When I started Eschar Publications in 1988, I viewed it as a ship for reaching my goals in my work with parents and their children. If the small business administration consultant who advised me saw it differently, he did not say so. Instead, he tactfully pointed out how to steer my ship to a safe landing. In fact, the consultant advised, “Be prepared to adjust your sails as you venture further afield.”
Like all ships at sea, Eschar Publications had to navigate rough passages during this long journey, but we endured because we stuck with business tactics that worked for us.
Selecting and effectively utilizing tactics that will benefit your business requires understanding the business and verifying your goals for it. From the beginning, I understood that Eschar Publications would be more than a publishing house. The goal was have it become a one-stop shop for parents and educators, offering course materials, knowledgeable speakers, workshops, and other resources that facilitate knowledge development for students, parents, and teachers.
To achieve that goal, I limited ownership to a single person, me, giving myself complete control over timing, manner, quality, and priority of actions taken to implement the Eschar vision. Independence and control meant that I had to accept certain trade-offs: less capital for marketing, research, and execution. However, having a single, consistently implemented vision let me and my team synthesize traditional and nontraditional business models to achieve necessary flexibility.
The Trusted Tactics
Over a twenty-six year period, we deployed the following tactics, which may also work for other small publishing businesses run by self-publishing authors.
Tactic #1: Set A Budge and Stay With It
Know when you are purchasing a Chevrolet and know when you are purchasing a BMW. Books are comparable if you weigh the cost of printing a glossy-covered, 4-color hardback against the cost of printing a simply designed, 1-color perfect-bound book.
That is to say, figure out where in the publishing process you can whittle costs but still create a good product. For our first title, we avoided higher costs by choosing to do a perfectbound book with the cover in stand-out yellow and the cover copy in black.
A book publisher needs to map out all expenses: editing, typesetting, graphic design, printing, distribution, storage, insurance, website development, intellectual property protection, office space, and computing and other equipment. Identifying several potential providers for each of the necessary services and products will help you determine a realistic budget, and it can also help you keep costs as low as possible without compromising quality.
Tactic #2: Provide Additional Services to Make Additional Income
My experiences producing a local radio program and writing a newspaper column gave birth to my venture into publishing, so I learned early to diversify services offered. As Robert Allen would say, “Create Multiple Streams of Income.”
In my case, developing and presenting workshops was an obvious choice; I enjoy doing that and the workshops offer income and a chance to promote and sell Eschar books. Do you have expertise in an area? You can convert that expertise into income and also use it to promote your books.
Tactic #3: Build a Reliable Team of Independent Professionals
I recognized that Eschar could publish a better product if I joined forces with talented independent professionals. That meant I didn’t need to hire permanent staff. Eschar’s proofreaders, editors, graphic designers, artists, and typesetter add quality to our business, while teaching elements of their skills and providing a better overall view of the publishing process.
This basic team works with Eschar on most projects. While we do not use the same printer for every project, we do consider the printer we choose for each title a crucial member of our team.
To select a printer to be part of our team, we request quotes from several printers and always ask to examine books similar to ours. Each book project requires a different set of quotes.
Tactic #4: Publish In a Niche by Aligning With Local or Global Needs
When we published The Mount Dorans: African American History Notes of a Florida Town, we inadvertently aligned ourselves with the city of Mount Dora. Various organizations in that city, including the chamber of commerce and the historical society, supported sales of the book. The local newspaper gave us a front page story, and a local bookstore invited the author to sign books to a sell-out crowd.
Publishing to niche markets narrows your range of general buyers but expands your population of responsive targets. When we research proposed books, we always look for niche sources of support.
Tactic #5: For Marketing and Sales, Think “Group.”
Books cannot make money unless people see them and/or information about them. Individuals see, and individuals buy, but it is easier to reach individuals when you target groups.
Eschar Publications reaches out to schools, libraries, organizations, and anywhere else that relevant groups gather. That is to say, we look for ways to get multiple sales with a single contact. More specifically, we seek groups described as having an interest in improving the lives of children, which is why Eschar publishes.
Tactic #6: Bring Authors Before the Public
While some authors might like to live the solitary life of Thoreau, authors need to meet readers. My initial desire was to let my books do the talking. Reclusiveness suits me just fine. However, experience shows that varied types of author appearances—speaking engagements, book festivals, and all forms of book-signing—draw necessary attention to books.
Meeting the public is a two-step process. Before appearances, announcements and multiple venues for publicity are essential. Then, once you have aroused interest in a book, the author event produces book income and more interest.
Tactic #7: Test Advertising Options
Because advertising expenses can be prohibitively high for small and self-publishers, it is wise to research all advertising options.
One self-publisher who single-mindedly caters to a local, supportive market reaches her book buyers by writing letters to the editor of the local paper and by purchasing radio time on the local station to discuss themes from her books.
At Eschar, we have managed to advertise affordably by doing research about relevant small to midsize newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. We determine size of readership and other demographic data, and then use the data to evaluate advertising costs. To our surprise, we have found that several attractive publications run display ads costing less than $100.
Using these markets, we have made contact with viable target groups. Also, we have reached target audiences at conferences through low-cost advertisements in conference programs or goody bags. During the early days of publicizing our children’s/young adult novels The Rosebush Witch and Nadanda the Wordmaker, we advertised in Radio-TV Journal. That proved to be worth the money spent, because numerous radio and television interviews resulted, providing exposure for both books.
Tactic #8: Build A Website You Can Use To Promote Your Business
I once heard an industry insider say that publishers should promote their companies, not just their books. Sure, you should definitely promote the books, but people will be better able to find the books if they know the name of your company.
A website can build awareness of your business and bring in sales. It is like a house; you may remodel it from time to time to suit your needs. PayPal lets you sell books easily online and make buying online convenient for customers. On our website, we also provide an address for people who prefer to buy by mail and a telephone number for people who prefer to buy by phone.
The Main Tenets
In the final analysis, I have found that sustaining yourself as the head of a small press or as an author-publisher comes down to knowing why you publish and maintaining a commitment to the goals you are trying to reach. To stay afloat, you must treat your venture as a business and publish strategically. If you are just starting out or you are still inventing your company, I hope you will find one or more of Eschar’s tactics useful.
Vivian Owens, a professionally licensed teacher, invented a new path for herself when she self-published Parenting for Education and Create a Math Environment. Both books were selected as Resources in Education. Propelled by the successes of these books, she published several young adult novels centered on African Americans. She now consults, develops workshops, and continues to write and publish. To learn more: www.escharpublications.com