Doodle and Peck Publishing Holds Strategic Planning Meeting on Their 5-Year Anniversary
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Posted by: Christopher Locke
|Doodle and Peck Publishing held a meeting for its 5-year anniversary. Some of the attendees included those pictured: (left to right) Vickie Kastl, illustrator; Marla Jones, senior editor/author/illustrator; Sandra Byrd Lawson, author; Barbara Shepherd, author (seated); Una Belle Townsend, author; and Darlina Eichman, author.
IBPA is a firm believer that strategic planning leads to success, so we were impressed when we heard that on Doodle and Peck Publishing’s 5-year anniversary they decided to have a meeting not just to celebrate but to also assess what is working and not working with their publishing company. The goal: to strengthen their business for the next five years and beyond.
It’s always helpful to assess your own independent publishing company by learning from others’ experiences, so we spoke to Senior Editor and Publisher Marla Jones about how they structured the meeting, the areas in which they’re thriving, the areas in which they need improvement, and more.
IBPA: What inspired you to have a meeting for the 5-year anniversary of Doodle and Peck Publishing to discuss what is/is not working for the business?
Marla Jones (MJ): When I started the company, I personally committed to five years. I wanted to have time to learn the ropes and correct mistakes, but also to grow. I work with very talented writers and illustrators. Anyone would be proud to own their books.
But over the past five years, we saw “up close and personal” what worked (i.e. made money) and what didn’t. I know most small businesses take several years to get on sure footing financially, so I was prepared for that, somewhat. But it is scary when you invest in what seems to be a “sure thing” only to have no ROI (return on investment).
I always intended to stop and evaluate at the five-year mark. As I said, I was committed to the company, good or bad. Since I work with a very supportive group, I invited all active authors and illustrators to attend and bring their input. After all, two heads are better than one! (Sorry, I’m using lots of clichés.)
IBPA: How did you structure the review?
MJ: The agenda was as follows: First we celebrated. We’ve done some beautiful work and have received some high praise from teachers and librarians. And our work has become known not only in the state of Oklahoma, but across the United States.
Next, I gave an overview of the past five years, including sales figures and income. I wanted to be honest and transparent about the company.
Finally, I asked for comments and suggestions, good or bad. Fortunately, we have a wonderful, supportive group. They were willing to make necessary changes for the health of the company.
IBPA: What did you decide is working?
- School and/or library visits work for everyone. Not only does it bring a constant cash flow to the company, but the author typically receives a fee.
- Promoting through Ingram proved to be a good ROI. And it’s affordable.
- Being a member of IBPA has saved us so much money. Best decision ever! The title set up fees and revision fees with Ingram can seriously cut into your budget. Since they partner with IBPA, it has been an incredible benefit to have those two items cost nothing. Yayyy!
IBPA: What are the things that aren’t working that you’re going to change?
Purchasing a large volume of each title so the per book price is lower proved to not work well. It drained our operating capital to the point we were strapped to do necessary marketing and promotion.
Freeing up cash flow by purchasing a smaller inventory allows us to participate in NetGalley, which is wonderful for obtaining reviews. And again, we are so grateful to IBPA for their partnership with NetGalley, which makes it affordable.
IBPA: You held your 5-year anniversary business meeting early in 2020 and soon after the COVID-19 health crisis broke out. Can you share advice about how an independent publisher can weather this crisis?
MJ: Doodle and Peck Publishing has always strived to carry no debt. We don't want interest payments eating away our resources. This is sometimes very difficult to maintain and often requires a juggling act between marketing, PR, and the actual work of producing a book. But with this crisis, I'm so glad we took this approach. Otherwise, we would have been in a world of hurt!
Due to this pandemic, our authors are not doing any school visits, book signings, or conferences. This has seriously reduced our company's cash flow. But we've moved most of our resources to digital sales, marketing, and public relations. Hopefully this will keep us viable until this crisis is over.
Since school visits and conferences aren't possible, I have been trying different avenues of marketing, including NetGalley through IBPA. I've been very pleased with the results and will continue to use them. Also, we've upped the budget for Ingram's catalog promotions. They are very affordable and reach a wide audience.
We've also worked very hard to add extra value to our bi-monthly newsletter email blast. Parents have taken a larger role in their child's education, so we've added a page to our website called Linking to Literacy Resources. It is filled with downloadable, printable resources that can stand alone or be paired with one of our titles. We also periodically offer our books at a discounted price. This not only helps parents, but it helps Doodle and Peck with cash flow. Win-win.
IBPA: Can you briefly describe the history of how Doodle and Peck Publishing came to be?
MJ: I self-published one of my own books in 2010. Another writer saw my illustrations and asked if I would illustrate her picture book. I did, and have since illustrated two more of her books. By then I had learned a few of the ropes of publishing.
I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I saw that many of my fellow Oklahoma authors’ and illustrators’ work were not being picked up by “the big 5.” Being a former first grade teacher, I recognize a good picture book when I see one. Being a creative activist, I knew I could help.
For all of 2014, I researched everything I could about opening a publishing company and attended countless webinars on the subject. I wanted to know if starting a new publishing company was feasible.
Feeling somewhat confident, I “opened the doors” for business on January 1, 2015. It’s been quite a ride!
IBPA: A big part of the Doodle and Peck business model is to pay high royalties to authors and illustrators. Can you explain why this is important to you?
MJ: My accountant is always pestering me to reduce my royalty percentages, but I refuse. Being an author/illustrator myself, I want to do the best I can for those who choose to work with Doodle and Peck. Throughout history, the arts seem to always get the short end of the stick. When a basketball player or “barely talented” entertainer makes millions, and an author or illustrator makes pennies per book, something is wrong. Whatever I can do to change this, I will.
About three years into the business, we made it beneficial for authors to get proactive about selling and marketing their books. We implemented a two-phase royalty schedule in which the first phase was focused on paying off the investment of producing the book. Once the company’s investment had been reimbursed by combined book sales through distributors, retailers, school visits, etc., the author entered the second phase royalty schedule, where their percentage was upped by 5%.
We also implemented a sliding scale for author book purchases. The more books the author purchases to sell, the higher their author discount. This policy has worked very well, especially for those authors and illustrators who grasp the fact that what they do is a business. When they purchase books at a lower price, they make more money when they sell the book.
IBPA: Can you share three marketing tips for other independent publishers?
MJ: I can only speak to the realities of a small, independent publisher.
- Don’t over invest in inventory. We are so fortunate to have so many print on demand options available to us. Buying thousands of copies just to bring down the price of each book can sink your company.
- Try varied and different venues for distribution and marketing. Do what proves to have a good ROI. We have become very selective in the conferences and events we attend. Some may sound good and promise to be lucrative, but if that proves to not be the case, try another.
|Doodle and Peck by Marla Jones
- Join IBPA! It will save you a ton of money. The benefits of membership totally surpass the membership fee.
IBPA: Do you have any new books coming out soon?
MJ: My personal latest book is entitled, Doodle and Peck. The company name and its logo were created in 2015. But several authors encouraged me to create book characters named Doodle and Peck. And the characters naturally lent themselves to being an allegory of the publishing business.
IBPA: Congratulations on five successful years of Doodle and Peck Publishing! We wish you many more. And thank you for sharing your expertise with the IBPA community.
Click here to learn more about Doodle and Peck Publishing!
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