IBPA Member Spotlight: Octane Press' Lee Klancher
Thursday, October 25, 2018
Posted by: Christopher Locke
Octane Press’ Lee Klancher Shifts Into High Gear to Get Another Appearance on Jay Leno’s Garage
|(from left to right) Host Jay Leno talks to Steiger Tractors marketing manager Mitch Kaiser and Octane Press founder Lee Klancher during an episode of Jay Leno's Garage
Landing a spot on a television show is excellent exposure for a book, which is why Octane Press founder Lee Klancher was very pleased to have been able to get on Jay Leno’s Garage multiple times with his transportation-themed books. Naturally, when his latest book, Red 4WD Tractors, was published in September 2017, he pitched the show for another appearance, but this time it took some extra perseverance and creativity.
The first time Lee appeared on Jay Leno’s Garage in 2008 was with a book he wrote, Motorcycle Dream Garages. “I mailed a copy of the book to the garage to Jay’s attention,” says Lee, “and he called me on a Saturday night. I nearly didn’t answer because his phone is blocked, and I assumed it was someone calling to market something.”
That first appearance went well, so Lee was able to land other appearances on the show with other books, and each time Lee would send a pitch, Jay would call him personally. But by the time Red 4WD Tractors was published in 2017, a complication occurred: the segment of the show that Lee normally appeared on, Jay Leno’s Book Club, had been cancelled. Undeterred, Lee decided to pitch to Jay a different approach for his latest appearance. “I suggested we cook up a vehicle review with me on as an expert, and he was open to that idea. I thought it would be fun to have him drive a new Case IH tractor, as they are expensive ($600,000) and high-tech machines (they have a self-driving feature, for example). The people at Case IH were game, so I sent Jay a list of three places he could go and drive the machine. Most of those required him to fly somewhere, and the buzz I hear is that he hates traveling on an airplane.”
For the first time, Jay didn’t respond to Lee’s pitch. Lee sent a few other letters and even had the Octane Press publicist talk to Jay at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show in person, but none of these tactics worked.
Still undeterred, Lee was able to work out with a contact at Case IH to have a Steiger Series tractor delivered directly to Jay’s garage. With this new plan, Jay called Lee and said he was happy to have him on the show again (click here to see the full episode).
“The first appearance in 2008 was a big thrill personally,” says Lee, “and helped launch my career as a photographer and writer in the industry. This newest one, though, was more meaningful than in 2008 because I own the publishing company [Octane Press] for the book. Having our book on the show helped raise the company visibility, which means more to us from a fiscal basis, and affects our entire staff. This was about so much more than selling a few magazine articles—it was about establishing our company as a leader in our niche.“
|Octane Press' new release IMSA 1969-1989 by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf
Not only do the appearances on the show raise the profile of Octane Press but they also lead to other opportunities. “We did a lot of advertising that tied back to the Leno appearance,” says Lee, “and it’s used in media outreach as well. This kind of thing is gold for media outreach. ‘Do you want to interview X, who was on the Jay Leno show last March?’ That plays.”
Some other new titles by Octane Press are: TRACTOR: The Heartland Innovation, Ground-Breaking Machines, Midnight Schemes, Secret Garages, and Farmyard Geniuses that Mechanized Agriculture by Lee Klancher, which came out in September 2018, and IMSA 1969-1989 by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf, which will be available January 29, 2019.
Three Questions with Octane Press Founder Lee Klancher
IBPA: It sounds like you’ve built a solid relationship with Jay Leno through these appearances on his show. Can you talk about getting to know him over the years?
Lee Klancher (LK): He is an extraordinarily gracious host, and incredibly friendly and low-key. He loves to talk about cars and is incredibly knowledgeable about vehicle history and the evolution of technology. That happens to be the driving force behind my interest in machines—I love the stories of how those machines came to be—so we have had some great conversations over the years.
The day we were there [for the Steiger Series tractor shoot], we only spoke briefly one-on-one. Jay had Billy Crystal on that morning driving an Alfa Romeo convertible formerly owned by Muhammed Ali. That segment ran long, so we were jamming to get it all in.
That left myself and the Case IH crew a couple hours to roam around the garage, which was fantastic. Jay owns hundreds of cars, motorcycles, planes, and tractors, most of them historically significant. It was a vehicle geek’s dream.
IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?
- Get the content right first. Make it matter, make it right, and be sure someone actually wants it (and can’t easily get it elsewhere).
With our book Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding, we realized that our core audience had an interest in Irma Harding, who was a fictional spokesperson for a tractor company's line of appliances in the 1950s. She’s beautifully drawn and the company created her using a well-educated team of female professors, and the art from the era was cutting edge. While the story is great, we felt that a book on just that niche was too obscure, so we blended in some vintage Irma Harding recipes with interesting recipes from local farmers mainly in Austin, Texas (where the author and I are based) and the central Midwest (where our readers for this niche mainly live). The result was a great little vintage canning recipe book, that we’ve put in the hands of more than 50,000 readers.
- Sales networks and book discovery are equally critical and come less naturally to those who can create good content. Selling your book and getting it noticed both require hours and hours of gritty, nose to the grindstone work. Having the key people in your readership on board is vital. With our first big book, Red Tractors, we wanted to be sure every single club president knew about the book, and our salesperson reached out personally to about 100 club leaders. Ironically, not one of them would respond, and most wouldn’t return calls or answer the phone. When we debuted the book at the national show, however, we had an off-the-hook response. We still treat each new customer with the same effort and hard work. Sales don’t come easily—you need to work for every single customer.
- Outwork your competition for a decade, and you’ll be fine.
IBPA: Can you give three tips for how independent publishers can best market their books?
- Make sure your book fills a void for a defined audience. You have to research harder and know the audience better than your competition—that’s how you find those voids. Doing what has been done or is being done is a waste of time unless you have a bottomless budget for promotion.
- Get your books and authors in front of that audience both digitally and in person. Discovery is everything, and it’s not just one thing—it’s getting your author out there on social media, at events, and in print and digital media as well as television and radio. I think there’s this idea that digital can save the world, that you can do one viral video or post (or one massive media hit) and the skies will open and sales rain down. I don’t see that—the successes come after dozens of different avenues are explored. For example, our authors can be found speaking at motorcycle dealerships and appearing at farm shows. Sometimes the crowds are big, and we work really hard to do all the right things to make that happen, but sometimes the weather is bad or the local paper decides not to run the story or the show is poorly attended or the vendor does lousy promotion and our people end up standing in the rain to sell 3 books. The reality of this business is you have to do the work and show up and stand in the rain, and eventually the sun will come out and you’ll get those sales.
- Work hard, late, and long.
IBPA: Thank you, Lee, for sharing your story with the IBPA community!
Click here to learn more about Octane Press.
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