Small Press Branding

I got an e-mail the other day asking if $30,000 was enough to open a business. When it comes to self publishing, $300 will buy your first block of 10 ISBN numbers, which is all the infrastructure you really need. But if your goal is to open a small literary press and be the envy of the Indy publishing world, you're going to need some start-up cash to to get off the ground. People who dream about starting a literary press need to put together a little kitty of cash since it's essentially a marketing proposition. But first, a brief video on where not to spend the money:-)

Anybody who is frequently asked for advice about new publishing ventures can tell you that a good proportion of start-ups waste a lot of money "playing business." Why some publishers think they need to stock up on new office furniture in order to start a small press is beyond me, who do they expect will see it or care? What's the point of rushing into a business phone listing unless you want local folks to find you in the Yellow Pages and call you about publishing their memoirs? Even business cards are overkill if you aren't attending any trade shows, and if you are, not handing out business cards is a great way cut down on spam.

Outside of the publishing meccas where editors still "do lunch" and attend industry breakfasts, the business is conducted by e-mail. If you have to leave voice-mail reminders asking people if they've checked their e-mail, you know you haven't arrived yet. Since literary presses are unlikely to be traffic magnets on the Internet, the face of the business on starting out will most likely be from paid advertising. Just a few years ago, that advertising would have been limited to glossy print ads, wherever they might appear, but today, targeted Internet advertising is the better value proposition, providing you can find a way to effectively target your potential readers.

Creating a successful brand is one of the most powerful ways to build value in a business, and that was true even in the days before modern advertising. In a sense, branding is the same thing as reputation, and in both cases, it's possible to have a great reputation or brand even if the product or service is lacking. That's where marketing comes in. Spending a lot of money associating your company name with attractive young people in scanty apparel is a quick way to earn a reputation for being cutting-edge, but is it an effective way to sell cutting edge books? Well, it makes more sense than distributing thousands of baseball caps with "Cutting Edge Books" embroidered on them.

But like other commodities, branding is valuable precisely because its scarcity. Branding attempts are what keep many publicity and marketing firms afloat, but the genuine successes are few and far between. In publishing, branding successes rely primarily on the books, or at the least, the covers. So if you are just starting out with a small literary press, put together a tight list, so the branding dollars you spend will impact all of your titles. If you try batting to all fields and publishing titles for different demographic groups in order to prove your breadth, you're diluting your brand before you've even established it. And don't commit to a launch schedule until you've found at least one manuscript that knock your socks off. Remember, you're easy to impress, you're already a fan of the genre.

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