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Thanks for the Memories

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How can it be that this is my
24th and last column? Two years ago, when I became PMA president, I could see
that a major responsibility of my presidency would be having to write a column
about publishing in this space every month. Well, for better or worse, this is
the last one. I feel like a marathon runner falling over the finish line.
Please indulge me as I recollect a few highlights and lowlights.


Most inspirational
self-publishing experience


Michael Sterns of Palm Harbor, FL,
has a lot of friends and a big family. Sterns financed a 2,500-copy first
printing of his novel, Kokopelli
and the Butterfly
, through personal presales. He promised a wide
circle of acquaintances either autographed copies or their money back within
six months. The receipts went into an escrow account.


“The bank watched the account grow
to $6,000 in two months and loaned me the balance with a line of credit,”
Sterns told me. The strategy worked. Sterns and his Grasshopper Dreams
Productions parlayed sales receipts and printer credit into four reprints. His
novel had sold more than 27,500 copies when I wrote a column about raising
capital a year ago.


Most charming personal


Jennifer Bunting at Tilbury House
in Gardiner, ME, told me a nifty story about how her association with one of
America’s literary heroes opened a door that led to her becoming a book
publisher. When she was working full time at <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Wooden Boat
magazine as an editor, she
was offered a job moonlighting as E.B. White’s “Sunday help” on White’s farm in
rural Maine. “I figured this was too good an opportunity to miss,” she said.


White offered her a martini before
lunch on the first day, but Jennifer was too shy to accept, although the offer
was tempting. She handled various chores for White, including retyping his
correspondence. Would her career have taken a different turn if she had
accepted that martini?


Biggest disappointment


An Amazon.com delegation came to a
PMA board meeting in Seattle last fall. The emissaries seemed willing and eager
to improve communications with independent publishers in the interest of
selling more books. Certainly PMA was ready to help, and several good ideas
were discussed with enthusiasm. But Amazon was unable to produce even something
as simple as straightforward answers to publishers’ questions for a Q&A
column in PMA


Best advice to authors


In his book <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>78 Reasons Why Your Book
May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Migh
t (Penguin,
trade paperback, 192 pages, $14), Pat Walsh warns authors not to listen to
false praise.


“Listening to family and friends
gush about your storytelling and writing skills is good for your vanity, but do
not believe it,” he wrote. “Do not believe them when they tell you they think
your book is wonderful. What they mean is that you are wonderful or the fact
that you wrote a book is wonderful. The only people’s opinions that can help
you are those who do not care about you at all.”


An idea whose time has


This will be my last opportunity
in this space to urge PMA publishers, especially midsize presses, to wake up to
what is going on around them and to commit to increased use of recycled paper
with substantial postconsumer content. This will save trees and reduce greenhouse
gases. [See “Green Textbooks” by Erin Johnson, this issue.] And the good news
is that price parity has arrived, more or less. Doing the right thing need not
require a big financial sacrifice, as it once did.


If you do your homework and shop
around, you can print on recycled paper for little more than the cost of virgin
paper. So far, 103 North American publishers, two printers (Thomson-Shore and
Sheridan Books), and one paper vendor (New Leaf) have taken the GPI pledge to
maximize their use of postconsumer recycled paper and to phase out papers that
may contain fibers from endangered forests. Other printers also are offering
recycled paper. Ask your printer what it offers.


Undeniable truth


“Never expect a call back.
Self-publishing demands that you assume the mentality of a stalker. If that
makes you uncomfortable, you should take a more traditional route to getting
your book published.”—Suzanne Bush, Imagining Possibilities, LCC


(The truth of this goes well
beyond self-publishing, of course.)


Most alarming trend


According to a study commissioned
by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), more than 111 million used books were
sold in the United States in 2004, the last year for which numbers are
available, representing $2.2 billion in sales and 8.4 percent of consumer
spending on books. Online sales of used books totaled $609 million in 2004, a
one-year increase of 33 percent. The leading online book vendors reported
double-digit growth in all genres. Sales at traditional used-book stores were
up 4.5 percent. Stay tuned for 2005 figures. Likely the trend will continue.


Echoes of disappointment


I wanted to skip this one. But I
did promise a year ago, when I shared our experience at Epicenter Press
launching a “big” book, Echoes
of Fury
, about life after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, that
I would let you know how it came out. Our expectations were not met.


We got scores of glowing reviews
nationwide for this amazing piece of work by Frank Parchman, but no high-impact
national publicity despite hiring a publicist and putting a lot of time and
money into the effort. Our hopes were buoyed when a Hollywood producer who had
made more than 70 TV movies took a 90-day packaging option. But just as he
prepared pitches for the content buyers, a BBC docudrama, <span
aired on the Discovery Channel. Suddenly, interest vanished. The reaction was:
“Volcanoes? That’s been done.”


Meanwhile, three reprint
publishers expressed interest in buying rights. But the auction we had hoped
for did not materialize. In the end, we turned down a five-figure royalty
advance because the reprint publisher had no plans to promote its edition, and
we thought we would do better long term publishing the trade paperback
ourselves. We printed 7,000 copies of the HB edition with a list price of
$24.95, and have about 2,000 left. Costco gave us a nice regional order for 33
stores, but it came before most of our regional publicity broke, and the modest
initial sell-through cost us reorders later. If we had printed 5,000, we would
have released a trade paperback this spring. <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Echoes of Fury
has become a steady
regional seller that will contribute to our bottom line for many years. It was
not the breakout book we had hoped for. But, hey, life goes on!


Optimism among the ranks


So as not to end on a sour note, I
want to remind you about these interesting responses to a membership survey
conducted last year.


This was the response when
respondents were asked, What best describes your attitude about the future of
independent book publishing?


·      Very optimistic, 37 percent

·      Somewhat optimistic, 40 percent

·      Somewhat negative, 16 percent

·      Negative, 0 percent


I suspect the publishers in the
last category have washed out of the business, leaving us optimists to carry


Coming soon to this space


My compliments and best wishes to
PMA’s new president—Florrie Binford Kichler of Indianapolis, IN,
president of Patria Press, publishers of children’s adventure stories featuring
heroes and heroines in American history and author of the cover story in the
April PMA Independent,
as well as other articles. Florrie will take over this column starting in the
July issue. Those of us who know and admire her look forward to hearing from
her in this space for the next two years.



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