Each time we get ready to start another marketing program, members call and ask, “What can I expect?” I wish there was a standard answer for one and all. But, there isn’t.
In March, PMA always purchases the front cover package of Publishers Weekly to help launch Small Press Month. This year, 98 titles participated in this program. My prediction will be that 33 of the books will get incredible response. As of this column writing in late March, I know that several of the books have received queries for international rights. We know this since many times the international publisher will fax our office and ask if the rights are available on several books. We distribute these requests to the specific publishers and will help them in their follow-up. We also received information from Sharon Hendry, who is the pubisher of Soliah, The Sara Jane Olson Story, that she has received 150 orders from Ingram since the ad appeared (2-1/2 weeks). So that’s the good news with more to follow, we hope. Then there is the remaining 65 titles. Of these, probably 33 will receive modest orders and/or nibbles. The remaining 32 will just have exposure to the market with minimum results.
The one-third factor noted above seems to be the case with each and every PMA marketing program. It would be wonderful if we could predict which titles will fall in the lower 1/3 so that we can help them save their dollars. But, we can’t. The one thing we all recognize about this business is that it’s an unpredictable one. The other thing we know about the business is if we don’t market and advertise our titles, they won’t have a chance of sales.
The results of the 8 ATamin Franklin Awards are listed in this issue. Again, what does this really mean? Typically, an award (really just about any award, although we like to think that the PMA Benjamin Franklin Award is a special one) will help sell books. Consumers are attracted to books that carry some sort of seal of approval from someone else! Of course the Caldecott, the Nobel, the Edgar, and even “the Oprah” are very recognizable names, but from Parenting Magazine’s Seal of Approval to everything else inbetween, awards help to rebirth and to sell titles.
The Benjamin Franklin Awards were begun many years ago to help the publishers understand where they were excelling, as well as where they need improvement. I think even today it’s the only award that returns all the judging forms to the participants with notes from the judges included on the form. Participants can either agree or disagree with the comments, but the judges are working professionals, from librarians to booksellers to reviewers, all of whom work with book product every day. Our judging panel number in excess of 150 today and they are the most dedicated lot I’ve ever encountered. They spend much of their year going through each entry, beginning in late August and finishing up in mid-March. This is one program that we at the PMA office can see the results. When the awards first began in the late 1980s, many of the books looked as if they were “home-grown”. Approximately 20% looked professional enough to compete at the bookstore level. Today, close to 95% of the books entered could compete anywhere, anytime. Many of the entries are from publishers who did not get great comments or grades with their first few titles. But, they listened and learned, and their product today could be placed on the shelf of any bookstore and compete. So, in this case, the answer to the question, “What can I expect?” would definitely be, “You can expect to improve your product and get honest feedback.
The various trade shows that PMA works on behalf of its members are probably the most difficult of all to gauge. Other than at the international shows, where you receive immediate requests for reading copies (although even here, there’s lots of requests that come after the immediate show), it’s rare if you see immediate results. The shows offer all a place to present titles to the trade with the end result hopefully being a purchase. But, purchase by whom? It could be an individual library or a library with many branches; it could be a bookstore or bookstore chain; it could be a cataloguer or premium buyer; it could even be a film studio. And, then again, it could be none of the above.
Whenever we get asked, “What can I expect?”, we have to answer with candor … “You can expect great sales/exposure for your title; you may get no immediate feedback.” But, if we all continue working together to promote the independent press, we will continue to make great inroads into the world of publishing. Today we represent a much larger percentage of titles on bookstore shelves than we did 20 years ago; we are selling our titles into and, more importantly through, outlets that years ago would only accept books from the major publishing houses. And, we continue to grow.
What can we expect? With persistent hard work and good product, we can continue to change the face of book publishing!