Fran Korten of YES! Magazine, a prime mover in the project, with demonstrators at New York’s Zuccotti Park.
The First Book on Occupy Wall Street: Four Weeks from Idea to Publication; Two More to Thousands of Sales
by Steven Piersanti
How is it possible to publish a book in only four weeks from initial idea to ship date? What does it take to make such a book a success in the marketplace? What lessons have we learned from this ambitious publication project?
At 5:20 p.m. on Friday, October 7, 2011, I emailed Fran Korten, the publisher of YES! Magazine, to propose that YES! and Berrett-Koehler Publishers partner in the publication of an instant book on Occupy Wall Street. YES! had been in the forefront of reporting on the Occupy Wall Street movement from the beginning and had already published many articles by leading observers of this movement as well as by YES! staff.
My idea was to pull together the best of those articles, and others that YES! had in the pipeline, and to publish them within two or three weeks as a 96-page, $9.95 paperback book.
Within a half hour Fran emailed me back that she had spoken with YES! executive editor Sarah van Gelder, and they were interested in this book idea and thought that they had enough good material to quickly pull together such a book. Over the next three days Fran, Sarah, and I developed the proposed contents of the book, plans for creating the book very rapidly, and a tentative division of responsibilities.
It was not surprising that YES! and Berrett-Koehler could collaborate on such a timely project, because we had already partnered three years before on the publication of Agenda for a New Economy, by YES! board chair David Korten. This important book shipped from the printer just before President Obama’s inauguration, less than eight weeks after our first idea for the book, and it went on to sell over 26,000 copies in English and many thousands more in nine foreign-language editions.
By the evening of Monday, October 10, I was able to email the BK staff a proposal containing a tentative table of contents, details about the proposed partnership with YES! in producing and marketing the book, and a projected financial P&L for the book. I was tremendously excited about the prospect of partnering with YES! to bring out a timely publication that could help support and shape national and international discussions about the Occupy/99 Percent movement.
The Upside of No
To my great surprise, the next afternoon the BK publication team turned the project down. Staff felt that our initial plans for the book were inadequate. The message of the book was not strong enough and it was not offering sufficient distinctive value compared to the many Occupy Wall Street stories already saturating the media.
At that point, Fran, Sarah, and I might have abandoned the project except for several events. First, Fran and Sarah had a meeting with staff and interns at YES!, who gave unanimous support for proceeding with this project, with many signing up to help produce and market the book. Second, two days later I attended the Media Consortium Conference (of leaders of independent, progressive broadcast, film, print, and Internet media) in Oakland, CA, and we spent much of the conference talking about the needed role of independent media in covering and supporting the Occupy movement. Third, I talked with people at the Occupy Oakland encampment and was impressed by the strength and importance of this movement.
So Fran, Sarah, and I regrouped, created a stronger message for the book, and added new content to give the book more distinctive value. We built the book around the message and the title This Changes Everything—the Occupy/99 Percent movement has already changed our national and international collective consciousness in profound ways, including by naming the source of today’s crisis, providing a clear vision of the world we want, and presenting a new narrative to inform economic and political debates.
Sarah took the lead in assembling new content for the book from various authors as well as writing key pieces herself, including a 12-page introduction that I believe is the best overview yet written of the message, significance, methods, and impact of this movement.
In retrospect, the initial rejection by the BK staff turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It slowed the project down by a week and a half, but the content of the book was immeasurably strengthened. In fact, two thirds of the final content did not exist when the project was turned down, including several important original contributions. And we were able to include voices from inside and outside the protests as well as articles by leading national observers.
By Tuesday, October 18, I was able to email the BK staff a revised proposal for this book, and it was approved the next afternoon, on October 19, in a special publication team meeting. The YES! team and the BK team then began an all-out sprint to send the finished book to the printer on October 31.
The key to making such an insanely rapid publication process possible was working with the right partners. It would not have been possible without YES!’s extensive coverage of the Occupy movement. Then Sarah and her YES! colleagues (aided by a marvelous independent designer, Kelly Shea, and a copy editor who was at the Occupy Wall Street encampment, James Trimarco) not only assembled all the content for the book, they also edited the content, designed the cover, designed the interior (using the model of another BK book), laid out the pages, proofread the pages, and obtained the necessary permissions for material from other sources.
Having YES! handle all aspects of preparing the book for the printer may have been the only way to do this in just 12 days because of the hour-by-hour coordination needed among all parties on such a tight schedule. And BK staff simply did not have the capacity at that time to do this work because of preexisting commitments to other forthcoming publications. What BK staff did do—which was essential—was provide detailed guidelines, templates, and coaching to help the YES! team through each step of the editorial and production process. And then BK arranged the printing, shipping, and distribution.
Another right partner was the printer, Malloy Inc., in Ann Arbor, MI. Malloy received the book files late in the day on Monday, October 31, and was able to ship 10,000 finished, perfect copies that Friday, November 4, just four weeks after I first proposed the book to YES!
Books arrived the next day, Saturday, in Washington, DC, in time for the first marketing event that day, and books started reaching BK’s distributors and sales partners on November 7.
Malloy was able to print the book so fast for several reasons. First, Malloy has a special “Express Delivery” printing service that BK had used several times previously. Second, we prescheduled this job with Malloy as soon as the book’s schedule was set, and then the book files were actually delivered to Malloy as scheduled on October 31. Third, we fully communicated with Malloy about the specifications and progress on the book. And finally, as Bill Upton, the president of Malloy, wrote to me, “It was BK’s team that made it possible. Most publishers don’t have processes that are solid enough to pull this off. BK does.”
Still another right partner was our U.S. trade distributor, Ingram Publisher Services (IPS). We alerted IPS as soon as we knew we were doing this book, and then on October 25 we had a conference call with the national sales team to plan how to bypass the normal months-long sales process and get immediate distribution in bookstores.
The IPS team then sprang into action and was able to get rapid initial orders from Barnes & Noble, smaller chains, wholesalers, and many independent bookstores, totaling nearly 6,000 copies, which we considered excellent for a crash title.
How Excerpts Were Important
One of our key strategies for both marketing the book and increasing its impact—in an inexpensive, viral way—was to encourage many independent and progressive magazines, newsletters, blogs, Web sites, and other media around the world to post excerpts from the book, with credit to it.
We publicized through both YES! and BK newsletters and posted three articles from the book on our sites: the introduction I describe above, a list of “10 Ways the Occupy Movement Changes Everything,” and a list of “10 Ways to Support the Occupy Movement.”
To encourage reposting, each of these articles contained this statement at the end: “This article is available for free copying and reproduction under a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) license, which allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to its original publication in the book, This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011.”
As I write, the book has been out for six weeks, and publicity about it has appeared in more than 100 different places, including newsletters, Web sites, radio and TV shows, magazines, newspapers, blogs, Occupy sites, and communications by leaders promoting the book. In many cases this publicity was spawned by our viral articles, and in other cases it was due to publicity mailings, social media activities, and other outreach by our energetic publicity teams.
We have already sold out our first printing of 10,000 copies and our second printing of 5,000 copies, and we are well on our way to 20,000 copies sold. We have also already sold rights for four foreign-language editions, with several more rights sales in the works.
One key to the book’s success was being the first published print book on Occupy Wall Street. Several other Occupy books have since been published, and no doubt many more are on the way.
What We Know Now
We did many things right in this project, above all working with great partners. And we learned a good deal from it.
We found that some of our normal guidelines for book designers and producers were not really geared to instant books, and so we plan to create new guidelines and checklists to use with any future instant books we might undertake. For example, clear handoffs from step to step are even more important in producing an instant book, as is having an editorial person, a production person, and a marketing person in charge of each dimension of the project.
We also found that communication among all parties becomes even more important when a book is produced more quickly. Finally, we saw that no matter how much you try to minimize disruption to other publishing projects, you must still expect and allow for a lot of it.
Steven Piersanti is president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. To learn more: bkconnection.com.