If publisher Dominique Raccah is jetlagged after returning from the Bologna Book Fair the previous evening, she doesn't look it. Exuding energy, she whirls through our interview at Sourcebooks' Naperville, Ill., office, illustrating her remarks by digging through the stacks on her desk and handing over galleys and finished books, even pulling up on an office computer the company's first digital book, Country Music: The Masters by Marty Stuart, to demonstrate its multimedia features.
“Fundamentally, a book is an experience. Whether it's a reading, an audio or mixed-media book, a picture book—however it is, it's an experience,” Raccah declares, “If it gives you the chills, if it makes you laugh or cry, if it reaches you, touches you, moves you, inspires you—if it works like that, then it's a book worth publishing.”
For the past 22 years, but especially in the past decade, Raccah's also gambled that books with a visceral appeal will be the books that are going to sell. Sourcebooks, launched by Raccah in 1987 with a 1,000-copy print run of a single title, Financial Sourcebooks Sources, now publishes 300 adult and children's titles annually in a variety of genres, with print runs ranging from 5,000 to 150,000. Its breakthrough came in 1998 when the publisher produced and marketed a book/CD package, We Interrupt this Broadcast. Not only was it the press's first New York Times bestseller, it's still the company's topselling MediaFusion (an integrated mixed-media format) package, with 750,000 copies in print; a new edition will be released this fall. “I had no idea if it'd be successful,” Raccah says, recalling how she mortgaged her house to pay for the initial print run of We Interrupt, which swelled from a planned 20,000 copies to 150,000 after a strong reaction to the book at BEA that year. Sourcebooks now publishes five or six MediaFusion titles each season across the company's entire list. To date, the press has sold two million MediaFusion units, including 400,000 mixed-media poetry titles.
Raccah is no stranger to striding forward in new directions when opportunity beckons. She was born in Paris, and her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was nine, after her father accepted a position as a physicist at M.I.T. After “doing really badly” at Stern College for Women (Yeshiva University), Raccah transferred to the University of Illinois, graduating with a B.S. in psychology and, later, an M.S. in quantitative psychology. Raccah subsequently performed quantitative research for major corporate clients at the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago for seven years before striking out on her own.
“It turned out to be a great experience: Burnett gave me a vision for how a creative company works,” Raccah says, describing Sourcebooks's “process-driven” company culture and strategy of branding authors as being modeled on Burnett. Raccah calls her 75 employees “creative, passionate” and “egoless” in their shared commitment to publish and market books that can reach the maximum number of readers.“For me, it's always been about one book,” she insists. “I never wanted to build a big company. It doesn't interest me. As a result, Sourcebooks is very organic. I call it the bricklaying approach: you lay a brick, then another, and another, and pretty soon there's a wall. That approach takes you very far.”
While Raccah, who's in her third year as co-chair of BISG, acknowledges it's “a really difficult time, business-wise” throughout the industry, she believes there are opportunities for publishers willing to take risks and be creative in providing content in new formats. “We're going to get very vertical, we're going to get very deep in a bunch of areas—poetry, historical fiction, romance, parenting, study aids,” Raccah says. She notes that 500 of the 2,000 Sourcebooks titles in print are available in e-book formats, and three frontlist titles, besides Country Music, have been recently published as multimedia digital books. The company also just released Most Baby Names as an iPhone app. Her approach also includes creating partnerships with retailers to connect with consumers in different ways. “It's all about excitement,” she says.
“Sourcebooks seems very well-sized for the times,” Raccah reflects. “We're big enough to explore, be dynamic and develop new things, and we're small enough to be flexible and move quickly. The world, the landscape is changing so quickly. If you don't have the right resources, you can't get it done.”
Name: Dominique Raccah
Title: President and publisher
First job: Lifeguard, Sudbury, Mass.
Publishing in the future will be… incredibly exciting.