Even though it’s seven years old, I still pull out an old Publisher’s Weekly column often. The subject was Regnery’s Marji Ross, an audacious publisher if ever there was one.
She would hate that description – audacious – so connected has it become to the current disaster-in-chief. The fellow lives just down the street from Ross’s offices, and she knows a thing or two about torpedoing the presidential ambitions of subpar candidates for office.
Regnery’s 2004 blockbuster, “Unfit for Command,” probably sunk the hopes of then presidential hopeful John Kerry. Written by Jerome Corsi (and John E. O’Neill), the relentless undead in the nightmares of liberals, the book entered the lexicon, having “swiftboated” Kerry’s drive to the White House.
There is a clue midway through Ross’s PW piece, when she discusses how smaller publishers compete successfully against the juggernauts in New York: “Funny thing is, our small size may actually be the key factor in our success – not only in building bestsellers, but also with books that make a difference in the world.”
Make a difference. In the world.
There are still too many profiteers in publishing. Those who think only of revenue and not the soul.
The smart Regnery team knows it often beats the brains out of its larger competitors, regularly scoring NYT bestsellers, and they do it by publishing much smaller lists. No 700 books per year, which we noted last week Thomas Nelson fled from a few years back (now they do a skinny 350).
I don’t care how big your staff is, if you’re doing hundreds of titles per year, you’d have no idea what was in them. By publishing 25 a year, a lean, smart staff knows every jot and tittle. And they know they are making a difference in the world.
My son – who knows better – came home the other day from college and proceeded to tell me that most of the Founding Fathers were not Christian. He just wanted to get a rise out of the old man. It worked.
Because our home has books in it like “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers,” we know when a hippie professor is trying to sling one past us.
Thankfully, because of publishers like Regnery, a whole lot more households are educated in reality and real history.
Marji Ross knows that focus is king in publishing: “Trying to appeal too broadly waters down your message, clouds your tone and strangles your marketing.”
She and her team also go bold more often than not. Witness this bit of insider … audaciousness: “We can – and have – launched a potential blockbuster from rough manuscript to the bookshelf in eight weeks rather than 18 months. We work organically. Marketing is part of editorial , editorial is part of publicity, design is part of marketing. We all share the same space and talk the same language.”
Now, it’s not that I don’t think it can be done; I’ve seen it done. It’s just so rare to see it done, and by a well-known publisher.
And her comment about organic teamwork is brilliant. This I believe is their greatest strength, and that of all publishers like Regnery. I believe if an editor is not thinking also about marketing, and a publicist is not also thinking about sales channels … they should be invited to try another line of work.
Speed, innovation and taking the fight to the enemy is the way to go.
Ross’s principles also apply to individual authors. Too often, too many of us lose focus. Instead of finishing the viable project starting at us from the old, cold Royal, we let our attention stray onto our seatmate’s paper. We want to write what he’s writing. We want to write what J.K. Rowling is writing. Or Stephen King. Or Stephen Ambrose.
Rather than finish!
Using a football analogy, I see this clearly. Thirty years ago, after dominating college football for a decade, Oklahoma began fanning-out across the country, recruiting players from California and Florida, and everywhere in-between.
That worked great until the losses mounted beginning in 1981. Fans were puzzled. Of course plenty of things factored-in, including getting away from the famed wishbone offense OU had unleashed in 1970.
It was only when the coaches began pulling-in recruiting territories, and going back to their gravy train – Oklahoma and Texas – that they returned to the national stage in a rage.
Same principle applies in writing. If you lose focus by wanting to be X famous writer, you’ll find yourself with a bunch of laid-back California boys who don’t know or love the hard-nosed Oklahoma prairie and winning tradition. If you tinker with some fancy new offense, you’ll end up in despair.
But if you stay in close to home and, as Marji Ross says, “stick to what you know best,” you’ll be picking off the big boys soon enough.
And you’ll be doing it audaciously.