Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
Donna German is the editor of Sylvan Dell Publishing, a small press that specializes in animals, nature, science and the environment. She’s the author of two children’s books (Carolina’s Story and Octavia) plus 16 cookbooks, four of which were New York Times best-sellers including The Bread Machine Cookbook Series, which have sold more than 3 million copies. She’s worn many hats in her life, including homeschooling her three children while her family took a sabbatical and lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas, and then traveled cross-country visiting our National Parks. It was the NPS’s Junior Ranger Program that ultimately led to the “For Creative Minds” educational section in the back of each Sylvan Dell book. Though she admits that she doesn’t have time to write anymore, she feels that her author background gives her an interesting insight into the editorial process. “I hate writing rejections because I vividly remember receiving all 27 rejections prior to my first cookbook being accepted.”
I’m so pleased that Donna agreed to answer my questions and give us some insight into the small press side of our business.
What advantages does a small press have to offer for an author (as opposed to large publishing house)?
This is such an interesting question and I’m going to refer to something from my “former life” as a cookbook author. I was at an annual conference for cookbook authors and a table mate at one of the meals was talking about his Christmas Cookbook that had been released the year before by a LARGE printing house. Unfortunately, the books themselves were misplaced somewhere in the warehouse and orders were being “back-ordered.” The books finally showed up in February and orders filled (?) but, of course, they were all returned because it was after Christmas. Since many large publishing houses have a “six month” survival rule, his books were remaindered because they didn’t sell. His agent explained that because this book had flopped, no other publishing house would touch him…
My observation is that small houses keep books active longer than larger houses. We continue to market all books, not just the new releases. We must rely on EVERY book being a success because we can’t afford to publish books that won’t sell.
How does a small press compete in such a highly competitive business; how much do they rely on their authors’ involvement in book promotion?
I would say that small publishing houses must rely on every angle for marketing. We truly need our authors and illustrators to participate in marketing their books – through signings, library readings, and school visits. We can honestly see a difference in the bottom line of the titles that have that support versus those that don’t. I don’t know about other companies but at Sylvan Dell, every single title is selected to fit our precise niche and marketing plan. Unfortunately, we have had to turn down some really cute stories because we didn’t think we could market them.
We use technology to our advantage. Not just on the editorial end (accepting e-submissions), but in marketing too. We have just introduced a “referral rewards” program for people who are excited about our books and share the information with others. Once someone is signed onto our website, they get a special link to forward to friends. If the friends order books through our website, the original person gets credit towards their purchase or a cash reward. Independent bookstores and bloggers can sign up for an affiliate program so that they get credit – similar to Amazon.
What’s your favorite children’s joke?
Why do elephants paint their toenails red?
To hide in strawberry patches!
Note: Sylvan Dell is not affiliated in any way with either Sylvan Learning Centers or any “Dell” company. The name itself is Latin, meaning “wooded valley.” Donna German had the business name picked out years ago — long before the business itself was determined. Her father grew up in Delaware in an old farmhouse that is actually older than the United States! When her grandfather died, Donna moved from Massachusetts into the house so they could keep it in the family. While cleaning out an old shed, Donna found a wooden, hand-carved sign that simply said “Sylvan Dell.” When she questioned her father about it, he remembered the sign nailed to a tree at the end of the driveway when he was a young boy. Donna’s grandfather apparently referred to the property as “Sylvan Dell.” Donna determined that if she ever owned her own business that she wanted to name it after the family property (which is, in fact, a wooded valley). Yes, the home is still in Donna’s family — her sister lives in it. Continuing with the wooded valley theme, the logo uses leaves falling into an open book (valley theme) to signify “fall into reading.”
Click here for the Sylvan Dell’s submission guidelines.