What I Learned at PMA-U

Our fledgling publishing company needs to reach out to our audience (figurative artists) and generate awareness of our first book, Art Models. As a result, I took many of the PMA-U “Marketing Track” courses, while my wife and business partner Maureen soaked up advice on business theory, planning and budgeting at courses presented by, among others, Marion Gropen of Gropen Associates and Tom Woll of Cross River Publishing Consultants, whose book Publishing for Profit recently appeared in a new edition.

Here are some conclusions about what I saw as central lessons.

Trust Is Key

Relationships and relationship building were recurring themes at PMA-U this year. For example, when approaching the media, you are much more likely to get coverage if you already have a relationship with the producer. When approaching a vendor such as Barnes & Noble about carrying your book, you are much more likely to be heard if you already have a relationship and understand the chain’s tastes. When readers feel they have a relationship with an author, they will seek out more of that author’s books.

Brook Noel of Champion Press shared a clever approach to developing reader relationships. She sent a note to her customers in the Washington, DC, area inviting them to meet her for coffee while she was there. For the cost of a couple hours of her time and some beverages, Brook was able to reach out and create a personal relationship with her readers. Will they tell all their friends and acquaintances? Of course they will. Will they buy her next book? You bet!

While “it’s all about relationships” was a frequent refrain at PMA-U and BEA, I think the underlying issue is often trust. The producer trusts you to bring good stories; the vendor trusts you to bring quality titles and deliver on all your commitments, and the reader trusts that an author’s new book will be as good as earlier work.

What if you want to get your book into a particular store but you have no relationship with the bookstore owner? You will need to establish trust in other ways. An author with excellent credentials will help, as will a well-produced book with top-notch cover design, interior layout, and production qualities. These factors build confidence that the publisher knows the business and has researched the market.

If, like me, you are new to publishing, the idea that you need to establish relationships conjures images of a club to which one must win entrance over a period of years. And this is true; publishers must build solid professional relationships over long periods. But if you keep the underlying idea of trust in mind, you can make progress before these relationships have time to develop.

One method is to borrow someone else’s relationships. For example, distributors have sales reps who have worked for years to establish relationships with book buyers. When you have your book presented by a sales rep, you get the benefit of those years of careful trust building.

Media people at PMA-U frequently told us that publicists are trusted to pre-screen potential guests and to recommend only people who would do well on their shows. By hiring a well-connected publicist, you go to the head of the line for access to the media. Of course, you need to know how to perform well on radio or TV. If you do not, a publicist will not jeopardize a relationship by recommending you.

You can also make progress before relationships develop by providing top quality materials. These are not necessarily expensive. For example, a one page sheet in black and white that gives a producer enough information to produce a segment on a timely topic will get far more attention than a fancy media kit. Supplying the right information in the right format at the right time requires research and diligence, so thoroughly investigate a show or a magazine before submitting articles or segment ideas.

Timing Is Critical but Manageable

Publicity that drives consumers into stores before books are available is wasted effort. People have short memories and readers who do not find your book easily will move on. Equally bad is publicity that happens too late, when your book may no longer be on the shelves. Marcella Smith (director of small press and vendor relations for Barnes & Noble) says that, depending on the subject matter, new titles typically get between 90 and 180 days to prove themselves on B&N shelves. This implies that you need to get customers into the stores looking for your book when it enters the marketplace if you want it to have a chance of remaining in stock.

So how do you time your publicity? Kate Bandos of KSB Promotions recommends first deciding what media attention you will pursue and then sitting down with a calendar and marking dates when the coverage needs to happen. For example, you want media coverage to occur when a book becomes available in bookstores. From that date, work backward to develop a schedule for when to submit proposals or materials. Keep in mind that every outlet has different lead times, which means you need to check with editors and producers to find out how much time they need.

Another aspect of timing involves tying in to developing stories, which makes it easier for media people to use your material. Not only will you be quoted, but they will also list your books to establish your credentials. Over time, you will become an expert whom media people can rely on as a source.

In the Future

These observations and the many lessons learned at PMA-U have clarified the way Live Model Books will approach publicity, reach the book trade and conduct business.

We are even more pleased with our decision to sign with IPG as our distributor.

Instead of pitching general media, we will start by contacting associations that reach our target audience.

We will look for a well-connected publicist if we decide to reach a broader audience.

We will be consistent, fair and professional in all of our business relationships.

I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to PMA U 2006 from PMA and IPNE (Independent Publishers of New England), a PMA affiliate. Scholarships are available every year and the chance to get one is a great reason to join an affiliate in your area. See the PMA Web site (now IBPA) for additional information.

Douglas Johnson runs Live Model Books located in Salem, NH. He is also the staff photographer for its series of Art Models books designed to help figurative artists refine their artistic skills. To learn more, visit www.livemodelbooks.com.