Every time I think that I’ve seen just about every imaginable type of book published, I encounter several that knock off my socks with their originality, beauty, or cleverness. That happened again right after the PMA board of directors’ winter board meeting in Florida, when we helped the Florida Publishers Group organize and present a one-day seminar for its members.
Before boarding the plane for this event, I was reading an obituary in the L.A. Times about Muir Dawson, who, at 83, had been a second-generation partner in Los Angeles’ oldest bookstore. Known as Dawson’s Book Shop, it dealt primarily in rare books on the history of printing. Between 1906 and 2003, it also published some 383 projects. Today, it is known for rare books on California history, Western Americana, and photography. While Muir and his brother Ernest were developing their collections, their father cautioned them not to become book collectors, since that would mean they’d be “competing with their customers.” Not taking their dad’s sage advice, Muir stated, “I think that if a seller isn’t collecting, there’s something dead in him. You’ve got to have the passion for books.”
Several publishers we talked with in Florida showed lots of that passion during the Florida Publishers Group seminar, and it was plain to see during a “Let’s Brainstorm” session that I moderated, which focused on some already published and about-to-be-published titles.
Making Good Books Better
Lee Duffus presented a book called The Soccer Triad. It was a great book about teaching parents, children, and coaches both to learn the game of soccer and to have fun, but no one on the panel could understand what the book was about by looking at its title. Also, the fact that Lee, the author of the book, had won an Olympic gold medal for soccer was never mentioned anywhere, as far as we could see. The group told him he had a great book that might achieve fantastic results with minor modification.
Mary-Kathryn Steele of World Wisdom Books wowed us all with her titles and asked for feedback on two books about Native Americans: a great study of women within the Native American culture and the roles they played in their tribes’ achievements, and The Girl Who Loved Horses, a book that she thought should be shelved in the children’s section at bookstores. Although it was beautifully illustrated–the author/illustrator, Paul Goble, is a Caldecott winner–we observed that it had too much text to work well in the children’s section, and we advised using another category label for bookstores in addition or instead. As one panelist noted, two pages of this manuscript could be pulled out and made into a children’s book, while the book as a whole should be marketed elsewhere.
Another book we looked at was an almost-completed coffee table book by Mary Kent entitled Salsa Speaks, which contained great four-color photographs of 100 well-known Salsa performers with stories in their own words next to each photo. The author was also the photographer and translator (some of the interviews and stories were originally in Spanish) and had spent 15 years compiling this treasure. Most of us advised her to forget the traditional bookstore market for this $59.95 book, and to focus on the various Salsa competitions that occur throughout the U.S. and sell directly into this market.
The board members and I were energized by meeting with so many fantastic publishers and soon-to-be publishers in the Florida area, and we look forward to doing similar road trips throughout this year to meet with other PMA affiliate groups.
Next stop: November in Seattle, Washington. See you there!