Continuing the series about Alternate Publishing.
Brain Child Press: Photo-Illustrated Books for Kids
Dr. Peggy Sissel-Phelan started Brain Child Press when she realized that there was a need for health and nutrition titles for kids and their parents. She immediately went for niche markets, selling her first title, A Visit to the Farmer’s Market, to the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program which provides food stamps, and health and nutrition information to low-income parents, infants and children. This is an example of a niche publisher who deliberately sidesteps bookstores in order to find her target audience. In this case, Brain Child targets young mothers who are just learning about nutrition for their infants.
I first met Peggy at a Literary Festival, where she calmly told me that her first title had sold over 100,000 copies. A brilliant business woman, she has built a thriving niche publishing business.
You sell to alternate markets. Could you tell us about your best selling book and where it sells best?
My children’s photo-illustrated picture book “A Visit to the Farmers’ Market” is extremely popular. First published in 2007, a Spanish edition came out in 2008. In the past five years I have sold around 100,000 copies of the book (English and Spanish combined.) The original version was 7×8.5, saddle stitched (stapled). Last year, after requests for a bilingual version, I produced it. In doing so, I took the opportunity to revise the book’s layout to be 8.5×8.5, which is one of the standard picture book sizes in the trade, and I began to put it out in perfect bound format. I made this choice because I wanted to have access to Ingram’s Lightning Source POD service, and because you cannot apply for a Library of Congress number for a stapled book. I was also thinking about trying to get it in bricks and mortar book stores (it does sell on Amazon.)
The idea of bookstores is a new thing to me because from the very first my intention was to sell to niche markets. Having worked in health, education, and social service , settings, I not only knew there was a demand for the book, I was also very familiar with and had contacts in some very large market segments: WIC, Head Start, Cooperative Extension, health departments, Ag in the Classroom, etc. In fact, the book took a long time to produce (I did all photography and layout along with the text) so in that time (4 years or so) I pursued the market research and generated bigger and bigger contact lists. The agencies I listed above, along with schools, Farmers’ Markets, universities, and others have purchased quantities ranging from 1 to 8,000 at a time.
Because you sell in large numbers, you use traditional printers to get the best prices, instead of selling POD. Where do you go to find great printers at great prices?
I am a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). They provide various resources that can help you find printers. The membership magazine, annual mailings, and email blasts about events, products, discounts, etc are very helpful. Another great source of information is from Dan Poynter’s website. For a small fee you can order downloads of lists of printers, distributors, publishing attorneys, etc. The lists of resources he offers goes on and on. Go to http://ParaPublishing.com for Dan’s info. I used that list and sent out numerous “Request for Quotes” via email, and the printer I located – Documation, LLC, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin has been the best for me.
Because you sell to special markets, your income varies widely from year to year. Where do you find special markets?
Varied income levels is a polite way of saying it. Yes, I’ve had very good years, and very poor ones. The recession has not been good for anyone – including me. That said, it has made me think more creatively about locating markets. Luckily, there are so many resources available on the internet that if you are dogged enough you can garner some great finds. Because I publish non-fiction for children, I use various ways of approaching niche markets. I can find associations, clubs, organizations, businesses that have some connection with a topic. I also look for academic departments with professors who specialize in an area, along with charities and advocacy groups, conferences settings and even gift shops.
For fiction, think about the story’s geographic and historical setting, the demographics of the characters(gender, profession, age, sexuality), as well as the genre, the book’s message, focus, or moral, and its connection to social issues and politics. Then seek groups and organizations that promote/study/work with /have an interest in/relate to those issues, people, or settings. Think outside the box!
5 tips for selling to special markets
- Develop a “business plan” for your book. Develop a budget for printing, advertising, and any other costs of getting it produced. What goals do you have for it?
- Think of your book in terms of the “4 Ps” of marketing: Product: what is it, who would want it, how it is unique, needed, etc. Price: What will the market bear, and what price will you sell it for so you can cover your cost and make some $? Place: Where can people buy it, it is easy to find, and purchase? Promotion: How will you get the word out about your book? Advertising, publicity, readings, email, etc?
- Know your market and how you want to approach them before you go to press.
- Be prepared to offer bulk pricing if you are selling quantities to organizations.
- Don’t forget all the little details: great editing and design, ISBNs, bar codes, proofs, and more.