There is probably not a drier subject than business process engineering. No, I will not bore you with swim-lane diagrams or all of the little tweaks we are making. Rather, I want you to be aware of our work at a higher level.
At one time, not long ago, Sunbury Press was growing at a rapid pace. In recent years, we’ve topped off — plateaued a bit, if you will. While the business is still strong and healthy, the upside has stalled while we work through what we will become and how we will go about achieving it.
First, a little history. In the past, we did things the “Sunbury Way” — which meant getting all of our books to market as quickly as possible and then leveraging technology to market them as efficiently as possible. This approach was very friendly to nonfiction titles, but not so effective for fiction. However, during this time period, the company grew many fold.
Given that nearly 70% of our titles are fiction, we thought adjusting our process to favor fiction would lead to faster growth. After all, only about 30% of our sales have been from fiction, and none of our top ten books of all time are fiction. So, it made sense to leverage our deep catalog of fiction and our deeper queue of proposals to drive growth through a new fiction-friendly process.
So, we did what the trade wanted us to do in order to sell more fiction — slow things down — build reviews in advance — set advance sale opportunities, etc. We invested nearly all of our marketing budget in improving our fiction performance. What happened?
We got slower. We released fewer books of all kinds. And, our sales leveled off — even dropped some months. Obviously, this was not a good idea — especially given the currents we were sailing in. Clearly, fiction sales are soft industry-wide and we were fighting against it rather than sailing with what worked.
In more recent months, we have sloughed off some of the “fiction burdens” and regressed to our prior process. In return, more books have been released more quickly, and sales have risen — albeit nonfiction sales. Think of this as a patch to tide us over.
I recently told the staff in our operations meeting that our company-wide goal is to double sales by the end of 2019. Obviously, one way to do that might be to double the number of books we publish. However, as one of our leaders reminded us, we might not have enough quality in the pipeline to warrant the investment. We realize we also need to increase sales. What that balance will be — more releases versus more marketing — remains to be seen. More releases require more labor for editing and design — and marketing. Selling more books requires more creative ideas for marketing. I am certain we will coalesce on a plan soon that will achieve both goals.
One realization is that we might need to split our process into three distinct paths:
1) Nonfiction — our traditional “Sunbury Way” of high quality / rapid to market / heavy on the SEO and discovery.
2) Fast Path — when we create new editions of prior works or sign authors with works that are being “retreaded,” we can speed through many of our quality checks, assuming the base we are working with is already good.
3) Fiction — The focus is on building the platforms for the authors we have under management by building their catalog and marketing it collectively. We also need to help build the reading public’s confidence in our authors. This is not a fast path or rapid-to-market approach. It requires an investment in patience. It also means focusing on opportunities with movies and television, as well as foreign rights.
While our pipeline continues to burst with proposals, it might be time to slow down the fiction valve for awhile, only allowing in authors who have a series well underway or come to us with an established platform. We then should allow our current fiction authors to build up — build their catalogs and their offerings.
Your thoughts on this would be appreciated!