A while back I had a conversation with a friend, also in the publishing business. He asked me about True Potential and what made us different from other Christian publishers. I don’t know everything about other Christian publishers. I’m sure they’re all trying to figure out how to thrive and serve their authors and readers just like I am, but I will share what I wrote back to my friend.
Thanks for your note. I’ll tell you how I began True Potential, a few experiences and a few things I found out along the way. In that may be the answer to what makes us different than the norm.
In 2004 I came into publishing from industry (we owned a manufacturing company). Elaine and I were financially successful, but we wanted our work to contribute something more eternal than widgets. Being new to the Christian publishing industry was a disadvantage in that we weren’t part of the clique (and the Christian book biz is pretty cliquish). As a matter of fact, we were locked out by the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). Apparently, as a publisher, you have to have a history of selling to bookstores before you can join, which presents a conundrum to anyone just entering the business. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us. We had to go straight to readers instead of distributors and bookstores which, as it turned out, was the right thing to do in an industry where “this is how we do things” doesn’t work anymore.
About publishing quality. A well written, well-produced book with a message that people are actually interested in (a market), is a prerequisite. We’ve got to create a great book first. Good marketing doesn’t do anything for a lousy book with a message no one wants to hear. Creating a great book involves helping authors to become better writers, honing the message to reach its readers more effectively, editing out anything that stands in the way of touching the reader with the message, creating a cover that both attracts and captures the essence of the book’s message, and even creating an interior that draws the reader to the next page. Our authors write great manuscripts, we build them into great books. We do everything we can to make our authors’ work better and produce the finest product possible. But the process only begins there, no author wants to give a chunk of their life to a book only to realize that bookstores aren’t a great place to sell books anymore or to see it languish among Amazon’s 39 million book listings.
So how do we sell books? We focus on identifying and touching audiences that already have an affinity for the author’s message and then promote the spread of the message outward from those aggregates. Put simply, we share with those most likely to receive the book’s message and make it easy for them to share with others. In a world with 39 million Amazon book listings and more than a billion Facebook users, I believe the only way to get past the profound market noise and unlimited consumer choice is to specifically target the book’s natural audience and then build a message they’re already seeking out.
Technology created the opportunity for anyone to publish, and almost everyone has. It has created the noise, but I think it has also created the solution in that technology also allows us to pick the needle from the haystack – to find our readers among the millions of readers out there. Our focus is on selling books, but not through traditional, outdated, too expensive, ineffective methods this industry considers “how we do things.” By the way, CBA is our friend now; because we reach readers and some of those readers prefer to buy our books from bookstores.
Let’s talk about the specifics of reaching the book’s natural audience in our next discussion.