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Profiting from the Past

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Time is money, and most publishers think their time is best spent creating and selling books. We publishers begrudge the hours spent processing returns and completing tax returns. So to set aside yet another precious hour or two for an outline of company history may seem unthinkable.

But you can benefit from even a simple timeline that details when each book was first published and the dates of reprints, awards, and significant publicity. If your firm, like many PMA members, is family-owned, it’s also useful to add notes about where the business was first located (the proverbial garage?), what jobs different family members handled, and when family issues (the birth of a baby, for example) complicated publishing efforts. And it pays to start a “corporate publicity” file for copies of catalogs and clips of newspaper and magazine stories that include valuable information.

 

How Will This History Help You?

First and most important, a company history will allow you to supplement the founders’ anecdotes with data and create stories with a news angle strong enough to generate publicity. When we at Parenting Press write a profile of founder Elizabeth Crary, our history notes mean that we have specific sales figures to help us describe the whirlwind of business she created. We can document how the Crary family worked together, with children packing books while Elizabeth wrote, field-tested, and marketed, and Fred—after his “real” job—handled accounting.

Besides using information like this in general press releases, you can include it in profiles of founders and authors that you send to business and alumni publications, in online and traditional media kits, in catalog copy, and in nominations for small-business awards programs.

Recent history—offbeat promotions of new titles or unexpected sales—can also be turned into story leads for business editors and the trade press.

 

Twist the Techniques

Histories can be used for more than corporate publicity, however. Look to your company’s early days for inspiration. It’s easy to say that times have changed and we can’t do business the way we did when there were several regional wholesalers, when it was easy to get publicity in local media, when direct mail didn’t cost so much. It’s possible, however, that you can boost sales by giving your old promotion and sales techniques a new twist.

For example, look at sales in nontraditional outlets that you might use again. Have you ever approached copy shops, specialty stores, Welcome Wagons, and the gift shops in state and federal parks? Remember that many chambers of commerce and professional associations sell books today through their Web sites and newsletters and at conferences. In my neighborhood, the locally owned supermarket recently hosted a Saturday book-signing for an employee who had just published her own children’s book; she sold 65 copies in a single afternoon.

 

If you attribute your early success to working closely with traditional booksellers, consider ways to encourage them to promote your current books. In the Seattle area, larger stores usually welcome even unknown authors who can provide interesting, informational talks. Even if only a handful of people turn out to hear the author, there are other advantages. For instance, the store displays the appropriate books (sometimes before and after the appearance), mentions the event in the store newsletter, and may print flyers or feature the event on its Web site.

Events also provide material for updating your own Web site and disseminating press releases via e-mail or faxes at almost no cost. Look at the bylines on your old press clippings; it’s possible that reporters who wrote about your books are still on the job and can be contacted about a new edition of an old favorite or a related title. (To contact journalists who have switched publications, try using a search engine like Google.com.)

 

Reviving Cash Conservation Strategies

Finally, think about what you did to conserve cash in your early days. Which of those strategies makes sense for today? Can you effectively do co-op promotions with other publishers? Ten years ago, several very small Seattle-area publishers formed a committee that contacted area booksellers with a list of authors, making it easy for stores to schedule the authors of their choice for group signings. About the same time, the Northwest publishers’ association sponsored an insert in the regional wholesaler’s newsletter, allowing each book to be advertised to hundreds of booksellers for less than $50.

Can you trade a regular question-and-answer column on your specialty in the local newspaper for advertising space? Perhaps your city library—or the library in your author’s hometown—will sponsor a new book announcement party. Three years in a row, the Seattle Public Library hosted speeches and book sales in its 200-seat auditorium for my job-search books.

 

If these stories from Seattle suggest promotions you’d like to try, take another look at your company. I can almost guarantee that your history will yield both anecdotes for publicity stories and ways to update and enhance promotional projects. And that in itself is a story. If it’s news when Coke and Revlon dust off their old campaigns, it can be news when a small publisher does the same.

 

Linda Carlson handles a variety of projects as a consultant for Parenting Press, including author profiles for its online media kits and a quarterly newsletter for a professional audience of parent educators. She is the author of 10 published books, including “The Publicity and Promotion Handbook” (a marketing guide for small businesses) and “How to Find a Good Job in Seattle,” among other regional job search titles.

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