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The Tubesing Six-Part System or Marketing in Any Number of Niches

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Before the release, before the mailings to booksellers, before the many other visible marketing moves, Pfeifer-Hamilton shapes content to make its books sell better. Publisher Donald Tubesing says that, at the editing stage, they ask themselves, “What kinds of marketing hooks can we build in so we can use them later?”

In the case of The Quiltmaker’s Gift-which just won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Book of the Year for Excellence and Innovation in Marketing with a budget over $10,000-“hooks” included a quilt-pattern puzzle on the inside of the jacket and illustrations by Gail de Marcken that are “springboards for stories” because they feature places where she lived and worked in the Peace Corps.

“Built-ins” reflect a general marketing principle that Don and Nancy Loving Tubesing follow at Pfeifer-Hamilton-“When you’re in Duluth, Minnesota, you have to do something a little bit different”-and that principle may account in part for the fact that they’ve also won Ben Franklin marketing awards for Old Turtle and The Duct Tape Book. But built-ins also reflect one of six specific marketing principles that their press has developed. Judging from the fact that The Quiltmaker’s Gift has made “every major best-seller list” and sold more than 200,000 copies in its first 18 months (with returns averaging below 3%), and from the success of other titles (including Old Turtle which has sold more than 500,000), all six are worth applying.

They are:

Principle #1:“No cry, no buy.” If a manuscript doesn’t move them, they won’t succeed in selling the book, Tubesing believes. Although Jeff Brumbeau-ñÈØable about a generous quiltmaker and a greedy king “had been rejected by 20 large publishers,” Tubesing reports that it made him say, “Wow!”

Principle #2: Build in “all the marketing handles and sizzle you can shout about” (see above).

Principle #3: Know that you can sell the book in at least one channel outside the book trade (“Let the book trade be gravy!”). For The Quiltmaker’s Gift (and, later, for the spin-off Quilts from The Quiltmaker’s Gift), the publisher “blasted the quilt market on every front.” Having gone to major quilt conventions and placed the book “with every major quilt wholesaler,” they sent free copies to 2,500 quilt shops across the country. “We sell lots of copies because the buyer likes a book, is moved by it, and recommends it, and the customer comes back for more,” Tubesing says.

Principle #4: Instead of just selling books, create events and tell the book’s story. In this case, the house helped propel sales by working to generate quilt shows (together with “all 26 area Barnes & Noble stores in our region”) plus off-the-book-page stories about quilters’ generosity, quilting lessons for schoolchildren, and workshops on giving, among other things.

Principle #5: Market in concentric circles or saturate one channel at a time; “Do not go lightly anywhere-ever!””Since we don’t have universal clout,” Tubesing explains, “we use real major heat where we are.””Virtually ignoring” the rest of the book trade, Pfeifer-Hamilton focuses on independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. Their lists of “information pieces,” giveaways, media kit and direct mail package contents, ads and updates for the trade objects of their attention fills two single-spaced pages.

Principle #6: Plan “a marketing sequence of new events and new products in support of the book that continues to build momentum over five years minimum.”

Hot-Spot Selling

More than five years ago-in fact, more than 15 years ago-the Tubesings launched Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers with a collection of essays called Up North by Sam Cook, a local newspaper columnist. By now, it has sold roughly 35,000 hardcover copies and spawned a sizable list of books that celebrate Minnesota’s North Country, including four more Sam Cook titles.

Back two more years in the past, Don and Nancy Tubesing had started a publishing company called Whole Person Associates, Inc., which did training materials on stress management and wellness promotion. For Tubesing, who’d been speaking around the country 100 days a year, it was “a way of getting me off the road.” But it turned out to be the beginning of a serial niche-publishing story that is about to start a new chapter.

From the stress and wellness niche, in which Whole Person is still active, the Tubesings moved into the regional niche. Passionate about where they live and work, they noticed that no publisher was focusing on their area and decided to use their new publishing skills to celebrate it in print themselves.

The marketing campaign for their first regional title included a direct mail piece with special offers for bulk purchases as well as sales through restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, hotels, and motels. “It taught me you can sell more books on the spot where you’ve made it hot than you can by sprawling all over,” Tubesing says, noting that the first printing of Up North sold out in about a month and that the mammoth R. R. Donnelley printing company got the second to their fledgling publishing house in six days right before Christmas. As a result, they sold roughly 8,000 copies between November 19, 1985, and the end of the year in Duluth and its environs.

While not neglecting niches number one and two, the Tubesings eventually found themselves led into a third niche, “values-based picture books,” thanks in part to “a fable of peace and international understanding.” Other regional publishers had sprung up and “we were lucky with Old Turtle,” Tubesing says; “We didn’t even know what we had. Is it fine arts? Is it kids?” The first of the Pfeifer-Hamilton “adult fables that look like children’s books,” Old Turtle (by Douglas Wood with watercolors by Cheng-Khee Chee) was designed to send a message of peace to the world and the publisher’s energetic marketing strategy included an eight-month Old Turtle Peace Tour across America that featured “Old Turtle herself” (in the form of a custom-painted Volkswagen Beetle).

After Old Turtle (which has now spawned The Old Turtle Collection of titles; see Principle #6), “We got 2,000 kids’ books a year,” Tubesing reports, adding that “We never had thought of ourselves as in the business of kids’ publishing.” In December 2000, Pfeifer-Hamilton got out of it, or nearly so, by selling their values-based picture books to Scholastic and agreeing to serve as marketing consultants. “We’re pretty antsy characters,” Tubesing explains, “and we’re looking for some other challenge. Scholastic will keep those positive messages out there.”

Where will these antsy characters be led next? Tubesing says he doesn’t know but confidently awaits the day when “another idea comes rolling by.” He continues to love publishing. “The drive to create and to get it on paper has always been there for both of us,” he observes. And when you ask him whether he’d recommend going into the business, Tubesing gives you an emphatic “Oh yeah,” hitting the second word hard as if astonished that there’s any doubt. “Sure, there are problems,” he says, but it’s a still a great way to “make things happen,” to “make a positive difference.””Publishing-what an opportunity!”

You’ll find the Pfeifer-Hamilton Web site at www.phpublisher.com.

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