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Thinking Outside the Bookstore

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When Tabby House relocated
almost two years ago from bustling Florida to central Virginia, we were
unprepared for the challenges of launching a children’s book series and
presenting our programs on self-publishing in a very rural area with few
bookstores. Now we have learned to take our own advice to clients: explore
every nontraditional avenue, and be relentless in book promotion. I’m happy to
report it is working both for our titles and for those we have packaged.

 

Our new line of books for the
juvenile market—the Bailey Fish Adventures by my wife, Linda, who is also the
senior editor at our publishing company, Tabby House—is designed to
motivate kids ages eight to twelve to read; to be exciting for teachers to use
in the classroom because of issues and embedded history; and to merit national
reviews. Fortunately, Jabberwocky—an outstanding children’s bookstore in
Fredericksburg about 40 miles away—fell in love with the books and has
hand-sold them by the case, recommending the series to teachers in several
counties. Publicity and Jabberwocky’s support have led to a number of
opportunities for Linda to speak to youngsters and, of course, sell more books.

 

The larger challenge has been to
sell books in counties without bookstores, including our own. So we scheduled
numerous book signings in fabric, gift, and grocery and convenience stores,
campgrounds, a florist shop, and at street fairs. These places are happy to be
outlets for the books because of massive publicity, which helps guarantee them
sales. Plus, we offer a 50 percent discount to local retailers. The appearances
have led to author visits in public and private schools and programs for
homeschoolers.

 

A Lucrative Chain of
Events

 

After placing books in a store
that sells cheese and Virginia products in Orange County, we heard from the
head of instruction for the Orange County School District. She ordered 100
copies for elementary school classroom use as assigned reading and invited
Linda to speak to all third through fifth graders (1,200 total in four schools)
about researching the history in each of the contemporary adventures (and to
sell books).

 

At the first session, 300 students
attended, and their book orders brought in more than $1,000. We offer a special
price (95 cents off the cover price) at these programs, which includes the tax
(which Tabby House does pay), so that we are not bogged down making change (I
go along to handle the cash and checks while Linda signs books). This price is
obviously a better deal for us than selling wholesale.

 

In addition to the copies we sold
to students, we sold an additional 35 copies of each book to the district for
its school libraries. And the principal wants Linda to come back at the end of
the school year, after the third book is out.

 

Other appearances have had similar
ripple effects. After we took a booth at a homeschool day in a state park, the
buyer for the state parks gift shops ordered 100 books and invited Linda to
sign them at a holiday house for state employees. Any unsold copies will be
placed in park gift shops, not returned.

 

At least one book-discussion club
took a boat ride on the lake to hunt for sites mentioned in the first book, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Wild Women of Lake Anna
,
fixing food that the characters eat (a bit scary).

 

Merchants in the area have come up
with other promotional ideas on their own. One designed “I’m a Wild Woman of
Lake Anna” T-shirts (we get $5 for each sold in the store), and a florist shop
developed Wild Women gift baskets, filled with T-shirts, books, and products
relating to the series.

 

The book became a finalist in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>ForeWord Magazine
‘s
juvenile fiction category for Book of the Year 2005, and the fact that <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>ForeWord, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Midwest Book Review,
and various newspapers reviewed or featured the first two books helped us reach
our goal #3, but reactions from young readers and teachers are most important.

 

Since we are trying to keep the
books affordable for families and working through wholesalers doesn’t leave
much profit per copy, we have not focused on getting the books into the chains.
However, our books are orderable through chains and sold through Amazon.com and
BarnesandNoble.com, and an area Borders store recently expressed interest in
having Linda do a program. The books are also available through <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>www.tabbyhouse.com

and www.baileyfishadventures.com;
and Linda has a blog, www.BaileyFishAdventureBooks@blogspot.com.
Children have emailed questions to Bailey at <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>BaileyFish@gmail.com
.

 

So, while we had been spoiled by
the availability of bookstores in Florida, we are glad to see that lack of
bookstores does not mean a lack of interest in reading. In fact, it has been
exciting to find that the opposite is true—if the books are worthwhile,
visible, and accessible.

 

Jim Salisbury is publisher
at Tabby House. He is past president of the Florida Publisher’s Association. He
and Linda are co-authors of Smart
Self-Publishing: An author’s guide to producing a marketable book
,
and of The Breezy Guide
to Charlotte County, Florida

 

 

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