”
I think the book strikes a chord with readers because it shows them that retirement is not just about recreation—it’s about re-creation.
Since 65 Things to Do When You Retire has been so successful, we’ve just published a follow-up book, 65 Things to Do When You Retire: Travel. I am thrilled that these books are making a difference in the lives of retirees, helping them learn some lasting lessons about embracing life, pushing their own limits, and pursuing goals and dreams, no matter what age they are.
Sellers Publishing, Inc.
Saving Family History
My five novels focus on Jewish women. Although I have readers with many different backgrounds, that particular group loves the way I “get” them.
Three satires focus on Jean Rubin, a harried mom with a laconic husband and two stressful adult children. The most recent in the series, Stressed in Scottsdale, won a First Prize for Humor/Satire from the Glyph Awards.
However, my historical fiction creates the most buzz, and Paper Children: An Immigrant’s Legacy, based on family letters from relatives trapped in Poland during WWII, has garnered the most attention. I speak about it often, addressing “Why Our Family History Matters” at seminars, fundraisers, and conferences. Recently I spoke at a luncheon in south Florida for Jewish Adoption and Foster Care, a synagogue in Park City, UT, and a 30-year anniversary for a library in California. This month I will present at the Arizona Women’s Conference. I bring a photo of my grandmother, on whom the novel is based, along with her straw hat, gloves, and hankies, and a bottle of her perfume.
In many comments and recommendations, people talk about how Paper Children touched them and reminded them of their families. I stress how important it is to save pieces of our family history. All the relatives with the funny accents are gone!
Boosting Green Business
I like to think that my 2003 self-published Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and the related international campaign I started around ethical/green business were among the factors that changed the discussion of environmental and ethics issues in our business culture.
The book was early with the idea that doing the right thing can be quite profitable—and showed some paths to ethics and sustainability that were considered heresies at the time. Back then, when I explained my book, I often heard things like “Green is too expensive,” or “Business ethics? That’s an oxymoron.”
I don’t hear those statements any more. And I’ve seen green consciousness go from a small minority to near-consensus. Even soccer moms in suburban schools are organizing for healthy alternatives in the schools.
While sales were modest, the book won an Apex Award for best book in the PR industry; it was republished in two other countries; it received more than 80 endorsements (including some from prominent figures such as Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup fame, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and populist icon Jim Hightower), and I resold the rights to Wiley, which published an expanded, updated version as Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green that was translated and published in two more languages
Helping Women Find Fulfillment
“Your book changed my life.” Those were powerful words for a newly published author from a woman I had never met. As it turns out, she is not the only woman who has conveyed that message to Betsy Smith (my co-author) or me. It’s exciting and rewarding to have created a book that challenges women over 50 to live fulfilling lives and shows them how, and then to hear that it works.
Our primary target group for Second Blooming for Women: Growing a Life That Matters After Fifty is obviously women over 50, but many women who read it have suggested we get rid of the “over 50” because “it’s a good book for all women.”
Some samples of feedback:
“I am 55, and my only child died a few years back at the age of 16. Since his death, I have had difficulty finding any meaning in my life, even though I have a career. Having read your book, however, I am now in the process of inventorying my strengths and skills, and am looking forward to a ‘second blooming.’ Thank you!”
“I’m having trouble establishing goals now that I’m retired. The book is helping me do that. I love your garden analogy.”
“I found your book at the public library and find it very inspiring. My dream seems not so far away.”
So far, we’ve sold more than 3,000 copies of the book through Amazon and other online bookstores, our Website, special events (e.g., festivals), presentations (to professional and civic groups, churches, retirement centers), financial institutions (one bought 100 copies), and airport and local gift stores.
Also so far, the book has been featured in a teleseminar with the National Association of Baby Boomer Women, television and radio interviews, and a story in Emerald Coast magazine, and it has won two national awards.
Kathleen Vestal Logan
Second Blooming Books, A Wyatt-MacKenzie Imprint
Dealing with Mental Illness
We publish a series of titles on schizophrenia which, I’m pleased to say, are having an impact on readers, including one by a mother describing her struggles; three by people with schizophrenia talking about their challenges and recovery; and one by a mother and daughter on the problems of parenting with and growing up as the daughter of someone with schizophrenia.
The titles have been recommended by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the United States, EUFAMI in Europe, the World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders, and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. Three of them are listed among the top 10 must-read books on schizophrenia by the award-winning healthyplace.com Website.
Dr. Carolyn Dobbins, the author of What a Life Can Be: One Therapist’s Take on Schizo-Affective Disorder and a therapist with schizo-affective disorder, now uses her book to coteach a graduate course for people learning to be mental health counselors. She hears from readers who say, in fact or in essence, “You have definitely helped us!”
Susan Inman, author of After Her Brain Broke: Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity, won the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, which recognizes outstanding Canadians and honors them for their contributions to fellow citizens. She too gets appreciative emails from readers, such as: “Reading your book, I was able to imagine what my parent would have had to go through”
Sandra Yuen MacKay, the author of My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, also won the Queen Elizabeth medal, was named Courage to Come Back Award winner for 2012 in British Columbia, and is one of the Faces of Mental Illness in Canada for 2012 to help dispel myths about mental illness. She gives presentations about her book to groups all over BC and even had her picture on the back of all city buses in a small city in BC promoting understanding.
We have been told that two books we recently published are making a difference. Both concern historic hand-carved carousels. While just about everyone has fond memories of merry-go-rounds, few of us have spent much time thinking about where these wonderful rides originated or what they are made of. Fact is, there were more than 6,000 wooden carousels spinning around the country at the beginning of the 20th century.
With fewer than 200 carousels remaining, many that still run are celebrating centennials, so there is a lot of renewed interest in their history. In addition, carousels have recently been rediscovered as “folk” art, with some individual carousel figures selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Plus; several cities around the country are refurbishing carousels and making them the centerpieces of urban renewal projects; sites include Brooklyn, St. Paul, Seattle, San Francisco, and the list goes on.
In 2010, we were approached by the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, CT, to create an illustrated history of carousels for general readers, working with a photographer who set up a studio right inside the museum to produce photos of the horses as art objects rather than just animals on a ride.
Flying Horses: The Golden Age of American Carousel Art, 1870–1930, sells to libraries, art collectors, and carousel and photography enthusiasts. It is fully annotated and indexed and has more than 180 full-color plates which portray the figures in such clarity that artists and contemporary carvers hail the book as a work of art in itself. Publishers Weekly called it a “splendid book [that] captures a bygone era . . . [and] offers authoritative, comprehensive coverage.” Arts & Antiques Weekly called it “a visual treat.”
After publication, a California author contacted us with a manuscript we felt was a perfect complement to Flying Horses. PTC Carousels: The History of Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousels focuses on one of the premier makers of carousels from 1904 to 1930, and many of those classic machines are still spinning—including the carousel at Disney.
But what scholars and enthusiasts seem to like the most about this volume is its encyclopedic nature that documents every known aspect of each of the company’s 80-plus carousels.
Both books received extensive national and regional media coverage and reviews. B&N has approached us about carrying them in its stores, but we have decided against that, which is another story altogether, I guess. As a small independent, we cannot produce quality titles if we have to offer them to distributors at 50 to 60 percent off retail. Small specialty publishers committed to the art of the book are increasingly forced or willingly deciding to work outside the traditional distribution system, which simply costs too much.
Peter J. Malia
Switching to More Satisfying Work
bumpertobumper®, The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations, is a textbook used in truck driver training programs and also by commercial driver license (CDL) applicants preparing on their own to take licensing exams. The first edition was published in 1988; now the book is in its fifth edition.
Earlier this year, Janice Landry referred to it as “the bible of truckers” during an interview with me on ReaderRadio.net, and her comment echoes comments in reviews by readers on Amazon.com and in letters to us. One reviewer called our book “the best reference out there for the CDL driver,” and went on to say: “Many schools use it. If your school isn’t using it you should be asking them why,” and “Want to get a head start on training? Read this book.”
We have been proud to help hundreds of thousands of people launch a new career for themselves by using this book. Truck driving isn’t easy, but for a lot of people it is a much more satisfying and rewarding job than others that are commensurate with their education and skill level.
The Easy CDL apps are actually seven titles—that is, there are seven separate apps all grouped under that series. Our new title, Easy CDL Apps for the iPhone and the iPad, also delights us by helping people come up in the world of work and provide for themselves and their families. These apps are authoritative, complete, very affordably priced, and fun to use. Reviewers on our iTunes page have remarked that the study manuals available from the state are “brutally painful to read” but that our apps are “kool” and made the test “really easy.”
Yes, when we’re having a hard day, we read our reviews. We remind ourselves why we started doing this 25 years ago and why we’re still doing it. We help people.
Mike Byrnes & Assoc., Inc.