Closeup: Christopher Robbins
Continuing to put the spotlight on individuals who’ve made significant contributions to IBPA and to publishing in general, as well as on member companies and their achievements, we’re focusing this month on Christopher Robbins. An IBPA board member, the CEO of a midsize publishing company for 17 years, and the founder of Familius (“a different kind of publisher with one simple mission: help families be happy”), Robbins is now an executive with Josh Mettee’s Sanger, CA, American West Books. Some IBPA members may know of Robbins as one of the initiators of the Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards. He and Dave Marx of Passporter Travel Press, another board member, recommended a digital strategy for IBPA. “One key part was to complement the existing Benjamin Franklin Awards with a digital counterpart,” Robbins explains. “To promote and celebrate digital innovation in publishing, we expanded beyond traditional publishers to include all tech companies that wanted to explore the media for digital books—currently apps, e-books, and appropriate software.” The result? A rolling awards program that recognizes those digital assets that IBPA feels are worth promoting. Robbins told the broad community of Independent readers a little about his early years in “The Own-Your-Own Business Alternative” (January) by describing his experiences as a kid, when he dragged a wagon around his neighborhood, selling homegrown zucchini. Thirty-some years later, he still believes there’s nothing more important than sales skills. “Regardless of your industry, you’re always selling something—products or services.” Getting Familius launched, a process that started in late 2011, required Robbins to focus on other aspects of publishing so much that even his wife, who has no marketing background, began telling him he needed to do more with promotion and sales. Having the time to do that is one plus of merging his company with AWB, a 19-year-old wholesaler serving warehouse stores, museum gift shops, and other specialty and mass merchandise retailers. The merger should also give Robbins more time for something he’s obviously passionate about: reaching out to consumers, both for direct sales and for their help in promoting Familius titles, its Website, and its blog. Through appearances at conferences for storytellers, publishers, family historians, and writers, and through comments in their online publications, he solicits short family-oriented essays to publish online. “My theory is that people who get their pieces published will promote their writing—and the Familius Website—through their social media contacts,” he says. “They will help us go viral.” So many good writers are interested in sharing their thoughts about family life that Robbins is overwhelmed. When we talked recently, he was trying to review about a dozen submissions each week. Remarkably, at least half of them are well enough crafted to be publishable, he says. His goal then was to post one or two a day, but he was scrambling both to finish up the 17 Familius titles scheduled for spring, the imprint’s initial season (including Global Mom—A Memoir: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family), and to work on 20 titles for fall (among them, A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Bipolar and Asperger’s and Grandparenting the Blended Family: How to Succeed with Your Step or Adopted Grandchildren). These three titles will all be print-only, with distribution through Ingram Distribution Services, but some Familius titles will be issued in both print and digital formats, and Robbins also expects to have some digital-only titles. E-books already available include Thank You Notes for Kids: Fun to Make and to Receive, and Predator Proof Your Child: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Kids. As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Robbins for advice for other publishers. Having seen major changes in the industry—starting in 1991, he spent a couple of years launching a magazine, and he has been in book publishing ever since—he pointed out that today’s market requires that a press be sharply focused. “It’s impossible to be a generalist today,” Robbins said, adding, “You’ve also got to really, really like what you do. Every business is competitive, but book publishing is really competitive and margins are thin.” Finally, he said, only partly in jest: “Either be independently wealthy or have some other way of sustaining yourself, because building a publishing company is going to take longer and cost more than you originally expected.”
Adding Buyers and Online Information
Civil War museum and historical site gift shops are among the customers Savas Beatie has added or increased its sales to since it began distributing titles by Casemate Publishers and Book Distributors LLC to non–book-trade accounts. Savas Beatie publishes scholarly history titles; Casemate focuses on military history; and Casemate continues to handle both its own general book accounts and Savas Beatie’s, which it has distributed since 2004. For a look at Savas Beatie’s use of the Google calendar to provide information for customers and fans, see above and https://www.savasbeatie.com/. Marketing assistant Lindy Gervin reports that besides helping readers find author events in their area, the calendar is valuable for company staff. “It’s a great tool,” she says. “We’ve been using it for about two years to keep track of author events and make internal notes about them. It makes things very organized and easy to follow.” Small Mention = Big Boost for a Book Club Long before it transformed itself from That Patchwork Place, Martingale had a book club that automatically shipped new releases to members. Marketing director Karen Johnson reports that the club continued to grow through the decades without any marketing effort—until this spring, when a single post in the company’s “Stitch This” email newsletter resulted in a 28 percent increase in membership. No surprise, her comment was, “I’m very excited about this!”
Partnering with Churches
Eschar Publications is pursuing churches as marketing partners for the revised edition of its Parenting for Education. Author/publisher Vivian Owens says that this strategy ties in with the growingnumber of congregations offering tutoring programs for children. “Volunteer teams may tutor students two or three times a week,” she reports, “and some tutors ask, Is there any way to help parents learn to help their own children?” The answer: workshops for parents cosponsored by Eschar and the congregation. “Because the church wanted my presentation to work for their members and the community, its staff offered to help with the publicity and to extend the program to other area churches,” she says. Sales at her first workshop were comparable to her sales at a bookstore signing, she notes, adding: “Most people purchased at least the seminar/workshop book. A majority purchased two or more books from my book catalog.”
To launch the Polish edition of his Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project, Jack Mayer had events in Warsaw scheduled for three days this spring. Originally published in 2010 in the United States by Long Trail Press, Life in a Jar is being sold in Poland by Andrzej Findeisen’s AMF Plus Group. Later this year, the Chinese edition will be issued by Oriental Press of Beijing, and the Russian edition by EKSMO Publishing House of Moscow. A trailer made by the book designer describes Sendler’s World War II rescues of Jewish children and how four teenagers created a play about her (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&feature=emb_logo&v=0bQAI0jKC7Q).
Meg Stafford of Virginia Martin Press recently had almost half an hour on Kristin White’s online TV program The Ripple Effect to discuss her Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C. White provides videos of the show that guests can post on YouTube, and includes blog-style posts by guests on her Website. ● Chelsea Green Publishing’s The Art of Fermentation was recommended in April on NPR’s The Splendid Table Q&A when host Lynne Rossetto Kasper assured a caller from Chile thatauthor Sandor Katz had written “the bible” that would solve the caller’s problems with making yogurt. ● Kristin Rausin is generating media buzz for her middle-grade fantasy novel, Mystic, published in January through CreateSpace in print and digital formats. The Fort Myers, FL, station WINK-TV recently featured Rausin, the book, and the daughter who inspired the book; and Money for Lunch, a blogtalkradio.com program that airs at noon Central Time each weekday, also featured Rausin. ● Publishers Weekly recently gave a starred review to Sourcebooks Casablanca’s Lady Vivian Defies a Duke, described as “a winning marriage of romance and wit” and “absorbing and endearing.”