Smaller publishers have it all over the giants when the goal is synergy. In the huge houses, whole departments–sometimes even whole divisions–are supposed to spark profit-making products for each other. What often happens, though, is that staffers keep their minds on their regular tasks instead. And when someone actually does come up with an idea for another department or division, it frequently gets buried by squabbles over whose budget will suffer or benefit, and by how much.
Small and self-publishers, by contrast, frequently create synergies between books and other products and services. The reports that follow show how just a few have done it. Although this group includes stories from two presses that focus on pets, synergistic small publishers cover a wide range. For some other examples, see “What Readers Also Want” (December 2002), “Invisible Elements in the Product Mix for Kids” (January 2003), and “Selling in the Business Market” (February 2003).
— Judith Appelbaum
A Talent Agent Tackles Two Other Industries
About five years ago, I was happy just being a talent agent and reading the occasional book. Then suddenly, everything changed! Along came this playful puppy and he inspired me to write Puppy Stuff, which put me in the book business. Next, a truckload of puppy toys arrived, which inspired the Doggy Toy Box. This was quickly followed by a “Hang-Up” for leashes, and after several rain storms, towels for “My Paws Only” were born. Three years later, while I was on vacation, an inquisitive kitty adopted me and later inspired me to write Kitty Stuff, followed by “The Catnapper” for kitties’ many sleep periods. “My Kit N Kaboodle” box was created for kitty’s very own truckload of toys. I then found myself in the pet product business.
Do the products and the books complement each other? Yes. When I attend a book-signing, I bring samples of the products. And when I attend a Pet Expo, I bring the books. I have combined the Puppy Stuff book with a Toy Box, a Hang-Up, Towel, and announcement cards, creating a Puppy Layette. This is very popular and sells books.
Both the pet industry and the book industry are difficult businesses. So I try to deal directly with our customers whenever possible. Each year, I host two benefit book-signings. Usually a pet store will let me use their facility and not ask for any money from the book sales. They’re just glad to have pet-friendly people in their store. I average 100-125 sales at each of these events and give a portion of each sale to a designated charity. At the benefits, I include an order form in the book for the other products. The benefits create good will and many referrals, which create bookstore sales.
I use my talent agent contacts to hype interest at the book-signings. At a recent event, I brought one of my caricature artists. Anyone who bought one of the books received a free drawing of themselves with their pet. The humans and dogs loved it. As far as the cats were concerned, all I can say is, “Thank goodness the artist draws fast!”
When I’m traveling, I hook up with a local animal shelter, find a bookstore, and host a benefit book-signing. This usually results in the bookstore stocking some of my books. Twenty years of volunteer work in my community also resulted in book sales. Out of appreciation, people will buy one of the books. I’m always gratified when one of them calls and tells me the book is good, and they want to buy more as gifts.
I’m in the process of having our website developed, now that the books have won awards. These awards have opened up Web links. I am excited about developing a whole new area of sales. Because wholesalers are now taking 60% from small presses, it’s important to me to sell as many books as possible directly to the consumer.
Am I nuts for having three businesses? Absolutely! Am I still happy? Yes! Now, if I could just book my pets as a song and dance act, life would be complete!
Jodi Alessandrini, Pallachip Publishing
Varying Formats for Fiction
Small Beer Press is committed to publishing short story collections and
novels by authors that we feel might otherwise slip through the cracks.
In 1996, long before I ever thought I’d publish any books, I started a small
press zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (LCRW). I was working at Avenue Victor Hugo’s Books, which carried decades-worth of literary, pop culture, indie, and pulp magazines. It would have been difficult to work there and not want to start a magazine. Besides, I had access to a photocopier, and a lot of friends who wrote or made art. We’ve been publishing LCRW biannually for seven years.
From the zine, we moved to chapbooks. These were deliberately designed as low-priced editions used to introduce new writers and give them a step up between publishing stories and publishing books. The chapbooks gave us confidence in our design and production capabilities.
At about the same time, we set up a half-decent website. (Oddly enough, we
still have a half-decent website, but it’s larger now.) And, with the advent
of Paypal, our zine and the chapbooks were suddenly available to anyone–or at least to anyone who had the urge to look us up.
Then we began publishing books. These included two by Carol Emshwiller and one each by Kelly Link and Ray Vukcevich. We started with fairly small print runs since our goal was always to break even. Fortunately the reviews were good. We sent out a lot of reading copies to bookstores; as former bookstore employees, we know how much easier it is to sell a book that you’ve read and enjoyed. Every book that we’ve published so far has gone to at least a second printing. We’re hoping to eventually publish more than two books a year, while continuing to put out LCRW on a regular schedule.
The zine and chapbooks reach very different audiences than our books. The
books are carried by Ingram and Baker & Taylor; our biggest LCRW distributor
is Last Gasp. But LCRW and the chapbooks give readers a way to sample our
authors without popping for the more expensive books–the zine is only $4,
chapbooks $5, and the books $16.
Publishing LCRW taught us (in small affordable steps) marketing, distribution, design, how to work to deadlines, and most of all, the importance of professional proofreaders. In the last couple of years, we have actively encouraged many others to start their own micropublishing houses. We’re very happy to report that some few people have taken up the challenge.
Gavin J. Grant, Small Beer Press
Ask How Readers Will Act on Your Advice
My publishing company, Home Decor Press, produced the two books I wrote on home furnishing bargains–The Insider’s Guide to Buying Home Furnishings and The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide. They’ve sold more than 120,000 copies combined since I started the publishing firm in 1995. This is partly thanks to the fact that I’ve done more than 300 TV and radio interviews nationwide, taught hundreds of in-store seminars at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores all over the U.S., been the subject of more than 100 feature articles in major daily newspapers, and received reviews and other print publicity in more than a dozen national magazines. Plus, The Furniture Factory Outlet Guide was featured on The Today Show and recommended in the June 2003 issue of Reader’s Digest.
I also lead guided shopping tours to the furniture factory outlets in North Carolina. I take groups of shoppers around the best factory outlets and
deep discounters in the central North Carolina area. I began doing the guided tours in May 2002 after having received many requests from readers. It’s a great add-on product. I’m paid for my time and expertise, and the tour members get special savings they couldn’t get from the furniture outlets on their own. Tour members also save money by getting better deals on hotel rooms and by not having to rent a car if they fly to NC. (I pick the people up at the airport in a rented tour bus and take care of all their transportation while they’re in North Carolina).
It’s a bit early to tell whether the tours are boosting my book sales. I do
know that they’ve received great word of mouth advertising. And looking at the tax info for 2002 (the first year I did the tours), I see that tour payments constituted 10% of our gross income before expenses and 12% of our net profit. Not bad at all, especially since I don’t pay a dime for ads. I draw my tour members solely from my book sales and book publicity.
Lessons I’ve learned include:
- Look at how your readers may act on the advice in your books. In my case, many travel directly to North Carolina to shop at the factory outlets I recommend. Finding a way to offer them discount rates for hotels and transportation while still making a profit was an obvious add-on service.
- Do exit polls. Ask your readers how the products and services you offer could be improved or expanded. I got some great (free) ideas from the members of the first tour.
- Give people more than they expect. I always save a few good surprises for the tour members after they arrive–such as a free lunch sponsored by a factory outlet or an extra coupon or discount they hadn’t expected.
Kimberly Causey, Home Decor Press
Woods N’ Water Inc. has been publishing a line of outdoor books for
Bookspan’s Outdoorsman’s Edge book club since 2001. Each branded title is featured as a Main Selection in this outdoor club, which is targeted to people who enjoy books on shooting sports, hunting, self-sufficiency, firearms, survival, nature, wild game cooking, and more.
In addition to publishing these books, Woods N’ Water markets deer hunting items and accessories, including deer calls, rattling antlers, and deer scents. It also produces a how-to line of hunting videos in its own video production studio. Some of the most successful tapes include How to Use Deer Calls and How to Rattle in Big Bucks. We have been selling these items through our company since 1986 in conjunction with seminars Peter Fiduccia (Woods N’ Water’s President and driving force) gives across the country for companies–like Bass Pro Shops and the NRA–on deer and deer hunting. Books and products are additionally exposed on the nationally televised Woods N’ Water TV Series (now in its 20th season) that features Peter and me as hosts who are enjoying outdoor sports across North America.
Our sales staff promotes the books when inquiries come in for other products–and vice versa. The key to making the cross-promotion work successfully is offering closely related products. For example, when someone calls to order the Outdoorsman’s Edge Guide to Sure-Fire Whitetail Tactics, we offer them one of our deer hunting videos or a deer call at a current “special” price. Likewise, when an order comes in for a product, we offer one or two books that are similar in topic. The sales staff is fully knowledgeable about all the products and the books. We find this critical to selling product on a consistent basis to knowledgeable consumers. Plus Woods N’ Water creates a synergistic approach for exposure through various forms of media.
No matter what a consumer purchases from our company, we always include additional material about other products in every processed order.
Kate Fiduccia, Woods N’ Water, Inc.
Websites: www.deerdoctor.com (all products); www.fiduccia.com (books only
Excerpts and Extras
I publish guidebooks for pet owners who want to travel with their dogs in
the Pacific Northwest. I started with Have Dog Will Travel-Oregon Edition in 1998, then added the Washington Edition in 1999, and in January 2003, I released the newly updated and expanded Have Dog Will Travel, Northwest Edition. This last edition contains details on 2,128 dog-friendly accommodations in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. My plan is to issue an updated Northwest edition every three years and possibly expand into a “California/Southwest Edition” as well.
I’ve experimented with selling a few related pet products alongside the
books–by mail order and at retail shows–with modest success. First, I
offered a collapsible car window screen called a Pet-Vent. (It’s for better
ventilation when briefly leaving a dog inside a parked car.) This was
promoted through a bounce-back product flyer included with each book order shipped to my phone-order and mail-order customers.
Then I excerpted the First Aid chapter from the Have Dog Will Travel books and published it separately as a 32-page, 4″ x 7″ booklet. The booklet was designed to fit into a car glove compartment or daypack. The booklets sold fairly well, especially at holiday bazaars and dog shows, but not gangbusters.
Future products I’m considering include a soft-sided “pocket-able” water
dish and a reusable ID tag to list a vacation address (in case the owner and dog get separated while away from home).
Also, at this year’s BEA, I discovered some very cute dog-shaped bookmarks. I’m considering offering them as a free bonus with the purchase of the main book. I may also sell them as a separate item for a dollar or two, especially at live shows.
The sale of these book-related products doesn’t seem to have had an
appreciable effect on immediate book sales. However they do serve as
conversation-starters at my booth and get customers to stop and look at the books. And perhaps there’s a longer-term benefit in fixing the book and its title in their minds for future purchase.
Barbara Whitaker, Ginger & Spike Publications
[subhead]Know Each Component Intimately
Pacific Heritage Books specializes in quality fiction and nonfiction with an emphasis on Asian-American values, themes, and authors. Our goal is to promote an increased understanding of and sensitivity to Asian cultures, achievements, contributions, and heritage. PHB has published five non-book titles in its feng shui line.
Our press introduced ThePractical Feng Shui Chart™ Kit in 1992; we wanted to fill the need for a simple hands-on tool for feng shui aficionados at a time when no others were available. Its components included a clear plastic, imprinted chart; a liquid-filled hiking compass; and an 8-1/2″ x 11″ booklet–all enclosed in a brilliantly colorful bubble pouch made of metallic Mylar. The Wind-Water Wheel followed; it’s a simple four-color, two-fold folder with a dial that shows the user’s four best and worst directions. Three tool kits came next. All the kits share some information with Pacific Heritage’s feng shui books; however they’re independent and different from each other in content, colors, and design. That way, consumers can purchase all three and get unique text in each. Last but not least was the elaborately designed, four-color, laminated, grommeted Feng Shui Wheel. This product had been developed for another company from which we recently bought back the copyright. Kit sales have supported our best-selling book, Feng Shui Dos and Taboos, because typically a kit buyer will purchase a book as well.
Much like a CEO who started out in the mailroom, I found it very important to understand the entire process of developing and creating each component of each publication every step of the way. Although it was more expensive to produce the first run of each domestically, it was imperative for us to learn how the parts created the sum. Sourcing out the compasses alone taught us much about details such as importing and exporting from Asia, customs and shipping containers, minimum numbers (no, we did not need 25,000 units), international freighting, and communicating with foreign countries where English is the fourth or fifth language, along with a plethora of other things–more than we’d ever expected or wanted to know!
“Simple” decisions–such as finding a company to print the clear charts and trying various types of adhesives to attach the plastic compass to the acrylic sheets–became complicated. The learning curve was steep, but extremely valuable and absolutely essential. Going forward, it allowed us to negotiate better unit prices on every aspect of subsequent printings, which eventually led us offshore to Hong Kong.
We’re delighted to share our experiences with these products and hope other publishers can benefit from our experiences.
Angi Ma Wong, Pacific Heritage Books