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Make Mine Many: Square One Sells to Multiple Niches and Marketplaces

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content=”Judy, I identified two possible places to indicate board membership, depending on whether he was a board member prior to Squar”>Judy, I identified two possible places to indicate board membership,
depending on whether he was a board member prior to Squar

 

 

Make Mine Many: Square One
Sells to Multiple Niches and Marketplaces

 

by Linda Carlson

 

If you’re at square one—if
you’re interested in a topic and just starting to gather information—then Rudy
Shur wants you to begin with a book from Square One Publishers.

 

As the company mission statement
announces, its goal is “To provide an accessible starting place for those
people who want to know more.” Shur jokes that he was at square one—again—when
he started the company in 2000. But he was no stranger to publishing: he’d
spent six years as a field representative for college textbook publishers, and
in 1976 he co-founded Avery Publishing Group, which became well known for its
alternative health books and was sold in 1999 to Penguin Putnam.

 

Ask Shur what helped get him past
his own square one, and here’s what he says: “First, a small team of talented
people who were more than capable of doing any job I gave them. Second, a
beginning list of books that actually sold. And third, after 25 years in the
business, I hoped I knew what I was getting myself into.”

 

You can hear his chuckle across
the miles as he adds, “Of course, I forgot how heavy a box of books can be.”

 

When Shur conceived Square One,
his business plan contemplated four full-time employees besides himself. As
business manager, he choose a long-time friend, recently retired from a
catering business, who was able to provide the guidance the fledgling company
needed to grow fast and avoid “financial potholes.” In addition, Shur was
joined by Avery colleagues who had declined offers to move from suburban Garden
City Park to Manhattan with Putnam Penguin; two other former Avery employees
chose to work freelance with Square One. Today the company has seven full-time
employees, two part-timers, and two freelancers.

 

Every new company faces
challenges. For Square One, starting with a variety of topics was a significant
challenge, but also a source of success. Within about a year, its writers’
guides were well reviewed and selling surprisingly well, especially <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>How to Publish Your Poetry
,
the first “mini” bestseller with about 20,000 copies sold. In roughly the same
period, Retiring
Right
sold about 25,000 copies, several thousand of them
purchased by an airline for its employees. A very different book—the first U.S.
translation of the 300-year-old <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Bushido: The Way of the Samurai
—sold
25,000 copies almost immediately and is still popular today, Shur reports.

 

“It was tough to be treated as a
serious publisher when we started with a list that appeared to be scattered,”
he remembers, but he believes that, for him, this diversified list was the
right choice. “Should one market shrink or run its course, other markets
support the sale of your other books. This was essentially the business model I
used for my old company—which seemed to work out fine—and it was the model I
selected for the new one.”

 

Growing in Groups

 

With each year, Square One’s list
in each area increased. “Overall, our list began to take shape and make sense.
In groups, these niche titles began to make inroads within their given
marketplaces,” Shur says. Today, visitors to <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>squareonepublishers.com
will see that
the house focuses on self-help and inspiration, finance, writing, New Age,
cooking, history, health, and more.

 

“We turn out books with specific
markets in mind, and we try to produce books with more than one market to sell
to,” Shur explains, noting that Square One books are written by people who are
experts (although they may not be experienced writers) and then professionally
edited and packaged. By year’s end, the company will have 250 titles in print.

 

The company’s success is fueled,
Shur reports, by aggressive marketing. “I’ve heard several other publishers say
they don’t like marketing. It’s not about liking or not liking it,” he insists.
“Marketing is a key component of the publishing process. We’re required to
understand it, execute it, and learn from it.”

 

Here are some examples of ways
Square One pursues customers:

 

Lists.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Square One builds and maintains its own mailing lists
and uses lists purchased from compilers, professional organization membership
lists, and lists of convention-booth visitors. Also, Shur says, he and his
colleagues “scour the Web for names and addresses” and trade lists with
colleagues. “While initially this is relatively expensive, it more than pays
for itself in creating better pinpointed mailings,” the publisher believes.

 

Catalogs.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> The company does several catalogs, each geared to a
particular niche, and it mails them two or three times annually. Shur notes
that each mailing results in an immediate increase in orders from Ingram and
Baker & Taylor, and that mailings also increase telephone and mail orders.

 

Wholesaler
support.
Square One gives
potential retail customers the names and toll-free numbers of wholesalers it
works with.

 

Publicity.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>“Quickly take advantage of any legitimate media
opportunities that come up,” Shur advises—even if it means rushing a book into
print. For example, he notes, Square One has gotten authors onto <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Oprah because
it was willing to move press runs up to meet the show’s timetables.

 

To identify opportunities for
publicity, the Square One marketing crew uses search engines to check for news
that relates to its titles. Another word of advice: match book releases with
seasonal opportunities. “Bubbie and Zadie Come to Our House was a natural for a
few weeks before Hanukah,” Shur observes.

 

Square One has also used DIY and
subscription services for publicity.

 

“If you want the names of the top
100 newspapers or radio stations, look them up on the Web. If you need the
names of bookstores, museums, or practically anything else, that information is
there too,” Shur points out. “It takes a lot of work and phone calls, but you
wind up with solid, up-to-date lists.”

 

Shur recommends Gordon’s Radio
Publicity List, which provides contact information for 1,100 stations that do
interviews for $329, with a $50 discount for PMA members (see <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.radio publicity.net
).
Also, he says, Bacon’s Media Directories provide extensive media contacts, and
ProfNet, which is designed to help media people find sources for news and
feature stories, can be a good place to list authors. But both, he adds, are
expensive. Bacon’s frequently updated printed directories (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.us.cision.com)
are $450 each for national editions, with both premium and pay-per-use plans
available for media lists online (prices on request via Bacon’s site). Listing
your “experts” with ProfNet is free with membership in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>PR Newswire (<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.prnewswire.com).

 

Conventions
and meetings.
To generate
nontraditional sales that will not compete with trade sales, the company
exhibits, sponsors events, and encourages authors to speak at publishing events
and at meetings for its specialty markets. At gatherings of New Age retailers,
for example, “authors can speak and sign books and also connect with New Age
magazine writers and radio program hosts.” Being present at these events “makes
you a player in the market,” Shur says, “or at least makes you appear like
one.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hiring Help

 

So that other PMA members
don’t have to start at square one with consultants, publicists, and other
specialists, Shur, a current PMA board member, offers this advice:

 

Make sure that other
publishers, preferably other publishers in your niche, have successfully used
the consultants or services that you’re considering. “Generally, I find that
the only ones who make money on these deals are the outside firms,” says Shur.
“But,” he adds, “each one that didn’t live up to our expectations has taught me
a valuable lesson—and made me better at what I do.”

 

Ask for a detailed cost
estimate that spells out all expenses for a project, whether they will be
incurred by the outside firm or by the publisher directly. This is especially
important for startups, Shur notes, since they may not yet have such marketing
tools as bulk rate postal permits and database software.

 

Check references. And
check more than the references provided by the vendor’s salespeople. Shur
recalls being contacted by an advertising card-deck mailer whose services
“sounded good, economical, and perfect for the type of book I wanted to market.
I provided them the camera-ready copy, and they did the mailing. The result:
zero sales.” After the fact, Shur called other publishers who had participated;
they too had received almost no response. Lesson learned: ask for copies of
recently mailed card decks and ask the participating businesses about their
response rates.

 

Evaluate mailing lists
for rent carefully. For its first solo direct mail effort, Square One bought a
mailing list with no guarantee. “Guess what?” says Shur. “About half the pieces
came back stamped ‘wrong address,’ ‘deceased,’ ‘moved,’ or ‘undeliverable as
addressed.’” Look for lists that guarantee high deliverability (sometimes 90 or
95 per cent), which are usually updated at least annually, often by using the
U.S. Postal Service (see www.usps.com/businessmail101/addressing/checkingAccuracy.htm).

 

 

 

 

 

About Acquisitions

 

How do you get from 0 to
250 titles in eight years? Square One Publishers has grown its list partly
through acquisitions, three of which came in a flurry in March and April of
2007.

 

“It was one heck of a
hectic few weeks,” says Rudy Shur, but the groundwork had been laid for the
purchases as much as three years ago.

 

Two of the acquired
publishers also did alternative health titles, a market in which Square One is
strong, and the third produced books on vintage posters, a market that is new
to Square One, but not to Shur. “It fits our profile for niche markets
perfectly, and because I collect vintage posters, I know the marketplace well,”
he explains.

 

Shur credits his staff with
making it possible to close the deals and get the acquired titles into the new
catalog quickly. If you’re thinking about an acquisition, here’s a To Do list
from Shur:

 

Due
diligence.
Check the sales
histories and current inventory of books from the company you’re interested in
acquiring, and also check out the customer base, agreements with distributors,
foreign rights contracts, the existence (or nonexistence) and location of
electronic files, any pending legal action, and the contracts for books, both
published and forthcoming. Be absolutely, positively sure that the contracts
are assumable, Shur says.

 

Market
analysis.
Evaluate whether you can
reach the books’ current market as effectively as the selling publisher, and
how much—if at all—you can expand into other markets for them.

 

Purchase
price.
Shur provides a context by
saying that prices for publishing companies often range from five to seven
times net profit, or 100 to 150 percent of gross sales.

 

Logistics.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Once a deal is cut, there’s lots of hands-on work to
do: announce the acquisition; move the newly acquired inventory to your own
warehouse and/or to distributors; increase your insurance for the increased
inventory value; and contact customers of the firm you’ve acquired as well as
your own customers to make them aware of your new titles. Along with tackling
wholesaler returns and credits, you will need to contact all the authors you’ve
acquired, and update your catalog and Web site.

 

And then, says Shur, be
prepared: there are sure to be unexpected problems to handle.

 

 

 

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