September, 2009

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Returns Kill Another Great Company

Blu Sky Media Group announced on Friday that they were forced to close their doors.  Greg Snider, the owner of Blu Sky Media Group is not declaring bankruptcy, he has negotiated with his bank to allow him to make a structured closing. 

Snider is a real class act.  He could have shut his doors and walked away, but he didn’t.  He is spending the next several months working (for nothing) to make sure all of his publisher clients find new homes. 

This good deed in the face of tragedy is even more remarkable when you realize that Blu Sky’s troubles are in no way Greg’s doing.  He gave small presses a chance to sell their books to the trade and the trade was happy to buy them.  Blu Sky was formed to offer small presses the chance at distribution.  Most distributors will not touch a small press because one or two books rarely recoup the expenses and time needed to launch a press properly.

Snider found a way around that.  He was able to offer small presses way into the bookstore and library market.

What messed everything up?  Returns used as cash.  Blu Sky saw huge sales while things were good and huge returns when they weren’t, just like everyone else.  Stores and wholesalers are allowed to return books that do not sell, that is part of the Faustonian pact we have all made, but for the last several years, they are paying their bills with returns.  Books are returned days before the invoices are due and then those same books are reordered a week later…. starting the clock all over again.  This practice is now so common place that many small and midsized businesses are shipping books over and over again for free.

I am not clamoring for the end of returns.  I don’t want a complete turn-around on the policy that allows bookshops to take a risk on unknown publishers.  It is hard enough these days to get a small-yet-worthy book onto a bookstore’s shelf.  What I want is a reform of HOW we accept returns.  We have to stop the practice of using returns as cash.  It is killing good companies.

Your Spine Is Your Cover

Here’s one of the dirty little secrets in book publishing. Publishers spend countless hours and dollars working on their covers, but they often miss the point.  With the exception of online retailers, your book spine is your cover.

Brick and mortar stores are packed with books. New releases. Backlist books. Series. Gift books.

Walk to any category (perhaps your own) and take a look at how many books are crammed on to the shelves.

What do you see? The spine, if you’re lucky.

All to often publishers make the mistake of not focusing at all on the spine of their book, not realizing that this is their number one marketing tool in brick and mortar stores.

What does this mean for you?

Spend some time on your spine.

Spine Size

Think about bulking your page count to make sure that your spine has presence. We’re not recommending that you fluff your book with overblown margins or blank pages. But we are recommending that you don’t cram in your text so tight to save a few cents on your printing prices.

Push it out a signature or two. It might make all the difference between getting lost on the shelf and standing out because you’re 1/8 of an inch bigger. Choose paper that bulks. You might be surprised at how easy it is to snag an extra 1/16 of an inch through paper weight alone.

Spine Color

Spend some time analyzing what the spine colors are in your category. This is extremely important. If every spine in your category is white, choose a vibrant color. Choose something that stands out. Choose something that practically leaps of the shelf and screams “pick me!” This is the time to buck the trends and be a little different. If you’re not sure what will work, grab some books that have different spine colors and stick them on the shelf where your book will go. Which colors pop to you? What do you see first?

Spine Text

Make it readable! Make it bold! Make it big! Make sure that the reader sees your spine and your text right away. If you’re standing 3 feet away from your spine, you need to be able to read what it says (see above about spine width – the bigger the spine the more room for bold text).

Take it to the Bookstore

Let’s keep this next bit between us…

The best way to really know if your spine works is to print out several versions, colors and copies true to size. Cut the spine out, getting rid of excess paper so you’re literally holding your book spine in your hands. Put a tiny piece of tape on the end of each option. Take your spine options to the bookstore and visit your category. Stick the various spines on the books that will sit next to you (usually alphabetical by author’s last name within category or subcategory). Which one works? Do any? What do you see? Can you read your title? Do you get lost on the shelf because you’re too tiny or you blend in too much?

Lack of attention to your spine can kill your book in the marketplace. Once you get in to stores, your spine really is your cover. When you consider the time, money and energy that you spend getting your cover right, promise us, do the same with your book spine.

P.S. Remember, be polite during any bookstore research. Bring your spines with you when you go and don’t interfere with bookstore customers!