I recently had the opportunity to
moderate a panel at Book Tech that featured three PMA members who created
recognized midsized publishing companies fairly quickly.
Rudy Shur started Avery Publishing
from his garage with a book called <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Bridge to the Stars. Along with some
partners, he made Avery a recognizable force in the alternative health
community and sold it as a multimillion-dollar company to Putnam. After that—in
his words—“being a fool and totally addicted to publishing,” he started
another company and called this one Square One to reflect “what I felt I was
doing, starting from Square One again,” since he’s a publishing addict.
Tad Crawford started Allworth
Press in 1989 and currently lists 230 titles in print. He grows his company
slowly but steadily. Before starting Allworth—which does business and
self-help books for publishers, artists, designers, photographers, writers, and
film and performing artists—Tad was an author, an attorney, an artists’
rights advocate, and the author of <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Legal Guide for Visual Artists, which
was the first book Allworth published, as a revised edition. Like Rudy, he
began as a one-man band.
David Borgenicht’s Quirk Books is
the youngest of the three publishing houses represented on the panel, and David
has an aggressive goal: “Our mission is to amuse, to bemuse, to entertain, and
to inform (not necessarily in that order, but usually all at the same time).”
So far, he reports, “Our mission has proved possible: In our short lifespan,
several of Quirk’s books have become bestsellers.” Its initial bestseller was a
book he co-authored, Worst-Case
Scenario Survival Handbook.
Each of these publishers shared
tips on what they did to help their companies grow.
Tactics that Spurred
A great tip from Rudy Shur can
help all publishers who want to know, How do you get money? How do you arrange
a line of credit? Rudy reports that he found the smallest bank in his area,
where his company would be considered an important client. In the world of big
banks, he said, you are just one of many. With a small local
bank—preferably a bank with no more than two branches—you can build
a personal relationship and have your account handled personally by a real live
He also talked about hiring
personnel as your company grows, and advised looking for people who like to do
the jobs that you avoid most of the time. Basically, he said, don’t replicate
Tad Crawford reported that at one
point his company did an analysis of each employee and found out that more than
80 percent—including Tad—were introverts. Had he known this
earlier, he said, he might have made an effort to find extroverts for his sales
program. Allworth’s introverted, mostly editorial, staff had no problem
developing good titles, but generating sales was a big challenge.
One extremely useful tip from Tad
dealt with scrutiny of the backlist. He said you should watch your backlist for
titles that are falling off and make sure you are developing good frontlist
titles that will take their place. So many times, publishers concentrate either
on frontlist or on backlist and assume that the other will automatically take
care of itself.
At Quirk Books, each title was and
is treated individually, with plans for areas of sales developed especially for
it and quality sales material developed specifically for it. No mass catalog or
When discussing their distribution
methods, some panelists said they had tried the traditional ways; others had
arranged distribution deals with larger publishers. Shur currently handles all
distribution with in-house staff and uses wholesalers as well; Crawford and
Borgenicht both chose to add their titles to another company’s already established
distribution system—Allworth distributes through Watson-Guptill and Quirk
distributes through Chronicle Books.
Are they pleased with their
distribution methods? Well, like you, they feel distribution could always be
improved, but all in all, yes, they are pleased with the choices they have
made, which helped them become the recognizable independent publishing
companies they are today.
And, yes, they all exhibit that
necessary ingredient for success—a passion for the work they do. This
single factor, in my opinion, is the underlying reason for their companies’