Minding Its P’s and Partnerships: Davies-Black Is Market-Driven
by Linda Carlson
Like many market-driven companies, Davies-Black Publishing believes that the four P’s are one route to success. But the four P’s that this Mountain View, CA, publisher recommends aren’t the usual product, price, promotion, and place. Instead, Davies-Black believes in:
Established by CPP (formerly Consulting Psychologists Press) in 1995 to publish books based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment of personality traits, Davies-Black specializes in business and professional development materials. Its best-known titles include Leadership and Management: The Next Level, Tools for Team Excellence, Building a Career Development Program, and U R a Brand!
The company competes with some well-known and often well-heeled publishers: Harvard Business School Press, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, AMACOM, McGraw-Hill, and Career Press.
The competition isn’t just for book sales—it’s also for authors. That’s why marketing and sales director Laura Simonds says one of Davies-Black’s challenges is attracting expert authors. Not just any experts, she clarifies, adding, “authors with a platform and a strong willingness and capability to collaborate on promotion.”
Precontract, Davies-Black talks about marketing. Prospective authors often receive an overview of typical promotional activities from Simonds, and the house assesses a writer’s willingness and ability to promote a book before offering a contract.
“Your most effective marketing tools are your authors,” Simonds emphasizes. “Professional-market authors need the ability to get before their professional audiences as well as the general public. They need to be able to get speaking slots at the national conferences of their associations, not an Oprah appearance.”
Simonds also wants an author to be able to place an article in an important trade or professional publication (although getting into The New York Times never hurts, she adds, chuckling). And professional-market authors need to be able to sell books through their seminars.
Many of the Davies-Smith marketing projects are cooperative, with the author paying all or part of a book-publicist’s fees and half of a direct mail campaign. Writers who agree to such expenses are more attractive to the publisher.
Another precontract issue that Davies-Black addresses is writing ability. “If we know that an author cannot write well, we may not accept the proposal unless the author works with a ghostwriter,” Simonds reports. With authors new to the company, Davies-Black budgets extra resources for editing.
Even authors published by other houses may need extra help to write to Davies-Black’s specifications, the marketing and sales director explains, pointing out that the company’s books have gotten shorter as demands on businesspeople have changed. Its first books averaged 250 to 300 pages, with a few exceeding 350. Today, Simonds recommends 180 pages for a narrow topic and 250 pages for an in-depth presentation of a broader subject. Most new titles average 150 to 200 pages.
Patience is another important trait in today’s market, Simonds notes. “Authors’ attitudes, like their writing ability, vary significantly,” she says, and the key to successful author relations is establishing credibility by being able to explain your publishing process and why a certain editorial or graphic approach is important. “When you demonstrate your expertise and the irreplaceable value you bring to the book,” she notes, “you can win authors to your viewpoint.”
As the executive who deals with authors after publication, Simonds advises persistence as well as patience in preparing authors to promote their books. Many, she says, don’t understand that book promotion is a long-term project. “They don’t realize that it requires a sustained effort; they underestimate the value of word-of-mouth and grassroots promotion, and they don’t realize that it’s easier to sell 100 books to one customer than one book to each of 100 customers.”
To provide promotional expertise, Simonds gives every author a copy of a notebook she’s compiled, “Author’s Guide to Promotional Ideas.” For authors interested in marketing, but unsure how to start, the binder sections include Special Markets, Web Sites, Speaking Engagements, Direct Mail (including e-marketing), Media Publicity (using their company communication vehicles, such as newsletters and brochures), and New Media (including blogs and podcasts).
Besides signing authors who are experts and helping them become successful as authors, Simonds credits subrights sales with contributions to Davies-Black’s success. These sales now generate a significant part of its revenue, she reports, and sales of foreign rights for summarization (for example, in Soundview Executive Book Summaries and Business Book Review) have been important, as have sales of rights for electronic editions (such as to Books24x7).
Current challenges for Davies-Black include functioning effectively in the Web 2.0 world and distinguishing itself in the crowded category of business books, with strong competition from both established and startup publishers.
One of the company’s strategies for standing out among competitors is co-publishing with professional associations. Since 2002, Davies-Black has co-published with the American Society for Training and Development, the Society for Human Resource Management, ASQ Quality Press, and WorldatWork®. These arrangements give the associations broader trade distribution in the United States, international distribution, and access to Davies-Black’s well-established customer base.
The advantages for Davies-Black? Co-publishing lets it reach hundreds of thousands more potential customers (in one case, as many as 225,000) through the associations’ memberships, and helps increase brand recognition with associations’ members (by contrast, buying association mailing lists and exhibiting at conventions let it reach only a fraction of the members). The fact that print runs are higher for co-published books reduces Davies-Black’s unit costs. And, adds Simonds, there’s the prestige of being affiliated with a national or international organization.
Another plus: Davies-Black has been able to introduce itself to attractive prospective authors. Three books that resulted from awareness created by co-publishing are Nancy S. Ahlrichs’s Igniting Gen B and Gen V and Manager of Choice, and Michael Sabbag’s Developing Exemplary Performance One Person at a Time, coming in spring 2009.
Pointing to Co-Active Coaching, published with the Coaches Training Institute, Simonds reports that it is now one of the best-selling executive/life-coaching books in the world, in part because of the institute’s international coach training network.
Linda Carlson (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes regularly for the Independent.