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What We Did Right and What We Did Wrong: A Start-up Story

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Inspired by the first
installment of Jan Nathan’s PMA Independent article “The Great Do-Over” [June and
July], I took a critical look at my own publishing company. I wanted to find
which of the mistakes others had reported applied to Granite Peak Publications
LLC, and I wanted to summarize five and a half years of trying to think like a
publisher.

 

In the beginning, I was driven to
form my own company by a negative and a positive. Thirty-four publishers (not
counting the ones who didn’t respond) had turned down my nearly completed
guidebook to Yellowstone National Park. Those who gave reasons other than “Does
not fit our program” mostly said they could not make the project succeed financially.
Of course, I now know very well what they meant—but that’s getting ahead
of the story.

 

At about the moment when I was
despairing, my three daughters offered to contribute money from an inheritance
from their paternal grandmother so I could publish the book myself. In
addition, Beth, my freelance editor daughter, volunteered to edit the book.
These extremely touching offers were enough to send me into “Why not?”
territory.

 

So Granite Peak Publications was
launched. The name has personal significance. Granite Peak is the highest
mountain in Montana, my home state, and my grandfather, Fred Inabnit, organized
the climbing party that first reached the mountain’s summit—in 1923. Our
logo, besides showing the mountain, contains a musical symbol, a crescendo, to
relate it to my lifelong career in music and signal a kind of “ever stronger”
push for the company.

 

The Team and the Time
Frame

 

I can’t stress enough how lucky I
have been to have Beth as my editor. Not only did she supply substantive and
word-by-word editorial suggestions over about three years, but she located our
cover designer and several other professionals. She also became our Webmaster
and assistant publisher. In other words, she and I do everything.

 

Perhaps it’s also luck that the
cover designer, Elizabeth Watson, suggested both our interior designer, Alice
Merrill, and our printer, C & C Offset Printing, a Chinese company with a
very helpful Portland, OR, office. All these have done excellent work for
reasonable fees.

 

Allowing more than two years from
first editing to receipt of books turned out to be necessary for a total
beginner with a very complex project. Some elements fell into place in
fortunate ways, but never quickly. My husband, Bruno Giletti, agreed to write
the geological history of the park and was ever ready to answer geological
questions and consult about business questions. We actually loved the
back-and-forth—“How can we explain those striped-looking
mountains?”—his writing a draft, my editing it to try to make it more reader-friendly,
and so on through several permutations.

 

Another unpaid volunteer, Linton
Brown, is a friend who trained as a civil engineer, had recently retired, and
offered to create the maps for the book. When we started making maps across the
country by email, we could not have known that we’d end up with 37 of them,
that they would all have to be totally redone in Illustrator to suit the
printer, and that they would be one of the most-praised elements of the
published book. Incredible patience is not a strong enough phrase to describe
Linton’s attitude toward all my demands.

 

The Costs of Color

 

I had hoped to use many color
photos in Yellowstone
Treasures
because the colors of the park’s features are
outstanding. Of course, that was what made the project so expensive. Less than
two years into writing the book, when I was imagining that the publisher I
would find might insist on only or mostly black-and-white pictures, I hired
Leslie Kilduff to spend eight days with me in Yellowstone, shooting both in color
(just in case) and in black and white. I dragged her around the park at
breakneck speed, and we ended up with some 80 photos for possible inclusion in
the book. Since she is a shirttail relative and knew I had limited funds for
this project, she agreed to work for very little more than her expenses. Leslie
did a great job, and she did get her first trip to Yellowstone and has since
returned, that second time to really enjoy the place with her family.

 

I know now that it was too early
to take a photographer to Yellowstone. Many of the photos we ended up using
came from Bruno’s extensive slide collection, beginning in 1961 and continuing
(with much more intensity) after I began writing my book.

 

Later on, even Beth’s
father-in-law got into the act. A retired engineer living in Sweden, Bengt
Dellby volunteered to scan all the color pictures, and he set up a network of
three computers to do so. Without all this help with pictures, we would have
had a prohibitively
expensive book rather than just a <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>very
expensive one.

 

Insights from Experience

 

With almost all the elements in
place, Beth passed advice on to me about joining PMA. She and I both profited
from classes at the 2001 PMA University. Since then, I’ve attended two more
PMA-Us and have read all the newsletters, gathering useful ideas for marketing
and promoting. From PMA I learned a lot, too, about myself, about what I should
be doing to promote the book but am unwilling to do because of time, energy, or
personality constraints. And one especially useful tip I picked up along the
way was not to expect that the results from advertising would be commensurate
with the expense. I’ve paid only a couple of times for magazine advertising,
and one of those ads was in National Parks magazine, which is tightly targeted to my
book’s audience. I’ve also advertised in the Travel Publishers Association
catalogs.

 

Another benefit of joining PMA was
learning about the Trade Distribution program. I entered <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Yellowstone Treasures

in the program, the book was accepted, and I’ve been very happy with IPG’s
distribution services. Although the distributor costs me some of my profits, it
saves me huge amounts of time and keeps me from tearing my hair over trying to
market to booksellers and do all the fulfillment.

 

Early in 2002 the book came
out—an exciting event for any author/publisher. I entered it in four
contests. In the ratings from one of those I learned that two of the judges
rated it outstanding, while the other one seemed not to care for it much. On
the other hand, it became a finalist in another contest and won the gold award
for travel guides from ForeWord
magazine.

 

The reviews, online comments, and
letters from reader-users of the book have been more than gratifying. Although
no reviews of the first edition appeared in major media, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Chicago Tribune

ran one this June of the second edition. I learned that many newspapers refuse
to review self-published books. Another factor may have been that I was
unwilling to pester editors after sending them books, so mine fell through the
cracks.

 

Of course, my story has some other
negatives:

 

·      It would have been wise to hire an
additional proofreader, but only if we could have found a really competent one
whose services we could afford. Maybe that person would have spotted the three
or four errors in the first printing of each of our two editions.

·      Marketing to libraries remains a
problem, although this book should be appropriate for public libraries across
the country. There have been no obvious peaks in library orders as a result of
either the PMA Library Mailing I entered or a private mailing I did to a large
and selective list of acquisitions librarians. I don’t know why.

·      I made a costly mistake with the
third printing of my first edition. Since I did not want the book to be out of
print at any time, I ordered what I calculated would last until the pub date of
the second edition in the spring of 2005. However, I failed to take into
account the fact that IPG distributes its spring catalog in December, which
meant that the major wholesalers placed orders for the second edition well in
advance of its release date and stopped ordering the first-edition books this
past winter and early spring. Result: lots of <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>YT
-Ones had to be given to the National
Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIC), an organization
that distributes various products to nonprofits like libraries and schools.
Maybe this is how the book will get into many libraries!

·      A final negative is that I naively
expected to cover all the expenses of Granite Peak Publications on the sales of
one book. Given my high production costs, that can’t be done, even though the
company is minuscule. Breaking even is still to be hoped for.

 

The Plus Side

 

On a cheerier note, two items come
to mind. In “The Great Do-Over” article, Angie Barnhart of Cartoon Connections
Press raised a question about the cover of a second edition. Should it be the
same as or different from the first edition’s cover? I think we’ve found a good
compromise by keeping the same central theme (a picture of Old Faithful
Geyser), the same background color, and the same fonts, but changing the
peripheral elements and the back cover.

 

The last thing I’m particularly
proud of is our index. Long ago I thought I’d do the index myself so it would
be done right, but upon serious reflection I realized that it would be much
better to have it done professionally, in spite of the expense. Beth found a
competent indexer who had experience working with travel books. However, after
she was done I went over every entry in the index—and found some errors.
Beth went over quite a bit of it, too. The second edition has an even better
(and one page longer) index, reflecting a lot of time invested by both of us.
In fact, it has a great index!

 

I think anyone picking up the finished
book today can sense the love and hard work that’s gone into it. As Judith
Meyer, author of The
Spirit of Yellowstone
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-style:normal’>,
wrote: “The book is
not an objective AAA guide for motorists. It is a love song, in many ways, to
the park and a desire to share that love, knowledge, and appreciation with
others.”

 

In the aggregate, the process of
publishing a book has decidedly been a positive one for me. I have been able to
produce the guidebook I had envisioned, and with help from PMA and others, to
sell it to appreciative readers.

 

Coming from a career as a
professional cellist in Rhode Island, Janet Chapple experienced a steep
learning curve in becoming a publisher. She can be reached at
jochapple@earthlink.net. Her Web site is www.yellowstonetreasures.com.

 

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