You Can’t Get Away From It

Gift books that work are a godsend to both publishers and to the holiday-weary consumer who has run out of ideas for the people on her Christmas list. Think of it as the Whitman’s Sampler of the book business—only it’s much easier to predict that people will like chocolate.

“Publishing doesn’t do a lot of what other media industries do,” Dave says. “They don’t do the focus groups or a huge amount of market research.  A lot of it is the instinct of the editors and the instinct of the buyers and the instinct of the publishers.  It’s an exciting industry in that way—you can take an idea, and it can become a huge thing just because you like it.”

With only about $10,000 to spend on promoting the first book, they had to rely on guerrilla marketing: postcard racks, movie-theater slide ads, as well as what Dave calls the book’s “grassroots appeal.”

Mitchell says the key to getting things like Worst-Case off the lesser-read book-review page and into magazines’ front sections is to sell them as products. But Chronicle’s Jay Schaefer doesn’t go along with the idea of books as products.  “Every book is different; it’s not a box of Tide,” he insists.  “Once you’ve got the books, that’s where the savvy of the marketing and sales people comes in. But it can’t be all marketing and glitz. You don’t touch a chord with that stuff.”

He does, however, point to Chronicle’s wide distribution channels, which help sell the books in both chain and independent bookstores, as well as Urban Outfitters, Restoration Hardware, and other hip non-bookstores.

On that score, Mitchell agrees: “That type of total distribution helps sales of books in that it gives you the sense that you can’t get away from it, and therefore you have to buy it.”

The creative process, at least, has been organic. Dave was friends with Jennifer Worick for years before she wrote The Dating and Sex book, a hilarious and writerly collection of scenarios that include sobering up quickly and how to determine if your date is an ax murderer. The one about Golf was written by James Grace, Dave’s wife’s best friend’s husband, who worked on the first book-packaging project Quirk ever did. Parenting was co-written by Sarah Jordan, the person who first put Dave and Josh together. These days Chronicle is putting out a book a season with no plans to stop. The next incarnation, says Schaefer, will be a survival-trivia quiz book. He thinks being outside of the publishing machine that is New York helps to keep that sense of collaborative creativity alive.

“With the concentration of editors and writers having lunch all the time, everyone starts thinking the same. It’s easier for ideas to take root here at Chronicle, and for us to run with them.”

As for how to make ideas go as far as theirs have, Dave has a feeling there’s no simple answer.

“I had a very clear sense of what the book could be and who to partner with, how to write it, the look—all those things were very conscious choices. But whenever you have a bestseller of this nature it’s kinda like catching lightning in a bottle. You can’t really make that happen. It’s work, but you have to be at the right place at the right time.”

Katie Haegele C’98 (katieahaegele@yahoo.com) is a freelance writer who lives outside Philadelphia. She writes regularly for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/05

FEATURE :
Best-Case Scenario
By Katie Haegele

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HOW TO MANEUVER
ON TOP OF A MOVING TRAIN
AND GET INSIDE

1. Do not try to stand up straight (you probably will not be able to anyway). Stay bent slightly forward, leaning into the wind. If the train is moving faster than thirty miles per hour, it will be difficult to maintain your balance and resist the wind, so crawling on all fours may be the best method until you can get down.

2. If the train is approaching a turn, lie flat; do not try to keep your footing. The car may have guide rails along the edge to direct water. If it does, grab them and hold on.

3. If the train is  approaching a tunnel entrance, lie flat, and quickly. There is actually quite a bit of clearance between the top of the train and the top of the tunnel—about three feet—but not nearly enough room to stand. Do not assume that you can walk or crawl to the end of the car to get down and inside before you reach the tunnel—you probably won’t.

4. Move your body with the rhythm of the train—from side to side and forward. Do not proceed in a straight line. Spread your feet apart about thirty-six inches and wobble from side to side as you move forward.

5. Find the ladder at the end of the car (between two cars) and climb down. It is very unlikely that there will be a ladder on the side of the car—they usually appear only in the movies, to make the stunts more exciting. 

—From The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook