BH: My name is Bruce Haring, the managing director of the DIY Convention. Iíd like to ask our panelists once again to introduce themselves. Tell us a little bit about your projects, then weíll have Q & A, and then, of course, we will answer your questions.
JG: Hi everybody thanks for sticking around on a beautiful afternoon though you might rather be outside. Iím Jeff Green, Iím executive editor for Radio and Records Newspaper, which is the bible for the broadcasting industry and recording companies about marketing artists and music, so a lot of what youíve been talking about today is right up my alley. On the side, however, Iím also a book publisher and our main title that weíre working, weíve been developing, is this brick here called the Green Book of Songs by Subject which helps TV studios and film supervisors and radio stations and ad agencies find music by themes. So if they want songs about sex, drugs, rock and roll, feminism, 9-11, parties, politics, whatever, they can find it in here and weíve had great success with it and weíll talk about how you may be able to have success with your books too.
Frankie: Iím Frankie Shelly, Iím from Ashville, North Carolina. Iíve spent most of my life in Minneapolis, Minnesota and I understand both of these people have also spent time in Minneapolis, Minnesota or nearby. Iím a novelist, I have wanted to be a novelist since the early sixties, couldnít afford to be one, which needs no explanation. I began I spent my life in advertising and so I thought my writing skills would just transfer but I did have to learn the skills of a novelist. I have come out with two books, At the Crossroads, which is a feminist novel about four contemporary nuns facing feminist issues, nobodyís done anything like that. The market, intended market for this, besides mainstream readers is college classrooms womenís studies it does fill a vacancy. The other novel is Chance Place, itís a story of two vulnerable men enjoying a redemptive relationship. One is a sensitive schizophrenic, my background for that includes the fact that I have a schizophrenic son. Both novels have received wonderful reviews, which was the first step, and now Iím trying to step up to the next step and hopefully find an agent and a major publisher.
Bruce: Okay, Lisa?
Lisa: I grew up as Frankie said outside Minneapolis, Minnesota and I was your typical horse crazy kid and I went on to be a horse trainer, I traveled the world literally showing horses for about eight years and ended up with a musician ended up here in Nashville and they all say write about what you know and so I wrote about country music stars love for their horses in a book called The Power of Horses True Stories from Country Music Stars and itís a small press that has put it out. Unlike Jeff and Frankie I am not the publisher of this book, however I am a publicist in the country music industry and so the publishing company has jobbed the PR in the marketing on this project back to my company so Iíve got a little bit more control over where the PR and marketing goes without any of the financial risks, so itís a really good situation for me.
Bruce: So many people out here want to write a book and yet we all know that you know procrastination is the writerís best friend, Frankie you mentioned just a second ago that you couldnít write your book because of financial reasons, I mean what finally motivated you to start which is the worst thing about getting any project underway?
Frankie: Well I was a single mom of three children and so sole support for them, so thatís why I couldnít start sooner. What motivated me was finally being able to retire and devote full time so in 1984 I bought a computer and I began and it was very frightening at first because it was like oh four hundred and fifty pages and so I began to have to come up with strategies to help move me along. The strategy that finally worked was no pages no breakfast, it did work and you know I thought my skills would simply transfer and they didnít. These two books took me sixteen years so I figure each took me eight but when I was ready I knew I was ready and my advertising background helped me from making the number one mistake is that most early writers make and that is publish before itís ready.
Bruce: Alright Jeff what about you? What motivated you? You already had a writing career.
Jeff: Well this book was actually born the day Elvis died. I was in college back in 1977, which dates me, but basically I was on the air at a radio station and when Elvis passed away I happened to be on the air at the time and our library didnít have much Elvis Presley there they had one album and when we got done playing that and taking phone calls and stuff I started thinking about anything about Elvis, Vegas, donuts, Cadillacs, you name it and the whole thing just started from there and the guy who came in after me said well Iím doing a bunch of songs about cars, what can you help me with? And I said oh sure Iíve got a bunch and I wrote them down and then somebody says you ought to do a book you might get record service and I thought record service? That would be cool and the whole thing took off from there and we published our first one, which was in a loose leaf binder in 1982, this is our fifth edition of this, this edition took seven years so I think Lisa you said six years youíve been working on this-
Jeff: - and Frankie same thing, sixteen years, this is a twenty-five year project. Most people thought that I was out of my mind, well I still am, but to do something like this I spent seven years on this and it really, Bruce, comes down to kind of this no pages no breakfast thing where you just say the pyramids werenít built in a day if I write one page and I work on this for twenty minutes Iím twenty minutes closer. You still have the vision, how many of you guys want to write a book? Well a lot of them, okay so basically you have a sense in your head what this book is going to look like, you probably even thought about the cover, how itís going to flow, how big it is, and then it just gets down to okay how can I start to timeline this and saying okay if itís going to be a three hundred page book or a two hundred and fifty page book or whatever it is not sixteen hundred be stupid like this, which required a lot of software to be written to make it happen but you think in terms of trying to put in a scale that you can get your head around and then say okay Iím going to compartmentalize this assignment and then you really will finish it.
Bruce: When do you determine to put out a new edition? Is it just when the mood strikes you or do you have a game plan in mind as far as sales goes?
Jeff: For this title itís the music, because R & R knows pretty much ahead of time whatís going to be a hit we have a bit of a head start, this book came out last July and so we this book is really only about nine months eight months old and the charts have slowed down so much as you all know that music is lasting a lot longer so the book is still pretty new and weíre just still getting reviews right now, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just gave us a great review among many others but so weíre still in the, even though itís a year old thatís not old, unless you are in a fiction mode and or a title that is very short lived because itís connected to a movie or something that is very trendy, you have a lot more time to work with than you thin. In our case weíll probably start another one, a new edition of this, probably begin it next year and then hopefully it will take them less time to do the next one, probably take a couple of years.
Bruce: Lisa what was your motivation?
Lisa: You know Iíve always been good at writing and my high school English teachers always gave me Aís and I didnít even try and so I thought well you know this is something that is really easy for me but the real motivation for me was in being backstage at the CMA awards or some of the other fanfare type of events where you run into the artist and they would start telling me the positive experience they had with horses. They knew had been a horse trainer and I thought you know I really enjoy hearing these stories and I think a lot of other people out there would too, not just fans of country music, but people who are fans of horses or people who just enjoy the animal human bond, itís such a growing thing these days, and so I decided to put it into a book form and I had actually decided to do this about ten years ago and it was one of those things, as they were talking about, where you just kind of procrastinate and you think about it and you say oh yeah Iím writing a book but you never actually do anything about it and I was taking my son to Boy Scout camp one day and I was listening to NPR and I heard an interview with Mary Higgins Clark and she was talking about how after her husband had passed away she was a single parent with five kids but yet she found time to write and she kind of issued a challenge to anybody who was thinking about writing a book and had never written one, she said you know if I who am a single parent with five children can write a book you can write a book and I thought you know amen I can do this and so I started that day.
Bruce: Frankie did you edit your own book and would you recommend that?
Frankie: No I took it as far as I could take it and then I hired a professional editor. I hired actually two editors, they are developmental editors and copyline editors, the copyline editors is the person who checks the semicolons and the commas and all that nitty gritty business to bring it to the Chicago manual of style and you donít want to do that until you are sure itís ready because if you start revising then you have to go back. I paid a developmental editor to go through and make suggestions upon plot structure, basically for At the Crossroads that was fine, I didnít make any major structural changes at all, with Chance Place I just felt the novel did not start in the right place and I revised and revised and revised and finally I let it sit for a couple of years and it still didnít start in the write place so I hired another developmental editor and she said you are right it doesnít start in the right place and these things which werenít hard and moved this over there and this over here and tell me more about thus and so and Iíd looked at that and thought of thatís six months work, it actually was thirty days work because she had thought it out so well and did a really fine job and Iím very grateful, editors are more than-
Bruce: Where did you find these people and how much did they charge?
Frankie: The going rate now I believe is two dollars and fifty cents a doubled space page, it varies within your markets. I live in Ashville, North Carolina and there was an editor who had recently moved to town who had worked for Double Day as a producer of books on audio and so I hired her and then I, when I went around the second time, I found another person who came highly recommended and I found these people usually through your writers group. If you have a strong group of people who are writing and publishing they know who the good people are in your market and if you canít find them there you certainly can find them online but you must be wary because there are a lot of editors out there who arenít very good.
Bruce: How did you find your writersí group? Was it online?
Frankie: No I didnít find it online. When I moved to Ashville there was a small group that I heard about and the purpose of the is not to critique but to assist those who are published or who want to publish which is rather rarity and when I started with the group there were two published people now there are sixty members and I would say two thirds of us are published and perhaps one half of those are self published.
Bruce: Jeff did you edit yourself?
Jeff: Yes we did. In this case however Iíll make a confession the fourth edition, which was seven hundred and thirty pages so it was a little less than half the size of this book, we got great reviews we sold a lot of books and then we went back and we did a real thorough cleanup of the data, that was about I guess twenty million characters, almost twenty million in the fourth edition, we found ten thousand mistakes, Iím talking about tiny typos just the most miniscule one little space off just one tiny little error I would say ninety five percent of them nobody ever noticed, frankly nobody ever did seem to notice any of the mistakes really. This time we spent nine months editing this thing, just proofreading we proofread it four times, we did kill a few trees unfortunately doing it but it was worth it, it would take nine months weíve only found, this is forty million characters, we have found three mistakes this time so itís not perfect but itís a whole lot better so Iíll tell you if you can get an editor whoís good for two fifty a page that is, especially if they can make structural change recommendations beyond just proofreading, that is a bargain that is a great rate and you just obviously you need to find the right person thatís the key thing but that is- how many of you are songwriters? You know those of you who are you know a co-writer can make all the difference in the world in moving the project along and itís just as editors worth their weight in gold. I happen to do it for a living and my wife is a professional editor as well so we had a little bit of an edge there.
Bruce: How did you learn the nitty gritty of book publishing, the barcodes, the reseller numbers, and all that type of stuff? Did you just do it like trial and error type things?
Jeff: No, no, no, no. There are standard books there is a really great book by a guy name Dan Poynter, P-O-Y-N-T-E-R, Dan Poynter itís a purple book, itís a bestseller, itís all about self publishing. If any of you are thinking about publishing your own book or just in terms of what a publisherís life is like so that if you do write for someone else the way Lisaís doing it will give you a real good sense of what theyíre going through so that youíll ask the right questions, itís kind of like learning how the record business works. So itís a very useful tool and it walks you through all of the mechanical stuff as far as barcodes, library of Congress, and all the stuff the mechanical things that youíve got to do right and how far in advance you need to prepare because you do have to plan I mean we have to send out press reviews and advanced copies months before you have an actual publication date. This book has a publication date of July 2003 but we were actually sending out these books in March and we were late so you have to think way ahead, if you are thinking about putting out a book say next September of í04 you want that book pretty much ready and done bound with reviews and everything by February.
Bruce: Frankie how did you learn the minutia of book publishing?
Frankie: I used Dan Poynter, I also self-published through BookLocker.com they were very helpful. Most of the online publishers like Iuniverse, ExLibrus, FirstBooks, there are a number of them, will help you. Sometimes you have to buy your own ISBN sometimes you donít, it all depends on what your purpose is and how you plan to work your business plan.
Bruce: Now Lisa Ė Iím sorry Jeff go ahead.
Jeff: Itís cheap. ISBN numbers are cheap.
Bruce: Now Lisa you chose not to self-publish but to go through a publisher, tell me a little bit about your thought behind that process.
Lisa: Well first of all I didnít know anything about publishing. They made some really good points about Dan Poynterís book, itís like a bible in the book industry, and Iíve got it I read it itís excellent. I also have read books by Tom and Marilyn Ross, they also have some really good books out on self-publishing and also on book marketing. In addition to writing this book I also do book editing for a couple of publishing companies, one in LA and one in Houston, and I wanted to learn more about the business. Frankie made a really good point about you know if youíre going to be an author you need to understand the business and if you are going to be a musician you need to understand the music business if you are going to be an author you need to understand the book business and attending events like this and reading Dan Poynterís book, reading books by Tom and Marilyn Ross, will really, really help you get there. So I wanted to be more on the creative side I really didnít want the financial risk on the self-publishing and I really wasnít into throwing my project out there when I really didnít know what I was doing. After Iíve gone through this one it would maybe be something that I would consider if I didnít have a publisher in the future, I think that just as within the music industry the small labels are the coming wave of the future, I think itís the same in the book industry. The big presses have consolidated, youíve only got four or five or six huge houses and youíre running into the same problems as an author on a big house as you are a musician on a big label. So I think the self-publishing and the independent presses are really the way to go.
Bruce: Now, you have been doing a lot of the work though considering that you have a publisher right? You have been very proactive in promoting your book, I understand bulk sales were part of the strategy tell us a little bit about that?
Lisa: Absolutely. We knew going in that in retail we were going to have a really hard time and I think everybody who is a self-publisher understands that you canít compete against Random House or Balentine or any of the big houses because you donít have their advertising budgets and you donít have the budgets for placements on end caps and eye level positioning within the retail stores. So we decided to go at it a little differently in that we marketed, the book is in stores everywhere and it can be purchased if they donít have it they can order it, but we decided to go right to the country music market and right to horse market weíve got fans of the country music stars that are in the book and weíve got horse lovers everywhere. So we went directly online and we got a bunch of interns from some universities around here in Nashville and we just put them online in message boards and on chat rooms and sending out e-mails to those people, not Spam e-mails but e-mails to people that we knew were horse lovers or people that we knew were fans of country music, and the book really, really has grown. We also have done some bulk sales to therapeutic writing programs, we sell directly to them for the same price we would sell to the distributor, which is about anywhere between forty and fifty percent of the retail price, and then they in turn use it as a fundraiser for their non-profit organizations, we do that with pony clubs, with horse and animal rescue organizations and therapeutic writing programs, and weíve sold more that way than we have on a retail basis. On the online marketing, Iím really, really proud to say that we gave it a really, really big push in August, and on Labor Day and for the week after Labor Day, which would be just last week, on BarnesandNoble.com they have different divisions of best sellers and they have a division devoted to country music and they have a division devoted to horses, and on the country music side we were number one and on the horse side we were nu.com they have different divisions of best sellers and they have a division devoted to country music and they have a division devoted to horses, and on the country music side we were number one and on the horse side we were number four and overall we were down to, I think the lowest it went was 651 and thatís out of about four million titles and we did this with no advertising budget just a lot of interns on the computer.
Bruce: Sounds for the horse site time to go to the whip right?
Lisa: It was absolutely.
Bruce: Now Frankie selling fiction is obviously a horse of a different strip because you are selling a story rather than some collection of facts that people might know. How have you gone about like getting it out there in the marketplace?
Frankie: Well itís been very interesting. First of all I wrote about what I know and unfortunately from a marketing standpoint I write literary work because thatís the kind of work I like to read and only five percent of fiction sold is literary mainstream work. So Iíve done I had my markets in mind to begin with, which was mainstream readers and each of these books fills a vacancy in college curricula, so thatís my secondary market. What Iíve done is Iíve gone after winning awards and Iíve done very well with that, even before Chance Place was published it was a finalist for the International Ernest Hemingway First Novel Award and it was a finalist for the James Fellowship Novel in Progress Award in North Carolina Banks Channel Books Award, so that has helped me market it and people see that and they pick up the book. At the Crossroads was last years DIY Fiction Winner and I appreciate that so that gives me more work to that give me more publicity with which to market. I have worked very hard on the Internet to place books in classroom professorsí hands, which should materialize a year from now.
Bruce: How do you go about that? Talk about that briefly because thatís probably important. So you just e-mail them and say I have a book?
Frankie: Well the first thing you have to do is write a good book, the second thing you have to get is awards and or good reviews, if you donít have that you donít have anything objective to work with and I managed to do that, thirdly I went through the colleges of the United States and found appropriate instructors and was able to quote a psychiatrist from the Emery University in Atlanta, Georgia about Chance Place, he wrote and said this is a wonderful book it not only could be used in the classroom but it helps the cause of mental health across the board and anybody who reads this book is going to feel better about mental health and mental illness than someone who hasnít and thatís a great contribution to the field. So then I find these e-mail addresses and I compose a letter and itís not Spam because I am saying this book may be suitable for some sociological and psychological courses and I listed the specific courses it might apply to, I put Doctor McDanielís quote, I told a little bit about the book without sizzle just a straight story so they could understand the flow of the story and asked would you like a complimentary copy? My goal was to place geographical representative copies and I did that.
Bruce: Jeff talk a little about the sales strategy for your book, what have you been doing?
Jeff: Weíve done a lot but only a fraction of what I wish we could because I have a regular day job as well, Iím working eighteen hours a day and but Iíll tell you one quick story that could really you know talk about a shot in the dark, because this book was born the day Elvis died we thought well last year was Elvisís what was it? The anniversary of his death it was twenty five years, the book happened to be twenty five years old and we were coming out with it at the same time so we went through one of the Baconís guides which have lists of radio stations and newspapers and magazines and they are big thick books with every contact name you could possibly want and libraryís have these and youíre welcome to go and check them, you canít take them out but you can go through them, and so we found some contacts at the Associated Press and so we thought okay we send an e-mail, just like Frankie did, and it said fifty two songs about Elvis because everybody was writing about Elvis because it was the anniversary and they were putting out a big collection of new music from RCA records, so he said fifty two songs about Elvis no problem itís all in the New Green Book of Songs by subject. Sure enough I get a phone call from Associated Press, they had called a Nashville writer who I happened to know, who said Iíve been asked to do a feature story on the Green Book and he brought over a photographer and he sat with me for an hour and a half and he wanted to see all my closets stuffed with records and biographies and all the stuff the we us, took a picture of my drum set and everything else that was in the room and it ended up in the LA Times, the Washington Post, the Minneapolis Tribune, the Oregonian, the Tampa, Dallas, it went all over the place and that really I mean it was complete could have been it was fluke in a way because how many press releases and e-mails do these guys get a day? But because there was something in that subject line that connected with them, just as you did targeted e-mails to the professors that are likely to use it, and our book is very popular with school teachers too especially elementary and grade school who are trying to use music to reach out to kids to explain the Civil War, Vietnam, or the economy or anything else. So the message that you use in your marketing have got to make sense otherwise it is Spam, exactly as you are saying, but if you make if itís relevant you have at least a good chance that theyíre going to take a look at it and they may ask for a review copy and this is a sixty five dollar book so itís not like we want to send out a ton of review copies but if we can find quality leads then of course itís well worth it. So we do a lot of direct mail to libraries and schools which are much more responsive to us than radio stations and TV stations, although weíve had great success with Oprah and CBS News and Paramount and Disney and ad agencies that do buy it, but for us the library market has been great and I do highly recommend that if youíre book has any kind of academic bend at all , like Frankieís does, and frankly as yours do too actually Lisa because you know horses is a huge topic so I mean it has an enormous market. The academic market is really where the money is because there is a lot of consumers that just never go into book stores and they wonít they are just not interested but libraries have budgets and they spend them.
Bruce: So how do you reach them?
Jeff: We do a lot of mailings to libraries. We buy lists of libraries, we buy lists of music libraries, we buy lists of music departments and band instructors and music teachers and-
Bruce: How much do these lists cost, and where do you find out about them?
Jeff: Lists range from anywhere from forty to ninety dollars, a thousand, some are better than others. If anybody wants to e-mail me I use a company called Point to Point in Dallas that will buy mailing lists for you and you could do all the fulfillment for your direct mail pieces out of a company in Omaha and these guys work side by side and they do a great job and so you could get your fliers printed up and mailed from across the street. There is a whole machinery thatís all in place to do direct mail if you want to do you donít have to get your hands dirty but you buy these mailing lists and you have to be careful you could end up buying a bad list. We just spend about four thousand dollars on a terrible list, we wanted to go for ad agencies, this is a lot of money to us you know but we wanted to for ad agencies and so we said send us a list of all the ad agencies, five thousand ad agencies, and AV companies in New York, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, and Chicago and they ended up sending us, we didnít look at the list in advance we didnít do a test mailing big mistake, and we ended up mailing out five thousand pieces I think we have sold nine from that, itís a total train wreck. Weíll eat it and weíll chalk it up to the next list that we buy we will do a test run and we will see if this list is correct because it ended up going to all these companies that do little fliers that you get in the mail and it was just a really bad move and the guy that sold us the list felt terrible and heís been working with us to sort of make amends and sending us some free things in return, so thatís nice but you have to be careful with the lists you buy not all lists are clean or good theyíve gotten a lot cheaper and you can reuse them but-
Bruce: What were some list brokers that you like?
Jeff: Well I use Point to Point now because they do a good job and they really will help us identify the target group whether itís horse owners or ranchers or people who love racing or whatever. In your market you have an enormous academic community and feminist community thatís interested in-
Bruce: When you do a test mainly how many do you send out and what sort of rate of return do you expect?
Jeff: A couple of hundred and youíre hoping for one to two percent. Thatís standard anything better than that youíre gravy youíre doing just fine. So you have to think about in terms of how much youíre pricing your book for because as Lisa was saying, you know you are looking at, for example Ingram, we have about twenty eight wholesalers and two or three major distributors for this particular title, so we got a sixty five dollar book, the hard cover is eighty, okay but Ingram is going to take fifty five, Baker and Taylor, which is the other granddaddy of the distribution business will take fifty percent, in Ingram you got to pay for the shipping Baker and Taylor they pay for the shipping so figure take half the price of the book off the top right to start with. Is this okay to go through this?
Bruce: Yeah please.
Jeff: Okay. So letís say youíve got on average, letís say the book is seventy dollars, so now you are down to thirty-five okay? Then youíve got to take a look at your cost of art direction, we used the guy who did youíve seen the Chicken Soup for the Soul? You guys seen those books? He did our artwork, heís in Des Moines, Iowa, wonderful guy very affordable fifteen hundred bucks for him. Now you have some beautiful work and you do too, this is what it costs, if you want something that looks good itís worth it I mean the look of the book, a cheap book, you all know a cheap looking book nobodyís going to buy it so you have to spend the dollars itís well worth it. So you have that to work into, youíve got your editing costs as Frankie was talking about, youíre going to have your printing, your physical printing cost, which dropped dramatically if you are willing to go for more than a short run of a thousand titles. We could only afford to do two or three thousand titles at a time of a book this size but I think Lisa you did several thousand right?
Lisa: No we actually printed twenty thousand which was a very ambitious print run for this particular title but the reason we did that is in the back of the book the publisher actually sold four pages of advertising which offset the print cost totally. I think, you know I donít remember the exact figures but running three or four thousand copies, this book was something like three dollars and fifty cents. Thereís a really good printer here in town called Vaughn Printing, itís V-A-U-G-H-N, and they do a lot of independent presses printing all over the country but by the time we bumped the print run up to about twenty thousand the cost per book was down to about seventy cents so it made a lot of sense to go with a larger print run knowing that we couldnít make revisions, thereís always that risk if you want to make revisions and youíve got you know twelve thousand books left in the warehouse youíre kind of stuck. I want to kind of too, you made a really good point on the library market, there is a distributor called Quality Books and I think they are online, itís Quality_combooks, and they specialize not only in the library market for books but also for CDís and for DVDís, so those of you that are really ambitious in the music and in the film industries might want to contact them because they do a really, really good job or they have for us anyway and the neat thing about library markets is there is a very, very low rate of return. I know both in the music industry and in the book industry you know you can sell a book and you can sell through and your distributor can actually pay for it but then all of a sudden youíve got books coming back and youíve got CDís coming back and that takes a huge hit for a publisher or for a label particularly if you are an independent and youíve got just a small budget and all of a sudden youíve got this product coming back because somebodyís decided to return it and with the library market you really get very, very little of that. Thereís a trend where itís increasing in acceptance for libraries to return product thatís not being checked out but itís still a very very small market so if you can get in with a library distributor you can get some good solid sales pretty quickly.
Jeff: Can I make just one more comment about that? I totally agree, our return rate on the Green Book is one and a half percent which is nothing, sixty I think it was weíve sold about forty two hundred copies of this book in the first year weíve gotten sixty one back, thatís good. You will get damaged ones from the printer though and you have to go through your shipment when you get them from the printer to go through that and negotiate your final, the last half of your payment you know you pay half up front say for example, you want to negotiate and go through your boxes or at least do it depending on how many you get, we had eight palettes you know with forklifts so we couldnít possibly go through them all, so you do a cross representative sample but go through them so you that you can finally negotiate the actual end price that you have but Ė
Bruce: Whatís the damage rate on that usually, typically?
Jeff: In our case we just fired our last printer because it was about ten percent or even higher and not on the hard covers, the hard covers were flawless, but the paperback they had the same stupid mistake, the same binding, the same problem around the gutter, which is the inner seam inside-
Bruce: Falling apart essentially?
Jeff: No, creases, and at the book trade libraries are sticklers, they will look at this stuff and they say oh thereís that little flaw. You want to have a good, our company is called Professional Desk References, so it had better look good you know? So if we were a dingbat press, I mean you know, so for us it was really important that it look good, especially when you are charging you know a higher amount per unit.
Lisa: Yeah I have one comment. His return rate of one percent is just absolutely phenomenal I think at the American Book Association Convention in LA this spring they said that there was an average over the last year of thirty percent returns in the book industry, which is huge. So you are doing really well Jeff congratulations.
Bruce: Letís talk a little bit about the live event portion of being an author. Frankie have you done much live readings around?
Frankie: Iíve done a number of live readings.
Bruce: How did you set them up?
Frankie: Mostly with hard work, I set them up with friends, with book fares, Iím going I just sent out a mailing to Unitarian churches because they are a denomination known for social action concerns and social justice concerns so I expect to be teaching to, talking through them either on the pulpit or on a special authors night. The Unity church does special authors on non-fiction work so thatís another way of doing, I do a lot of book fares.
Bruce: How do you set up these contacts? Is it just you, the computer and a lot of diligence?
Frankie: Well and other colleagues, other writers, I hear about you can go to search book fares and youíre going to find out where the book fares are. There is a point beyond which itís not cost effective so Iím always reaching and pushing but not going further than I feel that I can afford both in terms of time and energy and money. I figure this is a five year curve and that at about year five I ought to be able to upgrade and thatís the goal, if I donít make the goal I still will have published work that is near and dear to my heart and that I feel good about and that has been well reviewed.
Bruce: Now Lisa you have done Barnes and Nobles tours that you setup tell us a little about that?
Lisa: Yeah you know this book came out a year ago and I tried to setup a Barnes and Noble tour and they just kind of laughed at me and you know it was a no name press and I had no name recognition so I started going out on tour with some of the country music stars who are in the book, I went out with Tommy Shane Stiner and some of the other artists, and started building a ground swell and I also started doing book signing in tax shops and at horse events and so I think you know with an independent press youíve got to look outside the box and find your subject matter and go to those places and do book signings. I did a book signing this spring at the volunteer horse fair in Murphyís borough and the person in the booth next to me was a mule named Elmer and so itís got to be one of the most unusual book signings Iíve ever done, but this spring I really wanted to get back into the retail book stores and try and get some credibility there and I did start calling some of the Barnes and Nobles and I think they looked on Amazon.com and they looked on BM.com and they saw the rankings and saw that it had gotten some really decent reviews and had some credible numbers and so I set up an eighteen city tour and I started in Aberdeen, South Dakota and Iím from Minneapolis so I did a lot in the Minneapolis area and worked my way down to Huntsville, Alabama and I can tell you itís probably the most grueling thing I have ever done in my entire life, Frankie is nodding her head over here, and I treated it because I come from the music industry and because Iím a publicist I treated as a tour day and so my office did the traditional tour press that we would do for an artist who is out on tour and so I would get into a market usually the day before Iíd do the morning show, Iíd do noon radio, and then the afternoon weíd do the book signing or in the evening and then we would have done newspaper interviews weeks prior to that. It was very, very time consuming, very grueling, very exhausting and you know I mean I think the biggest book signing I did was in my hometown and we sold like fifty five books which I thought was phenomenal but then you work your way down to the end of the tour and your energy level drops and I think we sold like sixteen or something in Huntsville, Alabama at the end so it may have been a little bit ambitious but I think the retail stores are interested in your book if you can give them a reason and show then why they need to spend their time and their space to have you in the store, thatís really helpful and I know that there are a lot of authors who are going out and actually doing book events. Janna Divanovich, who is a mystery author, just brings kind of a circus sideshow with her, so if you could come up with a hook the retail stores will probably go for it.
Bruce: Well speaking of retail stores what about online? Do you have to be on Amazon this day and age as a book? What do you say Jeff?
Lisa: Oh I think so.
Bruce: You think so?
Jeff: You get Amazon if you just send them the information they are sometimes a little slow but they will, if you send them a Jpeg of your cover art, and then finally we begged and begged please do a look inside so you can see sample pages. Took them awhile, took about three months, but we finally got it up then you start sending reviews you get everybody you know to write the most fantastic reviews so that you have five stars from everybody so your average rating is very high you send them all the reviews that you get and it takes a little time but they will respond to you itís very important. One of the things thatís sort of a Catch 22 and itís worth bringing up if you were to, our biggest fear was when we got this big story in the Associated Press that went all over the country and as a matter of fact went all over the world, we went oh boy we got a problem we had only printed up two thousand copies what if what was going to happen, you think oh itís a great problem to have, but what if we suddenly get an order for like five thousand copies and then they go to all the Waldenbooks and B.Daltonsí and all those stores and Barnes and Noble and then, what Lisaís talking about with the returns, they come back weíd be bankrupt it would kill us. So sometimes having a huge success it could be a disaster so you want to know exactly what market youíre going for because you could be a victim of your own success. In our case that didnít happen we saw a nice solid improvement but we survived what would have been a tsunami that would have killed us but getting on Barnes and Noble and Amazon is really, really good and there is a big difference between the two, weíve been a number one best seller on Barnes and Noble in our category, music reference books in the fifty dollar plus range, for eleven months in a row number one but we donít sell anywhere near as many as we do through Amazon so it just depends and Amazon seems to get more visibility for us but for Lisa I think itís been the opposite right?
Lisa: Itís been the opposite and itís funny because we also do marketing for other books, weíve got a book that we are doing marketing on now for a company called Cool Titles out of LA, and itís the John Wooden pyramid of success and itís a motivational book and itís a basketball kind of a book and itís been interesting to watch because they have done phenomenally well on Amazon but just have totally tanked on Barnes and Noble and but yet they are selling a lot of books and are actually going back in for a third printing. Some of the other books that we have done, itís either one or the other-
Bruce: Whatís your theory on why?
Lisa: Thatís a really good question. I was just going to say there seems to be no rhyme or reason sometimes it just hits an audience I think and you just kind of have to go with the flow. Another really cool thing about Amazon in particular is, and I donít know if theyíve had these for a long time weíve just discovered them maybe six months ago, is theyíve got some discussion boards on Amazon and theyíve probably got four hundred and some topics, so you can go in and post messages about your book and I mean it has really stimulated sales for us and so you can find your topic and kind of anonymously post different things and itís really worked out well and I think thatís something thatís unique to Amazon.
Bruce: What are some of the topics that have worked for you for a horse and country music obviously but are those the topics or what?
Lisa: Yeah you know there was one What Book Have You Read Lately? So you know we get everybody going in there and saying oh The Power of Horses itís great you know and we also try and direct people to the website even through Amazon and they have not thrown those posts out. Weíve got a website called PowerofHorses.com and we actually have some free stories on there, weíve got which we use to attract people to try and buy the book but not that we are trying to take sales away from Amazon but we are trying to give them a bigger picture of what the book is about then what Amazon allows and the look inside thing is great they havenít honored us with that privilege yet but anything that you can do to let people see and feel and touch the product in an online environment is really, really going to help you.
Bruce: Frankie youíre nodding your head. Have online sales been kind to you?
Frankie: Iím sorry-
Bruce: Have online sales worked for you as a fiction writer?
Frankie: Yes they have in fact I would like to drive people to BookLocker.com because I make another seven percent but consumers are familiar with Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com so chances are thatís where theyíre going to go. The reality also is that bookstores and most book markets are set up to go through the distributors of Ingram or Baker and Taylor and so rather than try to find another distributor like BookLocker.com they are going to go with whatís already set up so thatís fine. The important thing is that they can find me.
Jeff: Exactly and universities and some libraries just have a standard open account with a Baker and Taylor or an Ingram so they order everything through them no matter what so even if you call them and say I have this fabulous book about horses or feminism or something like that theyíll say well okay then rather than ordering it through you directly where youíd make more money they just put it through the pipeline because that is where they have their standard open purchase order.
Bruce: Alright weíll take some questions from the audience now please raise your hand. You sir in the front. (Audience Question) How do you get reviews is the question.
Lisa: Well for me, we have a PR firm so thatís obviously conducive to doing that but I think you have to find your target, you can go the traditional book review route and find you know publications that do book reviews but weíve had really, really good luck you know whatever your subject matter is about, I mean if youíve got a book about hunting go to the hunting magazines go to the hunting websites, if youíve got a book about cooking I mean go to the magazines that are about cooking or newspaper sections that are about cooking rather than the traditional book reviewer and weíve had a lot of success doing it that way.
Frankie: Yeah I would like to follow up on that. If you are looking for a one quick stop place to go itís the Mid West Book Review for the small independent publisher. Theyíve got links to just about everything including who does book reviews. The average length of time it takes for a book review if you are new and unknown is five to nine months. I lucked out with the first book and got a library journal review and a Mid West Book Review and a few others and once you have four or five that are noteworthy you donít really have to go much further, you can if you want to proliferate but youíve got what you need to continue to advertise for yourself.
Bruce: Is that before publication or afterwards the question.
Frankie: If youíre self publishing you may not have, what they call galleys to put out, so youíre stuck with once you have a book you go for reviews. If you are an independent publisher that is going to a printer and having a book, thousands of books printed, then you can send out galleys to reviewers.
Bruce: Did you try to get in Publisherís Weekly frankly or no?
Frankie: They werenít doing electronic books when I came out with the first one, I tried the second one and did not get in.
Bruce: Did either of you get into Publisherís Weekly?
Jeff: I donít think we got into publisherís Weekly because they donít do reference books like this and it was the fifth edition but we did get American Library Association, which is one of the major bibles and Library Journal, which is the granddaddy, I mean thatís where you get the Harvards and Yales that will buy it and we were grateful to get a starred review from Library Journal and ALA American Library Association also gave us a great review, which Iím not bragging itís just what we were able to do, and it just makes an enormous difference thatís the good housekeeping seals of approval if you get Mid West, that mean that these libraries are getting these catalogs every month every quarter and they are looking through at new titles and they are seeing what they might have a budget for and they are looking at it and that can be decisive at getting that. If you are doing a very small run and you are self published because you donít have a galley, which is a blue line or a preview copy, you can do a small run and send those out for a reviews and if you get a bunch of good ones then you do your official run with those reviews on the cover and stuff like that.
Frankie: The other thing you can do is join the Publisherís Marketing Association, if you are an independent publisher, I believe itís ninety five dollars for a membership.
Jeff: Well worth it for the first year.
Frankie: -and what they do is they offer you co-op mailings for which you pay more but for example I put these books in with a co-op mailing on womenís issues and said the book was available for review and then got a number of responses, I sent out eighteen books and got eighteen newspaper reviews, I did the same thing with this book. They also have co-op mailing to libraries by special interest.
Jeff: They pay off. Theyíre good.
Frankie: I donít remember but itís a way of using someone else to do the hard work for you and if you are on a limited budget you can say okay this year I am going to do this thing and see what happens. PMA, Publisherís Marketing Association, if you look PMA Publisherís Marketing Association up their website will come up.
Bruce: Itís PMAOnline.com.
Jeff: Very friendly to small publishers or mom and pops.
Bruce: Questions somebody. You in- (Audience Question) (Tape is turned over) -as receptive to new artists is the question.
Lisa: I think they are but again you have to give them the hook you have to give them a reason to buy and whether youíre you know youíve got maybe youíve got a concept album that is you know revolving around certain subject matters such as a book would do I think you would have better luck that way. If you can send press, I know that when we first discovered Quality Books and realized that they had a CD we initially were going to put a CD in this book and then time just got away from us and we ended up not doing it but that was always an option and they were very interested in things that revolved around certain subject matters or certain themes or healing issues or you know things like that and I think that if you can go that route then youíve got a really good shot. I think itís Quality_Books.com.
Jeff: Theyíre selective they will not take everything they get though. They choose you basically and then they take about forty five fifty percent as well but they will actively work your book or your music.
Lisa: Yeah they will and you know the other thing is that they have to be convinced that youíre going to actively market that and we had to send in a marketing plan you know and tell them and I think itís really important that if you do any kind of a distributor you keep in touch with them and tell them what youíre doing and how you are marketing the book and how youíre helping them do theyíre job so that they know and theyíll get a little bit more excited about your product if they think that you are actually out there promoting it.
Bruce: Questions? You sir here in the jacket. (Audience Question) Question is do you know the equivalent for the music industry?
Jeff: You mean like an independent distributor who will actually pick up your record and work it?
Lisa: There is one in Memphis called Select-a-hits that does a pretty decent job, there used to be one in Houston called Southwest Wholesale and they kind of went under earlier this year but Select-a-hits out of Memphis has picked up a lot of Southwest projects and they seem to be doing a pretty good job. I have one artist that I am working with right now that has a project with Select-a-hits and they are very, very pleased.
Bruce: You run into the same problems thought obviously. You send it out it comes back and you know the accounting is sometimes a little fuzzy, Iím not condemning those particular ones but I am just saying that you know you are going to be making a lot of like transactions in becoming a shipping company. You míam in the back is it? The hand thatís in the air back there in the gray. (Audience Question) So the name of your company is again? That was a paid political announcement thank you. Letís have a question out here. You sir? So whatís your question? Anyone?
Jeff: If your publisher has a no return policy? Well I have never heard of one that works that way.
Bruce: Well basically you are becoming the publisher so youíre the one taking a risk.
Jeff: Yeah if the publisher wonít take them back then youíre going to have to take them back I mean- (Audience Question) I donít think any bookstore worth itís salt will take a book they cannot return itís just like the music industry. Right thatís right, youíre a thirs party at that point thatís exactly what theyíre going to say.
Lisa: I think, correct me if Iím wrong, I think you are trying to move the mountain before youíve climbed the hill and I think that you know if you go back to square one and show them a marketing plan, show them that youíre out doing stuff, go back and get some really hot reviews and put it all together in a package and show them that you are actually you know working to market this book I think youíll have better luck and you have probably already done some that but itís obviously you know not enough to get their attention and we had to do that with this book .The first time we tried to get it in Barnes and Noble even though we have a distributor, we have several Nashville distributors, they said no but we came back about three months later with some additional reviews, weíd gotten reviewed in Country Weekly magazine which is a huge publication we had three pages and the Mid West Book Review and some other things and then they started to buy but they did buy through Ingram and our distributors division of Ingram.
Bruce: We have time for one more question does anybody have it?
Jeff: Iíve got a comment about this very subject. I mean you have to be careful with, you do want a return policy, you want a comfort zone the whole MO here is to get the bookstore to carry it risk free youíre a no name author, weíre all no name authors, the whole point is you want to make it as easy possible for people to say yes. You have the 800 number, you have a hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed, you have a hundred percent return policy twenty four hours a day seven days a week for the life of the book until it falls apart, you want to make it as easy as possible for these people to say yes so if youíre hitched to a publisher that doesnít want to take them back or another mistake we made is we went with this big publishing company book distributor that ordered thousands from us and we thought oh this is great and then thousands came back so thatís why we stay with our Ingrams and Baker And Taylors and we have generous discount policies that we throw in if you order eight or more you start to see really nice price breaks and we make it even more generous if they pay cash up front. Youíve got to make it easy and eliminate those kinds of roadblocks and youíll do fine.
Bruce: All right Iíd like to thank our panelists.