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What’s Better Than Oprah?

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“Be on the Oprah show” is at or near the top of the list when most publishers and authors outline their publicity goals. And, as the “Major Media Coverage” Roundtable showed in the PMA Newsletter’s November issue, for some authors and publishers this is reasonable, but for most it is a goal that wastes time, effort, and precious publicity dollars.

While stories abound about how Oprah turned an unknown book and author into a bestseller and a household name, there are many more stories about successful books that never received an Oprah“endorsement.”

I have found that most publishers and authors would do well by looking beyond Oprah, the New York Times Book Review, and other big-name media and focusing instead on their niche markets.

Horse Sense About Sales

For example, Laura Barnes, author/publisher of the award-winning Ernest children’s book series, sells a significant number of books through school visits and the equestrian market–and Ernest isn’t even a horse. He is a lovable miniature donkey with horse barnyard friends who co-star in the four Ernest books. Of $65,000 in sales to date, approximately 47 percent were to the general public, primarily through bookstores, and 37 percent were to the equestrian market, primarily through equestrian/tack stores and equestrian catalogs.

Schoolchildren at one particular school in New Jersey became so enamored of Ernest after Laura spoke there that they named their school buses after Ernest and his friends. Another school made Ernest their school mascot. And a parent at one of the more than 30 schools that Laura now visits annually wrote a song about Ernest that the whole school learned and sang to Laura at a big celebration. Requests for her presentations just keep growing (along with sales). In addition to securing an author-visit fee, Laura sells 40 to 100 books per visit.

As for the equine market, Laura began sending review copies to publications such as Young Rider, Today’s Horse, and Canadian Horse Journal. Reviews for each of the Ernest books have been raves, generating great direct sales through her Web site, equestrian/tack stores, and equestrian catalogs. A popular syndicated radio show for this market has also helped spread the word through interviews and the recommendations. Laura now spends around 37 percent of her marketing dollars in this area to support continued sales. (See more about Laura’s school visits and the books, which include Ernest’s Special Christmas, Teeny Tiny Ernest, Twist and Ernest, and Ernest and the Big Itch at www.barnesyardbooks.com.)

Routes That Reach Parents

Another example of a publisher who has done very well without Oprah (even though he lives in her backyard in the Chicago area) is Thomas Phelan, Ph.D., author of the popular 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2—12. Originally published in 1990 and now in a third edition, 1-2-3 Magic has sold more than 800,000 copies. How? Phelan has a strong schedule of talks and workshops throughout the country that let him reach parents directly. Counselors also regularly recommend this book to parents struggling with children who are out of control.

Tom produced audio and video versions of 1-2-3 Magic that sell well too, and he has written five other books, most of which are also available in multiple formats. Mailings to parents and counselors, aggressive media campaigns, and conventions are other ways he gets his message to parents. Once parents try his method and get great results, word of mouth spreads excitement and sales. (See more at www.parentmagic.com.)

Mass Merchandisers Buy from Mom

Amy Knapp, a stay-at-home mom from Kalamazoo, MI, with a special-needs daughter, came up with a way to keep herself and her family organized. After getting questions about it from other moms she met, she decided to test the idea further with a Family Organizer, which she produced for the first time in 1999. Promotion that first year focused on getting coverage in regional parenting publications.

That got the buzz going, helping her sell through the 3,000 copies she had cautiously printed. The 2004—2005 version of her Family Organizer is currently one of the top-selling calendars at both Wal-Mart and Target stores across the country, while also doing well at Borders and Barnes & Noble stores, and its sales are expected to top 1 million by the end of this year. A “Mom-Tested” endorsement in the December/January issue of Parenting magazine, a nice mention in Essence, and inclusion in a forthcoming article in Woman’s Day are just gravy now. (See more at www.thefamilyorganizer.com.)

Make the Media Lap It Up

Sometimes successful publicity in niche markets is a matter of getting the right release to the right media at the right time. Pamela J. Vaccaro–author of Beyond the Ice Cream Cone: The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World’s Fair–timed publication of her book to coincide with the St. Louis Fair’s 100th anniversary. Then a simple, fun release and selected review copies went out to food editors around the country. Also, KSB Promotions featured the book in a newsletter that went to 7,000 media nationwide, and we sent books to everybody on that list who requested one.

Since March, the various mailings have generated major stories in the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Dallas Morning News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Detroit Free Press, The Christian Science Monitor, and, of course, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. There was even a mention in The New York Times. Many other papers and magazines–more than 40 that we are aware of–also gave the book coverage, either by quoting the author or by using interesting tidbits from the book and giving credit. Also, Pam got to do eight radio interviews. Sales continue to be strong. (See more at www.beyondtheicecreamcone.com.)

What niche or submarkets might you cultivate for your book(s)? I’m sure you will find that efforts in a targeted area will be much more productive than hammering on the same door as everyone else.

Kate Bandos has worked with hundreds of publishers and authors and dealt with a wide array of media people during her more than 30 years in publishing. Since the formation of KSB Promotions in 1988, she has primarily helped independent publishers of general lifestyle nonfiction garner media exposure. For more information, go to www.ksbpromotions.com.

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