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A story about a vanished civilization. . .

indiana history bookThe time is 1987. The place: Indianapolis. At several places in the city, there are vibrant, well attended stores which have attractive books on display. A sign outside says Waldenbooks. They are the cornerstones for a business selling best-sellers, classics and children’s books. No coffee bars, no puzzles and quirky games, just books. And customers come in in a steady stream, especially on weekends.

Waldenbooks was a destination for both families and individuals, in this age before Kindles, electronic games, and non-stop kids’ athletic competitions.

And for us at (then) Guild Press, our earlier company name, it was the foundation of a business in regional publishing.  Here’s the story. Waldenbooks went back, surprisingly, to 1933 when a man named Lawrence Hoyt began setting up lending libraries in department stores. In a few years Hoyt converted the libraries to bookstores. Stand-alones began for this company in 1961 and spread across the country. The company was named after Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece of his life by Walden Pond.

Living in the east, I was working on my second book in, I was told, a genre that didn’t exist: the regional historical novel. I was telling the story of my own McClure ancestors, who were among the first to come into Indiana via the Buffalo Trace before the area became a state, 1803. They were Scotch Irish; the story of their migration from northern Ireland into Pennsylvania, Kentucky and into the Hoosier state seemed very interesting to me. I thought others would enjoy reading about it if it could be written into a successful historical novel.

By the time The Movers was finished, we were living in Indiana again and I took the manuscript, almost on impulse to the local Waldenbooks, where the regional manager Roy Thompson, had his office. I had become acquainted with him. Surprisingly, he agreed to read it and here is what he said, “If I had a thousand of these books I could sell them in all the Indiana stores and beyond possibly.”

But how? We simply got the book professionally edited and put it into print. Then we chose a name for the operation: Guild Press. We wished to suggest the old-time quality and care put into publishing by bookmakers of the past.

With impulsive optimism (as I look at it today) we ordered 10,000 books and a bunch of display cases, popular at that time for bookstores. And, indeed Roy and other regional buyers for Waldens did buy the book and promote it. It went on to win a Waldenbooks award: Best historical novel for the mid-Atlantic states in 1989. And so we were off to the races.

For years both Roy and his district manager, Sue Hicks, bought directly our books, taking on almost every Indiana title we put out and displaying them prominently. In those days when people went to bookstores exclusively to buy what they wished to read, the books were popular and well reviewed (we took time to see to that.) I often appeared at Waldenbooks on author visits as well as running an expanding company. Eventually we hired others and my husband Arthur joined the force. Guild Press of Indiana put out over 200 books, some of them prize-winning, and was sold to Emmis Publishing in 2002. Our small residual company, headed by Art Baxter, was left with us and Hawthorne Publishing came into being to take up the torch of legacy publishing for our state.

Roy Thomson worked much too hard, day and night, to make Waldenbooks a continuing success in a market that began to decline. He died suddenly before the chain was absorbed by Border’s, which as we all know, itself closed as a deluge of internet book-buying took over Americans’ reading habits.  That vanished civilization still has remnants in a few vibrant bookstores that still play a part in a business dominated by a huge giant named Amazon, online. The recent news that Amazon will try some bricks-and-mortar stores shows the old idea is still alive!

by Senior Editor Nancy Baxter

You can order a signed commemorative copy of Nancy Baxter’s novel The Movers by calling Hawthorne Publishing 317-867-5183.

Posted in Book Publishing, Books on Indiana, Cultural History, Indiana History |

What can regional publishers do to sell their books?

Here are the ideas, and they can apply to self-published and to authors whose books are put out by larger publishers:

Know your market. From the first moment we think of writing a book, we need to know who will be reading it. Since it is our associates and friends in the state we care about (usually) we must aim our book and publicity at them. Hoosiers have interest in the arts, but more interest in history, quirky Hoosier things, movie stars from Indiana and state heroes like Ryan White They care about the Civil War and World War I. And that’s true for “niche” books also: define your interest group.  Whatever your book’s focus or interest, you had a reason for sharing it. Aim at the group that will care about it.

Bookstore sales, once our bread and butter, are not going to sell your book. There are only a handful of these outlets in our state, anyway. A few interesting new “boutique” bookstores have opened in the state and you should investigate them. You cannot rely at all on having a “book signing” at Barnes and Noble. These days B&N, which is struggling itself, will seat you at a table by the back rest room and you are on your own. Usually, few if any sales. They won’t turn your down, probably, not wishing to anger the local people. Unless you are a “name,” (in our case Dan Wakefield) very little will happen.

Concentrate on group sales and events where you can count on an interest in your book’s subject. This is intriguing to pursue. Book clubs are marvelous if you can find any way to locate them. You can ask around and let one club lead to another. We ask book clubs to buy our books a month in advance at a discount so the members can read them. The discussion of the book will be lively and well founded if the members have read the book. Ask yourself if your book is suitable for “corporate sales.” That is, are there institutions or groups who will want to present it for gifts to customers, graduation gifts, Christmas remembrances and the like? These people get a 50% discount from us, but sales of 90 to 100 books at a time are worth it!

Utilize the internet. Have an interest group develop before the book comes out, then ask those who surface with interest e-blast their friends and ask them to pass it on. Our authors blog, either on their own sites or on ours. We depend on our website, and update it every week. We push sales to the site, offering our credit card sales only through Paypal on the site. When we are doing niche releases to a certain audience with a book we know will be very popular, we defer placing the book on Amazon until six months have elapsed. Return from an Amazon sale is smaller than our retail. Deferring placement on the wholesale giant insures our bottom line will be favorable. We can also defer the e-book for six months; e-books though convenient for readers, have a very small return to the publisher or author trying to sell books. Eventually your book should be made into an ebook, not only for sales but for digital legacy value.

Be aware of small-town libraries. These places can be good places to speak but you must be quite alert. We put our authors in libraries only if the library has a definite promotional plan in place and seems pleased to have the person come. Then we supplement the visit plan with releases to the small-town paper and radio station. We like to get an interview on the radio. If we don’t take this publicity mini-blitz on for ourselves for a library event, it may be nobody will come. And I mean nobody. It is no fun to sit in a nice gathering room waiting when the hour arrives and—nothing. Historical societies, women’s clubs, Rotary or Kiwanis and the like can be good outlets.

by Senior Editor Nancy Baxter

You can see/order Nancy Baxter’s books by clicking back to the website.

Posted in Book Publishing |

Diagnostic Analytics: The publishing industry

I have been a member of the Indiana Historical Society Publications Committee for many years.  It advises on the books and periodicals (like Traces magazine) that the Society puts out, which are highly professional and interesting. The publications receive good support from donors who underwrite children’s and adult history books and then these books are sold through traditional means, like the I HS History Market store downtown and at book conferences.  I consider the editors and staff at the Historical Society Press as friends as well as co-workers in the fields of preserving Indiana history for the future and acquainting the public with our state’s rich heritage.

At a recent meeting a member of this committee who is in the business world asked this question: Does the Historical Society utilize diagnostic analytics? What is the algorithm you are using?

It stopped all of us in our tracks. I, as a small regional press editor and they as long-time historians were confronted with a methodology that we might have only distant knowledge of. What the gentleman was referring to was the utilization of data amassed through such agencies as Microsoft Cloud to predict trends in business and the results of planning strategies and then the application of such analysis to future planning for success. I know that’s not a scientific definition, but I think in general that is what is referred to.

We in the book industry have been doing this for a while now in a different, maybe old-fashioned Charles Dickens era way and I have even utilized the technique in giving workshops. There are trends we have to look at statistically and they are available on the internet. So—what can it do to help us do books about history that get into the hands of readers? It does give one pause.

We can know (diagnose) that 40% of books today are “Indie” books, that is owned by their authors and put out generally as e-books, a radical departure from the old “Charles Dickens” formula of writing a book, going to a publishing company through an agent or “over the transom” to get your book into many of the tens of thousands of bookstores across America. These books, often in ebook form, are sold without bookstores generally—through the new media.  A website called “Author Earnings” shows how the “Big Five” traditional publishers in America are losing shares of sales in several ways and the decline continues every year. Amazon has no real competition not only for books but in merchandising generally. That means the old formula of companies putting out nice print books for places like Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble to sell them in a bricks and mortar store (as happened with our company in the 1990s) is—on the skids if not dead.

Where have the independent bookstores in America gone? The answer is into the pages of history. Waldenbooks really built our first publishing company, Guild Press. We won awards for our books at Walden’s, we travelled to Stanford, Connecticut to present our books to corporate headquarters. And they bought, thousands of our books. That chain has been gone for a couple of decades. And its successor, Border’s is gone with the wind too.

Not all bookstores are dead, though. Actually, some analysts see a trend for a little vitality in small bookstores with cozy nooks, coffee bars and entertainment, in short, with personality!  A site called “New Pages” lists twenty in Indiana, with interesting names and I am certain a dedicated, modest clientele. In Indianapolis the three stores that are still active are Book Mamas in Irvington, Kids Ink, a longtime children’s bookstore and a part of Indy Reads, a used and some new book operation downtown. The faltering Barnes and Noble chain is looking at opening smaller, boutique type store under their management that goes in and out through a revolving door. Still, people are buying books, that is clear, and we wonder how that affects the historical book market. It’s definitely worth our “analyzing” and finding an algorithm, whatever that is.

by Senior Editor Nancy Baxter

NEXT: How to keep Indiana history books alive!

Click back to the website to see Nancy Baxter’s new release Cabinet of Curiosities from the Civil War in Indiana

Posted in Book Publishing |

Words are tools, used both to dig holes and to cultivate ideas! And to deceive.

How subtle and effective is the use of words in this new age of electronic media? Plenty. Several examples from life in 2017:

TV (and the pharmaceutical industry) are in effect turning serious diseases into only annoying little problems through the use of cutsie names for the ailments and the drugs to treat them. So hepatitis C is “Hep C.”  Hep! A little obsolete, but during the 1940s and 50s to be “hep” was to be in, with it, cool we would say today. So Hep C suggests young people dancing to swing bands, stylish clothing like zoot suits, and altogether a positive and pleasant state of being.

Atrial fibrillation is a dangerous heart problem. Its victims must be rushed, sometimes by helicopter to medical treatment when it is at its most serious. So now in drug ads it is “A-Fib.” The euphemisms are designed to click into your subconscious or conscious mind to produce a picture. A- fib clicks like this: Mom to seven-year-old “Did you tell a fib? Yes, you did but don’t cry like that. Come here and I’ll hug you. You won’t tell a fib again I know.” Comforting.

And the very word “chemo.” It’s an abbreviation, an easy-to-say label for chemotherapy, a process that is anything but easy. Serious cancer patients lie for hours supine and receive potent drugs which quiet the immune system, some say attack it. A recent advertisement shows a woman smelling her flowers and patting her dog with a loved one by her side, experiencing the effects of a certain drug. The nice situation was “After chemo.”

Drugs being advertised to combat the serious conditions also have sanitized, perfumed names.

Examining the words shows how sounds can affect the denotation of words: sweet, flowing words dull the senses, suggesting your problem can’t be all that serious. You are lifted into a poetic trance which last a few seconds with words which trip off the tongue. Soft-sounding consonants and Greek diphthongs:  to treat your psoriasis you will get “Stelaia.” Suggestions of positivity: Optivo gives optimism to patients with a certain kind of cancer. All those consequences they announce at the end of the advertisement, which can cause sickness and “even death” can’t happen with a product with such a pretty sounding name. In parentheses is the unpronounceable official name of the product. How do they come up with these jaw-busters?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be softening the harsh effects of confronting these dread diseases, even with words, or praising the drugs which ameliorate the dire effects of those ailments. Of course we should be happy for relief from pain and suffering. It’s the cuteness I object to, the brushing off of the seriousness of the situation with coined words which are detached from the reality of the problems. And are designed to sell the medications for “Big Pharma.”  It isn’t the same, but in their most dark form pharmaceutical company pain-killing drugs are sweeping the country and causing our most serious opiate addiction ever. It’s hard to trust these people to present the truth.

The ads themselves could be the subject of another column. I can’t decide what I think about the new trend of investment companies showing the life histories of men and women who are planning for retirement. Often these vignettes are excellently done, better than the TV shows they break from, and touching.  They show downsides of lives, splits and deaths too. I expect they are effective, sending those who can afford to build large retirement funds into Charles Schwab or Raymond James.  It is an example of the power of advertising and of the graphics and dramatic talent units which can prepare such fascinating stories of “life well lived.”

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Publishing

Check out Nancy Baxter’s books by clicking back to the Website. Her new book available June 1 is Cabinet of Curiosities of the Civil War in Indiana: Important, Moving and Sometimes Odd Stories from the Human Side of the War.

Posted in Book Publishing |