Thursday, Oct 8, 2009 Dedicated Issue: IPG

Independent Publishers Group: Expert distribution for innovative publishers

Chicago Review Press: Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction by John Austin

ECW Press: The Carnivore by Mark Sinnett

The Crossroad Publishing Company: The Naked Now by Richard Rohr

Lion Children's: The LIon Storyteller Bible and The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book

Boxtree: Little People in the Big City by Slinkachu

Editors' Note

Independent Publishers Group

With support from the distributor, Shelf Awareness offers this dedicated issue about Independent Publishers Group, which continues to grow and diversify--steadily and profitably.


Headline Publishing Group: The King of Thieves/No Law in the Land by Michael Jecks


Full House: IPG and Trafalgar Square Publishing

Founded in 1971 to market the books of small and medium-sized publishers, Independent Publishers Group has grown steadily over the years and now is one of the largest distributors in the country. It's achieved this by attracting a range of client companies--from publishers of a handful of titles to some of the largest houses in the world who use IPG to reach the North American market.

They come for similar reasons, according to IPG president Mark Suchomel. "IPG is all about helping publishers grow and become as profitable as possible," he said. "We work to manage risk and maximize sales." Publishers work closely with IPG throughout the publishing process, from title development to sales. IPG aims "to get the right books in the right accounts" and markets aggressively, Suchomel said. At the same time, however, the company avoids "the temptation to oversell, which helps keep the IPG returns rate well below the industry norm."

In addition, IPG strives to "provide the best service possible to our accounts," Suchomel said. "We have real people answering our phones and whenever possible they take care of our customers without transferring the call."

Owned by Chicago Review Press since 1987, IPG had an emphasis on nonfiction, but that changed in 2006 with the purchase of Trafalgar Square Publishing, which specializes in distributing titles of U.K. publishers in the U.S.

"Trafalgar brought a lot to the list," Suchomel said. "Now we have something for absolutely everybody." Among the 40,000 active titles--the company adds a few thousand a year--are art and science books, mysteries and science fiction, a range of general fiction as well as more "good nonfiction."

In art, bestselling IPG titles include Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu photographed by Slinkachu with a foreword by Will Self (Macmillan UK/Boxtree), which was published in June (see below). Another strong art title is Wall and Piece by Banksy (Random House UK/Century), a compendium of the best work by the famous, enigmatic British graffiti artist. Suchomel called Wall and Piece "one of the bestselling art books over the last couple years."

IPG has retained the basic Trafalgar Square Publishing model--buying titles nonreturnable from the originating publishers rather than taking them on a consignment basis. At the same time, it has brought in more inventory in the weekly shipments so that fewer titles are out of stock, aided by tools that help predict demand for titles. IPG has "improved service overall and improved our reach into specialty markets," Suchomel continued. "We've proven we can sell these types of books and shown that it's better to sell these books through us than to take a mediocre rights offer. As a result, more of our Trafalgar Square Publishing clients are keeping North American rights to titles and selling them through Trafalgar Square rather than selling rights."

IPG has also opened the Trafalgar Square Publishing program to Australia. Random House Australia is among publishers Down Under that are using the service. In addition, Allen & Unwin, the Australian independent publisher which has distributed many titles in the U.S. through IPG, has, at the publisher's request, become part of Trafalgar Square Publishing.

IPG's focus on specialty markets flows in part because of the diversity of its list. "Some of our titles aren't going to do well in general bookstores, and some will sell only in general bookstores," Suchomel said. In addition, about three years ago, the company set up a gift sales program with more than 100 reps and space in gift showrooms around the country. As a result, gift and museum sales are "up nicely," Suchomel said.

So far this year, IPG sales have been nearly level, which in this economy, of course, is the new "up phenomenally." Sales of most of the distributor's larger publishers have improved. Suchomel said, "Those with a good steady list that are publishing as many books as last year are doing as well as or better than last year."

IPG has continued to strive to offer clients what Suchomel called "outstanding personal attention." One example is "personalized selling" via custom catalogues. "If a customer wants to look at all gardening books good for New England that sell for under $20, we can produce a catalogue with just their name on it and have just those books in it," Suchomel said. "It's a better way to sell the backlist and makes the buying process a little more efficient."

IPG has also started Small Press United, a program for publishers of one or two titles that allows them to obtain distribution at a reasonable cost and with seamless efficiency. Small Press United works closely with the Independent Book Publishers Association, formerly PMA, and offers, among other things, online publisher education materials such as how-to guides for publicity, author tours and making media contacts. Interested publishers may apply for the program online at The company is hoping that booksellers make use of the new division, too--by referring local publishers to it.

Chicago Review Press: Benjamin Franklin by Brandon Marie Miller

Books & Authors

Selected New and Forthcoming Titles

Appearing this month, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare (Chicago Review Press) is by John Austin, a professional toy designer and author of Cubical Warfare and Prank University. For somewhat bored office workers and students and for children of any age, the book offers detailed instructions for creating 35 devices made out of such things as paper clips, rubber bands, ballpoint pens and more: catapults, slingshots, minibombs, darts, etc. For example, Austin describes how to build "a tiny trebuchet from paper clips and a D-cell battery, wrap a penny in a string of paper caps to create a surprisingly impressive 'bomb,' and convert champagne party poppers and pen casings into a three-barreled bazooka."


In The Carnivore (ECW Press/a misFit Book), published last month, Mark Sinnett recounts the effect of Hurricane Hazel, which struck Toronto in 1954, on Ray Townes, a young policeman who was celebrated as a hero for saving people trapped in their houses by the flooding Humber River, and Townes's wife, Mary, who worked the same night in an ER helping victims of the storm. Something about Ray's story that night bothers Mary, but she brushes her doubts aside--until 50 years later when a reporter visits and the truth begins to emerge.


The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
by Richard Rohr (Crossroad Publishing Company/Crossroad), published last month, is a guide for Christians seeking "a way of thinking outside of strict dualities." Rohr, the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, an essayist on NPR's This I Believe, an author and regular contributor to Sojourners and Tikkun magazines, draws from the Gospels, Jesus, Paul and the Christian contemplatives to reveal that "many of the hidden truths of Christianity have been misunderstood or lost." He shows how to read those truths as mystics would rather than try to interpret them through rational thought.


In The Lion Storyteller Bible by Bob Hartman, illustrated by Krisztina Kállai Nagy (Lion UK/Lion Children's), published last month, the author retells more than 70 Bible stories, including David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale and Noah and the Ark--all in a way designed to be read aloud. Hartman is a children's book author, and Nagy is illustrator of the Animal Lullabies series.

The pair have also collaborated on The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (Lion UK/Lion Children's), which will be published here in March 2010. This anthology features a selection of tales from around the world that are written and designed to be read aloud, too.


Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu
photographed by Slinkachu with a foreword by Will Self (Macmillan UK/Boxtree), was published here in June and has been selling "really well," IPG's Mark Suchomel said. The book documents the author's "little scenarios" that feature inch-high figures of people in London in somewhat surreal situations. For example, one depicts a figure with a gun and dead housefly (huge in comparison) next to him.


From Michael Jecks, author of the Knights Templar Mystery series, No Law in the Land (Headline Book Publishing/Headline) was published last month and features a pair of messengers of King Edward II who lose their jobs because they have borne the news that Queen Isabella is remaining in France with the King's son. Back home in Devon, which is in chaos, they investigate murders that point to a friend of the King. Then the daughter of one of the messengers disappears. . . 

Next in the Knights Templar Mystery series is The King of Thieves (Headline Book Publishing/Headline), which will be published here in January 2010. In this one, set in 1325, two emissaries from the king are sent to join the entourage led by Prince Edward that is headed to the French King, to whom the prince must make a demeaning submission so that England can keep its French possessions. The entourage is delivered into the custody of Queen Isabella, who is causing a scandal with English traitor Roger Mortimer. Soon the emissaries discover a plot that threatens England's future.


Published this month, Benjamin Franklin, American Genius: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Brandon Marie Miller (Chicago Review Press) follows the life of the Founding Father and includes many hands-on activities such as designing and printing an almanac cover, experimenting with static electricity and building a barometer. Also in the book: a time line, glossary, Web and travel resources and a reading list.


America's Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes & Early Leaders with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders (Chicago Review Press) will be published in January and focuses on lesser known but significant Revolutionary era African Americans, including dozens of men and women who were soldiers, sailors, ministers, poets, merchants, doctors and other community leaders. The book includes activities for celebrating Constitution Day, cooking colonial foods, publishing a newspaper and more. Like Benjamin Franklin, American Genius, the book has a time line, glossary, Web and travel resources and a reading list.


Tachyon Publications: The Secret History of Science Fiction edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

Book Brahmin: William Gurstelle

According to Newsweek, if Martha Stewart were a geek, she'd be William Gurstelle. A writer, licensed engineer, author (of Backyard Ballastics and other titles), inveterate tinkerer and super-charged inventor, he has been researching and building model catapults and ballistic devices for more than 30 years. His latest book, Absinthe & Flamethrowers (Chicago Review Press), shows smart risk takers how to add more excitement to their lives, explores why danger is good for you and details the art of living dangerously.

On your nightstand now:

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a taser-powered potato gun and Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo. Also a stack of New Yorkers (who can keep up?), 37 cents in change, lint and a pencil with no eraser.

In your garage now:

Machinery's Handbook, Edition 26, Rocket Manual for Amateurs by Captain Bertrand R. Brinley, Black Powder Manufacturing Testing and Optimizing by Ian Von Maltitz and The Boy Mechanic by Lindsay Publications.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. I also loved Caps for Sale by the delightfully named Esphyr Slobodkina.

Your top five authors:

I really enjoy 19th century British authors. I've read all of Charles Dickens's novels, most of Jane Austen's and many of Walter Scott's. I also really like Americans Booth Tarkington and James Fenimore Cooper. There's something so right about the literary worlds these authors construct. Virtue is rewarded, and evil is punished. Their worlds are as ours should be. (Plus, my two favorite character names of all time are the aptronymic Mr. McChokemchild in Dickens's Hard Times and Cooper's nearly unpronounceable Mohawk Chingachgook.)

Book you've faked reading:

I tried to get through Gravity's Rainbow three times. Never made it past page 110.

Book you're an evangelist for:

My buddy Dan Buettner's book Blue Zones is a great book with a great purpose. If you're interested in living longer and living better (and who isn't?), Blue Zones is the logical place to start.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Catcher in the Rye. I really can't say what it is about that cover that appeals to me. It just does.

Book that changed your life:

Introduction to Computer Data Processing, Third Edition, 1984. If this textbook had not so clearly described how god-awfully boring a career in information technology was, I may have made some early career decisions that were even worse than the ones I did make.

Favorite line from a book:

"The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists, as the mother can love the unborn child. In creative art the essence of a book exists before the book or before even the details or main features of the book; the author enjoys it and lives in it with a kind of prophetic rapture."--Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Big Phil's Kid by Martin Parker. It was my favorite when I was a teenager--the funniest thing I'd ever read.

Favorite invention of your own:

Like a parent with many children, I love all my inventions pretty much equally. The hamster-powered night-light is as wonderful as the balsa-wood ornithopter in its own way. (Except for my flamethrower. My flamethrower is really, really special.)

The most dangerous books you've ever read:

The most dangerous good book I've read is Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. Everybody should draw their own conclusions on Dawkins's arguments, but remember: talking about his ideas in the wrong settings can lead to dicey situations.

The most dangerous bad book is The Anarchist Cookbook. It's just a hodgepodge of badly written, bad-tempered, ill-conceived instructions that could only lead to dangerously bad outcomes.

The most artfully dangerous piece of advice anyone has given you:

Conventional wisdom says to know your limits. To know your limits, you need to find them first. Finding your limits generally involves getting in over your head and hoping you live long enough to benefit from the experience. That's the fun part.

Gollancz: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

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