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Publishing’s Three Rs: Reviews, Returns, Rethinking

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Each month I get calls from publishers who state that they can’t get reviewed by the major metro
newspapers and it’s all due to the policies that these newspapers have about not reviewing titles from
small presses or one-book publishers.
Admittedly it’s difficult to get the attention of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA
, and/or the Chicago Tribune. But if the product is right, the fact that you may be a novice in
publishing really doesn’t matter.
Take the case of Robert and Sue Harvey, who published their first book in May 1999. Its title isVirtual Reality and the College Freshman: All Our Friends Are 18. To date, they have received the
following coverage:

  • June 15 – an article titled “Living and Guiding Freshman Life,”San Ramon Valley times;
  • June 24 – an article titled “Time to Hit the Books to Get the Most Out of College” in USA
  • October 10 – an article titled “Couple’s Book Gives Insight to Freshmen” in The Herald Sun
    (Durham, NC);
  • October 15 – an article titled “College Freshmen Face Problems in New Surroundings” in The
    Washington times
  • October 19 – an article titled “Never Too Old to Understand Being 18” in The Oakland Tribune;
  • November 1- an article titled “Freshman Blues” in Time magazine.

Their promotional material? Pretty basic. First, a one-page sell sheet that was produced in Word
on plain white paper. It contains quotes from people at universities and colleges across the US, such
as “…a must for college-level teachers and parents of college-age students … a fundamentally
optimistic … occasionally philosophical, yet always practical book.” Professor Lee Fontanella,
Humanities Chair, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, Massachusetts. On the back side of
this sell sheet are a few paragraphs introducing the authors (publishers) and the company, Alamo
Trails Press. They have a publishing plan and state up front that this is “the first of five books
currently in the pipeline.” All five will address issues relating to education.

Next comes a listing of all the articles/reviews stated above, followed by duplicated copies. They
then list stops along the media tour that they have just completed in the eastern US – from talk shows
to Good Day USA.
A four-color replica of the front cover is cute, but I must admit that I felt it could use a bit
more professional design. However the book sells itself, along with a lot of boosting from Suzanne and
Robert Harvey.
These PMA members represent the tenacity that must be inbred in every publishing entrepreneur. And
they have a good product that has little competition.
So, the next time you’re considering how the majors are not paying attention to your title,
rethink the reason why. Have you promoted it to the right audience? Are you telling a story that the
media wants to hear? Are you telling it at the right time of the year? I noticed that most of the
media coverage that the Harveys received came in late May, June, and then October. This could be
because people are either thinking about going away to school or have just left for college at that
time, and media outlets are looking for things to report on related topics at that specific period of
the year.

PMA has just commissioned a study to be done on returns. We will be presenting this study to the
Book Industry Study Group in a few months. It’s too early to say what will actually come of the study,
but we hope that it will both reflect the industry as it is today and offer acceptable changes for the
I received a call the other day from someone who was really concerned about her rate of returns.
She stated that she’s getting more returns from one wholesaler than the total number of books
presented to that wholesaler. During our discussion, she stated that she has several wholesalers and
that she had given Wholesaler-X 400 copies of her title, Wholesaler-Y 1,500 copies, and Wholesaler-Z
500 copies. When the first batch of returns came from Wholesaler-Z, she received 700 copies for
This is an age-old problem which I’m not sure has an answer. Bookstores order from Wholesaler-X
and return to Wholesaler-Z, because it’s more convenient to send to Wholesaler-Z. Perhaps Wholesaler-Z
is the wholesaler that accepts more individual publisher’s titles than the rest. And sometimes the
bookstore buyer either forgets that she/he has ordered from X or just doesn’t care. When
Wholesaler-Z’s staff is logging in the returns, they have no idea what number of titles have been
provided to them by the individual publisher. They are just logging in and charging the account. This
is the same thing that happened years ago when people had lots of distributors; now it is happening at
the wholesaler level.
I’m sure that this will be one of the topics to be covered in the report, along with the other
age-old complaint-that of damaged returns. Who REALLY should bear the cost of a book returned so
damaged that it cannot ever be resold. And how can we actually find out who the culprit is causing the
Again, a rethinking of how we distribute our titles must come to the surface. A PMA member
publisher visited our office last week and was hoping we could help him figure out how to get his
books into bookstores throughout a certain area. When we discussed how he was currently selling his
title, we determined it was far more effective (both in time and dollar return) for him to pursue
premium and incentive sales than bookstore sales. Yes, he would probably get a lower per unit price
for his book, but it would be sold in greater quantities than the onesies and twosies at the
bookstores. Plus it would be sold on a nonreturnable, cash-in-30-days basis. For some titles, the
bookstores are fantastic. But they are not the place for every title out there. Think about where
you’ve been selling most of your titles, and then rethink how you can sell more to that specific area.

Since this is the month that will see us all moving into a new era, it would be good to sit down
and replan and rethink your entire publishing plan. Maybe you’ll find yourself reinforcing that which
you have already begun; maybe you’ll find yourself moving into a different way of selling your
product; maybe you’ll find yourself redirecting your efforts from publisher to author. Whatever
happens, now is a good time to write that business plan, revisit (or write) your mission statement,
and decide where you want to be by December 2000.

Contact the PMA office at <A
HREF=”mailto:pmaonline@aol.com”>pmaonline@aol.com for a copy of a brochure describing the Dispute
Resolution Program. For more information about mediation and arbitration, contact Phil Tamoush at <A

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor December, 1999, and is reprinted with
permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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