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Making Your Own Breaks

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Two months after the release of my first title, my author and Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan were featured in USA Today, a publication with 9 to 12 million readers. This wasn’t an article crammed in with others or a mention in a book section. It was the only feature on its page. The article was in a Friday paper that hung around at newsstands for Saturday and Sunday readers too.

When one of the first articles about your book is in the country’s largest paper, you might think that all the work is over; readers will break down the door trying to buy the book. But if you know publishing at all, you know that’s a myth up there with the Tooth Fairy. This first national article was the foundation, and it just didn’t happen because we were lucky. It came about because we use the 3 Ts. They are:




We were “T-ed” up and ready to go.

Here’s what we did so you can do it too!


T Number One: The Team

Telling others about how the company went from a great idea to being featured in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the San Antonio Express-News, Long Island Woman, and scores of columns and reviews throughout the U.S., as well as radio and television appearances, makes it seem like a huge job. It can be daunting but when you break it down into small segments, it’s easier.

The trick, if there is one, is to form a team well before the book is released, well before you even send a CD-Rom or Zip Disk to the printer. Be committed to marketing for the long haul, for years ahead, and repeat this for all your titles.

The hard fact of marketing is that you try 2 to 20 million different approaches and then cull those that work. You learn as you go; each title, each author is different. Never dwell on missteps. All learning is done through trial and error. As Wayne Gretzky, philosopher, team player, and Stanley Cup winner once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

With my background in engineering, I have always worked with a schedule and understood the concept of planning and the need to have a team to get a job done. When I decided to form a publishing company, in November 2000, I knew I’d need an author with a strong track record and a very desirable book. There were a lot of good books to launch my company, but in order to make sure I had a product that I could sell immediately and for years ahead, I looked for a sure thing. Twenty-seven years ago, I fortunately married that right author. I could have begun with other titles by other authors, but that simply didn’t make sense.

I believe that the author and the publisher must be the first team members. Eva Shaw, the author of Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan, and I are partnering on this book. We are each committed and contributed our skills in unique ways that support the company and the product. Eva has written more than 60 books, often for the major publishers and ghosted for those in the public eye. She knows writing. She’s a vibrant public speaker. I do not write books or enjoy getting up in front of a TV camera or large audiences. Yet I bring to the business the accounting, scheduling, and marketing side, invaluable when going out for bids, working with printers, dealing with warehouse personnel and bookstore buyers. This is the publisher’s job, and while we’re working in the literary world, it’s the business aspect that keeps a company afloat. (A caution here for others partnering as author and publisher: Strive to be an excellent communicator, come to all conversations with an open mind, and be ready to compromise.)

The next member of your team should be a gifted graphic designer. Hire one who can design a book to bring out the best of this product, because a book is a product. Here, too, find someone you can talk with and who is experienced with exactly how to produce the books and advertising materials you’ll need. Don’t try to do this yourself. Find other ways to cut corners; anything you have to redo will eat up your profits.

As the marketing adage goes… Spend money on the stuff your customer sees. Don’t spend money on what the customer can’t see. The customer sees your book, advertisements, bookmarks, postcards, and fliers, not the ’96 Honda that you drive to the UPS center when shipping books to Baker & Taylor.

Select a printing company that you can depend on. Don’t be afraid to go out for bids and compare pricing, especially shipping. Ask for references. Printing is an investment in the success of your titles. Ask the question, “How about sharpening your pencil on that figure?” The worst that can happen is that the printer knows you’re serious.

T Number Two: Talk

Years back, I knew a savvy real estate agent. This woman had a “rags to riches story.” How did she do it? “I learned early on,” she told me, “if you want business, ask for it.” I want business and I ask for it; I ask my customers, I ask anyone connected with the success of the titles, if there’s anything else I can do for them. Further, I make it easy to do business with me.

Customers lose interest in getting a product if they have to hunt down a Web site, phone number, or address. Put that information on all your materials. Answer your phone in a businesslike manner. Be ready to take orders. Spend the money for a toll-free phone number and tell your customers to use it. A customer who hesitates to call a long-distance number to place an order won’t think twice when seeing an 800 number. And you’ve made a sale that could easily pay for the extra charge on your phone bill.

Keep your publicity materials readily available, clean, and flexible. Hire a Web designer, or if you’re exceptionally lucky as we are at WPG, have a son with a degree in graphic design and outstanding skills in Web design.

Begin lining up speaking engagements and events to tell the public about the book well before it goes to the printer. Your author should be able to do this too. This means some cold-calling, but you know your product and can be ready to pitch its finer points again and again. You are in sales, and you are asking for business. Whether the speaking engagements are charitable events or lectures, getting your author out to meet readers helps sell books.

Network with organizations or groups well before you launch a title. That way, when you need and want to network for sales, relationships are already established. Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan tells how to use gardening as therapy, especially after a traumatic event or life-changing ordeal–particularly a death. Long before Shovel It came out, Eva became a member of the Garden Writers Association of American and other writing-related organizations. With the release of the book, we were able to contact journalists, radio and television hosts, and others in those groups to offer review copies, suggest articles, and pitch interviews. This networking came through in spades.

If a national or a local event occurs that ties in with your book, do not wait for an invitation to link your product to the situation. Or to create a connection so that the media is aware of your book. In September, when we watched in horror as the tragedies in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania unfolded, many of us felt confused, riddled with despair. By telling America about Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan, we could offer hope and help while feeling blessed to be able to do so. We immediately went to work pitching the recovery message of Shovel It. This was picked up by the media and shared throughout the country. Yes, the book has a fun, uplifting side. However, for those in grief, it is a life preserver of hope.

Share your message. Talk it up because the more you talk about your book, the better you’ll become at this.

If you’re unsure about your marketing expertise, and starting out we all feel that way, consult an expert for just a few hours, or better yet barter some services. Refer to the fine books on marketing too.

T Number Three: Tenacity

Don’t stop. With traditional publishers, an author gets just eight weeks of marketing attention before the book is “old hat.” I like to imagine that at WPG we’re beating the “big kids” (those New York publishing houses) at their own game because we are focused on each title and will not lose interest when our next title arrives. You know your book, want your book to be successful, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it into the hands of your readers. So do just that.

For example, it took tenacity to get the article in USA Today. I contacted the book editor and then followed up with phone calls and e-mails. Finally, well before the book was out, one of the editors said he would suggest the book and article idea to a colleague. During this waiting time, I contacted Shawn Sell, who writes about gardening for the paper. A few weeks later, Sell called and asked for a copy of the book. It took another follow-up call, and another review copy, then she contacted Eva for the interview.

I chuckle when asked about the easy work schedule of having my own business, the life of a publisher. I always say, “I work half days. It doesn’t matter which 12 hours of each day I work, but, yes, I’m only part-time.” Sure.

There will be plenty of 12-hour days in your future. I hope there are in mine. Because that’s what it takes to market a book.

Now with Three Ts, however, you can make a difference between a ho-hum sales year and one that can actually be called “best ever”!

Joseph Shaw, President of Writeriffic Publishing Group, can be reached at 866/244-9047,info@writeriffic.com, or P.O. Box 524, Carlsbad, CA 92018-0524. Or visit the Web site www.writeriffic.com.

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