How a book is born: The independent book stores

February 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Education, Fundraising, Kids and reading, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Looking for distribution that gets your books into the hands of kids while earning you money? That’s the ultimate challenge.

I downloaded a list of independent bookstores from the web. They all specialize in children’s books. But will that work?

Studies show that:

  1.  Fewer people are reading
  2.  Online services are ruining  brick and mortar stores
  3.  Book readers like the Kindle, are making printed material obsolete.

The statistics are against me, but I was going to plow forward. Based on what is going on in the book industry, my independent search results were not surprising. First, I started by calling stores in New York State where I am located. Some were too small to do any volume and others were not quite making it. Others were only interested in purchasing from national distributors.  And still others would carry  but only if they get 65% of the sales price. Plus I have to pay for shipping the books to the store and the shipping for returns.

At this point, I only have three local stories who have agreed to carry the book. I will use their logo in my local advertising to encourage people to go to their stories to buy.

Personally, I think our one book will get lost on the shelf and is not worth the investment.

I have also placed our book on Amazon.com. They sold ten books in the last six months. I will also look into Barnes and Noble online. I have placed my book on Amazon not because I thought it was a great distribution stream but it gives us credibility. I found that some online book reviewers will only review the book if you are on at least one of the online booksellers. (Does that include Wal-Mart…only a joke.)

It does take work to make your book stand out. If bookstores or the online booksellers are not the best distribution stream, then what’s next?

How a book is born: Who prints books?

December 9, 2009 at 11:07 am | Posted in Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Now I am really immersed in the book, the copy, layout and illustrations. It is time to find a printer. The printer we use for our magazines does not have book printer contacts. Many of the publishers I spoke to used niche printers that were not appropriate for me: like soft cover printers, picture book printers and oversees printers.

I looked on the web, but felt that it would be a crap shoot picking someone blind, even with references. So I kept looking. Finally, I found Woodstock Press with offices in upstate New York and in Manhatten. I was lucky to be referred to Olivia Blanchflower from Overlook Press. She put me in contact with printers that Overlook Press uses. Her support was invaluable.

I found that the book publishing industry is a new world with a new language. Trade book page. Linen embossed gloss. Head and foot bands. Bar code labels. Burst casebind. Kappa board. And the list goes on.

Some printers do covers only. Others only do paperback or the inside guts. I chose two printers who could do it all. And then I tried to get the best deal. I was told that the best prices come through China but I decided to stay in the states so I could have more control over the process.

I used Berryville Graphics in Virginia. They delivered what they promised. There were several things I learned. First, the output of the pages for books is very different from magazines that are printed on newsprint. The copies from our printer look great. But the proofs we got back did not match. Their output is more sensitive to the blending of grays, and we had to change our pages so the grey backgrounds for captions did not overwhelm the copy. And second was the issue of price and how many books to print. But that I will deal with in another blog.

How a book is born: Working with a distributor

December 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Parents, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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I looked for distribution houses, even though I knew the liabilities associated with them: small financial rewards and many book returns. The larger groups don’t accept publishers like me with only one book under our belt. I was referred to Greenleaf Book Group. They work with newcomers. To be considered, you must complete a series of questions, which is essentially a business plan. Once you submit the information together with your manuscript, they promised to get back to you.

And they did. First a received a series of emails telling me they were very interested in my manuscript. I was wary of this email communication approach and asked to receive a call. It took a while but finally a pleasant young man called saying they were very interested in sell my book and they will develop a comprehensive marketing plan. Great thought.  There is always a but. All promotional expenses are mine. I pay all shipping costs. I am responsible for returns. And the percentage they take (sorry, I don’t remember the numbers) is huge. So huge, that after I figured the numbers, I would owe them money for selling my book. No earnings for me.

Now I am curious how this works. Who signs up for such a program? According to their website, the numbers are substantial.

So I looked for answers to three questions:

1.  How many children’s books have they promoted?

2.  What would my marketing plan look like?

The answer to the first question was, “Not many.”

“Then how do you know your marketing strategies will work?”

“We can’t offer any guarantee, but it has worked before.”

“Not for children’s books!”

“How about referrals? I would like to speak to someone you have worked with recently.”

It took a while, but finally I spoke to an author in California. He confirmed my worst fears. He was spending promotional dollars and had not seen any return.

I called Greenleaf back. “I would like to speak to someone in your marketing department to understand their approach to my book.” After all they are the ones who said they really liked the manuscript. The rep said he would get back to me.

I’d like to insert a note: I own a marketing and public relations company. In my 36 years in practice I never found that a client stole my marketing plan ideas after I introduced the program. If they could do it on their own, they wouldn’t bother contacting me.

The Greenleaf rep never got back to me. I let Greenleaf go. Or, maybe they let me go.

How a book is born: Reaching out to other publishers

November 25, 2009 at 11:08 am | Posted in Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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My book is taking shape. I hired two people to proof copy. We worked with an editor who helped improve the story. (I’ll tell you about that later.) The layout looks great. The illustrations are almost complete. But I wondered how other small publishers get their books in front of their readers.

Here is what I discovered:

  1. Two publishers only work with authors who are will to spend their time promoting their books. They feel the author will be the primary sales person. For example, one author is a psychologist who speaks at large conventions. She sells the books are the conferences. Another author does the school circuit and puts books in the trunk to sell.
  2. All the publishers list their books on Amazon.com and BN.com, but they do not get a great return.
  3. One sells through Scholastic Books. They order large quantities, 12,000-15,000 books, but the money he makes has been diminishing.
  4. One sells through a book distributor, but there is a small return on investment and they have to worry about book returns.
  5. One publisher would only speak to me if I paid her for her time. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

I learned two things:

1.Very small publishing groups have a really rough hall. As I am writing this blog, two of the publishers I spoke to have closed down their operations.  

2. There is not one distribution channel. I will have to try a number of different ways to get my book into the hands of readers before I realize what works for me and what doesn’t.

 

How a book is born: Choosing an illustrator: What works best for my book?

November 18, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Education, Kids and reading, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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I choose an illustrator and it didn’t work so I am searching on childrensillustrators.com. I need someone who is good with black and white drawings as well as color illustrations. Their people should show great character plus I need to love their animals.

I pick six illustrators to contact. One is represented by an agent and I am not willing to go that route. The others are from all over the globe…Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, England and Australia.

I like to guy from PA but his schedule packed and he can’t meet my deadline. I correspond via email with the other illustrators and decide on Karen Donnelly, from Brighten, England.

I was lucky. She is a delight and easy to work with. She used our FTP site  or email to transfer her drawings. Getting use to the change in time zones took some time and she would leave early to pick up her kids from school. And of course, there are different school holidays.

But all, in all, it was a great first experience. Now I know what it means to have a borderless society. This was the first time that I did not hire an American employee. And part of me felt guilty.

Also this was the first time I used an international bank transfer to pay Karen. I paid her based on the American dollar. I was never sure of the transfer rate, plus there are bank charges based on the transfer rate and that rate changes frequently.

What did I learn? Be ready to make mistakes and move on with confidence. Also, remember to include room for mistakes in your budget.

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