Behind the Scenes With Jan Pogue, Publisher of the Recent National Hit 'Morning Glory Farm'
Small publishers who expand too quickly sometimes watch their businesses deflate, says Jan Pogue, editor and publisher of Edgartown, Mass.-based Vineyard Stories. That's why she's not going to let the success of her latest book, "Morning Glory Farm: And the Family That Feeds an Island" by Tom Dunlop—a nonfiction title about a local, sustainable, family-owned farm—make her think that she's anything other than a niche publisher.
Nevermind that Pogue knows that First Lady Michelle Obama owns "Morning Glory Farm" and is coming to Martha's Vineyard with her family at the end of August. Nevermind that the book already has sold 6,000 copies since it hit shelves May 21. And nevermind that she's already had 500 copies airlifted in from her printer in China, and 5,500 more are taking the ocean route to arrive Sept. 7.
No, none of this will go to her head, Pogue says. She is what she is—the publisher of "beautiful books about Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod." Here, she reveals to Book Business Extra the story behind her recent success and staying true to her company's mission:
Book Business Extra: Why do you think this particular title, "Morning Glory Farm," is selling so well?
Jan Pogue: It's a very beloved business, both on and off the Vineyard. And obviously, [sustainable farming] is a very timely subject. [Also,] Martha's Vineyard's connection to the world ... covers a pretty big footprint. So whenever we have visitors from, [for example], L.A., who come here on a regular basis [and] who go to Morning Glory—because everybody ends up at Morning Glory, everybody—they see the book, they buy the book, they take the book home, and they're showing it around. So then I get orders from there. ...
Extra: Why did Vineyard Stories decide to print overseas? How did you select the printer?
Pogue: I've learned in about 20 years of working on and off with books that right now ... the quality, the price, is in China. ... My process is [that] I will bid to three or four printers. I will try to bid in the United States. I will try to bid in Canada. ... I've used this company, which is Asia Pacific Offset, for four books. I've used them only for what I call the "art books" ... because I knew the quality of the photographs was going to be so high that I was going to have to make sure my printer would match that in ink. When you try to transfer from photo to ink, you lose a lot of resolution sometimes.
... One of the things you never do is work with somebody you haven't heard about. So I am in a network of little publishers who kind of talk to each other. ... We have to make sure that the printer who dealt with the last little publisher made that little publisher happy. ... The other [factor] is how do you deal with these offshore printers? You're talking [about], obviously, a foreign language; you're talking [about a] great time differential. How do you know that they're able to communicate with you? So you look for American reps, and you can tell when you start talking to a rep whether they're just salesmen or they, in fact, know their stuff. ... You want a publishers rep who is a production person, who will say to you, "Oh, you don't really need to do that," or, "Hey, you better do that." ...
Extra: For a book experiencing this type of success, have you considered print-on-demand?
Pogue: Print-on-demand doesn't have the quality that I need at this point. ...
Extra: Has your distribution model for this book changed with its success?
Pogue: ... I'm a niche publisher. ... I don't expect to be Simon & Schuster. At the same time, I publish books ... that have a bigger ... sense to them. ... I'm watching to see what will happen on this book. ... It's like playing poker. You say to yourself, "I can handle this right up until the point I can't handle this." I've looked at national book distributors; they're very costly. ... But will I need to go in that direction? I'm certainly ready to pull the trigger if that happens. ... So it's like, "Do I take that next card in poker, or do I stick with my hand?" And I'm just waiting to see what happens.
Extra: What sort of marketing has Vineyard Stories been doing for this book and has the marketing strategy changed as the book has gained popularity?
Pogue: … I always market my books pretty heavily. But I only market to New England. ... I use New England Independent [Booksellers] Association heavily … . ... [NEIBA] puts me in touch with the independent bookstores that buy a lot of books. I also build marketing lists; in this case, the marketing is to the slow-food movement, to other sustainable farms, to sustainable farming organizations, to organic farming organizations. ... I send ... direct mail or direct e-mail. ... I'm totally confused about the Facebook, Twitter issue. ... In the same way as the distribution question, it's a chicken-and-egg [question]. How much money does it take to sell a book? If it takes more money to sell a book than you can make selling that book, then you can't go to another marketing [strategy]. ... You have to keep on that [original marketing] plan until you really believe that new efforts at marketing are going to serve rather than take away.
Extra: How is Vineyard Stories surviving the economic climate as a small publisher? What are your biggest challenges right now?
Pogue: I'm doing great, but I think small is the operative word there. ... My biggest challenge? Finding good books. ... There seems to be an insatiable desire for what I'm putting out. ... People love to know about Martha's Vineyard. They love to know the offbeat things about Martha's Vineyard; the true Martha's Vineyard; the sexy Martha's Vineyard; and the Cape, as well. ... Again, it's staying true to what you believe you're supposed to be. If I get all puffed up and start thinking, "Whoa, look at this book. Wow, I'm a national publisher," then I'm going to lose my company. I may have a national book, but I'm still a niche publisher. And I have to recognize that, and accept it and enjoy it. I mean, heck, what I do is a lot of fun. And I'm not sure that anybody at Simon & Schuster, at this point in their lives, would be saying it's a lot of fun.