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Marketing by the Seat of Our Pants

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Small Press Selection Program Pays Off for High Tide Press

On November 15, Chicago-based High Tide Press released Different Seasons: Twelve Months of Wisdom & Inspiration by Rev. Dr. Dale Turner, a pastor for 25 years at Seattle’s University Congregational Church and, since retiring from the ministry in 1982, a popular columnist on the Religion page of The Seattle times. During the six-week, Holiday pre-release, Different Seasons sold more than 5,000 copies-the entire first print run.
Dr. Turner’s book, Different Seasons, was aptly titled. We relied more on inspiration than wisdom when it came to the marketing though. We signed Rev. Dale Turner to a two-book deal through a colleague on the West Coast, but were only able to get the first manuscript, a collection of some of his best columns, ready to go to the printer in September. We knew we had missed the best time to market the book for the holidays, but (to paraphrase Tom Cruise in Risky Business) we decided to say, “What the heck!” We would sell what we could during the month-and-a-half before Christmas, any books sold being gravy.
In December, while explaining to the twelfth Barnes & Noble in Seattle that, “Yes, we are all out of Dale Turner’s Different Seasons – we only printed 5,000 – have you tried…,” I couldn’t help but think back to August, when our distributor, IPG, told us that holiday sales were over for 1997, and that we would be hard-pressed to get the attention of any bookstores once the books were ready. In fairness to IPG, their sales reps go out in the fall and spring, plan carefully ahead, and know their buyers well-as opposed to ourselves who, having published three books so far, are just beginning to understand what the heck we’re doing.
When we got the books back from the printer in November (not all the books at first, but that’s another story), we headed off from Chicago for Seattle traveling as fast as any goateed, grunge-playing garage band ever did. We were our own sales reps, visiting and calling more than 35 bookstores in the Seattle area-mostly independents-with books and press kits. We knew we were pushing it, what with the holidays a mere six weeks away.
Despite the bad timing, the trip proved to be worthwhile. The independent bookstores were very receptive, particularly the ones with buyers who were over 30 (our author, Rev. Turner, is extremely well-known and beloved by Seattle’s older community). Besides, you can’t get Dungeness crab from Lake Michigan!
Easterners call Chicago the world’s biggest hick town, but Seattle possessed a distinct small-town coziness lacking in most big cities. Although it is a young city, Seattle’s older residents responded with strong support for the book. With the help of an editorial in the Seattle times and a prior agreement with University Bookstore to carry the book, Different Seasons was off to a good start.
We advertised our toll-free number (888/269-0468) in the local papers for customers who couldn’t find the book at their local bookstore, uploaded info and cover art to Amazon.com (a Seattle-based company), BookStacks (books.com), and BookZone, and held two sermons and a book signing at Rev. Turner’s old church one Sunday. We sold 555 books that day and the church ordered 100 more!
Throw in a personal appeal to the hundreds of people on Rev. Turner’s Christmas card list, another editorial proclaiming Different Seasons the number one best-seller at University Bookstore, a little more advertising, and all of a sudden, IPG couldn’t get our books out the door fast enough.
Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, once said, “If you really want to sell books, tell people it’s either censored or sold out.” Appearing to be “sold out” is precisely what we accomplished, without in any way trying to. (I suppose that’s better than having a book about spirituality censored.) The reality of the book being hard to get and in high demand only increased its aura of being a “must buy.”
Bookstores were jamming our phone lines asking where they could get the book (it wasn’t yet listed with Ingram-yet another story), customers were phoning directly when they couldn’t find it at their local book shop, and our distributor was calling on a regular basis.
To make a long story longer, we sold out our original print run of 5,000 books before Christmas and then reprinted Different Seasons for release in February 1998 to bookstores (many of which were on waiting lists for the book). Not bad for an effort that began far too late in the season by saying, “Well, why don’t we see if we can sell some books during the holidays anyway?”
Our next challenge was to market the book successfully nationwide. With signs of interest from bookstores in California, Ohio, and New Jersey, and IPG officially presenting Different Seasons to the trade in January, we were hopeful, but knew we had our work cut out for us. Having a distribution arrangement with IPG through the Small Press Selection Program certainly made it easier. Our introduction to the Small Press program came from a chance recommendation by Matt Hurley at Publishers Weekly a year ago. Today, none of us could imagine trying to sell books to the trade without a distributor.
As of February 1, IPG had 2,229 books on back order. The second printing was delivered to IPG’s warehouse on February 9th. We got busy interviewing publicists and working on an advertising strategy.
By February 26, 1998, Different Seasons had sold more than 8,500 copies. We ordered a third printing to keep up with demand and retained Patricia Barich Communications in San Francisco to assist with our publicity campaign. In addition, at TIBE 98 (Taipei International Book Exhibition), a Taiwanese publisher bought the worldwide Chinese-language rights to Different Seasons.
Although part of our success came from a decided naïveté (if we had known better, we might not have tried), a good part of it was due to the opportunities for learning now available to small, independent publishers. PMA, the Jenkins Group, the University of Chicago Publishing Program, not to mention IPG and several other publishing colleagues, all helped educate and advise us. So many resources are now available to small and self-publishers that did not exist just a few years ago. From the elements of good publicity to the basics of the publishing and bookselling industry-and a wacky industry it is-these resources helped us to produce and position a highly marketable book. These lessons were invaluable. Other lessons we had to learn the hard way. But what fun would it be if we didn’t fall on our face every now and then?

In addition to continued efforts marketing Different Seasons, High Tide Press is currently working on preparing Dale Turner’s second book, Grateful Living, for release in the fall of ’98. High Tide Press is located in the Chicago suburb of Homewood, Illinois.


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