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Serving Several Niches: The North Star Story

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Serving Several Niches: The North Star Story

February 2014

by Linda Carlson

Brenda Avadian says she shudders when she has to talk numbers, but she has figures to brag about when it comes to direct sales: 75 to 90 percent.

The publisher at the Los Angeles–area North Star Books has another impressive number: 100 percent of her sales are “organic”—that is, not generated by advertising of any kind. Most significant of all in Avadian’s opinion: Her company has been in business for 22 years.

She established North Star Books in 1992 to issue Drive North in Your Career: The Five Types of Career Drivers, based on the dozen years she’d spent in career development. It was followed by books for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, a niche Avadian’s own experience led her to serve after her father fell victim to the condition.

The books led to speeches, and the speeches led to up-front and personal contact with caregivers, and now that work has led to helping them—and the rest of us—overcome another challenge: clutter. As she notes, caregivers have the responsibility of clearing parents’ homes of the possessions accumulated—and sometimes hoarded—over a lifetime. STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind Out of the Clutter, written with Eric Riddle, is her ninth title, just launched.

Going Viral 15 Years Ago

“Where’s My Shoes?”  My Father’s Walk Through Alzheimer’s was Avadian’s first caregiving book, introduced in hardcover in 1999. Titled with the question her father asked as he suffered with dementia, it was an instant success. “It hit the Alzheimer’s caregiving market when only a handful of family caregivers had written about the subject,” Avidian remembers. “The first-edition hardcover went viral, and I was invited to speak nationwide.”

Later issued in paperback, the book created a new career for Avadian. Besides writing, publishing, and speaking, she began to offer consulting services to the Alzheimer’s community—and she offered them free. “I was on a mission and donated my entire income to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and caregiving organizations,” she explains.

Avadian’s mission extended to high-energy outreach. She worked with Combined Book Exhibit and IBPA to ensure that her titles were shown at the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, and she followed up on every lead generated. As a result, North Star books “have been translated and sold for publication in Spain, Germany, Slovenia, and Korea,” she reports, pointing out that this “is tough for a niche book that no one wants until they face Alzheimer’s or dementia in their family.”

As she adds, connecting with people face-to-face develops relationships, which increase opportunities for success. “Thanks to my willingness to walk the floors and talk with fellow exhibitors, Recorded Books picked up the rights to do an audio edition of ‘Where’s My Shoes?’”

In addition, each of the caregiving titles has been reprinted in English at least three times, with some having 6,000 offset copies in print. (They’re now being done print-on-demand.) And that’s not all: Avadian writes 100 articles each year for three different caregiving Web sites, and continues to speak and consult. Despite her preference for interacting in person, she also reaches out via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Pinterest. Her latest venture with new technology is print-on-demand and EPUB, for STUFFology 101.

Pointers for Fellow Publishers

The publisher credits some of her success to working hard on how she and North Star are perceived. “Reputation is very important in our industry . . . heck, in life! We go about each day trying to do the best we can.”

“It’s a mistake for me to think it’s about North Star Books and some big company,” she points out. “No, it’s about Brenda Avadian and the individual I’m working with, whether that be at a bookstore, a printer, or a conference.”

Be open and direct and take lots of notes when other professionals are talking, Avadian advises.

Remembering her early days as a publisher, she says: “I had to start from scratch. I asked a lot of questions and listened to the answers I received. I read every issue of IBPA’s Independent (I’m behind but I’ll still read every issue), and I take notes and implement what I learn at IBPA’s annual Pub U.”

Thinking of what other publishers need to know, she advises:

● “Don’t tithe 100 percent as I did. I should have kept some money for myself when the sales were so easy to make because they eventually slowed.”

● “Ask questions, even if you know the answer. You may just learn something different.”

● “Don’t cut corners. For example, don’t get low-cost ISBNs, because they will direct prospective buyers of your books away from you. “If I paid $5 to buy an ISBN from someone else, I would then be using that firm’s publishing identifier. What good is that to me?”

● “Recognize that time is money and money is time. You’ve got to be willing to spend one or the other or a combination of both, if you want to succeed in publishing.”

● “Be professional in all your dealings. This means do what you say you’ll do and always follow up. Be responsible and dependable so people can count on you. When you can’t honor your promise, let those who are expecting something know as soon as possible. It’ll be easier to make adjustments earlier than later. (Life happens and it can mess up even the most disciplined person’s schedule.)”

● “Be willing to do the work and to do it well—even when you’re marketing content that is challenging.”

Finally, says Avadian, “Genuinely thank people. In our fast-paced world, we’re always on to the next thing. So stop and thank each individual with specifics for what that person did that helped you. People will remember this expression of appreciation the next time you need help.”

Linda Carlson writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she is launching Advertising with Small Budgets for Big Results. To learn more: www.lindacarlson.com/p/advertising.html.

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