Rapid changes in the publishing industry have unlocked many doors for small presses and self-publishers, but success depends on knowing which of those doors to enter. Identifying and choosing the right opportunities was the theme of "Mastering the Book Market," held in Philadelphia November 17 and 18. Presented by PW, Publishers Marketing Association and Book Marketing Works, the seminar gave nearly 100 attendees the tools to navigate what publicity specialist and program co-moderator Jodee Blanco called "the road from natural enthusiasm to sophisticated expertise."
The program included discussions on essential marketing strategies, industry trends (particularly in technology) and innovative ways to combine the two. While the mood was positive and upbeat there was almost no mention of how current economic conditions or world events might affect publishers the information provided sent the clear message, "take your business seriously." To that end, said seminar founder and director Brian Jud, the program's goal was simple: "We all want to be able to sell more profitably."
Self-publishing expert Dan Poynter told attendees that they should think about their goal not as writing books but as building books, "the same way you might put together a PowerPoint presentation." But he also stressed that creating a superior product requires more than merely rethinking the process; it still requires such traditional elements as peer review and hiring a professional copy editor. Blanco underscored the importance of peer review with the story of an author who sent four sample book jackets to several colleagues for their input: "Ninety percent of them told him to use the one sample he hadn't even been considering." Melanie Rigney, editor of Writer's Digest, told the group that, when it comes to marketing, authors have to cover all the bases. For example, "If you're not comfortable speaking to groups, join a public speaking group like Toastmasters International to get that experience before you go on a book tour."
The role of print-on-demand books was the topic of a panel discussion that spelled out POD's benefits, but also pointed out its limitations. "If you're a college professor who needs a short run of your latest textbook on short notice, POD can be a cost-effective alternative that offers a quality print product," noted Rutledge Press president Art Salzfass. "But if you're printing a hardcover children's book with color illustrations, a short run probably won't be economical." Bill Grogg, president of NetPub Corp., reminded (or perhaps reassured) the group that technology's role in publishing was not to gradually eliminate the printed book as we know it. "You have to think about how and where people read and apply the 'three B' factor bedroom, bathroom and beach," he said.
Technology is important for selling books as well as producing them, as BookZone CEO Mary Westheimer noted. The Internet can be an invaluable marketing tool, she explained, and, as with any marketing tool, its success depends on whether it's used properly. "Be sure that your Web site makes it easy for people to buy your books," she said.
Physician-turned-author (and program co-moderator) Jerry Labriola, who co-wrote Famous Crimes Revisited with forensics expert Henry Lee, told the group about a sales venue many authors and publishers overlook: library appearances. Labriola spoke at about 120 of the 160 libraries in his home state of Connecticut when his most recent book came out. "Libraries are wonderful about doing publicity and promotion within the community," he said. Some of his library talks drew crowds in the hundreds; not only did he sell books, he also made contacts that led to more speaking engagements.