May 17, 2011
It’s not news that a strong brand can be your biggest asset. That’s one of the main points Michael Thompson made in his Merchants of Culture (which I blogged about here). When gatekeepers and consumers know who you are, what you stand for and what they are guaranteed to get from you, your work as a publisher becomes much easier—and very likely more profitable.
What is less often noted is that a strong brand can also be your biggest limitation.Continue reading "Brand Limits"
December 1, 2010
Five-Year Plans Are Ridiculous
Can we possibly be serious about creating a five-year plan? In an era of breakneck changes in technology, cultural tastes, the economy and 24-hour news cycles, futurists look suspiciously like palm readers.
Just some of the recent, and massive, changes in book publishing we are all familiar with includeContinue reading "Five-Year Plans Are Ridiculous"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:17 AM
November 17, 2010
The Importance of What You Don't Publish
Sometimes what a publisher doesn’t publish is just as important as what it does publish.Continue reading "The Importance of What You Don't Publish"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:32 AM
December 21, 2009
Dan Reid pointed out to me a comment left on a sister IVP blog, Addenda & Errata.
The response: This brief piece with a provocative title is a reality check for everyone connected to book publishing.Continue reading "Sic Transit?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:21 AM
November 13, 2009
Years ago Steve Stuckey, a colleague in InterVarsity, told me a story about Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. Rattlesnakes have been on the island for time out of mind. In the mid-1930s, some enterprising folk brought in wild pigs to keep the snake population under control. The plan worked great. Fewer snakes.
But then the wild pigs started to roam all over, invading campgrounds and other areas. So some enterprising folk used a dog, Cinder, to keep the pigs at bay. The plan worked great. Fewer pigs.
But Cinder left lots of little presents lying around, making things very unpleasant for those at the campground. So some workers were given the task of cleaning up after the dogs. The plan worked great. Fewer presents for people to step in.
But then the pigs got the better of Cinder. Within weeks of Cinder's retirement, the pigs were back.
All of this took place over the course of decades, with one group of leaders not being fully aware of what previous groups had done before to solve the problems.
Many lessons could be learned from this tale, I'm sure, not the least that a judicious knowledge of the history of your enterprise can come in handy. But the axiom I draw was this: Managers don't solve problems. They just trade one set of problems for another.
I've found this to be a helpful perspective when trying to fix something on the job. It makes me look at the downside of any solution--no matter how elegant a solution may seem. And then I try to decide if I can live with the downside or not.
If customers keep asking for certain information you don't have readily, you might put in place a system to gather and store the data, and make it easily available. But almost inevitably that system will take lots of work to maintain and perhaps distract employees from other tasks that are also important. Can you live with that?
Stuckey's Axiom is a corollary of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The trick, of course, is to do your best to anticipate the unanticipated. But knowing that no solution will be perfect, that there will always be new problems ahead is, as they say, half the battle.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:05 AM
October 15, 2009
The Myth of Wider Readership
Those who know me, know that I think Zinsser's On Writing Well is the Bible of advice to authors. I even talk about Zinsserizing a manuscript--an mischievously ironic term, since Zinsser abhors such neologisms.
In the book, Zinsser self-consciously makes an apparent contradiction.Continue reading "The Myth of Wider Readership"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:39 PM
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"
July 15, 2009
The Art of Saying No
Planning is deciding what you will do. Yes? No, that's only half right. In planning, whether personal or organizational, some of the most important decisions you can make are what you will say no to, what you decide ahead of time you will not do. It's all too easy to simply respond to requests or ideas from others, to be reactive. The problem is that others then set your agenda, not you.Continue reading "The Art of Saying No"
May 20, 2009
The Problem of the Past and the Future
A colleague went to a professional conference recently and came away with these quotable quotes from various presenters:Continue reading "The Problem of the Past and the Future"
May 7, 2009
Eat Your Book
I was talking to an author who had worked for a multinational food company and had recently switched to a not-for-profit organization. She had a book in mind and wondered how many copies we typically sold for a book in that category. I gave her a five-figure range.
"Oh, I guess I'll have to get used to that," she said, "because where I came from, we talked about selling millions of boxes."Continue reading "Eat Your Book"
April 27, 2009
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Certainly we are in unprecedented times. Certainly no one has ever faced the dilemmas and problems we face today. Certainly tomorrow is uncharted.
Well, yes. And no.Continue reading "Looking Back, Looking Forward"
February 5, 2009
Authors need a platform, a group of people with whom authors are already networked who are waiting and wanting to buy the authors' books. I've said that here before, though the idea is not unique to me. But can books by authors who don't have a platform sell well? Actually, I think they can.Continue reading "Concept Books"
December 4, 2008
Publish Without Perishing?
My colleague Sally Craft recently spotted two very different perspectives on the future of book publishing that are worth reading and pondering together.
The first, "How to Publish Without Perishing," from a guest columnist, author James Gleick, was posted at the New York Times.
The second, "To Publish Without Perishing," is from a guest blogger, NYU college professor Clay Shirky. This response to Gleick's piece was posted at BoingBoing.com.
December 2, 2008
I once emceed at a conference and was responsible for handling the question and answer session after a major talk. There were about three hundred in attendance and dozens wanted to ask questions, but we only had fifteen minutes available in the schedule. I had the roving mike and raced around the room trying to get as many questions as possible but only managed about five.Continue reading "Giving Voice"
April 9, 2008
After a Hundred and Fifty Years, It Just Might Work Again
Everyone is hailing it as a great innovation in publishing. Actually, it's just an excellent example of bringing back a very old idea in a new context.Continue reading "After a Hundred and Fifty Years, It Just Might Work Again"
April 7, 2008
Why You Should Leave Work
Several years ago I loved reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.
For my reading tastes it was the perfect combination of science, history, politics and World War II.
One thing that struck me, however, was how time and again during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries brilliant physicists like Niels Bohr would get stuck on a problem for months or even years. After working tirelessly they finally were compelled to take a vacation and—boom (metaphorically)—the solution would come. Remarkably, the author never pointed out the pattern.Continue reading "Why You Should Leave Work"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 3:33 PM
April 3, 2008
Those who are biblically literate know that Genesis doesn’t say what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate. No matter. Centuries of artists have known it was an apple. An apple with a bite out of it. Thus evil entered the world.
So the recent Wired Magazine article by Leander Kahney should come as no surprise.Continue reading "Evil/Genius"
February 27, 2008
Everyone agrees on one thing when it comes to the future of digital publishing. No one agrees.
Andrew Benneman, manager of the Digital Media Group of Chicago University Press (CUP), bravely lays out some thoughts on how publishers should think about their electronic future in a "free" webinar. (It's free in that while it won't cost you hard, cold dinaro, you will have to fork over your contact information.) If you have fifty-six minutes to spare, you can see the slideshow "Developing a Digital Distribution Strategy" with voiceover by Andrew here.
These were some of the highlights I took away.Continue reading "Digital Dilemmas"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 5:16 AM
February 25, 2008
The accountants I work with are some of my favorite colleagues. It's not their fault that accounting is backwards.
For example, "accounts receivable" is money other people owe you. And what does accounting consider this money to be that you do not have? An asset of course! And money you do have in the bank would seem like a good thing, right? Wrong. It is a liability if you have unpaid bills. No wonder eyes glaze over when accountants speak. (But as I say, it's not their fault.)Continue reading "Accounting Mysteries"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:52 AM
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
January 7, 2008
Do You Itch for a Niche or Are You on the Leash of Your Niche?
Publishing consultant Tom Woll thinks a publisher needs to start by defining its niche. In an earlier blog I said I agreed. My wise friend, Al Hsu, commented on that blog that authors need to think the same way, but that “calling” might be a better way to think about it—a term that gives both focus and flexibility. This of course can be a helpful way for publishers to approach their work as well.
Niche (or calling) can be defined by:Continue reading "Do You Itch for a Niche or Are You on the Leash of Your Niche?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:25 AM
December 21, 2007
Define Your Niche
With 200,000 new titles being published in English every year, getting attention for your books is one of the hardest and most important tasks a publisher has. What strategies could you use to succeed?
One option is to throw lots of money at it. Large publishers (there are about 8) do that all the time. What can smaller publishers (there are about 80,000) do?Continue reading "Define Your Niche"
October 9, 2007
Vice President of Looking Out of the Window
The story was a legend in my family when I was growing up.
Once my mom went to have lunch with my dad, who worked as an executive at a company in downtown Minneapolis. When she got to his office she saw him behind his desk with his back turned to the door, looking out the window. She was so impressed by how hard he was working that she immediately elevated him to "Vice President of Looking Out of the Window."Continue reading "Vice President of Looking Out of the Window"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 5:39 AM
August 16, 2007
Long, Long-Range Planning
Last month I was at a conference in Toronto and spoke on the history of InterVarsity Press. One of the themes I highlighted was how IVP has been a conduit for British-style evangelicalism into North America over the last sixty years, a tradition that continues to this day. This is a brand of Christianity that is more comfortable interacting with culture than its American counterpart and is not afraid of the intellectual enterprise. We think the influence of the Brits on the American scene in this way has been very salutary.Continue reading "Long, Long-Range Planning"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:08 AM
July 9, 2007
Nothing New Under the Publishing Sun
Looking for new publishing ideas? One neglected place to look is the past.Continue reading "Nothing New Under the Publishing Sun"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:38 AM
June 20, 2007
June 13, 2007
Market Research by Publishing Books
One of the dirty little secrets of publishing is that publishers often do market research by publishing books.
If a publisher wants to know what customers are interested in reading or buying, doing full-blown market research can be expensive. You probably need to get professionals involved with focus groups or surveys with all manner of scientific, sociological number crunching. It can easily cost $20,000, $30,000 or $100,000 for even a modest project. Because of this, often publishers will cooperate through a trade association or other umbrella group and buy in to a project.Continue reading "Market Research by Publishing Books"
May 23, 2007
What Evangelicals Are For
What do those in the upcoming generation think of Christians, and of evangelicals in particular?
In the book Unchristian, to be published by Baker in October 2007, David Kinnaman presents the results of his research on this question. (Is this industrial espionage? Nothing so sinister. I was at a conference where Baker handed out a sample chapter to all attendees.) Kinnaman found that over 85 percent of those aged sixteen to twenty-nine think we are antihomosexual, judgmental and hypocritical. As Kinnaman says, "We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for."Continue reading "What Evangelicals Are For"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:28 AM
May 21, 2007
A Book by Any Other Name . . .
Most people know the title of a book matters. It can make or break the success of a book. A wrong title can confuse readers about the content or mislead readers to think the book is not for them.
In publishing, everyone wants a piece of the title--editorial, marketing, sales, design and, oh yes, the author. So what makes a good title?Continue reading "A Book by Any Other Name . . ."
May 14, 2007
The Dangers of Success
One of the most dangerous problems a publishing house (or any business, organization or church) can face is success.
For a publisher, that success could take the form of a massive bestseller. What's wrong with selling one, two or ten million copies of a book? Isn't that what every publisher wishes for? Money solves so many problems, doesn't it?Continue reading "The Dangers of Success"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:29 AM
April 30, 2007
The Imitation Temptation
Here's a typical publishing news item, this one from www.comicbookresources.com posted on February 18, 2007:
"Thomas Nelson Incorporated and Realbuzz Studios would like to announce an exclusive multi-year contract to release a minimum of 26 manga titles, immediately making Thomas Nelson the market leader of faith-based manga content. "
Regularly we hear about a publisher employing a new marketing strategy, a new way of handling fulfillment, a new internal structure or a new line of books. Whenever someone in publishing hears something like this, the temptation is to say, "Oh, we ought to do that too." There are several reasons to resist such urges.Continue reading "The Imitation Temptation"