Reaching the Takeoff Point
by Frank Gromling
In the September 2009 Independent I wrote a piece called “This Is Not a Fairy Tale, It Just Sounds Like One” in which I described, in part, how I had progressed from being a naive publisher to being one whose business was on a new and dynamic path. This article picks up the story at the point where I decided to concentrate on my niche and relates the amazing events that followed.
It was a little less than a year ago that I decided to follow the advice of my mentor, Rudy Shur of Square One Books, and focus my small press, Ocean Publishing, exclusively on the production and marketing of nonfiction titles about marine life, nature, environment, and conservation. Once I had made and implemented that decision, several things happened in rapid succession. Together, they resulted in Ocean Publishing reaching what economists call the takeoff stage in a company’s life. As an experienced owner of six previous successful startups, and an aviation enthusiast, I was more than ready to be cleared for takeoff.
My Time/Space/Content Continuum
As if a dam had been breached, good things began to flow my way.
The first was the opportunity to meet with famed ocean protector and world-renowned educator Jean-Michel Cousteau in April to discuss a book project I had submitted to him a few months before. After further negotiations, I spent two days in August with Jean-Michel and his staff at their California headquarters, and we signed an agreement for Jean-Michel to write four books for Ocean Publishing over the next three years.
While that wonderful opportunity was developing, I received a professional query and three chapters of a well-written manuscript about climate change. The writer was an attorney who heads the climate change/global warming division of a major international law firm. After I had read the entire manuscript, we quickly agreed that Ocean Publishing would do this book, and production began immediately. At this writing, discussions are under way for foreign rights sales in the wake of great interest from overseas publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair. With the book yet to be finalized and printed, it has already presold more than 1,100 copies in the United States.
Because of the potential success of the climate-change and Cousteau books, I have decided to change my distribution system. To handle the projected increased sales, I am transitioning to a national distributor after seven years of dealing with wholesalers. While I know this isn’t the end of my distribution challenges, at least I will have only one company to work with, rather than several. This should give me more time to focus on book acquisition, production, and marketing.
Our Marine Life series, 10 books about different ocean species, came to life during June when final decisions were made about which animals would be featured in the first five books. Authors were selected, research begun, and production schedules set. To date, species experts have been signed for 6 of the 10 books.
Also in June came the premier show of my radio program Cover to Cover. Broadcasting on both AM and FM in northeast Florida every Saturday morning at 11:30 Eastern, and on the Internet at wnzf.com, the show is all about books and book publishing. The first segment is called “Inside the Book,” and it contains information of interest to book lovers, such as book lists, news from and about booksellers, and libraries, festivals, authors, and more.
The show’s second segment, “Book Publishing Rocks!” features a different guest every week from the publishing world. Guests have included publishers, marketers, publicists, IBPA officers, New York Times bestselling authors, and others. Sponsors are both national and local companies.
The latest opportunity to come my way offers something I’ve wanted since I started Ocean Publishing seven years ago: office space right across from the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of Flagler Beach, Florida, where I’m located. The morning after I attended a course called Financial Freedom, a business friend of mine offered me space in exactly the building I have had my eye on forever. Plus, it is within my price range!
Because the space includes direct retail exposure to the busiest street in town, I am able to set up something else I’ve wanted for a long time: a venue for offering my titles and those of some of my publisher friends. So, in the front office, with its full retail frontage, I will sell my new books, “hurts” (you know, those infamous returns that are beat up), and books from publisher friends that fit my subject focus. While it is not my objective to make this a full bookstore, I envision the office being recognized as the best regional source for quality books about marine life, nature, environment, and conservation.
Who knows, maybe one of my other ideas will come to fruition too, and my new office/storefront will become known as the local resource for writing and publishing as I conduct small workshops and seminars. I plan to charge a low fee, probably $20, for the one-hour programs, all of which will be promoted on my radio show and in local campaigns. Attendees will be offered the opportunity to purchase any displayed books at a discount. With luck, I may be able to underwrite part of my office rent through retail sales and workshop/seminar revenue.
Now, I am experienced enough to realize that this flow of good things may change at any time. I am prepared for that. But, in the meantime, I’m moving forward with an open and clear mind, a flexible plan, and a deep commitment not only to niche publishing but also to our motto, “Making waves with quality books!”
One thing I learned a long time ago is to see it from the end—that is, believe in something so strongly and clearly that you can see the end product of your work in advance. I believe in this concept, and I live it daily. Does it work for everyone? I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?
Frank Gromling, publisher/owner of Ocean Publishing, has been a member of the IBPA board and president of Florida Publishers Association. His radio show, Cover to Cover, streams nationwide via wnzf.com on Saturday mornings, starting at 11:30 ET/8:30 PT. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 386/517-1600.