Profiting by Sharing the Profits: The Higher Ground Press Story

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July 2013
by Sonja Linsley

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If you got into publishing to be rich and famous, I suggest you discuss hallucinatory therapy with your doctor. However, if you love people and you want them to buy your books, I want to suggest an idea that works well for Higher Ground Press, LLC.

We’ve been in business for eight years. We sell education and excitement along with our books. And we’ve found a way to make each book more profitable.

Our books are illustrated children’s literature. While the age range is infancy to about eight years of age, we make them appeal to parents. Because, after all, it’s Mom or Dad who opens the purse strings and digs for the dollars.

For our prime audiences, which consist of libraries, churches and schools, and conferences, we create exhilarating events and charge nothing. That’s right, we charge nothing. In fact, we actually pay for the privilege of being welcomed by our hosts, because when we present an activity, we then share our profits with the hosting organization. It’s a win/win situation for all.

“Invite an author to lunch.” That’s what we put on our Website, and we have yet to receive as much as a peanut butter sandwich. But we get response, and we get invitations to visit classes, story times, and fund-raising events. It’s just a simple way of saying we’ll come and visit, present a wonderful program, and help you raise funds for your cause.

I know, you’re asking, How can you be profitable by giving your money away? Here’s the secret. When we sell to a retailer, we give the retailer a discount of 40 percent. If we go through distributors, they take another 15 percent. Selling to online retailers means giving a discount of 55 percent. So, when we donate 20 to 30 percent to our hosts, we make more money than we would with all the traditional retailers.

For Exciting Events (With and Without Wild Animals)

But success with the whole shebang depends on creating a dynamic event around a book. Way back in the last century, I was a community relations manager for a brand-new super bookstore, and then I moved into their district level. What I learned at that great and noble institution was to make events so dynamic that the news media would create a buzz and we did not have to pay for advertising.

One year I invited a well-known movie star to come to our bookstore. I won’t give you her name, but she does have a lot of birds. In fact, she has an animal rescue where she nurtures injured carnival and circus animals back to health. Along with several other animals, she brought a three-legged cougar to the store that could run like the wind. And he did. Everywhere through the store, he ran like the wind.

It was like going on safari, except all spectators had to hold perfectly still while the handlers stalked the poor growling creature through row after row of vulnerable books. Oh, yes, this lovely lady had written a book about her animal exploits. She had also published a calendar. The press was all over that event, and we sold out of books and calendars. We also had a good deal of cleanup, but that’s another story.

Not everyone has a celebrity in his or her pocket, and I’m currently fresh out. But you probably have something that could be fascinating or entertaining in some manner. That is, you do if you are creative and charismatic, and you must be, because you publish and/or write books.

Events for books we publish can be as simple as a program on how to draw a duck and as elaborate as a full-blown dress-up tea party.

One of our illustrators, D. Bagley Lewis, shows little children how to draw a duck. He reads his book, The Dappy Huck, which features tongue-twisting tangled words. Then he teaches each child to draw a duck using basic circles. He also illustrated a book titled Can I Have A Monkey? written by Betty Peacock. Betty takes children on an imaginary hunt through the jungle looking for a monkey. (Where was that cougar when we needed him?)

Dancing with Daddy

The book that started our business—May I Have the First Dance? illustrated by my talented son, Paul Linsley—recounts the tender moments of a wonderful relationship between a father and daughter, and our events featured Paul drawing caricatures of customers in the books they purchased. That was always a real hit.

Arriving at bookstores for those events, we have found customers lined up outside the store, and we almost always end up out of stock, sometimes selling as many as 100 copies. This past holiday season, Paul was visiting, and we were invited to a library in north Texas, where we focused on another one of the books he illustrated for our company—Bobby Stellar, Space Kid. We were scheduled to be at the library for one hour; Paul drew caricatures in each book purchased. We left the library after three-and-a-half hours, having sold every available copy.

Now that Paul has moved on to greater and greener pastures (you can see his work on TV, in film, and in many commercials), his services are no longer within my pay range, and I have to get pretty creative. So we hold father-daughter dance events for May I Have the First Dance? at small venues. We put up posters, use our venues’ email blast lists, and issue press releases inviting little girls to attend a very special “Daddy-Daughter Date.”

Nothing is more delightful than watching little girls dressed up in their frilly dresses and white gloves, holding Daddy’s hand, anxious to dance. At the events, we teach them simple dance steps like the Twist, Mashed Potatoes, and a simple box-step waltz. With classic rock and a few real classics blaring through loudspeakers, grown men turn and twist with miniature darlings, creating a remarkable spectacle. One young father held his eight-month-old daughter and danced through the entire event. Every daddy buys a book for every daughter, and some of the venues are making this “Daddy-Daughter Date” an annual thing.

Planning Pointers

There are a few things to remember when you plan an event.

  • Set up your event at least six to eight weeks in advance, and use every minute you can find to prepare.
  • Know your audience, and plan your event with that audience firmly in mind.
  • Use your venue’s resources to publicize the event, including its Websites, newsletters, email blasts, and more.
  • Prepare the area for the reading or other presentation. We set up and test equipment for running PowerPoint so the author won’t have to struggle to turn pages while reading the story.
  • Have enough inventory on hand. It’s better to have extra copies than to leave a child (or an adult) weeping in the corner for lack of a dearly desired book.
  • Be prepared to accept credit cards (also, be cautious in selecting and/or dealing with your credit card processor, but that is a story for another time).
  • Prepare a presentation full of your personality. We both know you have one. If you can’t find yours, just pretend, and pretty soon it will emerge.
  • Get your audience involved. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them participate. That should make them want your book so much that they won’t walk away without at least one.
  • Remember, not everyone will love you. No matter how innocent and sweet your subject, someone will be offended. Be careful about engaging, and always take the high road.
  • Also remember your mother’s words: “Clean up after yourself.” Be a good guest.

Even if you sell only a few books, you have succeeded. Leave your business cards at that event, and let everyone know you are available for oh, so many other events. Keep networking, and one event will lead to another and another, and before long you may be selling at better-than-normal discounts in dozens of places.


Sonja Linsley, publisher of Higher Ground Press, has 25 years of journalism, advertising, public relations, and event-planning experience. To learn more: HigherGroundPress.com.

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