For the past five months, I’ve been a member of PMA’s online forum, the
listserv. When I first “subscribed,” I was unsure what to expect. Although
I’ve been in publishing for 10 years, I’m new to online activities,
especially those related to e-mail and the World Wide Web. I guess I’m one of
those who is reluctant to jump into technology until it gently laps at my
toes like water on a beach. I’d been reading the hype about having your own
website and how everyone is going online. Finally I gave in, signed up for
online service, and joined the group. What I discovered goes way beyond”WOW!” I found a rich and very profitable resource, a resource that any PMA
member can access freely. This article provides an insight into what has been
discussed recently on PMA’s everybody-shares listserv.
I became a member by sending an e-mail message to email@example.com. In the
subject box of the message, I typed “SUBSCRIBE” in all capital letters. Then
in the message box, I typed “SUBSCRIBE PMA-L Robert Brenner” on the first
line. Then I selected SEND and off the message went. Almost immediately I was
receiving e-mail messages from others on the forum. I began reading their
posts, and was amazed at the open, free sharing of information that was
occurring. There seemed to be between 50 and 100 PMA colleagues who were
exchanging information, commenting on issues, or asking questions in each
daily download of messages that I received.
Each week there seemed to be several threads (litany of messages) on
specific subjects from copyright, to web page design, to distributors, to
watch out for this company. When members began signing on with Amazon.Com
Books, we discovered that without a large distributor, this online bookstore
listed our book availability as “4-6 weeks” rather than the 24-hours that
most members took to ship orders. I urged Amazon.Com to join the forum to
respond to the negative press that they were receiving. They did, and a long
dialogue began with PMAers freely expressing their frustrations, as well as
offering their ideas on how to resolve the listed availability problem.
On another occasion, one of the members asked about web page design and
website costs. This began several weeks of postings on what members were
paying all over the country. They shared names, USPS and e-mail addresses,
and phone numbers. One member posted that six months on the list brought her”more information and more orders for books and marketing services, with a
far higher signal-to-noise ratio” than ever before.
A thread developed discussing copyrights and how to handle photographs. The
legal aspects of copyright were discussed in detail. Discussions also covered
copyright dates and what publishing date to use. Another set of postings
discussed the value and cost of publisher’s liability insurance.
On the prepress and production side, members openly shared the names of
their favorite designers and page layout people. There were a number of
postings discussing the cost for cover design and how to set a price for your
new book. Other postings shared which printers did the best job. And members
discussed how to evaluate and select the best bids by printers. These members
don’t hold back. When they feel they got a poor printing job, they share this
too–names and all.
A series of postings covered book indexing and scanning tips. Then they went
into the best cover materials to use, gloss or matte laminate. Several
members said they were putting URL addresses on the back covers of upcoming
On the personal side, members shared the mission statements of their
publishing companies and how they got into the business. Sharing a personal
bio on the anniversary of your birthday has become a tradition on this PMA
forum. Members also openly described what hardware and software they use,
what works best for them, and what doesn’t. They even discussed publishing in
other media besides printed books–books on disk, CD-ROMs, and books on the
Many of the postings are involved with marketing and selling. A number of
postings discussed Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,
Borders, Bookzone, Book Stacks, AllBooks, ReadersNdex and Guestfinder. Even
with representatives of some of these companies on the list, other members
are open and honest in their assessments. They are also very supportive of
new entrepreneurial startups such as AllBooks and Guestfinder. Not only do
they share ideas, but they critique actual results experienced using each
form of marketing and selling.
What I particularly like is the open feedback on how forum members succeed
in gaining entry into new markets or achieving major book sales. Members
share what they use for press releases and marketing kits. Other postings
have discussed how members used book signings to sell, and how they get their
books reviewed and into bookstores. A recent thread covered how to produce a
And members posted lists of newspaper and magazine book-review editors,
bookstores in their areas, radio and TV contacts, and their experience with
specific distributors. A thread covered payments by distributors and
wholesalers. Names were associated with actual accounts payable aging
histories so all could evaluate whether a particular distributor was worth
the financial grief. When distributors were in a financial bind or about to
file Chapter 11, members found out on the forum first. The quick
communication capability of electronic mail in a common forum has proven VERY
On the review side, members described how to get reviewed, what they
experienced in sales after a review or book signing, and what they feel works
best. Members share success stories in getting interviews through
Guestfinder, a support company formed by one of our PMA colleagues. They
described the effect of a particular interview on subsequent book orders and
how you should prepare for your own radio or television interview. One member
told people what makeup to wear before appearing on television. Others shared
techniques that they use during the interviews. On the forum, they debated
the concept of providing questions for the interviewer and discussed at
length how they promoted themselves and their titles.
They also posted who to contact and which newspapers and magazines accept
e-mail press releases. And they shared success stories after a good write-up
in Midwest Book Review, operated by another PMA colleague.
A long thread of postings explained what to do with a bad review. They
showed how a publisher can make lemonade out of a lemon.
They discussed niche books, book clubs, marketing to associations, and
selling to the college and school markets. They shared how they sell outside
the US and in particular to Europe and Asia. And another thread discussed how
to sell tiny books and booklets. When one member shared that she had a large
number of extra booklets, dozens of colleagues gave her ideas on how to use
these to further her marketing and selling reach.
Recently postings have covered what to do with returned books and
remainders. Many great ideas were posted. They shared how to sell damaged
books and how to use returns to expand your market and get free publicity.
And there was a thread discussing the value of using book sales reps.
Several members described what they did to motivate their reps to generate
more book orders. Over several weeks, forum members debated the value and
price of publicists. In candid postings, these members educated each other on
why good publicists can command high rates. They also described how to pick
out the good ones.
One member shared the candid comments of a book retailer who told the member
how to package books that attract customers and what discounts will cause
independent bookstores to pick up your titles.
There was much discussion on book packaging and shipping. Forum members
shared what they charged for shipping and how they packaged and shipped their
books. They provided cautions when shipping books outside the US and
explained what to do when customers claim they didn’t get a book.
Every day you’ll read postings that talk about websites and online selling.
I started collecting these posting several months ago when there was a lot of
list activity concerning web page design and how to get a website. Not only
sources, but prices were shared for all to use in comparing their own costs.
On the design side came ideas for good web page layout, how to use graphics
and images, animation, sound, and color, and how to link your site to others.
I was particularly interested in how website visits are counted. As each
member came online with their own site, they asked for (and got) feedback
from the rest of the forum. As expected (and desired), responses were candid
and forthright. By accepting the advice and suggestions, each member was able
to fine-tune their site so all are becoming winners in online sales. When a
few of us began to get actual online orders, we shared this with the group.
While we were still getting one or two orders a day online, others were
getting hundreds. One member posted that he had received online orders for
over 11,000 books in the previous month.
Other postings discussed the future of book selling and how the Internet is
a critical medium for small independent publishers. They described book wars
on the Internet and how large bookstore chains are now offering their titles
online in competition with Amazon.com. And members shared how each of us can
succeed in this pond of sharks. They described trends as they see them, and
how to best market your site in this changing environment. This included
sharing how to link your site to hundreds of search engines so prospects can
find your titles and your website. Postings also discussed how to deal with
money transfer and credit card orders when sales are made at your site. It
quickly became obvious to me that you can sell books from anywhere on the
planet. One forum member is selling books from a tiny island and making good
money at it!
Through it all, members have been candid and honest in their postings. While
this free-flow of personal opinion has sometimetimes gotten hot, sibling
rivalries aside, I’ve found the PMA listserv one of the best investments in
time that I’ve ever made. My own book sales have almost tripled since I
became a member of this forum. I suggest you consider joining. Its members
are “newbies” and “micropublishers,””small independents,” and very
experienced “experts” in the business. On this forum, you can communicate
directly with Cor van Heumen, Publicist; Herman Holtz, Marketing Consultant;
Shel Horowitz of AllBooks; Lorilyn Bailey of Guestfinder; Mary Westheimer of
BookZone; Jim Cox of Midwest Book Review;Len Finegold of ReadersNdex; Dan
Poynter of Para Publishing; Pete Masterson of Aeonix Publishing; Veltisezar
Bautista of Bookhaus Publishers; and hundreds of other professionals like
these. You’ll even be able to share with me.
PMA online is a revolution, and its information content can be a real
goldmine for you. You just have to sign on to succeed.
The author can be reached at Brenner Information Group, PO Box 721000, San
Diego, CA 92172-1000, phone 619/538-0093, fax 619/484-2599, or
(C)1997 Brenner Information Group