Remember your first love? Finding
someone with whom to share your most intimate thoughts and feelings, glowing as
you gazed upon the beauty of your beloved, knowing that this was the only
person who could make you happy?
Remember your first published
book? Finding an audience with whom to share thoughts and feelings, glowing as
you gazed upon the beauty of your beloved four-color cover, knowing that this
was the only book that could make you happy?
As publishers, we love our books,
but that may not make us good publishers. Why?
Because what we love may not sell.
And if our books don’t sell, we
have no publishing company.
Many of you are still in the
throes of excitement over book number one, and I agree that there is nothing
like the thrill of bringing your first-born title into the world. But if you’re
serious about becoming a publisher, you must consider the first book not as an
end, but rather as a means of beginning a profitable venture that will still
entertain, inspire, and educate your readers (I love my books too), while also
sustaining your lifestyle and creating long-term value.
In some ways, your first book is
the easiest because there is nothing to compare it to—you are free to
create without worrying how it fits into what has gone before, or whether it <span
into what has gone before. However, in many more ways, the first book is the
most difficult title you will ever publish, because:
It is the first in what will come
to be your line.
To grow as a publisher, when book
number one is just a byte on your monitor, you should already be thinking about
how you can build books numbers two, three, four, five . . . twenty and on, to
take advantage of all you will be doing to create, promote, and sell book one.
Growing a Line: Marketing
what is missing in the marketplace and how you can position your title(s) to
fill that need. When I began to publish
the Young Patriots
Series, I chose Amelia
Earhart, Young Air Pioneer as the first title (more later on
why). Although many biographies and stories for children focused on her, none
of them was specifically about her childhood. There was my hook—the way
to differentiate this first title, and all future titles, from the competition.
about who will buy your first AND your 50th book.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> The huge advantage to growing a line is that you
don’t have to reinvent the marketing wheel with every new title. Once you
establish a market for one title, you can sell related titles to the same
market. When the Smithsonian Institution Shops bought volume 1 in my series, I
knew that they would be interested in volumes 2, 3, 4, etc.
And by the time you publish the
third or fourth book in a line, your customers may not only order every new
title, they may be interested in placing standing orders—a publisher’s
dream—by saying, in effect, “Just ship and bill me for your next book
Growing a Line: Time and Money
How long does it take to produce
your books? In planning how to grow your line, a timeline is crucial. So is a
plan for paying the development costs and printing bill. That old demon cash
flow will get you if you don’t figure out in advance exactly when your next
books need to appear, and then work backward to determine:
· when each step in each book’s
production should start and finish
· when you will need to write checks
to pay your vendors
· how many titles per season you can
Since our distributor commonly
requires a cover at least six to nine months before the season in which a book
will appear, we may have one title in editorial, one in design, and one being
illustrated, all at the same time. Without a schedule, chaos would ensue, and
bills would remain unpaid. We plan at least five years out, as each one of our
books takes almost a year from manuscript to pub date.
Growing a Line: Editorial
what you love . . . if you can sell it. We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t love books. The mistake
we sometimes make is confusing a book we love with a marketable book. I love
all the current and future books in my series, but I have learned that the
marketplace may not love them too. Therefore, wiser but poorer, I now make
editorial choices based on the following criteria (in order):
feasibility of partnering with an association or organization whose mission
coincides with the book’s subject.
Working with a larger entity long before a book is printed allows flexibility
in terms of pricing and may allow you to print using OPM (Other People’s
Money). We are working with two large associations on two different books and
beginning talks with two more—a year and a half and two years in advance
of the books’ publication.
· The way
each book fits with, and builds on, the one before.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> I chose <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Amelia Earhart, Young Air Pioneer as my
company’s first title because I knew the name would be instantly recognizable;
because the author was still alive (unusual for us), and she corresponded with
Amelia Earhart’s sister in researching the book (another publicity hook);
because Earhart had a connection with my home state that would give us yet
another hook for regional marketing; and because aviation museums, historical
sites, and at least one association were viable markets in addition to the book
As I moved on to other titles,
considerations also included maintaining a balance of male and female subjects,
focusing on a range of occupations, and showing cultural diversity.
Including a variety of time
periods and regions of the country is not as important, but being able to
market different titles to the same region as well as nationally is wonderfully
efficient—since John Hancock (volume 9), signer of the Declaration of
Independence, and Phillis Wheatley (volume 10), the first African American to
publish a book, both lived in Boston during the Revolutionary War, a large
portion of the marketing plan created for John will now work for Phillis.
Still Room for Thrills
One of the more important lessons I’ve
learned as a publisher is that successful product lines depend on marketing.
But it has its rewards for the book lover in me too. I was thrilled when the
granddaughter of a long-dead author of one of our upcoming books invited me to
visit Batesville, Indiana, and see her grandmother’s collection of children’s
books. Driving to Lexington, Kentucky, to spend the day with another author’s
elderly son, who proudly showed me a copy of every book his mother had written,
is a special memory.
And imagine my excitement when
Bill Higgins and I went through papers left by his mother, Helen Boyd Higgins,
author of Juliette
Low, Girl Scout Founder, which is our best seller (thanks to a
very large girls’ association). Bill insisted that we look at his mother’s
material together, and we found a complete, never-published manuscript that
might be perfect as a 2009 Young Patriots title.
Which gives me one year to
identify and engage with a market.
My virtual door is always
open—I encourage you to share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by
emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.