October 30, 2012
I Is an Other (5): Metaphors at Work
In business, psychology, science and politics, successful metaphors should be as common as one-liners at a comedy convention, as numerous as drunks at a tailgate party, as bountiful as bribes in Chicago politics.
In advertising, GEICO, the insurance company, has successfully grabbed attention with its use of metaphor (or it's close cousin, the analogy) in its "Happier Than" campaign.Continue reading "I Is an Other (5): Metaphors at Work"
March 9, 2011
December 15, 2010
A friend, David Horton, once said, "Some get paid to be critics. Everyone else does it for free."
We, like any organization or business, get our share of criticisms and complaints. How do we deal with it? Here are my guidelines.Continue reading "Unpaid Critics"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:31 AM
August 31, 2009
Shatzkin's Bad News, Good News
Someone recently asked me a helpful diagnostic question for those in leadership, a question that helps you get at the big picture. "What causes you to lose sleep at night?" Certainly for me the Great Recession and the sea changes it may be bringing in book publishing have been right at the top of the list for me.Continue reading "Shatzkin's Bad News, Good News"
May 14, 2009
Report on Successful Book Marketing
As one century ended and another began, what did publishers learn? Here are the results from one report.Continue reading "Report on Successful Book Marketing"
April 6, 2009
He was livid.
I hadn't been on the phone for thirty seconds before the president of the firm we had been working with was giving me a generous piece of his mind. I had been unresponsive and unprofessional, he said . . . and more. Much more.
I was trying to get a word in, but he didn't let up. He kept going at me for at least another five minutes without adding any new information. This actually worked to my advantage. It gave me time to think.Continue reading "Forced Empathy"
March 30, 2009
The Legacy of Benjamin Babbitt
By now we all know that 2009 is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin (both born on February 12). Book publishers have taken full advantage of this by issuing dozens of new books on these gentlemen. But no book is being published about a man whose two hundredth birthday we will celebrate on May 1, who has also had a profound effect on society. His name is Benjamin T. Babbitt. What did he do?Continue reading "The Legacy of Benjamin Babbitt"
January 19, 2009
Are Book Lovers Killing Books?
Is the rise of reselling books on the internet destroying publishing? Book lover David Steitfeld thinks it might be.
The explosion of people selling used, nearly new and rare books online means readers can save money if they are willing to wait a while for a new book to make its way to these re-sellers. And it's not just Amazon. There are over 20,000 such booksellers around.Continue reading "Are Book Lovers Killing Books?"
January 11, 2009
Who Needs Publishers?
What do publishers really have to offer authors? Can't someone self-publish easily through Lulu or XLibris? Can't they sell their books on Amazon.com? Retail stores are in decline, so who needs publishers to get their books on the shelves?
1. help a book focus a conversation about important topics
Shirky was amazed to hear publishers talk about abandoning these functions in favor of finding authors who already have a "platform." If an author can already market directly to a group of potential readers, why does he or she need a publisher?
The answer, Shirky thinks, is by publishers making sure they matter to and are trusted by readers. As every publisher knows, however, readers almost never know--much less trust or distrust--publishers. Who publishes Toni Morrison or Thomas Friedman? Readers don't know. The only people likely to know are publishers themselves.
Shirky's three functions are good and valuable for publishers to focus on. But I don't see how looking for authors with platform negates them. The reality is that substantial decline in retail bookstore sales minimizes a traditional channel for publishers. In a bygone era retailers (who might have known publishers) also handsold books to customers. Retailers used to be the fulcrum between publishers and customers, and that fulcrum has shifted to the author. And as I've said here before, authors without platform rarely do well.
What do publishers offer, then, with self-publishers offering so much and retailers offering less? Years or decades of experience in knowing how people read, how ideas are absorbed, how story and content flow most effectively, powerfully and beautifully. (In short, editors.)
What do publishers offer? Years or decades of experience in knowing what books people buy, how they hear of them, where they buy them, how they buy them, why they buy them and how much they'll pay for them. (In short, marketers.)
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about the contributions of professional book designers, print buyers, rights managers and others. (In short, more.)
Is the publishing world changing? You bet. Do publishers always know best how to deal with that? Not at all. If authors want to publish without editorial or marketing expertise, they can. Many do; some succeed, many don't. But if authors want such help, they can find it at a publishing house.
September 22, 2008
The Crystal Ball
When anybody talks about the future of publishing, the impact of the digital world is always front and center. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It is having and will have a massive impact. Tom Woll acknowledges as much in the conclusion to his book Publishing for Profit, as well. But what is really interesting, I think, are his predictions for brick and mortar stores, which many prognosticators ignore.
Eventually, he says, superstores will find that stocking a wide array of inventory that doesn't sell won't make economic sense--and therefore having 50,000-square-foot stores won't make sense either. In a few years' time the superstore strategy will revert to the mall chain strategy.
When that happens, surprise! The independents will return to the scene. Those, he believes, will tend to be more focused on certain genres like history or mystery or travel.
Is his crystal ball clear or cloudy? I'd be interested in what you think.
September 15, 2008
Small Returns Are Beautiful
Publishers like to complain about returns, but few seem to do anything about them. How do I know? Return rates keep climbing, costing the publishing industry over $7 billion a year.
Why do books come back to publishers from stores, distributors and wholesalers? The reasons are many. Tom Woll offers a dozen in Publishing for Profit. What I find fascinating, however, is that he lays responsibility for ten of the twelve reasons right at the feet of publishers. Only two of Woll's reasons have anything to do with those who return the books--and even with those two, publishers bear some responsibility.
Most publishers, I would guess, would assign responsibility for returns primarily to others, not to themselves. So where does Woll see publishers creating the returns problem? Among other things,
* Large advances--if they are excessive and therefore require larger sales (and therefore larger print runs) to make the project work financially, books come back.
* Overpricing--this tends to be more true of publishers tied to conglomerates that are margin driven.
* Lack of promotional and marketing support--often only the highest-profile books get backing. Many others are expected to sell on their own. Often they don't.
* Reprinting too soon and too many--a book that is selling well can generate automatic reorders that may not be justified.
Don't accounts bear some responsibility? Yes, if they succumb to excessive publisher enthusiasm and overbuy. Yes, if they pay for new books with returns of old ones instead of money. But you can see that publishers bear some responsibility even in these dynamics as well.
Is there a silver bullet for the returns problem? No. It takes discipline and hard work to solve. But the returns on that investment are well worth it.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 4:46 PM
September 8, 2008
What Does That Amazon Sales Rank Mean, Anyway?
One of the most convenient “real time” views of how a book is doing is to check out Amazon’s sales rank. It’s simple (the lower the number, the better the sales), it’s convenient (just a click away), and it’s empirical (gotta love those numbers). Alas, as Aaron Hierholzer says, “the Amazon sales rank is a fickle mistress.”Continue reading "What Does That Amazon Sales Rank Mean, Anyway?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:36 AM
July 21, 2008
Go Directly to Direct
Maybe you thought this was old news, but Brandweek reports on a survey by Direct Partners that found "e-mail is now the most popular form of direct response marketing. . . . E-mail is used primarily by 35% of companies compared to 25% which use traditional direct mail and 21% who use package, statement stuffers or free standing inserts." We're not talking spammers here. This was a survey of large U.S. corporations.
With rocky times for retail, many book publishers are looking more closely at direct response. Tom Woll devotes a chapter to direct response marketing as well in Publishing for Profit, which I've been reviewing here chapter by chapter. His word to the wise comes in two basic points:
* Results must always be quantifiable.
Woll offers fairly detailed help in how to plan and analyze direct response (which can include e-mail, mail, telephone or other programs). He even thinks that
once you start tracking your sales and promotional efforts, you'll become addicted to the numbers. Just because this method of marketing is so calculable and analytical it is a refreshing change from the vagaries and sometimes whimsical nature of trade sales. (p. 272)
Every publisher needs to find its own mix of trade, direct and special market sales that makes sense for its editorial program and its readership. For some, that might mean going directly to direct.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:18 AM
May 22, 2008
The Beautiful World of Publicity
Free is a very good price. That is one of the key advantages of publicity, as everyone in publishing knows.
Why does this work? Because, as our friend Tom Woll says in Publishing for Profit, book publishers “are information and content providers . . . [who] have the very material that these media outlets need for their own survival” (p. 207).Continue reading "The Beautiful World of Publicity"
April 17, 2008
Whither Christian Bookstores?
I suspect that many readers of this blog have already run into the excellent article in the latest issue of Christianity Today on the state of Christian bookstores. (Full disclosure: The article is written by Cindy Crosby, wife of IVP Associate Publisher for Sales and Marketing, Jeff Crosby.)
Obviously there have been big changes in the world of Christian retailing in the last ten years. As Crosby writes, "The CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association), a Colorado Springs-based trade association for retailers, says that as recently as the mid-'80s it had 3,000 members of an estimated 4,000 Christian retail stores. Today CBA has 1,813 members of an estimated 2,800 stores."
Competition from big box stores and the Internet have forced many out of business. But not all is doom and gloom. Many are thriving with creative strategies and programs. Check it out.
March 27, 2008
Is There No Accounting for Editors?
Perhaps the least number-oriented species of human being is that of editors.* Figures, subtotals, net present value, gross margin are as nothing in their sight. So should we just consign editors to the outer darkness of a numberless eternity? Is there to be no accounting for editors?Continue reading "Is There No Accounting for Editors?"
February 11, 2008
The Voice of Experience
I believe it was The New Yorker that ran a cartoon depicting a stereotypical, balding, blue-suited executive sitting behind a large desk with an earnest, young, stubble-bearded creative-type standing in front of him imploringly. The executive says, "Your job is to propose. My job is to pooh-pooh."Continue reading "The Voice of Experience"
January 28, 2008
How a Weak Book Kills a Strong Book
I've seen the pattern all too often. We as a publishing committee are enthusiastic about a book because we see it as unique or because we are passionate about the topic or because it touches on a trend that it is rising. Then a year or two after publication we look back with disappointment. It didn't catch on. There weren't many readers as passionate about it as we were. It may have had fine editorial quality, but the experience left a bad taste in our mouths.Continue reading "How a Weak Book Kills a Strong Book"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:00 AM
November 19, 2007
The Dark Side of Platform
Be careful what you wish for.
Publishing is becoming like real estate. Only three things matter. Platform. Platform. Platform. It seems to be a requirement that to publish a book authors must be well-known or be on the speaking circuit or have a deep network of potential readers to tap into once the book is published. A high-platform author is the dream of every publisher. Or is it the nightmare?Continue reading "The Dark Side of Platform"
October 26, 2007
October 4, 2007
September 26, 2007
They Just Love My Title
"I asked five friends, and they all told me they loved the title I'm thinking of for the book."
"I randomly surveyed a dozen people at the mall and most liked my title best."
"I've been speaking on this topic lately, and when I mention my working title for the book, I get a very positive response."
Over the years we at InterVarsity Press have heard many variations on this theme from authors. They mention their working title to friends, relatives, coworkers or people in the intended audience, and the reaction they get leads them to believe they have a winner. And they might. But why should a publisher be cautious about such a conclusion? Why should an author also be cautious about such a conclusion?Continue reading "They Just Love My Title"
September 23, 2007
Publishers Don't Sell Books
"Publishers don't sell books. Authors sell books."
I was with a group of editors last week. Roy Carlisle, who has been an editor at HarperSanFrancisco (now HarperOne), Crossroad and his own imprint, was making a presentation and was getting just slightly off topic. But he was passionate nonetheless. "An author has got to have a platform. That's what has been true in New York for the last five or ten years. It's what every editor there knows."
Publishers don't sell books? How do they stay in business?Continue reading "Publishers Don't Sell Books"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 1:19 PM
August 6, 2007
July 5, 2007
The Good News About Going Out of Print
One of my least favorite tasks is attending the meeting where we decide which books will go out of print this year. Every book is a friend and companion. Some are even like children. We want them all to do well in life and find success. Occasionally that does not happen.Continue reading "The Good News About Going Out of Print"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:50 AM