Every week we receive multiple calls about similar problems facing new publishers. So many of these problems could have been avoided if planning had taken place prior to the book coming into print.
One common happenstance is the mispricing of a book. Too many publishers arbitrarily place a price on their book “just because.” No homework, no scientific figuring. Some actually have read some books about publishing and then use the information included in these books to price their title. What they fail to understand is that this is just a rule of thumb. Marking a title up 8X manufacturing cost does not compute if you have not manufactured your book properly and have ended up paying $4 per unit for a book that should cost out at $1 per unit. Using the 8X rule in the first circumstance would place the title at $32 (and, yes, we have seen books at that price that should have been at $11.95).
When asked if the publisher has ever visited a bookstore to see what the price range is for books in their genre, many state, “No.” Others say, “Yes, and I’ve priced mine at the top of the range.” When asked why they assume they can get top dollar, the typical reply is, “Because it’s better than anything else out there.” Well, you’d better think it is better than anything else out there or you shouldn’t publish, but you should also be realistic and understand that you are entering a market normally as an unknown, and others may not perceive your title to be the “best on the market.” Pricing a book competitively is so important that I encourage all to really look at the printing bids to make sure you are coming out with a book that can be marketed wisely against others out there right now. And discuss your title with bookstore owners, distributors, wholesalers, and others who will be selling your product to obtain their opinion of what your title can sell for.
Award for Excellence & Innovation in Publishing
The book chosen this year for the Benjamin Franklin Award for Excellence and Innovation in Publishing should be studied by anyone in our field for insight into how to make a book happen. Verso, a small press based on New York, decided to take a 150-year-old, readily available, public domain political pamphlet and repackage and sell it to the public. When repackaging this old material into The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition, Verso obtained a new forward by one of today’s most distinguished historians, Eric Hobsbawm. They upscaled (some would say capitalized) the new presentation and decided to sell communism for capitalists. It attracted Associated Press’s attention, which both delighted and insulted leftwingers across the US and Canada, and got coverage in both GQ and US News and World Report because of the debates surrounding this. The media coverage spread to radio and TV with an interview on NPR’s Marketplace and a feature on ABC News in New York.
Verso captured the nation’s attention by “Marketing Marx.” This company has two full-time and two part-time employees, along with two part-time interns, who planned and ran this whole marketing campaign while performing all their other routine tasks for a list of 30 spring titles.
Being in New York has its advantages to be sure. This small press was able to get window displays in several high profile stores, including Walden on Wall Street. They were also able to convince Barney’s New York to use copies of their title interspersed amidst fashion in their window. The packaging of the book was hip enough for Barney’s New York to want to feature it.
Perhaps the timing was right for the reintroduction of this book to new hip masses, who may not have known about Marx or that this is a public domain book. Maybe they think they’re discovering it for the first time … and are willing to pay money for something that was discovered many, many years ago.
Research + Luck
As I often find myself saying when someone asks me why one book becomes a bestseller and another languishes on the shelf, “Who knows!” One thing I do know is that it takes planning and an understanding of the consumer market. It takes research and luck.
To insure that you take your best shot with your title, do your homework. Research pricing, research the needs of readers, plan a campaign before you go to press (not after), and then pray for luck. Who knows? Next year we may be writing about your title as having one of the most innovative campaigns for 1999!
For a complete listing of all Benjamin Franklin Award Winners and Finalists, please turn to page XX. Congratulations all!