Working Backward and Striking Gold
by Steve Eunpu
In these tough economic times, fear, uncertainty, and financial loss are having a huge impact on businesses, and publishing is no exception. Daily news reports of foreclosures, job losses, consumer debt, and political instabilities are striking worry and fear into consumers and buyers worldwide. The net effects include consumers pulling back and closing their wallets.
For a small publisher, competing with the big publishing houses in a good economy can be a real challenge. You would think competing in tough times would be even more difficult. In reality, it might be an opportunity of a lifetime.
With all the disadvantages of being a small publisher, there is a strategy for challenging times that leaves the big houses flat-footed, and it relies on speed and agility.
Moving fast to bring new titles to market that are in sync with current conditions, and offering solutions that are desired, can increase sales and profits. Today, thousands of existing and planned titles have become instantly irrelevant. For example, how would you like to be a publisher of a book on how to buy leveraged stocks, flip houses, or live a lavish lifestyle? In a flash, these books have been made obsolete. By using speed, agility, and a one more ingredient—see below—you can fill a current void with a book that people now need and desire.
Large publishers characteristically take a year or more to bring a new title to market, and in this environment that can be their Achilles heal. In these tough times, people need answers, solutions, and stories that help them hope, cope, and prosper now. Publish a book that offers a solution in the next three months, and you can have a long jump on the big houses.
The big question is, how?
The Secret Ingredient
To ensure that speed and agility are moving you in the right direction, you need another ingredient in your strategy. I call it working backward.
For your book to sell, you need to tap the mood of the market. There is no better way to test a book idea then to start by presenting—and pitching—to the media. See if they bite, and if they do, then develop the book. The media’s job is to know what readers want, and media people have a keen ability to anticipate trends.
If you pull this approach off, you will have some assurance that a market for your book and a channel for promoting it already exist and can be relied on once the book is released.
To test your book idea, you will need to present the book as if it’s already close to publication. And you will need to convey the idea that you anticipated the current market and developed this book as a solution that will be wanted and needed.
This makes you and your topic relevant, and the media will be eager to cover, advance, and promote your story.
Can this really work? You betcha! Let me provide a real-time example.
The Steps in the System
Last spring, as a diet and health book developer/publisher, we started to explore what might be the next hot diet trend. What we noticed is that there was no clear diet formula (counting carbs, fat, etc.). We saw that people were creating their own diets with not-so-thinning results. One overriding theme we noticed was stress in people’s lives and how that impacted diet.
Then we decided to start developing a stress diet book, and we deployed our working-backward approach by executing the following steps:
Identify and approach a credentialed expert to be the author and strike an agreement provided you go forward with the book.
Identify potential diet keywords that could be used in the title.
Secure a Web address for the book (stresseaterdiet.com).
Create a free offer—the Stress Eater Quiz (stresseaterquiz.com).
Build a content-rich Web site (stresseaterdiet.com) with published research, success stories, meal plans, recipes, and more.
Launch a blog to increase Web traffic and tie current news to the plan.
Create a book cover and a 3D image of it.
Send press release to national media.
Note: The total cost for these steps promoting our yet-to-be-written diet book was less than $500.
After making a few press inquires to see if media people might be interested in the topic, we found that nothing seemed to register with them. What we needed was a big event that could make this topic relevant, so we put the book on hold. Then the October financial crash hit. It gave us another opening.
With daily news of the financial meltdown, bailouts, job losses, credit card debt, and so on, you could see and feel stress levels rising. One of our early media contacts, Woman’s World magazine, called and asked: “When is your book coming out?” In the diet world, there is no better exposure than in Woman’s World. With 8.1 million weekly readers, it is the best publication to launch or promote a book on diet. It really moves the needle and can move a title into Amazon’s top 100 on the first day of publication.
The Stress Eater Diet not only secured an article in Woman’s World, it snagged the front cover with a two-page spread and was scheduled to run in the January 12 edition. A two-page ad in this magazine would have cost over $300,000, and what we got was not ad, which might have come off as self-serving. It was a feature article written and promoted by the magazine.
With the Woman’s World coverage secured as a big event, we sent inquiries to several big publishers to find out if they wanted to make an offer on the book. Everyone promptly returned our calls and was eager to learn more, but the three-month required time span from idea to finished books was impossible for them. We decided to publish the book under our own imprint.
Writing, developing, and printing a book in three months is no easy task, but a big event like a Woman’s World cover article makes the goal clear. As we worked to meet this deadline, we leveraged the planned Woman’s World article to get the attention of other media and to secure national bookstore distribution.
The Woman’s World article along with our buy sheet enabled us to secure stocking orders through our distributor (Ingram) from Barnes & Noble/Dalton and Borders/Waldenbooks. Prior to printing, we sold 3,200 copies of our initial 5,000 run.
Newspapers, broadcast media, magazines, and the Web are now all promotional targets. We have relevancy, credibility, and, most important, timing on our side—all because we implemented a simple nine-step strategy.
As publishers, we all take pride in developing great books, but we need to be great marketers first and deliver relevant books to people who want and need to buy. A crisis in the market creates opportunities, especially for small publishers who use their ability to move fast, be agile, and work backward.
Steve Eunpu is a book developer/publisher in the health/diet and business categories in Great Falls, VA. To follow the ongoing story of The Stress Eater Diet and find out whether it lands on bestseller lists, go to his blog, bestsellerornot.com, or to twitter.com/bestsellerornot.