Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday, October 10 Dedicated Issue: Schiffer Publishing

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Editors' Note

Schiffer Publishing

With support from the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates Schiffer Publishing, the ever-growing independent house that publishes highly popular titles in a wide range of areas, from mind/body/spirit and children's to military history to popular culture and art and design.

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Books & Authors

Schiffer Publishing: Cultivating Many Niches

Schiffer Publishing's home is one of the most unusual settings for a book publisher. In the small town of Atglen in the rolling hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, Schiffer's "book farm" and extensive warehouse are on a 140-acre working farm with a view of preserved land and features a koi pond, grazing cattle, cornfields, and a variety of sculptures. The place speaks volumes about the company. There's a sense of calm, solidity, beauty, and thoughtfulness that mirrors the company's creative, disciplined approach in aiming to give "our readers the best experience possible," as Publisher and owner Pete Schiffer puts it. "At the end of the day, the focus has to be value for the reader."

The publishing company was founded in 1974 when Pete's parents, Nancy and Peter, began compiling books to accompany appraisals of their antique and collectibles business. The books became increasingly popular--in part because from the beginning, the family had "a focus on what would be most useful for their reader." The company seized on a new opportunity with Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, responding to the great interest in American arts and crafts by publishing some books on the subject. "We found the best teachers," he continues, "and soon we had a line of craft books." It's one illustration of one of the company's slogans: "Find a niche and scratch it."

As it steadily grew, Schiffer Publishing moved to its present location in 1992. Not wanting a long commute, Pete's parents decided to make their home on the ground floor, below the company's offices. Pete recalls a childhood in which "the business was our life." Family trips were business-related--to book fairs and toy, antique and art shows. Pete helped out "upstairs" regularly, and "we had authors over for dinner all the time." He calls the mix of publishing and family life "normal" and "a lifestyle" rather than an occupation. Today the family home serves as meeting spaces for the team.

Since Pete took over as Publisher in 2008, the company has grown and diversified its list--but it's done so a bit under the radar. Ironically to many, the company is best known for what it publishes least these days: antiques and collectible books. After the Internet fundamentally changed how information about such subjects was shared, the team purposefully began to focus on other areas of the catalog.

Today Schiffer Publishing has more than 7,000 titles in print in a wide range of subjects across different imprints. The majority of titles can be found in the main four imprints: Schiffer Publishing, Schiffer Military History, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit and Schiffer Kids. (More about each below.) In some ways, it's still very much a niche publisher--but instead of a publisher in a single niche, it's now a publisher in many, many niches, from beautiful decorating books and detailed titles about tanks and warships and fighter planes to cutting-edge tarot decks and striking children's titles that tenderly and entertainingly deal with developmental stages kids go through.

"We've diversified over the year by keeping our blinders wide open," Pete Schiffer comments. "For example, our tattoo line started because a Polynesian art museum saw our book on Polynesian rugs, which was a follow-up to a book on oriental rugs."

A key to understanding Schiffer Publishing is that many of the company's authors are members of communities with passionate, deep and broad interests. "Inspiring through expert knowledge is a core mantra for us," says Jamie Elfrank, Marketing Director. "Our authors are a wealth of knowledge that should be shared, especially within communities so eager for information. It's one of the reasons we accept open admissions. While many are experts in their field, they aren't necessarily writers by trade. So we partner with them to translate that knowledge into a book." Many of the titles dig deep into advanced topics, which explains in part the company's emphasis on quality in production as well as content. Noting that the book and the scroll are "the only consistent forms of conveying information that have passed the test of time," Pete says, "We want readers to care for our authors' work."

It's a striking story and approach that isn't well known in the business. "We've always promoted authors and books more than ourselves," Pete explains.

The company uses internal marketing and sales teams, complemented by commission groups, to sell to wholesalers, books and gift stores, and all kinds of specialized shops including craft and museum stores. "We stay close to our customer base," Pete says. "It helps us understand what readers are looking for."

What's ahead for Schiffer Publishing? "I'm happy with the four main imprints," Pete says. "There're many areas for growth with them. While there are plenty of acquisition opportunities, that's not our primary plan for growth. We're a very grass-roots company."

And there are more opportunities than ever for the company, Pete says. "The need for curated knowledge is never going to end. There will be more and more focused areas of interest as more and more information becomes available."

Schiffer Publishing: Must Have New Releases - Coming Spring 2020>

The Four Schiffer Imprints

Schiffer Publishing's four main imprints cover most of its publishing program. Managing Editor Jesse Marth works across all imprints; the 10-year company veteran earlier was marketing director and production editor. These days, Pete says, "Jesse is a leader across teams and has taken over most of the day-to-day operations in addition to integrating change across the business."

Schiffer Publishing is headed by Jamie Elfrank. The imprint focuses on five core categories: popular culture, art and design (including architecture), fine craft and technique (including quilting, fiber, and woodworking) and regional titles; it includes Cornell Maritime Press/Tidewater, which publishes professional maritime education books and whose markets are primarily schools and professionals.

Among its bestselling recent backlist titles are:

Fraver by Design: Five Decades of Theatre Poster Art from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Beyond by Frank "Fraver" Verlizzo ($34.99) features the award-winning work of the designer and artist behind many major posters for Broadway shows. "It's perfect for everyone who loves theater," Elfrank says. "It's a resource about the shows themselves."

Donald and the Golden Crayon: An Unpresidented Parody: A Book That Uses the Best Words by P. Shauers ($16.99) was inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon, but is not a kids' book. All the quotes are direct Presidential quotes, and the book was "a huge hit" with librarians at ALA, the team says. "It's great fun for those wishing to stir the pot during the holidays and a great gift to those with feelings in either direction," Pete adds.

Christmas by Design: Private Homes Decorated by Leading Designers by Patricia Hart McMillan and Katharine Kaye McMillan ($45) is the most recent in a series of Christmas design books by the authors and is "one of our favorite design books for the holidays," Elfrank says.

Four Seasons of Entertaining by Shayla Copas ($50) is a "fresh, wonderful, inspirational book with some recipes by an up-and-coming designer," Marth notes.

Regional titles include Sea Glass Publishing, LLC, which was acquired this year. They fit perfectly with Schiffer's focus on niche passions, with titles like Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems by Richard LaMotte, photographs by Celia Pearson, which has sold more than 100,000 copies and has spawned a range of related calendars, notecards, journals and more. These titles, Pete says, are perfect for coastline bookstores.


Schiffer Military History, which began using that name in 1988 and its own logo four years ago (the logo won an American Graphic Design Award from Graphic Design USA in 2018), is headed by Bob Biondi, a 32-year veteran of the company. The imprint has more than 1,300 titles in print. The line was initially based on books drawn from European archives, everything from histories of types of airplanes and tanks and weaponry to accounts of specific German army units during World War II to many large books on uniforms, which have been picked up fashion designers. "A lot of our titles look at the war from unique perspective and untold stories," Pete notes.

Schiffer Military History includes several popular series, such as the America in Space series, which focuses on "the operational, technical and human aspects of the space race and is very accessible," Biondi says. There is also a companion series on the Soviet space program. The books in the Classic Guns of the World series are deeply researched, with "superb illustrations that both new and veteran collectors will appreciate," Biondi adds.

The Legends of Warfare series is "a counterpoint to the big, expensive, exhaustive books we're known for in this area," Pete says. The series focuses on specific aircraft, ships, tanks and more and has high production values, yet retails for only $19.99. "These are ideal for bookstore customers who are beginners in the area and looking to learn."


RedFeather Mind Body Spirit began quietly with metaphysical titles and took the RedFeather Mind, Body, Spirit name and logo three years ago. Headed by Christopher McClure (who is the author of the spiritually themed children's book The Legend of Papa Balloon and is a board member of the Coalition of Visionary Resources), the imprint's program has expanded rapidly. Its main categories now include tarot, astrology, numerology books, kits, decks and more, and channel material. "The market has exploded," McClure says. "Mind/body/spirit titles have become more acceptable and aren't just for metaphysical stores anymore."

RedFeather Mind Body Spirit responds quickly to trends, McClure says, which is among the reasons its list has become so diverse so quickly. One example: when pendulums became popular two years ago, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit came out with a pendulum kit.

Tarot decks are currently among the most popular titles, including The Transparent Tarot decks, which allows a user to see cards that are piled on top of one another. This was "one of our biggest splashes in the tarot world," McClure says. "It makes for different and unique readings."

McClure notes that while traditionally metaphysical material has "trended female, guys have an interest, too." As a result, the imprint offers some tarot decks that are "more on the masculine side."

As with other Schiffer titles, RedFeather Mind Body Spirit's books and decks are marked by high production values. With the decks, for example, the company usually uses gilding and has a superior box with a magnet to "securely close" it. "We are honoring the cards with the housing," McClure says. "These are not throw-away boxes." Likewise the decks and books use high quality paper. "Every part of the package is a tactile experience for the reader," Pete adds. And the decks are different from one another, not cookie cutter, to emphasize their unique approaches.

RedFeather Mind Body Spirit also "cross pollinates with other Schiffer imprints," Elfrank notes. This happens particularly with children's and crafts. "Christopher is bringing out kids' books with a spiritual side."

One example of cross pollination is a kids' book coming out called Wee Witches by Beth Roth and Ted Enik, illustrated by Ted Enik (September, $16.99), which acknowledges there is "growing interest in that spiritual path" and respects wicca "as a faith, not a fringe group," McClure notes.


Schiffer Kids, which became a separate imprint two years ago and is headed by Tracee Groff, focuses on social and emotional development, which she calls "a passion of mine." She notes that as a parent of a child who struggles with anxiety, "I know there are not many books for parents to sit with at laptime and open a discussion on such topics." She emphasizes that she wants education to be fun and kids to have fun learning. She acknowledges that STEM and STEAM are important, but "the social and emotional side of life is a huge part of a child's SEED development. We hope to address some of the mental health issues we as a country are facing today."

She also emphasizes working with authors who value "fun in learning," too. "Several of our authors spend a good amount of time visiting schools and working with kids," she says. "Timothy Young (I Hate Picture Books, The Angry Puffin), for example, travels to different schools talking to kids about drawing and inspiring creativity."

Like other Schiffer imprints, Schiffer Kids ties into other parts of the company, including crafts and regional interests. These include titles focused on paper folding as well as a series about crafting with plastics, woods and other materials. Its series include the popular Escape Game series as well as the Chadwick the Crab series that's been around for 30 years. It also includes toy and activity books as well as a range of board, picture and middle reader titles.

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Fall and Spring Titles: A Selection

America's Flag Story by Karen Robbins, illustrated by J. James (Schiffer Kids, March 2020, $16.99). By the former Romper Room teacher and author of the award-winning Think series, this book for young readers aims to "unite the country under a common symbol," Groff notes. It celebrates the flag as a symbol of freedom, endurance, courage and the place where immigrants came and built a new nation.

Max's Box: Letting Go of Negative Feelings by Brian Wray, illustrated by Shiloh Penfield (Schiffer Kids, September, $16.99). "The author's first book, Unraveling Rose, helps parents deal with OCD in their children, and his new book offers a gentle way to talk to children about something difficult," says Groff. In Max's Box, Max puts everything in a box, including cherished toys and unwanted words as well as things said at school. A friend wonders why he's carrying such a big box, and eventually Max is able to let go of the box and its many negative contents. "It's a modern-day parable about healthy emotional development," Groff adds.

Little Box of Emotions: Matching and Memory Cards by Louison Nielman, illustrated by Marie Paruit (Schiffer Kids, April 2020, $19.99) is a boxed kit with 24 coaster-sized cards that portray eight common emotions, including love, anger, and sadness. The kit and guidebook offer an accessible way to describe and understand those feelings and includes exercises and yoga postures to work through the feelings.

King of Boredom by Ilaria Guarducci (Schiffer Kids, April 2020, $14.99). This book stars Ben, who "just likes to be bored," Groff says. His parents are worried, especially when Ben locks himself in his bedroom and declares himself the Supreme King of Boredom and builds an elaborate castle. "King of Boredom shows that sometimes if parents let kids be, great things happen," Groff adds. "In this plugged-in world, it's good to remember that it's OK to do nothing sometimes."

Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project by Sol Regwan, illustrated by Denise Muzzio (Schiffer Kids, February 2020, $16.99) stars "the most tenacious second grader you've ever met," Groff comments. Geraldine loves to take electronics apart and build things, and she's constantly in trouble. When she wins the school science fair, creating glasses that can see Mars, "everyone sees her in a different light--as a brilliant scientist."

Knives and Needles: Tattoo Artists in the Kitchen by Molly A. Kitamura, photographed by John Agcaoili (Schiffer Publishing, October, $29.99) "intersects tattoo culture and foodie culture," Elfrank says. It's an invitation into the kitchens of some of the top artists in California today to talk about their favorite recipes and their tattoos.

Art of the Beard by David Sacks and Angie Sacks (Schiffer Publishing, September, $26.99) is "a tribute to the wonderful world of the beard," Pete says. "It's inspiring and shows many different ways of wearing them. It's the gift you get the person who has a beard everyone talks about."

The Art for Joy's Sake Journal: Watercolor Discovery and Releasing Your Creative Spirit (Artisan Series) by Kristy Rice (Schiffer Publishing, October, $24.99) is the latest in the author's line of watercolor books and focuses on creating "art for joy's sake." This guided journal features illustrations ready for readers to watercolor, creativity exercises, and inspirational artwork.

Conversations with Nell: The Discerning World of a Wise and Witty Labrador by Sara Martin (Schiffer Publishing, April 2020, $19.99) tells the story of the author's life in Devon through a series of conversations with her dog, Nell. Pete describes the author and title as "delightfully British."

Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World by John Seed (Schiffer Publishing, September, $50). Seed is an artist, curator and popular HuffingtonPost Arts & Culture blogger, who offers the first book to survey the works of contemporary painters who are challenging and reshaping the tradition of Realism. Seed believes that we are "the most distracted society in the history of the world," and in the book, he focuses on 38 artists he sees as visionaries in this developing movement.

Robbie Conal: Street Wise: 35 Years of Politically Charged Guerrilla Art by G. James Daichendt, foreword by Shepard Fairey (Schiffer Publishing, $45, April 2020) features Daichendt's storied poster campaigns.

I Love Happy Cats: A Guide for a Happy Cat
by animal behaviorist Anneleen Bru (Schiffer Publishing, September, $24.99). A runaway bestseller in Belgium, I Love Happy Cats is "a great resource of information for cat lovers," Marth says, "and makes a really nice gift book."

American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army's Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg by Col. French L. MacLean, U.S. Army (ret.) (Schiffer Military, October, $29.99). This biography focuses on the man who executed 10 senior Nazis in 1946, and whose life was marked by several botched executions and his own mysterious death by electrocution.

The History of the American Space Shuttle by Dennis R. Jenkins (Schiffer Military, November, $59.99) is a comprehensive history of the program by someone who worked for NASA. It's "wonderfully digestible and recounts each mission in detail," Marth says. At $60, the book is an "investment" and "presents all the pertinent information in a beautiful way. You can't get this same interaction with a website."

The Charles Dickens Tarot by Christopher Leach (RedFeather, November, $34.99) has a literary theme that will make it "a great crossover deck for people in bookstores," McClure notes.

The Transparent Tarot, Second Edition by Emily Carding (RedFeather, April 2020, $59.99) is a luxury deck featuring transparent tarot cards.

The Creativity Oracle: Visions of Enchantment to Guide & Inspire Magic Makers by Amy Zerner and Monte Farber (RedFeather, March 2020, $34.99) features an oracle deck and guidebook by the bestselling authors.

Team Matters: Schiffer Publishing's Focus on People and Process

For the first several years after Pete Schiffer became Publisher in 2008, the business was managed in the same way that it had been traditionally run, with a structure like a hub of a spoked wheel with many decisions resting upon a few shoulders. This traditional structure was limiting and was proving to be unsustainable. For the company to succeed, it needed a new way of doing things. Schiffer decided to make a significant shift and ensure that the new structure focused on a strong team and on developing leaders from within to share in management for their parts of the business. To accomplish this, they first needed to understand better who was part of the team and establish a leadership team. The next task was defining core principles and documenting their entire publishing processes. The documentation was critical to align each team's efforts with the overall goals and provide a clear direction. By aligning each team, the business was able to get to the next level as an organization and provide greater value to the team, company authors and readers.

Creating that team as well as defining core principles and creating the best practices for working with each other has been a long, carefully considered process--and it continues. It's a detailed approach and includes a range of unusual, broad measures.

For one, there's a large wall in the center of Schiffer Publishing's offices that has a huge guide that codifies "in visual form" work flow from acquisition, through editing to printing and production, and is helpful to both staff and authors, Pete says. "Making a book is like a triathlon," he says.

The author's initial creative process in writing the work does the metaphorical swimming while the editorial and publishing process works to cycle, refine and make the text come to life. Then in the final leg, launching the title, the sales and marketing team completes the process by connecting the book with its audience. While once Schiffer drew staff from the local area who often didn't have extensive experience in book publishing, it now draws from a wider area and includes people from medical, educational, and trade publishing. "The wall helps make sure the team knows our process and we speak a common language," Pete says.

For authors, it's just as important since many of them are experts in their fields, but may not have created a book before. Again, having the team and authors understand Schiffer's publishing approaches helps create "the best book" for Schiffer's distributors, customers and readers.

In the same vein, the company has a "one-pager" on each of its four imprints that codifies them for everyone and includes their vision and mission.

Another important aspect of how Schiffer operates is through its use of personality index assessments, which as Pete says, "helps focus where our team will do their best work." The survey identifies and helps the company understand team members' strengths, drivers, and communication styles. It gives insight and context into what is important for each person, and shows that every person is different and works differently. This assessment creates awareness throughout the team and helps to ensure that people are in roles best suited for their interest and skills, as well as understanding interpersonal team dynamics.

On Mondays, the company has a general meeting called a Huddle, in the downstairs area with a view of rolling farmland. The goal of the Huddle is to keep everyone on the same page and together celebrate "wins" and share what is happening in the upcoming week. They also review company KPI's, and learn if anyone is stuck with a project and needs additional time with teammates to discuss issues and concerns. The Peter B. and Nancy awards, selected by the team, are given each week from one team member to another (or to a group) to celebrate work that's above and beyond the usual as well as for great achievement.

At Schiffer Publishing, "transparency is very important," too, Pete says. Thus, each quarter, the company has meetings about the status of many projects. It's a kind of "organizational checkup," he says, and focuses on "what's working, what's not working, and what's next." Elfrank adds: "By streamlining the processes, we remove hurdles so the team can spend more time working on the books."

Each team member has "a rock"--a project or assignment with significant goals that, as Pete says, "is about what to do day to day to move the company forward. It's about figuring out a process or initiative that they want to do but haven't yet."

In the last year, Schiffer has given each imprint head his or her own team to work with from editorial through design, production, sales and marketing and customer service. "We wanted a focused group that could champion and advocate for the projects in each imprint," Pete comments.

Pete says it "took years" of looking at leadership and organizational ideas "to figure out what works for us." The company did not want to bring in a consultant with a cookie-cutter approach, because "to fit our own culture, we had to do this ourselves. And we're not done!" Instead, the Schiffer team realized that it was important to implement change slowly and establish feedback for what was and wasn't working. Streamlining ideas and coming up with common definitions were key in the effort "to remove obstacles in both procedures and interpersonal relationships so we can work on what matters most."

To help these processes, they relied on a core group of trusted advisors, including Wayne Wilson, Eric Kaled, Doug McCann, and Anthony McCarley, for perspective regarding the people and operational alignment as well as using a variety of tools from organizational and business thinkers, such as Ken Blanchard, whose Situational Leadership Styles helped establish a common understanding of how to lead or be led through successfully accomplishing a task. Other tools include the Root Cause Model, which provides a framework for teams to identify, discuss, and solve issues. Schiffer developed an internal library for the team with titles that resonated with the changes and gave insight into modes of thinking. Ryan Holiday's Perennial Seller is one such title, which Schiffer frequently recommends to their authors. ("What matters is the long-time value of the books," Pete says. "That perennial seller.") The Kaizen Pocket Handbook was the first book Pete gave to each person in the company when they started to change the management structure. Kaizen emphasizes that change is a good thing and necessary to improve. "It was to comfort the thought that all change is bad," Pete says.

Additionally, each employee was given Five Dysfunctions of a Team and subsequently participated in a company book talk complete with breakout sessions that put ideas from the book in the context of Schiffer's mission and goals as a company. "As a team, it's fundamental that we must trust each other," Pete says. "From that trust, we can have conflict and say what needs to be said so we can commit to decisions and directions, which enables us to create accountability. That accountability allows us to reach the results we have established as a team."

The offices and warehouse are impressive, too. All team members have different workstations that can include raised desks and multiple computers, depending on their preferences. Many conference areas feature large, beautifully finished, unusually shaped wood slab tabletops with all kinds of character that are "a part of who we are" and go back to Schiffer's grandfather's antique business.

Artwork hangs throughout the offices, and there are sculptures indoors and outdoors. "We have art because we love creative things and love keeping creative things in front of creative people," Pete explains.

Schiffer's facilities include an elaborate photo studio, where "we can do it all," Pyete says. The studio has been particularly important for taking images of quilts and antiques, among other objects that have appeared in some Schiffer books.

In a similar vein, the company's extensive warehouse was carefully and custom designed, and includes two custom-sized pallets and an organizational system that doesn't rely as much on technology as some warehouses. In-demand titles are most easily accessible while the company aims to "limit the number of times it moves books."

Just as creating a book is a long process that takes many years to complete, making these necessary internal changes to the organizational structure and team alignment has taken many years and likely will always be a work in progress. "Being nimble and agile is becoming more important every day," Pete says, "and we see these changes as critical to ensuring we continue to offer high-quality content for the next 45 years and beyond."

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