BUILDING THE BUSINESS
The Bard Press Big Sales Backstory
by Linda Carlson
When Ray Bard said, “I’m a marketer disguised as a publisher,” I knew we were in sync. When he went on to say that working with authors requires both the skills of a drill sergeant and the skills of a cheerleader, I was ready to head to Austin to meet the man behind Bard Press.
As this Texas publisher of business books points out, few big media outlets are devoted to covering them, and a book has to be exceptional to get exposure in such important mainstream media as the Wall Street Journal. An entrepreneurial author can often make that happen—and be well rewarded for doing so. “Having your book reach the bestseller list in the Journal or the New York Times can double your speaker fees overnight,” Bard says.
No matter how entrepreneurial authors are, they need to be able to invest money as well as time to work with Bard Press. Publicity is important, and Bard expects authors to spend $50,000 to $75,000 to promote their books.
“But money may be the smaller part of what I look for,” he adds, stressing the importance of platform. “I look at what authors have done, rather than what they say they intend to do, and I look for evidence that they will do it again.” Even an experienced author can have a valuable message but lack the drive to promote a book, he points out. “Some have done it all before, and they have no special need to do it again.”
Publishers can’t afford to work with authors who are delusional about their skills and the markets for their book, Bard believes. With almost 40 years of experience in publishing, he cites four reasons he often declines to consider proposals. Too often, he says, aspiring authors tell him:
• “I’m a great writer.”
• “Everyone will love my book.”
• “The media will love my book.”
• “Everyone needs this book; it’s bound to sell a million copies.”
Publishers also can’t afford to be delusional themselves. “We often believe we can do more than we can,” he cautions. “We have to be the adult and let authors know exactly what may be possible.”
Bard notes that both publishers and authors must ensure that books are positioned so that they appeal to at least four groups of customers:
• retailers—chain, independent, trade, and specialty
• the media
• individual readers
• people who select books for others: the person buying a gift, the manager or HR director buying
for employees, the professors specifying texts, the librarians adding to collections
Also, he advises other publishers to watch trends carefully. Noting that he was among the first publishers to use color in the text of a business book, he cites the importance of text design: “As readers, we’ve all gotten to be very visual, and our attention span is much shorter today.”
Playing Different Parts
Publishers Weekly has described Bard as a “long-time publisher,” and that’s true—he’s been in and out of the publisher role since the early 1970s. Although Bard Press was established in 1996, Bard put out his first title, a training manual for speech pathologists, decades earlier under the imprint Learning Concepts. He grew this publishing operation to several dozen staff and some 30 titles before he sold it in the late ’70s to a unit of The New York Times Co., which ran it as Teaching Resources for a few years before selling it.
Then he spent most of the next 15 years writing and packaging books. Do an Internet search and you’ll see his name on titles such as Own Your Own Franchise: Everything You Need to Know About the Best Opportunities in America, published by Addison-Wesley in 1987; and two directories of corporate training programs, one published in 1985 by William Morrow and another in 1988 by Doubleday. When he packaged Getting Commitment at Work for a Chapel Hill, NC, company in 1990, he was also asked to handle distribution, and that assignment introduced him to National Book Network (NBN). As colleagues began asking why he was working so hard to develop other people’s brands rather than his own, Bard began to consider starting another publishing company.
“I couldn’t have had a better start for Bard Press at that point than with the people involved in the story of Southwest Airlines,” he says, calling Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success one of the two best breaks he’s had in his publishing career. Besides the authors, Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, Bard worked with Southwest founder Herb Kelleher and executive vice president Colleen Barrett, the company’s vice presidents of marketing and public relations; the Southwest PR agency; and a book PR firm.
The NBN sales and marketing vice president, Rich Freese, promised advance sales of 50,000 copies—and he beat that pledge, with 68,000 copies presold by the day of the launch. Much of the credit for the book’s bestseller status goes to Southwest, Bard points out: it placed full-page ads in the in-flight magazine and handed 500,000 postcards to passengers as they checked in at gates, and Kelleher himself did a satellite television tour. Oh, yes, and the airline threw a launch party during BEA in Chicago that year—in a Southwest hangar at Midway Airport!
The Million-Copy Model
Bard did this all—and continues to do it all—as a home-based sole proprietor. Thanks to technology, he manages consultants and freelancers only on a project basis. The editors and proofreaders he works with are in Austin, the cover and text designer in Los Angeles, and the accountant and operations director in Atlanta. Sales and warehousing are handled by NBN. Freedom from day-to-day personnel issues is one of the reasons that Bard has the time to brainstorm about new titles. And that brainstorming is what led to another book that positioned Bard Press for growth.
Eager for a title that would move his company to what he calls “a higher level” of sales, Bard thought about one of the most popular books he’d ever seen: Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf. Today there are a dozen editions of this book, and more than 1,300 public libraries have copies. Bard was convinced that a similar book about sales could sell a million copies if he had the right author.
“The first person I thought of was Jeffrey Gitomer, because I’d published his earlier book on customer satisfaction, and I knew he was relentless and hard-working,” Bard recalls.
Gitomer also had a platform. He’d been publishing his Sales Caffeine online newsletter since 2001; today it reaches some 500,000 readers each week. And he had a track record as a sales trainer and speaker. Some people love him and some people hate him, but no one can deny that he can sell books. And, yes, with Bard Press and NBN, and thanks especially to promotions at airport bookstores that grabbed the attention of traveling businesspeople, Gitomer has sold more than a million copies of The Little Red Book of Selling.
With Ray Bard as cheerleader, who knows how many more copies will sell? Although past typical retirement age, Bard assures us that he plans at least another 10 years in the business. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do,” he says. “And by doing only one book at a time, I have the luxury of spending as much time on it as I want.”
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where as a publisher she has been a full-time marketer, and where as an author she will confess to occasionally having needed a cheerleader—but she prefers to believe she has never needed a drill sergeant.