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Mix Cultural and Cooking Niches: Mayreni’s Recipe for Success

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by Linda Carlson

Being social in the traditional sense of “pressing the flesh” can spell business success, we’re reminded by Barbara Ghazarian’s experience at Mayreni Publishing (mayreni.com). Better yet, most of the thousands of books Ghazarian has sold have gone to buyers outside trade channels, at full retail price or at lower discounts than trade buyers demand.

Established in 1995 to provide Armenian-English translations and to assist Armenian-Americans with their writing and publishing, the Monterey, CA, publisher has three books in print. The latest, Simply Quince, came out in August of this year.

Mayreni’s first book, Descendants of Noah: Christian Stories from the Armenian Heart, was compiled by Ghazarian and published in 2002. Now in its second edition, it was followed in 2004 by Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy. Headed back to press next month for the third time, Simply Armenian has now sold more than 8,000 copies—through appearances at farmers’ markets, Armenian organizations and churches, and, lately, along with Simply Quince, at foodie groups and gardening stores.

Ghazarian also sells direct, thanks to her regular press releases to Armenian publications. Oh, yes, and her titles are sold in bookstores, usually when she presents programs there.

“Armed with three titles in niche markets, it’s hard not to sell books,” Ghazarian believes.

A Win-Win System for Speaking Dates

As a grandchild of an Armenian immigrant, this publisher obviously knows one of her niches very well, and she benefits from its loyalty, despite the fact that Armenians in North America are served by only about a dozen newspapers, some of which publish only in Armenian. Mayreni sends press releases to these papers to publicize new books, awards its books win, appearances in a paper’s circulation area, and suggestions of the books as holiday gifts. Unlike many other cookbook publishers, it does not send out recipes.

Then there’s all that pressing of the flesh. Ghazarian notes that she arranges her own speaking appearances and sets her fee schedule so that speech sponsors can use her appearances as fundraisers. She offers her books at a 40 percent discount and asks for no honoraria, just reimbursement of travel expenses. Every such event has paid for itself and made money for its sponsor, she reports.

As an example, she recalls a rainy Monday night at an Armenian-American church in Providence, RI, where “the church ladies made a few of my dishes, enough to feed the crowd of 45 attendees with leftovers. I spoke on behalf of the Habitat for Humanity–Armenia Project, and we sold enough Simply Armenian and Descendants of Noah for the group to net $1,000. You do the math. Needless to say, my expenses were paid, and we all felt great about the evening. It was win-win for everyone involved.”

Another plus of working through churches and associations: many such groups have small bookstores or other retail operations. “They generally don’t return leftover inventory, preferring to keep it on hand to sell to members who couldn’t attend an event,” the publisher adds.

Profitable TV Promotion

Ghazarian’s work with other fundraising campaigns has also spelled success for everyone involved. One high-profile example is a recent public television pledge drive in Boston, which the publisher describes as having a “vibrant” Armenian community. WGBH ran an hour-long documentary about the historical development of the Armenian spirit that was, says Ghazarian, “perfect for the story told in my Descendants of Noah and Simply Armenian.”

During two-minute pledge breaks that occurred every 20 minutes, WGBH staff members pleaded for donations and talked to the author, who had been invited to appear as a featured guest. Payoff for WGBH: more than triple what it expected in pledges. Payoff for Mayreni: more than 400 books sold to the station to use as premiums at better than the usual wholesale discount, plus valuable media exposure.

Did I mention triple the expected exposure? The program was repeated twice in the same season, and the television publicity drove trade sales, especially online, and often via Amazon.

“I’m not sure why some folks still diss Amazon,” Ghazarian says, “but my attitude is, a book sold is a book less in inventory. Amazon continues to be the go-to retailer when people hear you on radio or TV, or can’t remember anything but a fragment of the book title. They go to Amazon, and voilà! They find and buy your work.”

Mining Cookbook Niches

The Mayreni cookbooks appeal to niche markets besides Armenian-Americans. “Farmers’ markets love Simply Armenian because of the cuisine’s emphasis on whole grains, yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and limited meat,” Ghazarian says, explaining that half the 150 recipes are meat-free and a third of them are vegan. This means that the recipes appeal to people who want to follow the Mediterranean diet, as well as to the Armenian Christians who cannot eat meat or dairy on fasting days such as the 40 days of Lent.

Besides discussing a fruit that is native to Armenia, Simply Quince has the advantage of being the first extensive cookbook and history for a fruit used traditionally only for preserves. “With this title, I’m offering the professional and the home cook 70 easy recipes for preparing this cousin of the apple and pear in new ways,” Ghazarian declares.

At this point, the book serves what she calls “an oddball niche.” But she has discovered that niches are what many want to explore. A bookstore buyer who attended a recent presentation at a farmers’ market stayed after to ask questions. “She told me that I was not just another local author, that what I’ve done is unique and exciting.”

On the Agenda

What’s next for the Queen of Quince, as Ghazarian calls herself? She’s just wound up a West Coast tour for the new cookbook, and she’s signed on with a distributor, to pursue more trade sales as one of her New Year’s resolutions.

“Distributor fees and discounts cut into profitability, but as I said about Amazon—a book sold is one less in inventory,” she explains. That being said, though, Ghazarian knew it was critical for her to have a distributor that would let her sell her books herself at full retail when she speaks before groups.

Another market remains to be approached: libraries. Mayreni has put absolutely no effort into library sales, the publisher admits, and she thinks the potential is huge. According to WorldCat (worldcat.org), only 56 libraries across the United States have copies of Simply Armenian, and only a couple of public libraries have Descendants of Noah.

And then there’s cyberspace. “Our Web site, blog, Twitter, and Facebook efforts have been lagging, but they’re moving to the top of the agenda for 2010,” Ghazarian says.

If she can use social media and electronic marketing to sell books as effectively as she has used old-fashioned “social” marketing, we’ll all want to bookmark her Web site and learn from her strategies.

Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle.



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