PUBLISHED JAN/FEB 2020
by Rudy Shur, Founder, Square One Publishers —
- There are ways to ensure you’re thoroughly prepared before meeting with a large organization.
- Any group that is large, well-recognized in its field, and wishes to have a book serve as its voice on some level may be a potential client.
As a smaller independently owned book publisher, it has not always been easy to penetrate the trade market or to find distribution partners that can bring titles into the far bigger non-trade markets. Over the last decade, the hard fact has been that those distribution and wholesale companies that thrived by working with indie book publishers have gone out of business, downsized, or been acquired by the larger remaining few. This turn of events has left indies waiting in much longer lines for just the chance to present titles to those large wholesalers solvent enough to stay in the book biz. So, yes, it is not as easy a playing field for indie publishers as it once was. If, however, you are good at publishing books—creating, editing, and laying them out—there is an opportunity that you should consider. In fact, there are thousands of such opportunities—both here in the United States and elsewhere around the world—that should be high on your list of worthwhile market targets at any point in the year. It’s called organizational publishing.
When I first started publishing books a number of years ago, I specialized in college texts. One of the places I would go to sell books and seek out potential authors was the United States Military Academy at West Point. During one of my visits, I found myself talking to the chair of the military history department. He wasn’t very happy with the basic military history books that his department continued to use in classes, so I asked if he would be interested in writing his own course book instead. My company was still relatively new and, frankly, not all that well known. The chairperson was a courteous gentleman, thankfully, and he told me that he would think about it.
Simply having the name “West Point” on our books’ covers and spines helped make things happen for us.
To my surprise, he called about a week later and asked me to join him for lunch at the West Point officers dining room, where we could further discuss the project. Needless to say, I was there on time, and we had a great lunch meeting. Five years later, I was the proud publisher of The West Point Military History Series. At first, my publishing house marketed the series as college textbooks designed for military history courses. However, as luck would have it, a military magazine soon contacted us to see if we could put together a special edition of our World War II titles for their readers. Once the book was promoted in their journal, the word spread among military history buffs and gamers that our series was a “must-have.” Our sales for these titles exploded—first in the United States and, soon after, in the United Kingdom.
While we may not have been a major publisher of military history books at the time, simply having the name “West Point” on our books’ covers and spines helped make things happen for us. The organization needed books, we filled their need, and we quickly recognized that there were perhaps other institutions and businesses that could benefit from having their own existing material presented in a refined, well-prepared book format. By focusing our energies on the right organizations, and with a bit of persistence, we were able to meet the unique needs of many companies and associations. Some groups with whom we worked needed books in order to preserve and present their own long and successful histories as beautiful coffee-table titles, while others used their titles to promote their company’s guiding principles or as complements to their products. The ultimate goal was simple: to create a book that filled a company’s needs with a product of which its members could be proud.
Today, with my newest company, Square One Publishers, heading into its 20th year, a primary objective of our business continues to be the production of nonfiction trade books for a variety of niche markets. However, our ongoing organizational publishing program allows us the luxury of not being dependent on book trade sales alone for our income. If this approach to publishing books with either immediate name recognition or built-in markets is for you, here are a few tips for you to consider:
Where Do You Find These Organizations?
Any group that is large, well-recognized in its field, and wishes to have a book serve as its voice on some level may be a potential client. Let’s boil that down into harder specifics.
Two years before Macy’s—with its chain of then 800 stores—was about to celebrate its 150th anniversary, we saw an opportunity to tell the fascinating history of this iconic department store’s founder as well as the store’s own remarkable contributions to American culture and commerce—an intriguing backstory about which most of the public remained unaware. By bringing together a reliable team of enthusiastic Macy’s executives with a gifted writer, we were able to produce Macy’s: The Store, The Star, The Story in time to honor their anniversary event. We produced and made available a fully illustrated, four-color coffee table book in both hardcover and paperback formats.
Consider this: How many companies out there might be poised to honor their own anniversaries or achievements?
The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) is America’s leading not-for-profit association dedicated to safe and positive sports experiences for kids. It works with several park and recreation centers throughout the country, along with many of the professional US sports leagues, to improve youth sports. The founder of the organization, Fred Engh, wanted to write a book that focused on the problems plaguing youth sports culture today. Working with the author, we published Why Johnny Hates Sports: Why Organized Youth Sports Are Failing Our Children and What We Can Do About It. The book is an eye-opening look at how it only takes a few badly behaved parents and coaches to turn what should be a fun time into an anger-filled event—and what parents and coaches can do to improve the process for everyone involved.
Consider this: How many not-for-profit associations nationwide have an important message that they want to get out to the public? Is it a message that you believe truly deserves to be heard?
As a longtime trivia maven, years ago, I began to attend a weekly online trivia game, which I play with a team of friends at a local restaurant. The game was called Buzztime. Using their own closed-circuit TV network, the entertainment company NTN Buzztime produced 22 hours of games played each day by thousands of people in a variety of popular restaurants and bars throughout the United States and Canada. It occurred to me at the time that my company had nothing to lose if we reached out to the company to see if they would be interested in having a series of trivia books produced under their trademarked name. We made the call, found the appropriate executives with whom to discuss our idea, and voilà—the Buzztime Trivia Series was created. With five books in the series, our mass-market paperbacks cover popular topics like sports, entertainment, rock and roll, TV, and movies. And it was very nice to see all our trivia books promoted continuously through Buzztime’s televised gaming system when I went down to play trivia each week.
After finding the appropriate executives with whom to discuss our idea, and the Buzztime Trivia Series was created.
Consider this: How many companies that specialize only in online information for a big-demographic audience might be interested in having their information packaged as a book—both to further promote their brand and to increase their visibility as a key provider of fun and fascinating facts?
A number of years ago, juicing was all the rage in the general consumer market. Much of the popularity was due to a TV infomercial that had been produced by a juicer company based in the state of Washington. Before airing their infomercials nationally, the company tested the waters by running the infomercial on a regional basis. After watching a few of them, I decided to call the company directly. As it turned out, they were about to publish a health-based juicing book of their own. After asking a few questions about their content, I realized that they may have been making unsubstantiated health claims that could put them in a legal quagmire. Since my company had already published a number of health-based titles, the juicer company agreed to have us publish their book. The title we published was Juicing for Life by Cherie Calbom, and by the end of that first year, it had sold over 900,000 copies.
Consider this: What kind of product would sell in higher quantities if it were paired with a book that explained both how to use it and what benefits it provides?
Each of the four success stories described above represents separate instances in which my company was able to successfully meet the needs of one specific organization. However, they are all only examples of what can be done if you recognize the commercial potential of any particular group that may be right in front of you. Still, you should never assume that a good idea and a confident air will automatically grant you an open door to any company or association with which you wish to connect. If you arrive for your first meeting with the right keys, it’s a lot more likely that you will be able to open the door.
Keys That a Publisher Should Have in Hand
To become the publisher for any large organization, you need to be prepared. What exactly does that entail? Consider the following:
Learn as much as you can about the group with which you are going to meet. How is the organization put together? How do they function as a group? What are their goals and priorities? Have they had anything published before? The more you know, the less likely you will be to put your foot in your mouth.
Before approaching any group, always have a general marketing plan in mind should it come up at your initial meeting. Will the book be used for celebrating a milestone or event? Will it be designed for its members, its customers, or the general public? Who will act as the face of the book in regard to interviews and publicity? Who will warehouse and distribute the book? Who will be responsible for promotion and marketing? While some of these questions may not come up in your initial conversation, you should be prepared to answer them.
Always look the part of a professional publisher. You may be a David to their Goliath, but present yourself and your company in the appropriate light, and your pitch will stand its best chance of being exactly what they may be looking for—no matter the size difference between the two companies. Always dress appropriately. Provide a few copies of your catalog along with sales sheets. Just as important, always bring along two or three copies of your very best titles.
It is likely that each group’s internal structure is set up differently. Some may have staff members who are already in place to help put a book project together with you, while others may have scattered information and no one on-site to gather and prepare the material needed to create and publish the book. As a publisher working to produce something wonderful for a company or organization, it is crucial that you have a reliable team behind you to take on the project. Whether it includes a writer, photographer, editor, typesetter, and/or layout artist, each book project may require its own unique group of professionals. Be prepared to undertake any project with a clear understanding of the requirements necessary to complete a finalized and acceptable publication.
Once a project has been agreed upon, meet with the organization’s appointed in-house contact and set up the steps necessary to complete the project. Make sure that you and your contact know what needs to be done and who will be responsible for each part of the process—including everything from interviewing key individuals in the group to gathering permissions when and if required. You should always aim to establish realistic project deadlines, for both your company and the other organization. For a publisher, this can be quite challenging, since your group’s contact may have various other responsibilities to carry out. It is crucial, though, that all steps in the project are taken and met in a timely and thorough manner. Without this kind of planning, large projects of this kind can easily fall apart.
Always have a clear grasp of the required upfront capital necessary to finance any project of this kind, along with the anticipated return. This is one of the most important keys to have in hand before agreeing to undertake this type of publishing project. Remember, your role as a “David” may mean that your financial resources are limited. With my companies over the years, we never required any group to put up money in advance to cover the costs of creating the book. Sometimes the organization would agree to initially purchase a fixed number of books upon publication, or to market the finished book to their membership or to those customers who purchased their products. In some cases, we believed that the title would find its own audience based on the organization’s considerable brand recognition along with the overall importance of a given book’s message.
Still, every once in a while, one of these projects take much longer to finalize and publish than we anticipate. If it were not for our sturdy stable of backlist titles that has always supported our endeavors, a Goliath or two could have unintentionally crushed us. So, when undertaking such a project, although the potential reward may be great, always keep in mind that an unexpected risk could be waiting around any corner.
Why would I want to give away so many of these secrets? Why would I show how I’ve always been able to keep my company’s “David” in a safe and triumphant position alongside all those “Goliath” organizations with whom I have worked? Well, the fact is this: These kinds of opportunities can crop up anywhere and everywhere, and it’s not likely that one publisher can cover every company, association, society, or not-for-profit to fill all of their needs. As an independent publisher, and with the disruption still at play within the trade market, it’s important that all our companies can remain above water and keep finding non-trade markets that can help propel us into the future.
Rudy Shur founded Square One Publishers in Garden City Park, New York, where, as publisher, he currently heads the editorial program. For several years, Square One was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the fastest growing indie publishing houses in the US. Shur is also the author of How to Publish Your Nonfiction Book, 2nd Edition. He lectures extensively on the topic of publishing at numerous universities, colleges, and professional workshops throughout the country.