Saturday, June 16, 2007

Writing & Marketing "offshoot" books

Riding Pop-Culture Whales
The Adventures of a Book Barnacle

By Robert Trexler

A reporter from the Wall Street Journal called about Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader (Zossima Press). When the article appeared on May 10, 2007 the title was “Last Hurrah for Harry Offshoots?” with the subtitle “As series draws to a close, market for related books may well spike, then fade.” He was fair and accurate, laying the background of the “off-shoot” books with a statistic from R.R. Bowker that over 190 Harry Potter related titles are in print. He captured the phenomenon of “offshoot” books in this picturesque sentence: “Much like George Lucas’s “Star Wars” films and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” the Harry Potter books are whales to which many barnacles have attached themselves.”

John Granger, a classicist asked Robert Trexler, editor of a bi-monthly literary publication CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis to join the effort to produce and market his first book, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, that eventually sold 5,000 copies in about one year. This led to a book deal with Tyndale Publishers with a book titled Looking for God in Harry Potter (2004). That book sold over 50,000 copies and is in its second updated edition. In April 2006 John was offered a book deal with Putnam-Penguin for another Harry Potter related book but John and Robert formed a business partnership and determined that they could do at least as well and wanted to retain creative control of the content and marketing .

It was Robert’s job to find the appropriate business/marketing plan and set the pieces in place to make everything happen. It was John’s job to write another book and edit a series of Harry Potter essays that became their first book, Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? (Nov. 2007). It was also John’s job to be the “personality” who could put his written ideas across to the media and to live audiences. Unlocking Harry Potter, took a while longer to be published (March 2007). But it was a fortunate delay, because just as we were going to press a Rowling quotation appeared from an interview with The Herald, a newspaper in England, where she stated: “To invent this wizarding world I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy . . . to set the parameters and establish the stories internal logic.” It was just the marketing “hook” we needed. Our book is the only book of the 190 spin-offs that explores the literary alchemy connection in the Potter books at length and in depth. Unlocking contains 70 pages covering this “key” to understanding her fantasy series.

As the saying goes, “Advertising is what you pay for, and publicity is what you pray for.” Well, our prayers were answered. A week after the WSJ article they were contacted by a Warner Brothers movie studio producer developing a TV program to be aired the week before the fifth Harry Potter movie is released (July 15, 2007). On May 18th John was flown to Burbank, California as one of three Harry Potter experts for the program. There is a possibility that the program will also be one of the “extra features” when the CD of movie version of Order of the Phoenix appears.

What distinguishes their attempt from the get-rich-quick approach to barnacle book writing is that they started with a conviction of the importance of our message – and knew that it offered a unique viewpoint. It took five years to get the “call from Hollywood,” but appealing to Hollywood was not foremost in our thinking with the first book in 2002. However being a barnacle on a whale is better than being a pebble on the beach.

Friday, June 8, 2007


Jan Mann Speaks at CAPA-SE

by John Benjamin Sciarra

GrotonConnecticut author Jan Mann encouraged fledgling writers to “pursue their passion,” at the Groton Library Monday evening, April 16th. Speaking to the satellite chapter of CAPA, the Southeast group enjoyed Mann’s presentation immensely as she detailed her 22 year journey to published author.

Mann’s book, “Cruising Connecticut in a Picnic Basket” is living proof that you can succeed as a self-published author. She sold over 2000 books last year and is determined to outdo herself this year. The crowd all wondered, how did she do it? What was her secret? The answer was simple: hard work. Jan views her passion as a full-time job. Rarely charging for author visits, Mann often works long days and relies on her ability to sell books to cover expenses. She broke even last year, but expects to see a profit starting this year.

One particularly encouraging comment was, “I don’t know what I would have done without CAPA!” Mann credits the networking afforded by CAPA in helping her to succeed in getting her book published. Even at that, it didn’t come easy. He first printer did a horrible job with the cover and then failed to correct the mistake. The second printer failed in this regard as well and took far too long to get the books printed. The third, however, was the charm. A company out of Michigan called “Edwards Brothers” delivered her books in one week and the results met Mann’s demanding standards of perfection and price.

Mann is unusual in her distribution process. She is the author, designer, publisher, marketing agent and distributor for her book. Traveling from bookstore to bookstore, Mann markets all of her books alone. There is no middle Mann—she’s it (misspelling intentional). One drawback is the waiting for reparations. Many of the stores are slow to reimburse her for books on their shelves. Others pay her up front.

Not content with status quo, Mann has a few tricks up her sleeve (or in her picnic basket) for marketing. “Large Connecticut based companies could offer the book as incentives,” she speculates A suggestion from the audience to look into some specific companies demonstrated the power of networking as the tables were turned and Jan started taking notes. It was proof of one of her strategies. “Seeds panted in the garden don’t sprout until much later. You just never know when a contact might pan out.” Monday evening, it might have sprouted at the Groton Library.

Jan had some final words of wisdom to would-be writers: 1) Find your passion. You will never write your book unless you have a passion for your subject; 2) Face your fears. It took Jan years to get over the fear of speaking, fear of being read, and the fear of publishing; 3) Ask for help! Jan advises not to hesitate because you think someone might be too busy. In fact, she admonishes, those are the ones that can help the most—they are obviously already successful and have the most to offer; 4) Get the right attitude. She describes it this way, “Whatever it takes.”

Whatever it takes, Jan Mann has it. Through dogged determination and unyielding hard work, Jan is going to put Connecticut on the map of places to visit and cut a path for herself in the world of publishing. We, too, can have that kind of success if we apply ourselves in the same Mann—er.