Regnery Publishing President and Publisher Marji Ross on how to put all of the pieces together to create a hit title.
Marji Ross can find a winner. As president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, a publisher of politically conservative titles, she has developed a formula for what will sell. According to Ross, the company regularly sees a higher-than-average majority of its titles become best-sellers, and last year, Regnery landed four of its books on The New York Times Best-Seller List.
Ross will join other publishing executives for the session “Today’s Book Launch: Surefire Strategies for Success” at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo, March 10-12, in New York City (www.PublishingBusiness.com). At the session, she will share the multimedia marketing strategies that have helped make Regnery titles not only successful for their niche, but also when compared to major publishers. Book Business Extra spoke with Ross to get a preview of some of the insights she will share with conference attendees.
Book Business Extra: What advice would you give to other book publishing professionals on creating a successful launch?
Marji Ross: The key to success starts with choosing the right books rather than choosing the right launch strategy. If you haven’t done a good, strategic job in your acquisition and your positioning with your books, you’re already behind the eight ball when it comes to creating a launch strategy.
Extra: Over the past year, what trend(s) or technologies did you incorporate into your launch strategy?
Ross: Over the past two years, we have gone to outbound, dedicated e-mail messages. We are able to do that internally because we have corporately decided to collect e-mail names, and we have grown our lists to the point [where] we have 750,000 e-mail [addresses] that we send a message to every time we launch a book. E-mail communications have become a very important part of our marketing and of our launch.
One of the other things we have done … is to offer people a sample chapter or sample excerpt to read online. That’s a good way to gather new e-mail names. We will send you a new sample of the book if you provide us with your e-mail address. This has helped us build our list tremendously. … We’re very successful [with] our target market, and we have a high degree of confidence that most of our readers are going to be interested in most of our books. That’s definitely a competitive advantage.
Extra: The fact that it’s a presidential election year has created the right atmosphere to help generate interest in your titles. Are you planning to use that to your advantage?
Ross: Our expectation has been that this year, like all presidential election years, will be a good sales year for our books, because more people are interested in politics and political events. … The danger or the trap that a lot of publishers fall into is that they say, “Hey, why we don’t publish books by candidates?” Our beliefs and our experience with candidates is [that] most candidates’ books don’t sell particularly well, because most people feel they can hear it for free on TV. I think people know that candidates have to be careful what they say, too. Our strategy is: Publish books by interesting speakers who will be commenting on what the candidates have to say, or what the American people want out of their candidates and the issues that will drive the elections. That’s why the Newt Gingrich book, “Real Change,” has done so well this year. It is a very respected political thinker commenting on what this election means and what the American people are looking for.
Extra: How important is marketing the personalities of the authors?
Ross: I think the author is a critical factor in the success of a book. That doesn’t mean an author has to be a celebrity to write a successful book. For us, what we try to do is match up the author with the subject. So, an author can be relatively unknown, but if he or she is passionate, if they are a crusader for their message and have something new to say, he can be successful even if no one has ever heard [of him]. Sometimes, there is an element of excitement you can create around an unknown author if they truly have something remarkable to say.
We look for authors who are celebrities or are passionate and have some controversy. If we have [all] three, we’re probably on the road to a successful author. But we do also decide not to publish a book because we’re concerned that the author cannot conduct a serious campaign for us. It’s not enough for the author to be a good writer or [a] specialist. They have to be a good messenger. We have a rule at our office: We almost never will sign a book before we have met in-person with the author. Agents know that about us. It’s come to be an unspoken agreement with a lot of the agents we work with. It’s important to us, so we can have the face-to-face meeting where we can assess the passion and the communications skills of our author. We publish a relatively small number of titles.
Extra: If you had to sum up the methodology of seeing a title make its way onto The New York Times Best-Seller List into one course of action, what would it be?
Ross: We certainly have in our minds, with every title we acquire, “How are we going to make this into a best-selling book?” We sign every book with the idea that it has the potential to be a best-seller. We kind of are loading the dice in our favor. If this doesn’t have the chance to be a best-seller, we may not even take a swing. … The way we try to orchestrate our best-sellers is to make sure that every book is all three of the following things: interesting, unique and relevant. Most of the proposals I see are one or two of those things. Rarely are they all three.
We like to break news with our books. That’s a large percentage of the books that we publish. … We’re asking ourselves what’s new. So our backlist is quite small. Very few of our books wind up backlisting well. A handful do. We are in the interesting, challenging position of trying to reinvent our list every year. It’s a unique type of publishing model. We try to keep doing what we’re good at, [and] that’s what we’re good at.