By Theodore P. Savas
[Originally published in the November 2013 edition of IBPA’s Independent magazine.]
As the managing director of a niche publishing company that specializes in the American Civil War, I need to make sure we continue to generate the revenue required to produce the quality books our customers have come to demand, expect, and enjoy. Anyone laboring in an ink vineyard knows this is no easy task, especially given our chronically weak economy and the rapid changes taking place within our industry. But, as people who know me routinely hear, “I refuse to participate in a recession.”
I have long believed that most publishing companies do not fully appreciate—and therefore underutilize—their best asset: their authors. Think about it. An author writes a manuscript and deals with the company, and vice versa. The book is published, distributed, sold, returned, remaindered, and so forth. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Each author does essentially the same things—independently and almost always alone. In most cases, only the very top-tier authors get any special attention, leaving the vast majority feeling isolated and unimportant. If you need a mind-graphic, picture a wheel with the publisher as the hub and authors as the spokes. Each spoke stands alone; none is directly connected with any of the others, so no authors realize they are part of a larger mechanism (a wheel), which is part of a larger machine (a car), that works much better with more moving parts rolling in the same direction.
I am proud to say that Savas Beatie is well known within our niche for good, aggressive, and creative marketing. We have never been the company that pretends good marketing is throwing a few dollars into a display ad, sending out a press release, scheduling five signings, and then moving on to the next author/book. We have always been dedicated to the propositions that authors deserve our full and creative support, and that there are many ways to promote and sell books beyond traditional methods.
Looking out from Gettysburg’s Longstreet Tower, Savas Beatie’s account manager Helene Dodier (on the left), managing director Theodore P. Savas, and marketing director Sarah Keeney at the scene of the Confederate attack that took place on July 2nd, 1863.
With all the obstacles stacking up against our industry, I realized it was more important than ever for our authors to take an active role in the success of their books, since that means they’re taking an active role in making the company successful. So I decided it was time to harness the power and synergy of our greatest asset by doing more to help authors with marketing and branding.
The Initial Activities
The opening salvo in this process was the establishment of what we called the First Savas Beatie Author Conclave. Instead of flying to the East Coast to visit our reseller accounts for our military titles, showing the flag, and then leaving, marketing director Sarah Keeney and I expanded our usual trip agenda. We brought our accounts manager, Helene Dodier, with us this summer so she could meet face-to-face with the buyers she speaks with daily, and we invited all our authors to meet with us—and each other—at two important battlefields: Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania, and Antietem just 40 minutes south in Maryland.
Then we arranged for some of our authors to lead microtours, and we invited our reading public to join us—free of charge.
Social media and a little elbow grease made promoting the event relatively easy and inexpensive. First, we emailed our published and contracted authors and everybody in our customer database. Second, we promoted the event heavily in our monthly e-letter, Libri Novus. Third, we sent information about our tour to local event calendars. Fourth, we distributed our press release via the normal free services, blogs, Facebook, and other social sites. And fifth, we arranged for a pair of our authors who run the popular Civil War blog Emerging Civil War not only to advertise our event in advance, but to use their platform for live blogging during the event.
The results could not have pleased us more. Sixteen of our authors attended (one from as far away as Southern California and another from North Dakota), as did several authors under contract. Thirty to fifty customers joined us at each battlefield stop, had their books personally inscribed, and enjoyed the expertise of tightly guided tours by some of their favorite authors, writers they would otherwise have never met. We hosted two special author-spouse events on two separate evenings, one with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and the other a private dinner with drinks, to share our thanks and appreciation for all our authors do for our company.
Assessing the Outcomes
What did we achieve? The list is long and important.
- We rarely meet our authors personally, but this way we were able to press the flesh in person and establish invaluable bonds. Many of our authors have published with other houses large and small, and every single one we met at our event told us they have never been treated so well or gotten so much personal attention.
- We harnessed the power of each individual “spoke,” helping each author feel part of something larger. Many authors voiced this feeling. One said he always used to consider himself “slaving away alone on my PC,” but that changed once he had the chance “to talk with others who do the same thing for the same people and see how it all works together.”
- We developed, nurtured, and encouraged the excitement that comes from discussing books with others of like mind while simultaneously matching up authors to develop new exciting joint projects that we will publish in the near future.
- We used this conclave to schedule many authors for book signings at the National Park visitor centers and other places, made sure they visited all the Gettysburg-area outlets to sign their books, and introduced them to the various book- and specialty-store owners to further develop bonds among author, publisher, and outlet. The result: hundreds of book sales that would otherwise not have occurred, and wagonloads of goodwill all the way around.
- We built bonds with our customers, too. They had never experienced an event like this one—and for free, no less. The cost to us for inviting them to meet “in the field” was essentially zero (no hotels, no conference room, no bus). And the bonds the meeting created are much tighter than any we previously had with customers, and more likely to produce purchasing loyalty down the road.
- Once the attendees returned home they posted their experiences, pictures, and videos on Facebook and their blogs, and those posts got picked up and shared by others within the historical community. Anyone in business knows this sort of viral promotion is invaluable.
- Perhaps most important, our authors will now think long and hard before they take a new project elsewhere. Many told us they intended to publish with us for as long as we were in business. And they have been telling other desirable authors about Savas Beatie, with the result that we are receiving more good manuscripts to publish.
When is the Second Annual Savas Beatie Author Conclave going to be held? The question comes our way again and again in a flood of emails, postcards, and calls. And we are happy to answer that it is already being planned.
More than ever now, we know our authors are an invaluable asset. Can authors be difficult on occasion? Sure. All of us can be. But do they deserve your special attention and a little tender loving care? Absolutely.
If you don’t keep your tires in good repair or change your oil routinely, your “machine” will eventually fall part. Treating each author well is an important component of our machine, keeps it running smoothly, and helps us reach our destination intact, on time, with revenue in the bank and with smiles on our faces.
About the Author: Theodore P. Savas practiced law in Silicon Valley for many years before turning to book publishing. In addition to being the managing director and co-owner of Savas Beatie LLC, he is the author or editor of more than a dozen books in six languages.
To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.