Red & Black: A Book and Story Filled with Caveats …
Posted November 20, 2009 on Wanda's Wonderful Book Blog
A Top Ten by guest blogger Mandy Williams, aka "Black"
1. NOT A BLOGGER. This is my first blog and so if it is too long or too self-serving, my apologies.
2. OUR APPROACH NOT REALLY "OURS". I co-authored the book ‘What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!' with my sister, Tina Pennington, aka "Red", and although we were invited to give you some philosophy and insight into our approach and plans, I must advise you that the comments presented here do not necessarily represent "our" thoughts. You see, when it comes to the business side of our book, Red, who is first and foremost a mom, happily defers to me.
3. DO NOT JUDGE OUR BOOK BY ITS TITLE. Red's husband getting fired was merely the catalyst that started a three month "whirlwind" (her word, not mine) journey that started with personal finances and ultimately addressed fundamental life lessons. But this blog is not about the actual book, but rather our unusual approaches to publishing and marketing. Rather than me try to explain, I would prefer to direct you to Judith Rosen's August article in Publishers Weekly which ran just after our Neiman Marcus launch.(www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/7492-self-published-book-gets-neiman-marcus-launch-.html)
4. NOT REALLY AUTHORS. Although we have written a book, we do not think of ourselves as authors. In reality, given the format of the book, which is primarily emails, IMs and phone conversations, it would probably be more accurate to call us stenographers.
5. NOT REALLY PUBLISHERS, EITHER. And just because we self-published, it does not make us publishers. I am a retired corporate executive with significant business experience, although none in publishing. So I researched the industry and the publishing business model (which I must admit is one of the ugliest financial models I have ever seen!) before talking with several leading NY publishers and industry experts about our book idea. Without going into all the chronological details (although some of them are very amusing), the combination of our desire to get to market quickly, maintain control over the design and content, while also wanting a high quality, very professional final product, presented a challenge. So we created a hybrid publishing model. We self-published, but used an established publisher, Bright Sky Press, as a publishing consultant. (Not only did they walk us through the publishing process, but they provided an editor, recommended a designer, bid the printing, oversaw the production, and countless other invaluable services.)
6. BIGGER IS NOT BETTER, ONLY BIGGER. Early in our relationship with Bright Sky Press we witnessed the devastating impact "returns" can have on small publishers when a large bookseller decides it overbought a title. I understood the logic behind the policy, especially in terms of independent booksellers, and the fact books are typically purchased based on a picture of a cover and some lines of copy. However, the policy had not changed although the places where people buy books have morphed from small social environments into big businesses driven by the bottom line. It reminded us of the movie ‘You've Got Mail' with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, except the "real world" version had ‘Fox & Sons' not only killing the competition' but also bullying the suppliers.
7. BUSINESS APPROACH MAY BE RISKY. Entrepreneurs, whether booksellers, publishers, or any other small business, are becoming extinct. Unfortunately, this "evolution" is reflected across many industries, and the end result is that the entrepreneurial spirit is slowly - though some would say rapidly - disappearing. Small, niche businesses offering personal and individualized service struggle to survive in a world of instant gratification, price wars and mass marketing. (Just look at what Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target are currently doing!) We can not change Corporate America. And we do not really want to try. But when it comes to our book, we can do something. So we are supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of Indies by choosing not to have our book available in any other retail book environment, in "discounters" or on Amazon.
8. WE BACK OUR WORDS WITH ACTIONS. Many people have strong opinions, but at times it can be very difficult to reconcile your beliefs with your bottom line. When it came time for us to select a printer, we (really Bright Sky Press) put it out to bid, both domestically and overseas. If we had based our decision solely on the numbers, it would have been a very easy decision - the cost of printing domestically is basically TWICE the price of printing overseas. And that includes the additional shipping expense! (Hardcover books are almost a 4:1 multiple.) We asked the domestic printer to "defend" their pricing, and as expected, some of the increased cost was attributable to higher labor costs in the U.S., but the biggest difference was attributable to U.S. regulations, such as environmental laws and OSHA. (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Department of Labor which establishes standards for workplace health and safety.) There is a price, often hidden, for maintaining high standards. And so, although a few people thought we were crazy, we took a deep breath and followed our hearts. And we are very proud to be able to say that our book is being printed in the U.S.A. by RRDonnelley.
9. REALITY WILL INTERUPT PLANS. I spent a good portion of my corporate career focused on financial plans and marketing strategies, so it should come as no surprise that I initially focused almost entirely on the book concept and marketing plans. (One close business friend repeatedly told me "Less Marketing. More Writing!") I created a formal document outlining our concept overview and marketing strategy, and even identified our target demographics, including articles, statistics and competitive analysis to support our positions. And, except for the economic environment which made the title more timely, the original strategy remained basically unchanged since it was developed in 2004. But once the book was launched, less than three months ago, everything changed! We initially thought our target market was baby boomer women, but based on responses from readers and the media (yes, they are telling us they are actually reading the book!) our book is resonating with men and women, ranging in ages from twenty-somethings to seniors. (Our ideas on "why" is a topic onto itself.) Where we initially thought the book would primarily be entertaining and secondarily would provide useful information, our readers are telling us the exact opposite. And then last week … we met with an executive director at a local charter school who had been told about our book. At first, he did not think his students could relate to Red and I, but by the time the meeting was over he had asked us to put together a curriculum for us to teach to his senior class this spring. We are honored and never could have imagined this would be a direction we would be taking. The fact we now have to postpone our marketing efforts is a small price to pay in exchange for this amazing opportunity - to make a difference in the lives of children.
10. WE MAY SOUND ARROGANT. It really does not matter to us if you agree with our philosophies, think our business decisions are good or bad, or whether as first-time authors the path we are taking is right or wrong. It might make for interesting discussion, and even ended up on this blog, but it will not change anything. Our decisions are based on what we believe. And as I taught Red during her "crisis" (again, her word, not mine) regardless of the topic, there is a very simple, but effective, process to making decisions. The strength of our decisions is based on the fact we first asked questions, gathered information and then (based on our values and beliefs) were able to make smart, conscious decisions.
Hope this gives you food for thought! And if all this blog does is make you stop and think about what you believe, and what motivates you, and lets you know that what you do and what you stand for can make a difference, then great. And if it makes you curious about our book, even better.