How a book is born: Sales at special events

March 2, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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My first idea for getting attention for our newly published book, The Trunk in the Attic, was to encourage local parenting publications to write reviews. But it offered a poor yield. If you have read my past blog, you know my motto:  Be ready to make mistakes and move on with confidence.

The Trunk in the Attic, our first Undercover Kids adventure takes our characters to Holland. The celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sailing from the Netherlands to New York was celebrated in 2009. That is what inspired me to commission the writing of the first Undercover Kids adventure.

I was told that New York was investing millions of dollars to promote events up and down the Hudson River. And each event would attract 1,000s of people. Great! My next great marketing idea was to attend these events. After all, this would attract families and everyone would be interested in Henry Hudson. We developed a wonderful booth and were ready to roll out our book.

Along came the crashed financial market and the slashed housing market. New York was broke. And with the crashing and slashing the quadricentenial money disappeared.

We attended five events. Our booth worked well. Our staff was well-trained. And our author, Gloria Smith Zawaski, was well-received.

We sold up to 40 books per event. Although others in the industry say that is a good number, as far as I was concerned it was a bust. Too much time invested. Too much staffing required. Too little return.

Back to the drawing board.

A note about events: There is an annual children’s book fair held in our region, which I was hoping to attend. Our application was rejected because space is limited and they don’t invite first-time authors. I will try again next year.

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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.

HOW A BOOK IS BORN: Creating the story

September 14, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in about life, Book reviews, Education, Educators, Kids and reading, Librarians, Mystery books, Publishing your story, Writing | Leave a comment
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Now I had an author to write our story but what form should the story take? Gloria Smith Zawaski is unbelievably creative and has more ideas than I can keep up with. We met and shared.

At our next meeting Gloria mentioned that there would be a cemetery with a ghost near Aunt Jean’s farm. The kids meet the ghost who wants to return to the homeland of his ancestors in Africa. Great idea because our region has a number of black cemeteries. And Sojourner Truth was born about 1797 in Ulster County, which is the region where we live. So it would all fit.

Great idea Gloria, but I need to go back to Holland because of this Quadricentennial celebration coming up.  I want to use the celebrations being planned as a vehicle to sell the book. I figure the events will bring out many people, especially families, and that is the market I want to target.

So back to Holland we go. The kids would come from New York City to their aunt’s farm for a vacation. They would travel, through some kind of magic, to Holland where they would share adventures with Dutch kids. That would be the basis of the story.

As a publisher, you may ask, “What is my role?” I ask that all the time. I come up with ideas and share them with Gloria. Gloria develops the story and I provide feedback.

Gloria researches our stories and brings them to life on the printed page. My role make to make the sale of the book a reality.

 As we finish the first book, ideas for the next two books are coming from unusual sources.

 In the second book, Gloria takes kids to Mongolia. Why Mongolia? Gloria and I agreed that each book should visit another part of the world and possibly another continent.

I read the Wolf Totem by Jian Rong which takes place in Outer Mongolia. A beautiful setting for a people who are being overtaken by the Chinese. Then on NPR I head a story about a young man who uses throat singing to preserve the stories of his Mongolian ancestors. Gloria and I agreed to take our kids to Mongolia for 2010.

 And then, once again, we will visit Gloria’s ideas for an African adventure for 2011.

How is a book born?

September 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Posted in about life, Education, Educators, Publishing your story, Writing | 1 Comment
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It’s been 18 months since I had an idea about helping kids learn about the Dutch Heritage that finally led to our becoming a book publishing group. Want to learn how an idea goes from the light bulb going off in your head to a reality? Follow my journey.

 I have always been an avid reader which led me to publishing two regional magazines for the past 15 years. But is that enough experience to publish a book? I would soon learn that the road is never straight, and there is a strong learning curve every step of the way.

 Where do ideas come from?
Along comes 2009 and the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s sailing from the Netherlands to New York and everyone is a flutter with excitement about what will happen this year. I happened on a newsletter from Hugo Gajus Scheltema, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, who said in a newsletter that he hopes that the legacy of diversity and tolerance of New Amsterdam will be recognized by those living in New York as well as the broader public in the United States. He suggests that the emphasis should be on education.

 And I thought, “Who better to carry out the legacy of understanding than our children?”

 Gloria, who eventually authored the first book we published, and I have been friends for many years. I also knew that she worked with the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines account as a copywriter when she was on Madison Avenue. Who better to call, if I am looking for someone to tell the story of the Dutch?

 We talked and she contacted her friends in Holland. I thought we were on our way. The discussions went back and forth.

 How should the story be told? What vehicle should we use?
I first thought this would be a short book, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 with separate pull out pages of dolls that kids could dress in clothing of the period when Henry Hudson sailed. I would include a carrying case for the dolls and the clothes. The dolls would be magnetic with magnetic clothing that adheres to the doll surfaces.

 I wasn’t sure about using magnetic dolls so I explored Colorforms. Remember Colorforms…where you stick and peel items on a page? I would print the stick n peel pages directly in the book and eliminate the need for carrying cases. But it was not so easy to find a printer who knew about the materials and could print it for me. I spent weeks looking for vendors until I happened on a group in California that publishes oversees. Not an easy process. Not quick turnaround. Not for me.  

 Now the tale was no longer a short story. At this point I was still negotiating with Gloria’s contacts and meeting with Gloria to discuss the project. I was not sure what direction we were going in.

 At one meeting I said to Gloria, “How about you writing the book? You know Holland and you know what I am looking for.” That was the beginning of our publisher-author relationship.

 While I can write, I do not consider myself a writer. I am better at conjuring up ideas and watching them fly.

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