by Florrie Binford Kichler
Four Success Factors—Two Publishers
That’s the total number of books published in 2009, according to Bowker’s records, which also show that 764,448 of them were published by self- and micro-publishers.
As a new publisher, how do you make your title stand out (and sell)?
Two new IBPA publisher members are demonstrating the answer.
Titles issued by publishers Deborah Jacobs of DJ Working Unlimited and Gina Pera of 1201Alarm Press landed spots on the Baker & Taylor Top-Selling New Publisher Titles list that Jamie Carter of Baker & Taylor’s Publishers Alley compiled for “Understanding the Impact of Independent Publishers on the U.S. Book Market,” a recent Webinar sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group.
As one of the Webinar presenters, I was asked to point out “common paths of achievement to independent publisher success.” First I chose four publishing success factors that I have observed in operation and in conversations with IBPA members through the years. Then I selected Jacobs and Pera at random from the B&T top-selling list and let them tell me their success stories.
The four factors and the two publishers were a perfect match.
Four Factors for Success
More is not necessarily better. Those 1,052,803 titles may mean that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for new and smaller publishers’ titles to emerge from the crowd. So how do you achieve the visibility that can lead to success in the publishing world?
Certainly many factors contribute to publishing prosperity, but judging by my experience in talking with and observing many publishers through the years, these four are critical to surviving and thriving in the book business:
• Subject: Choose wisely
• Education: Learn continually
• Content: Create professionally
• Marketing : Focus relentlessly
One overarching theme runs through all four:
Smaller and independent publishers simply don’t have the resources to be all things to all people. We choose one thing—a subject—as our area of expertise and market to a targeted group of people who are interested in our subject matter. I call it “niche-mining” or the “one inch wide and five miles deep approach.”
Successful smaller and independent publishers stick to their niche, which may be narrow, but delve deeply into and focus persistently on their subject matter and their target markets.
In some cases, a smaller publisher chooses a few niches rather than one, but the principles are the same.
Two Who Succeeded
Meet Deborah Jacobs of DJ Working Unlimited, whose title is Estate Planning Smarts, and Gina Pera of 1201Alarm Press, whose title is Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? They are both new publishers with only one title in print, which makes it especially noteworthy that their books appeared on Baker & Taylor’s Top-Selling New Publisher Titles list.
Experts in niche-mining, they are poster children for the four publishing success factors.
Success Factor 1—Subject: Choose wisely. Before beginning their respective publishing companies, both Jacobs and Pera had journalism backgrounds, and both had written on their topics for a number of years. Jacobs had written for 12 years for various financial publications, and Pera had done numerous articles in connection with her volunteer work in the attention-deficit disorder (ADD) arena. They knew their subject matter inside and out. Both told me that being experts on their subject was one of the keys to their success.
Both Pera and Jacobs saw a need for books on their subject. They felt that their experience with it, interest in it, and passion for it made them best qualified to fill that need. In short, both Pera and Jacobs emphasized that they wanted to produce the book they’d looked for and were unable to find when they were first learning about their subjects.
Pera also emphasized the importance of analyzing the competition. As she put it, you need to “sit down with the existing books in your niche and note their approaches, subject areas, and so on. Given your knowledge of the subject area, what, exactly, is missing? What could be done better? Fleshed out more? And can a new title really offer significantly more than the existing titles?”
Success Factor 2—Education: Learn continually. Jacobs and Pera didn’t start out planning to become publishers, but when they made that decision, they realized early on that they would need to educate themselves about the business of publishing.
They joined IBPA to begin that learning process, and both of them attended IBPA Publishing University for specific guidance in how to start and run a publishing company. In addition, Jacobs told me that she read every book she could find about how to publish and asked for advice from other successful publishers—most of whom she had never met before she called them. Both Jacobs and Pera made a point of mentioning how important a network of colleagues has been to their learning curve.
Success Factor 3—Content: Create professionally. Whoever said you can’t judge a book by its cover clearly was not a publisher, as the cover is the first line of offense in the battle to make a book stand out.
Jacobs submitted her book to several traditional publishers but ultimately decided that the best way to retain control—or, as she put it, “creative independence”—was to publish it herself, since “nobody is going to devote the resources to this book that I am.”
She took a chunk of those resources and hired a top-notch creative team to ensure that the cover, interior design, and content not just met but exceeded industry standards.
Pera, in her earlier life as a magazine editor, was accustomed to working with professional designers and so would settle for nothing less than professional in her own publication. She too oversaw every detail in the design and production of her book to ensure the highest quality.
Both publishers’ journalism and editorial backgrounds taught them the advantage of copyediting and proofing—as the adage goes, “The devil is in the details,” and one typo is enough to chip away at credibility.
Success Factor 4—Marketing: Focus relentlessly. The focus on niche is most apparent and most important in the marketing these two publishers did. Each knows her audience and how to reach them. Both offline and online, Jacobs and Pera never lost sight of, and never deviated from, their target audience.
How did they do it?
Here are a few examples of their niche marketing tactics.
For Estate Planning Smarts, Deborah Jacobs:
• did a promotional mailing to 12,000 subscribers to a magazine whose subject
matter exactly matched the subject of her book
• displayed at an estate-planning trade show, which led to speaking engagements and
contacts for bulk sales
• developed continuing relationships with bloggers who blog in her subject area
• established a LinkedIn presence, joining relevant LinkedIn groups and posting updates
based on her subject
For Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? Gina Pera:
• has concentrated on speaking engagements. Wherever she talks about adult ADD,
there are back-of-the-room sales of her book.
• participated in the IBPA direct mailings to libraries and also embarked on a creative
grassroots effort. She sent a flyer about the book to everyone who ordered her
book directly from her Web site along with a request: If you like the book, it said,
please take the flyer to your local library and ask them to order it.
• serves as the leader of an international online support group for ADD, which is a
ready-made audience for her book.
• writes three blogs, and presents Webinars and teleseminars about ADD.
As different as their books are, Pera and Jacobs are very much alike in their concentration on their respective niches as they continue to dig more deeply to mine those niches.
Of course, many more than the four factors I’ve mentioned contribute to a successful publishing program—effective financial management and business planning leap to mind. But, as Jacobs and Pera show, if you choose your subject wisely and stick to your niche, learn continually, create a high-quality product, and focus your marketing, you will have taken four critical steps toward moving your title ahead of the other 1,052,803.
Follow Florrie and IBPA on Twitter at twitter.com/ibpa, and on IBPA’s blog at ibpablog.wordpress.com. Join Independent Book Publishers Association–IBPA group on Linked In (linkedin.com).