An IBPA Roundtable
Books in Action, Part 3
What’s behind the great response to my email about books that make a difference? I think it happened for three main reasons. Independent publishers—especially IBPA members—are generous about sharing what they learn from experience. Lots of independent publishers have missions (not just mission statements). And, as a result, lots of books from independent publishers are designed to improve readers’ lives and are ideal for demonstrating the power to do that.
Benefits is the word we usually use when we talk about publishers’ marketing campaigns and the fact that success depends on stressing what each book can do for its readers. But for independent publishers, emphasizing benefits is important not simply because that helps rack up sales. It’s also important, and sometimes more important, because helping particular readers is what a particular independent publisher is all about.
The reports below provide cases in point, just like the ones in the first two installments of our Books in Action series, which ran in May and June, and the ones that will appear in the final installment, coming next month.
Many thanks to everybody who contributed.
Coping After Contact with Cults
Among several nonfiction lines, Bay Tree Publishing has a small niche in books for people who have experienced cults or cult-thinking, as well as for the professionals—therapists, lawyers, social workers, academics—who are engaged with the topic. Though I call it a small niche, the number of people with hurtful direct contact with a cult or cultlike group is surprisingly large.
Besides the Eastern guru–led groups that form the popular stereotype, a large number of churches, political movements, schools, and multilevel marketing organizations have strong cult characteristics that negatively impact members.
Our title Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias has established itself as a mainstay in the field. Lalich, the lead author, is a professor of sociology at California State University, Chico, and a go-to expert for national media.
Affirming our purpose in publishing the work, letters and online comments that we regularly receive tell us that the book provides practical help and understanding to people who are in turmoil over their experiences and often traumatized. For example:
● There are moments when I’ve had to put the book down because I’m crying so hard. Other times I break out in a cold sweat. Yesterday, while reading the book I was flooded with an irresistible urge to RUN AWAY! and then I remembered: Oh, yeah, I left my cult ten years ago. I’m safe now.
● I can’t stress enough how beneficial this book was for me, it was shocking to read how my experience was so similar to so many, and how many of the symptoms I’ve been dealing with are known psychological effects in the field of cultic studies.
Originally published as Captive Hearts, Captive Minds in 1994, the book went out of print, and we contracted with the authors to bring out a greatly expanded and retitled second edition. That came out in 2006 and now has 5,000 copies in print—not a huge number, but the title sells steadily. It is used in workshops and recommended by therapists and counselors, and the personal feedback from so many individuals who have benefited from it has been tremendously rewarding.
Bay Tree Publishing
Sharing a State’s Story
My aunt, Alaska historian Phyllis Downing Carlson, spent her life researching and writing about the state she loved for small and large publications across the nation. When she passed away in 1993, I inherited her award-winning stories, research notes, and journals.
After reading them, I knew I had to share Alaska’s story with the world, and I also knew I needed the right tools to do the job. In my 50s, I returned to college, earning a degree in journalism, with a minor in history, from the University of Alaska–Anchorage in 2003.
Then I began assembling stories for Aunt Phil’s Trunk, collecting photographs from various institutions, and researching and writing a few stories myself about events that my aunt had not covered.
The series now includes four books filled with entertaining stories of Alaska’s colorful past, and each book has more than 300 historical photographs. Since the first title was published in 2006, Aunt Phil’s Trunk has won praise from critics and historians, and several public, charter, and home schools are using it in their classrooms. To date, I’ve sold more than 20,000 copies through channels including Barnes & Noble and other bookstores and Wal-Mart, Safeway, and gift shops across the state. Those high sales for my self-published book series takes the personal touch—I rent tables at bazaars, craft shows, and the Alaska State Fair where I talk to people and personally sell the books.
Now I’m writing the fifth, and last, book in the series for publication in mid-2014.
Laurel Downing Bill
Aunt Phil’s Trunk
Finding Life’s Purpose
We published 11 Days in May: The Conversation That Will Change Your Life, by JD Messinger, in September 2012. The book shares the author’s prophetic insights on life’s most important meanings.
The author finished the manuscript in a record 11 days and was further inspired to create a total immersion experience, which won the 2012 Digital Book World Publishing Innovation of the Year award for best nonfiction e-book.
Messinger’s primary message is that once we discover and understand our soul purpose in life, it changes everything, resulting in greater peace, purpose, and fulfillment.
Among tens of thousands of emails, the most common response from readers is that the book changed their lives in three days, which is why we added the subtitle in the second printing. To quote one reader, “I felt like you wrote this book for me. My struggles with faith led me to science as a source of answers. You covered both parts of that internal battle and my drug addiction. I spent the better part of three hours in tears after finishing your book, and for the first time in a long time, I felt light as a feather.”
Greg Link, co-author of Smart Trust, and bestselling author Stephen M.R. Covey are two of the book’s well-known appreciative readers.
The innovation that Messinger developed merges multiple media—art, music, audio, and video—with a multiway collaboration device in an enhanced e-book, created by Vook, that uses Democrasoft’s WeJIT technology to let readers communicate directly with the author and with each other in discussions based on topics in the book.
For example, when Messinger writes that his dreams were the source of his inventions, the WeJIT hyperlink in the book asks the readers to vote and share comments on the question, “Can dreams be a source of inspiration?” Ninety-four percent of readers currently vote “Yes.”
Waterfront Digital Press
Tackling Type 2 Diabetes
Yes I Can! Yes You Can! Tackle Diabetes and Win! which I wrote and published in 2005, still sells because it continues to be relevant to children who develop Type 1 diabetes and their parents.
The book tells the story of Jay Leeuwenburg, who was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 12 and immediately decided that the disease would not limit his life in any way. Jay became an all-state high school football player in Missouri, an All-American and member of a national championship team at the University of Colorado, and played nine years in the National Football League. His motto, which became the title of the book, was his message to kids wherever he played. He became active in numerous ways in the effort to get kids and their parents to manage their diabetes successfully.
Along with the book, we developed a 16-page “Discussion Guide,” primarily for parents, to be used in talking with diabetic children about diabetes and how to live fully with it. The discussion topics refer to specific examples or passages within the book. We also produced three sets of Jay’s Tips—“For Children with Diabetes Who Want to Be Active”; “For Parents of Children with Diabetes”; and “For Teachers and Coaches of Children with Diabetes.” These are based on Jay’s personal experiences as a diabetic and as a third-grade teacher with a couple of students who are diabetic, as well as on the advice he gives parents in lectures and children during visits to hospitals, among other places. And we produced a Yes I Can! Yes You Can! Tackle Diabetes and Win! T-shirt. These items are available separately or packaged with the book.
This book was endorsed by several diabetes organizations, including Children with Diabetes, and received a Making A Difference in Diabetes award from D-Life TV. Its publication caused another diabetic athlete to approach me about writing a second book, with him, titled The Diabetes Antidote, which is also still selling.
Healing from Domestic Violence
Tanisha M. Bagley, the author of The Price of Love: One Woman’s Journey Through Domestic Violence, is an avid public speaker on domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault—dealing with it, reporting it, and most of all: healing, moving on, and learning to love yourself. This book is a testament to the journey that she herself endured. Thus far, she has touched the lives of others as a guest on The Montel Williams Show and other television shows; at Tom Joyner Stop the Violence events and other such programs; and at many colleges, middle schools, and high schools.
The Department of Justice, police departments, and domestic violence shelters are among the other organizations that have chosen to have Tanisha speak and share her story, and she has trained and spoken to more than 3,500 attendees at Community Capacity Development Office National Conferences in Tampa, Detroit, and Phoenix. Her book is available in print and e-formats, and accessible on smartphones, iPhones, and BlackBerrys via free mobile apps. Her work continues.
It’s hard for teachers to make history interesting from a social studies textbook, but students often respond positively when it’s part of an engaging story. That’s why I weave the history of the settings into some of my story lines.
One of my goals as a former teacher is to have kids read my books and then want to visit the historic places it mentions or learn more about them. And it’s working! A fourth-grade teacher who wrote to me about a field trip to St. Augustine said: “Students had Voices in St. Augustine open on the trolley, pointing to things they saw that were pictured in the book. Thank you for helping make history come alive for these impressionable 10-year-olds. They will never forget it!” And when I encounter families at places I feature in my stories, they often tell me they came at the request of a son or daughter who read one of my books. That thrills me.
Another goal is making kids aware of how they can make a difference in preserving and protecting the environment. That’s working too. Fifth-graders at a school where I did an author visit formed a “Greenies” group like the one formed by characters in Trouble on the St. Johns River. Then they started a campus cleanup campaign to prevent trash from going into the waterways. And after I spoke to students at one middle school, they wrote letters to the editor of a local newspaper, urging conservation and protection of the ecosystem, one of which ended with: “These issues don’t have to exist, but because of our actions, they do. We can change our actions to make these environmental issues go away.”
Published in 2008, Trouble on the St. Johns River has sold more than 9,100 print copies and is now available as an e-book. While doing research for it, I consulted with several experts on endangered species and environmental issues I feature in the book. Consequently, I received wonderful testimonials from the Save the Manatee Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, among others; and I sold books to many organizations that stock them in their gift shops; carry them in their catalogs; and invite me to speak at their events, helping me reach more people with my message.
By creating books that engage students, I feel I am still making a difference in classrooms today, and I hope in the lives of many young people.
Jane R. Wood
Florida Kids Press
Broadening and Connecting
White Man Red Road Five Colors and Walking with the Earth Mother by Jim Graywolf Petruzzi offer readers an opportunity to broaden their sense of place within their own hearts and their connection to our Earth Mother. Jim takes readers on a 30-year spiritual journey of immersion in the lives and lore of his Native American, Mayan, Australian, and other teachers. The books appeal to people curious about Native American teachings and spirituality, and to those who are interested in improving their life as they walk in mind, body, and spirit on this beautiful Earth.
Readers say they have walked away with purpose in their lives when before they couldn’t put a finger on “why life was not working.”
Sue Graywolf Petruzzi
Grandfathers for Seven Generations
Blending Fact into Fiction
My debut novel, Deadly Lode, recently won the Richard Boes Award for the best debut novel written by a veteran. Deadly Lode is a mining-murder, a thriller, and a primer on mineral exploration, as well as on the workings of the penny-stock markets. And I’m happy to say that a common thread in reader-posted reviews on Amazon, Kindle, and B&N, is: I learned a lot about geology and mining as the plot unwound, and enjoyed the learning.
Reader reviews have been nearly all five-star. Reviews from Reader Views, Spokane Couer d’Alene Living magazine, US Review of Books, and FreeBooksy were very positive. Sales have been steady (United States and Canada), with Kindle sales now outpacing paperback sales.
I based Deadly Lode on my 36 years as an international geologist and my tenure as CEO of several small-cap, penny-stock companies. The characters are mostly composites of miners, prospectors, promoters, and a few slightly more nefarious types I ran into during my career.
It’s been a blast! I get to relive my life via Trace Brandon (protagonist)—what could be better? The sequel, Diamond Fields, will be published in late May and the third installment, Ruby Silver, will be out in early 2014.
Randall (Randy) Reneau
Lessons Top Dogs Teach
Lipstick and the Leash: Dog Training a Woman’s Way was written to make a difference in women’s lives as they struggle to be taken seriously not only by their dogs but by two-legged animals as well.
The book uses my country-girl background as it points out we are all animals at our core and can get what we want from our dogs the same way top dogs achieve what they want: through quiet focus, feedback, and follow-through.
Lipstick and the Leash has won several awards, including the 2012 Living Now Award and the 2012 USA Best Book Award in the popular Animals/Pets category, and it was named Best Book of the Year 2012 by Dog Writers of America. To expand on Lipstick’s message of personal power and influence, I am sponsoring an event in the fall called My Alpha Girl Weekend. For three days (October 11–13), I will guide 30 women through a new process of empowerment, helping them learn about and strengthen themselves by training a dog.
Getting Retirement Right
Our book Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love came out in April 2009 and took a while to gain traction, but from the beginning, most people who read it were pleased with what it gave them—information, insight, and structure for looking at what they personally really needed to do to get the nonfinancial part of retirement right.
I wrote the book because I needed it when I left the corporate world, and it didn’t exist. Given my background in developing assessment tools, including exercises to help readers do their own work, was a no-brainer. But the exercises had to be interesting enough so that people actually wanted to do them.
Since I am good at condensing facts into readable text and I’m also a seasoned fiction writer, each chapter starts with facts, ends with stories, and has the exercises sandwiched in the middle.
The book’s reception has always been positive, even at that awful point in the Great Recession when it first appeared. After four years, it is still selling, and I am still getting feedback about how it helps people figure out what they want to do after they “give up work.” At a recent paid speaking engagement hosted by an insurance company, a retired engineer told me that it had done more to help him than all the retirement planning classes his former employer had provided.
I am pleased that the book is doing some good. And we are working on bringing out additional titles. It’s hard to balance writing and promotion when you are wearing all the hats, but I’m still really glad to be involved in making a difference in how satisfied people are once they are living retirement.
Mining Silver LLC/Hankfritz Press