Dreyer’s English

Every so often there comes a book that you just can’t put down. You find yourself laughing and learning and very soon sharing with your spouse or friends. Often such a book is on a subject that you love. Rarely is it on a subject you abhor – like punctuation and grammar.
Yes, I admit, I am a book publisher who did better in math than English on the SATs. While my high school writing teacher (and baseball coach) enjoyed my work and had me read it to the class, I was never a lover of the subject. Mr. Haag, whom we nicknamed “The Tin Man” for his lack of a pumping muscle inside his ribcage, made 9th grade English a chore. Admittedly, I did receive A’s in his class, but they were brutal to achieve. Suffice to say, despite my advanced degree in business, mastery of the written word was not envisioned in my future. When I was running a software consulting firm in the ’90s I never imagined I’d be running a book publishing company two decades later, let alone enjoying editing other people’s work, let alone writing my own.
Alas, a good friend told me about this little book by the head of copy editing at Random House — Benjamin Dreyer — entitled Dreyer’s English. In my opinion, it is an instant classic. It is both humorous and educational. It is a book in which the footnotes are just as interesting and funny as the main text, similar to the subscripts at the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. No, a moose did not bite Benjamin’s sister. But you do get a silly anecdote about a time an author left out an absolutely necessary serial comma and another about the “actual” difference between grey and gray. One reviewer described it as “pithy.” I humbly agree. It is pithy as pithy can be.
I highly recommend this book to our authors and employees alike — as well to my adult children, coworkers, and clients. This is a writing guide that educates and entertains. If only Haag had been like Dreyer, God rest his soul (Haag’s).

SUNNY Awards and 1099s

Every January we recognize the bestselling books in each category from the prior year. We dubbed these awards the SUNNYs. This has no affiliation with the State University of New York! While we have yet to implement a trophy or certificate or decal, we do like to recognize the most successful books from each imprint for the prior year. To that end, we have sent out media releases and have updated our e-commerce site with the latest honorees.
Here is a list of SUNNY Award winners for 2018:
Ars Metaphysica: Inspirational Creatures by Michele Livingston
Brown Posey Press: The Accountant’s Apprentice by Dennis Clausen
Speckled Egg Press: The Mouse with the Broken Tail by Dan Shutters
Hellbender Books: Dark Entry by John Kachuba
Verboten Books: Rated Z: Money Shot by Brahm Stroker
Milford House Press: Fortune’s Lament by John Cressler
Sunbury Press: A Short Season by Jake Gronsky and G David Bohner
Sunbury Press, Inc., Book of the Year: A Short Season by Jake Gronsky and G David Bohner
Why two awards for Sunbury Press? One is for the imprint and the other is overall. In addition, the Book of the Year is not necessarily the overall bestseller but a book that is memorable that year. In this case, towards the end of the year, we lost young Josiah Viera who succumbed to Progeria at only 14. The book is about his incredible and nearly impossible life story. Josiah, despite his limitations and rapid aging, was an inspiration to all he met. He especially had a love of baseball and had full access to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. The Penn State football program was also a favorite of Josiah’s and Coach Franklin was a personal friend. While Josiah will be missed, his legacy lives on.
Regarding the imprints, there were a lot of close calls. We did not have any clear runaway bestsellers in 2018. Instead we had a lot of books that did fairly well. For instance, at Ars Metaphysica, Karim El Koussa had several books that performed well all year but came up a few sales short in the end. Likewise, at Hellbender Books, Keith Rommel was in a similar situation with many of his backlist titles on the monthly lists. In the end, John Kachuba’s book did a little better.
Congratulations to all the winners! Someday we will have an awards banquet and be able to pay something more than lip service!
The dawning of a new year also brings with it tax season. We are currently preparing 1099s for those of you who were paid more than $10 in royalties in 2018. Yes, for royalties the number is very very small and not the $600 limit for self-employment. If you received a request from us for an updated W9, please submit this asap. If we do not have your tax information on hand, we cannot issue your 1099. If we cannot issue you a 1099, we will not be able to pay you in the future.

Publicity update

Two of the most exciting developments at the press in recent years were the addition of NetGalley for advanced reviews and Cision for media access. Here’s an update on both:
NetGalley is used to make our titles available for review in advance of release. Users on the NetGalley platform can access or request access to titles posted by publishers. NetGalley is marketed as a way to more easily access “professional reviewers.” Our experience has been a mixed bag. First of all, only about one in four reviews could be considered even close to “professional.” We are finding it has become a free book grab for the Goodreads crowd and other part-time bloggers. In fact, it appears less than half the downloaded copies result in a review. So, it can be a little frustrating. We’ve also seen a clear delineation between fiction and nonfiction results on this platform. Simply put, only fiction gets attention here. The response to nonfiction books is minimal at best, and hardly worth the investment. We will be redirecting our attention on NetGalley to use it only for fiction titles.
Cision is an online platform that grants access to the 1.6 million people in the USA who are involved in the media industry — television, radio, online, etc. We have enjoyed a solid response from this investment. A good number of our authors have been invited on radio or television programs and/or have been featured in articles or blogs. This is never easy, but it is much easier for us now. There are two caveats to this though. Overwhelmingly, this platform appears best for nonfiction authors. We have had numerous requests for review copies. But, fiction gets very little attention here. We are also not seeing much lift in book sales following interviews. We are a little puzzled by this, but will look for longer-term benefits as we use this platform more and more.
So, to recap, fiction authors will be directed towards the NetGalley platform while nonfiction will be primarily on Cision. Of course, there will be exceptions to this where it makes sense. For instance, a fiction author whose work is very timely regarding something contemporary or contains a nonfiction hook of interest are great candidates for Cision.

Bad month for Barnes

This past month, Demos Parneros, the CEO of Barnes and Noble, was fired without warning for violating undisclosed company policies. One can only imagine what he did to warrant such treatment.
The company was not performing well — sales down 6% while the industry was growing at a very mature 3% rate. This means Barnes and Noble was going in the wrong direction in what is a fairly healthy book-selling environment. Clearly, if the company is losing when the rest of the industry is winning, they are doing something wrong.
At Sunbury Press, we have definitely experienced miscommunication and a lack of coordination between divisions of Barnes and Noble. Recently, we have entered into a direct relationship for distributing our books with them, avoiding the need to use Ingram as our middle-man. This, on the surface, appeared to be a win-win for both of us, providing more revenue to each. However, when a Barnes and Noble store in Washington state wanted to order copies of our books for a book signing, they contacted the distribution center who then contacted us to order them directly.
“Do you realize your Barnes and Noble Press division is printing these books?” I asked the manager at the distribution center.
“Yes, but we have none in stock,” she said.
“But you sell them online. When an order comes in, you print and ship. Why can’t you do that for your own stores?” I asked.
“… (silence),” was the response.
So, I put the order in for them — to their Barnes and Noble Press division and had the order shipped to their bookstore. It is no wonder they are failing. Their operations leadership sucks! (pardon my French)
On the eBook front, we have been loading our books onto their Nook platform again. Many of you recall we took a hiatus from this due to declining sales. Some of you asked for us to give it another try because you heard from readers who wanted it on that platform. Well, despite loading a couple hundred titles, we have not seen an increase in sales. In fact, the platform appears to be lacking a pulse. We are hoping B&N sells off its eBook capabilities to Kobo or another player in the industry. In the meantime, there is nothing happening here. If we don’t see any movement or a potential sale, we will move on.

Cision is our new publicity partner

Get ready folks! We are about to embark on an exciting ride! Sunbury Press has just signed a publicity agreement with Cision, the world’s largest media database. For years, we have used other press release services and our own targeted marketing emails from our own lists. To be frank, we were no longer getting incremental returns from our efforts.

So, we completely changed directions and jumped in the pool! We are now swimming with the big fish! Cision will give us access to over 1.6 million media contacts all over the world. We can now send targeted emails to up to 5000 media personalities at a time. This should be far more effective than just blasting a press release to no one in particular or hitting the same group of media personalities with every release. We will now be able to slice and dice this incredible list and find targeted audiences for each book.

We have deliberately held off on announcing any of our new releases this year until this service is in place, which should be early March. We’ll keep you posted on our progress. In the meantime, if you have an upcoming or recent release, let’s discuss the media we should best target.

Tuesday = PubDay

Going forward, we will be releasing our books on Tuesdays. We have played with release schedules over the years. Initially we just released whenever we were ready on any day of the year. This evolved to releasing all books on the first Tuesday of each month to now Tuesdays between late January and Thanksgiving.
Why not December and early January? These are terrible times to release books — sales results have rarely been worthwhile. It is hard to get momentum for a release — and our staff is taking a lot of time off over the holidays.  So, in the future, we will avoid these times for book releases.
Why Tuesday? Because very few holidays fall on Tuesdays and most people are in the office Tuesday through Thursday and the publishing industry has always seemed to like Tuesday. I don’t know — I guess it is early in the week, but not too early.
So!  Tuesday, January 22, will be the first releases for 2018. From there, we will slot books for Tuesday releases as they come out of the oven.

2017 was a good year

It wasn’t the best of times, nor was it the worst of times. The good news is 2017 saw an improvement of 15% in book sales. What’s really interesting about that is we only released 47 new books in 2017 – exactly equal to our 2016 output. So why the sales increase?
1) The economy improved!  As much as some of us don’t like the new leadership in the country, the economy has picked up steam. This is evident in all of my experiences in and out of publishing and as an Economics professor.
2) We changed our mix to release more nonfiction. We have had better and steadier performance from our new releases.
3) We improved our social media engagement. The steady pulse of social media has definitely resulted in increased sales of our back list books.
4) We had some breakthroughs with major media thanks to several of our authors.
So, what can improve? Sales are still below our best year of 2015. Most companies do not grow in a steady linear upward fashion. There is give and take and ups and downs. It really is more like a boat ride on rough seas than a skate across a frozen pond. 2015 was so good because we had a number of large hardcover publishing deals that were very successful. This has yet to repeat, and may never. The lesson learned is we need to keep adjusting to our readers and the marketplace.
Here are the top things we can do to improve to try to hit or exceed the 2015 number in 2018:
1) Sell more of the books we offer — especially fiction!
2) Continue to leverage new services like NetGalley, our Entertainment Agent site partner, and other opportunities to increase exposure.
3) Better coordinate our marketing campaigns. We will be attempting to coordinate our social media activity and ebook promotions — especially for fiction.
4) Continue to sign new authors with fresh material.
5) Continue to sign veteran authors with great backlists.
6) Continue to grow our new imprint brands.