Stirrings from the Old and New Publishing Scene out West
For 36 years, an undaunted Irwin Zucker, himself a public relations professional, has been hosting bi-monthly meetings of the Book Publicists of Southern California, bringing together at each event a hundred or so published authors and authors on the way: to share ideas, display their works, and to learn how to sell more books.
As with IBPA — which started a few years later as the Publishing Association of Southern California (PASCAL), with then former PW Publisher Dick Bye as President and Jan Nathan as Executive director. It then became PMA and is now IBPA, a 3,000-member strong national organization — Zucker reveled in the trenches of book publishing outside the mainstream channels. He brought enthusiasm, hope and know-how to equip authors with the tools to work around barriers to entry and, eventually, if they found a strong enough audience, to find their way into the mainstream; or, more often, to stay independent and pocket the proceeds and the glory on their own.
In the process, Zucker himself has become a legend in the Los Angeles region and has hosted awards and recognition for hundreds of self published and conventionally published authors. In addition, industry and media professionals have learned that his meetings are a good place to capture some of the energy animating the writers whose work will filter into marketplace niches. You will find the names of many long time book publicists among his peers across the country– Dan Poynter, John Kremer, Fern Reiss, Penny Sansevieri, Sharon Goldinger, San Diego’s Bob Holt to name a few that I noticed—appearing in the 2009-2011 BPSC directory of more than 1000 authors, publicists and suppliers.
To my chagrin, despite my having worked in West Coast book publishing for 23 years through 1992 when I returned to the East, I attended my first meeting of BPSC last week at the Sportsman’s Lodge in North Hollywood, having come West again last June.
It caused me to reflect on Southern California publishing in particular and West Coast publishing in general through the years – having first landed here from New York City in 1969 with a cadre of professionals headed by David Dushkin, seduced away from Random House by Psychology Today magazine’s publisher, Nick Charney, to help start its book division, CRM Books, in Del Mar.
CRM pioneered telemarketing and direct mail to a college textbook adoption market that then, and still now, relied on sales reps selling benefits and adoptions directly to professors. It also introduced the four color coffee table textbook that, together with surrounding paraphernalia, has been breaking the backs and budgets of undergraduates since.
Twenty halcyon years followed with book publishing in California and in the Northwest attracting subsidiaries of major eastern publishers – some of which remain to this day: Harper San Francisco, Wadsworth, Benjamin Cummings and McGraw Hill (now divesting), and others which came and went, such as Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in San Diego, along with a brace of computer book publishers in the Bay Area and imprints that had been thriving independently (Nash, Tarcher, Green Tiger, Worth, Fearon which became David S Lake in Belmont, Scientific American Press, Graphic Arts Center Press in Portland) or as subsidiaries (Macmillan’s Hamilton in Santa Barbara, Prentice-Hall’s Goodyear and Dickinson in Los Angeles, and Harper’s Canfield Press in San Fransisco). And of Course, CRM Books sliced and diced between Random House and McGraw Hill after having been sold to Boise Cascade in the 1970’s.
The years also nurtured sturdy independents that remain (some acquired), such as Sage, ABC Clio, Craftsman, New Harbinger, Nolo, Black Sparrow, O’Reilly, Ten Speed, Mayfield, Parenting Press and many others.
Not to speak of whole new West Coast technology driven sectors that emerged as black swans in the 1990’s and beyond, and have disrupted the industry completely – Amazon, Google, the new Apple, FaceBook, Twitter, iUniverse, Lulu, CreateSpace, Author House, to name a few.
But despite the editorial and marketing presence of these publishers and disrupters, in-house publisher staffing has been reduced, and increasing numbers of editorial, production and marketing professionals now operate independently or have left the industry due to downsizing. The effect on trade organizations has been to cause them to seek ways to shift emphasis on services and membership that reflect these changes. Kit hasn’t been and isn’t easy.
Among trade organizations, Southern California Bookbuilders, led in is recent years by Rena Kopperman is no more, the San Diego Publishers Group, shepherded for some time by Bob Goodman, is now theWriters and Publishers of San Diego, an IBPA affiliate. The venerable Book Builders West, founded in San Francisco 1969 as a magnet for professionalism in book making and manufacturing, recently changed its name to Publishers Professional Network and its structure to reflect the changing professional scene.
The early leaders of BBW were Lon Driggers of Wadsworth and Al Lindenbaun of Seaboard Paper Co. Roy Wallace of MapleVail and Bill Ralph of Wadsworth came on board a year later and helped lead the organizaton through most of the years since to what is now their 42d annual Book Show coming up in January to be held at Chronicle Books.
Not only was I musing on the past, but I had a good time at the BPSC meeting and met some interesting authors, but I was also reminded that the revolution taking place around us in the industry notwithstanding, these writers below the radar with a message to spread, a story to tell, a skill and a life experience to share, have no doubt that there are readers out there that they can reach with books that they have written or will write. And with an understanding of the lay of land that they learn from each other and from professionals, they will find and build their audience.
Largely print based and using POD as well as inventoried offset printings, e-Books are not yet a significant enough selling platform for this authoring sector to depend on. Zucker himself remains loyal to print by continuing to produce and distribute a lively BPSC newsletter, Know Thy Shelf, in a print edition (www.bookpubilcists.org)
Ordinarily I write about trade organizations and industry trends from a business development or industry professional’s point view. But “the Business of Doing Books,” the theme of my blogs, is in such a rapid process of deconstruction – and so much of what is arising finds the author as the engine behind the sale and distribution of books – that covering an author-centric organization has arguably become covering another sector of the business end of book publishing.
Featured for the evening at the BPSC event was its second annual lifetime achievement award. It was given to Geraldine Saunders, the first American female cruise director, whose 1998 best-selling book “The Love Boats” (Llewellyn) inspired the long running Love Boat TV series, and whose biography, “The Love Boat Lady,” was published 2012 with Create Space and written by BPSC member Sheila Murray.
Saunders herself also co-authored with Harvey Ross in 1989 and in a revised edition in 2012 the best-selling “Hypoglycemia: The classic Health Care Handbook”. Both of which together according to Zucker have sold 2 million copies.
During its first 18 years, Zucker served as founder and President of BPSC. Afterward, and until two years ago, BPSC was led by author Barbara Gaughan and then artist and author Ernie Weckbaugh. When Ernie passed away two years ago, author and publicist Brad Butler was installed as President.
As of January 1, Ernie Weckbaugh’s widow, Patty, will take over as President, and former LA Times journalist, author and editor Dona Larson as Vice President. They will be formally installed at the BPSC February 13 meeting (for information, www.bookpublicists.org), at which the featured speaker will be Dan Poynter, long time presenter, adviser, and author of 120 books to thousands of authors and self publishers who have attended his workshops and events, and who have used his resource materials and books. (www.parapubishing.com)
This brief informal history of BPSC – a “family” affair in a way, kept going by Zucker and a group of close peers and supporters – is a piece of industry social history about an organization that has managed to come through the worst of our downturn and is ready to face the greater uncertainties of our future.
Considered by some as peripheral to the story of mainstream professional and networking groups, this entrepreneurially managed grass roots organization can run a splendid dinner with entertainment and prominent speakers, present awards that are prized by their recipients and help sell their books, bring people together at a fine meeting center, and do it largely with a viral organizational network energized by a dedicated entrepreneur. (There are other examples of this kind of entreperneurial networking, such as Pennsylvania – based Infinity Pubilshing’s annual meetings for authors and numerous writers groups around the country)..
I think that the BPSC model is another template for future professional organizations in the trade, alongside of those like IBPA and AAP that provide institutional support for highly structured enterprises. But even those enterprises are increasingly being built around outsourcing, networking and viral marketing. And their associations have always relied on volunteers to populate their committees and task forces.
So, as was the case in its earlier heydays, I expect California will once more be creating association and business models that will in due course shape the course of the industry, working its way eastward.
I expect to attend more trade events here in the future and write about the pioneering as well as legacy literary, enterprise and supply chain activity on the West Coast. It will unfold in the new networked world of demand publishing and collaborative writing and reading. It is ripening alongside our legacy traditions, perhaps even overtaking them, but those traditions will not be going away soon,
Note: In my listings in this piece of publishers and personalities, past and present, I have drawn on memory and on fact checking with Google and Yahoo!, as my historical records still remain packed. I’m certain I must have omitted names that I should have included in equity but that imperfect memory has overlooked. For those omissions I apologize.