Archive for September, 2008

Got Venison?

YUM.

Venison: YUM.

Every week at F+W, we have a pub board meeting where we discuss potential new projects for publication. The agenda is always distributed on Tuesday, and we meet on Friday morning.

This week’s agenda included the following projects from our Krause division:

10 Venison Heart and Liver Recipes
10 Venison Salad and Appetizer Recipes
15 Venison Marinade, Sauce and Gravy Recipes
15 Venison Barbeque & Rib Recipes
24 Venison Sausage and Jerky Recipes
30 Ethnic Recipes using Venison
30 Ground Venison Recipes
30 Venison Roast Recipes
35 Venison Main Dish Recipes
40 Venison Soup, Stew and Chili Recipes
55 Venison Steak Recipes
301 Venison Recipes from the Readers of Deer and Deer Hunter Magazine

Refreshing

As a print designer, I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the rise in paper costs. We’ve been hearing about it for a long time now, but it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to see it affect us here in the publishing industry.

Here at F+W, any changes we make to the specs of a book have to be approved by our Pub Board. To get this approval, we submit a spec change request to a production coordinator, who then puts together an analysis of the costs that can be compared to that of the previous specs.

Lately we’ve been seeing these revised costs skyrocket, solely because of the increase in the price of paper since the time the books were originally proposed (usually six to twelve months earlier).

Yesterday I received a letter from the CEO of Mohawk Fine Papers. The letter began with a summary of the horrendous state of our economy, and by the time I got to paragraph three, I was sure that Mr. CEO was just building a case for raising their prices like everyone else. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I read next…

“We therefore want you to know that Mohawk Fine Papers will not be raising prices on our Text, Cover and Writing papers in the foreseeable future. Our position is based in part on the success of our ongoing cost reduction efforts coupled with moderating input costs. But in addition, we at Mohawk recognize that paper and print compete with other media for advertising resources. As a privately held company, we are uniquely positioned to balance the short term pressures we all share with our long term commitment to the health of our industry.”

Mohawk could easily raise their prices… everyone else certainly is. But instead of blindly following the crowd in pursuit of more money, they looked at the big picture and the long-term effects on the industry, and then decided to take a stand. For that, I applaud them.

Books Can’t Say “No”

A selection of humorous yet questionable book titles:

The Adventurous Ball & Poor Captain Puss by Enid Blyton
American Bottom Archaeology by Charles J Bareis
Cooking with Pooh by Mouse Works
Fabulous Fat Quarter Bags by Susan Briscoe
How to Become an Athletic Supporter by Teri Burns
The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit by Jill Conner Browne
Two Balls or Less by Jenny Hill
Warm Fuzzies by Betz White

I’m not knocking the efforts of the teams of people who have pored over creating these titles; heck some of them are our own! It’s sometimes surprisingly amusing to discover one such title.

Growing Up

Yesterday I bought a sweater, watched football, and made chili. Classic fall. For me, fall brings a sense of nostalgia—and a realization that time keeps on chugging along. During summer, it seems to stand still. The long days and hot weather make everything slow down. But when I can open the windows again, the nights cool down, and election signs start showing up in people’s yards, it’s a reminder that time has started moving again.

On Saturday, I spent the morning helping a group of people clean up a state park called Big Bone Lick. (Yes, that’s the real name. It was named after sulfur springs in the area that created salty residue that the mammoths used to come to lick. When they died, they left their big bones behind. Duh.) We put up a temporary fence, helped dismember and remove a giant tree that had fallen across a trail, and picked up litter.

As I was working on the fence, a man came up to me and said, “Amy? I thought that was you! Do you remember Dylan?” He was the father of a boy I used to babysit; from when Dylan was a newborn until he was about three. He’s now in 3rd grade. We all worked on the fence together, and I was delighted to see that Dylan was the same sweet inquisitive kid he was five years ago. Just taller and with new glasses.

Inside the F+W building, we’re also moving from summer to fall. I spent a portion of last week creating a PDF of a book that was published in print form a few years ago. Could I have imagined that I would be doing this a year ago? Maybe. Five years ago? No. I now have Photoshop Elements on my computer, and Adobe Acrobat Professional—tools that will allow me to digitize content to my heart’s delight. We are planning to re-release the book as a DVD, and also perhaps as a digital download. Our goal is to deliver information in a format that consumers want. In ANY format that consumers want.

In some cases, putting books on CD and DVD makes a lot of sense. Need to print out some woodworking plans to take to your woodshop? Grab the CD! Need to make 30 copies of a specific visual writing prompt to give your class today? Grab the DVD! In other cases, it makes less sense. Want to read an 80,000 word book on your BlackBerry? Not really…

Our challenge is to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t. What will make people’s lives easier? What will make people say, “Cool! Why didn’t I think of that?”

While it’s not summertime anymore, and change is in the air, my conviction is that our products will remain the same high-quality, inspiring, useful tools they are now. Just taller and with new glasses.

Hide-and-Seek

I once brought a delicious cream puff dessert into the office for a celebratory lunch. Coming from a family of bakers, I’ve always prided myself on presentation. This dessert was no exception… flaky pastry was carefully layered in a casserole dish with a light creamy filling. The top was sprinkled with smalls bits of pastry, and I had carefully covered the dish to avoid ruining the top layer of cream that I had so carefully smoothed out. When it came time to remove my proud creation from the office fridge, I was appalled to find that an anonymous coworker had shamelessly taken a huge spoonful right out of the middle. Was nothing sacred?!

I have since become a master at hiding things in the office fridge, whenever I am forced by necessity to use it. This talent came naturally to me, as I have been hiding the things I’m working on in my cubicle for years. I know I sound like some kind of paranoid schizophrenic. But you must understand, as a designer in an office full of editors and sales people, the things that I keep at my desk tend to draw an audience. Stacks of illustrations of monsters are much more interesting than Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

The open cubicle I sit in allows every passerby to see the contents of my office. And I’ve learned the hard way that when people see something they like, they want to touch it. When that object is a fragile paper toy that’s yet to be photographed or a pencil illustration awaiting scanning, this is not good. Touching can leave damaging stains and fingerprints. Handling handmade projects can cause them to fall apart. It’s for this reason that I’ve gotten into the habit of hiding these pieces of artwork away the best that I can.

Secretly though, I’m thrilled that I have to hide these things. My coworkers aren’t trying to cause problems. They’re just excited about the books I’m working on, and they get even more excited when they see actual visuals from those books. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and it inspires all of us to put our best work into these titles. I’ve seen the way it makes editors eager to work on the manuscript, and inspires the marketing staff to think of more creative possibilities for promotion. The sales people will actually try to “borrow” illustrations and projects to get their buyers as eager for the book as they are (though secretly I suspect they just want to show them to their friends). Either way, all of this added enthusiasm can only benefit the content and success of the book in the end.

So I’ll continue to keep hiding all the “fun” things from my coworkers, but if they ask, I’ll show them anyway (so long as they don’t touch!). In my somewhat biased opinion, it’s our passion for our work here that really makes our products stand out from the crowd.

I am less enthused by having to hide food in the office fridge. I still haven’t forgiven you, Refrigerator Bandit, for ruining my cream puff dessert!

a paper toy from the upcoming book Urban Paper, by Matt Hawkins.

One of the projects I'm currently hiding: a paper toy from Urban Paper by Matt Hawkins.

Pie Pandemonium

Fact: Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie in 1644, declaring it a pagan form of pleasure. For 16 years, pie eating and making went underground until the Restoration leaders lifted the ban on pie in 1660.

To prevent the crimes of the past from recurring in the future, we at F+W had a day to honor the greatness of PIE.

September was our month to plan the company party; we settled on Kelly’s proposal: a pie party. Why a pie theme? some may ask. Because we like pie. Everybody likes pie. Why not a pie party? Those naysayers are just jealous they weren’t invited, indignant they didn’t think of it first… and now they’re probably craving a nice slice of homemade apple pie, served warm, ala mode.

We’ve been planning and plotting for our pie-themed party for weeks. Alice headed up pie party paraphernalia procurement and payment (getting stuff) and Amy presided over the pie party parade of pint-sized ponderings (thinking of the details and getting people to take care of them).

We began our pie-party promotion with teaser signs to get people talking. This perspicacious marketing strategy was designed by Grace. Next we put out a Pie Press Release online and began the Great F+W Pie Poll. And finally another pie-poster.

The party featured:

A pie baking contest, judged by F+W Execs Jane, Jamie, and Sara.

Best Fruit Pie, Irish Michelmas Pie, Debbi Paolello

Best Cream Pie, Brutus’s Buckeye Pie, Sally Slack

Best Other Pie (also Best in Show), Dang It, I’m Grown Up Stop Treating Me Like a Child Chocolate Peanut Butter Mini Pies, Megan Patrick

Best Named Pie, Fanciful & Wondrous Pecan Pie (pictured above), Melissa Hill

A pieku poetry contest. (That’s right, haiku about pie.) Any amalgamation of poetry and pie is a beautiful thing.

Best Pieku, Suzanne Lucas (for her Twin Peaks pieku)

cup of hot coffee
with a slice of cherry pie
is heaven on earth

yummy flakey crust
molten lava of cherry
ice cream melts real slow

slowly sip your joe
take one bite, then another
just like Agent Dale

Cooper, from Twin Peaks
pretty Laura Palmer dead
her daddy did it

A pi-formance contest. Who can recite the most digits of pi. 3 .14159265…

Best Pi-formance, Jennifer Claydon knew 51 digits!

A piehole game. Throw the mini-pie-pan in the piehole and win. Picture-perfectly produced by Terri!

Pedantic pursuits: Trivial Pursuit cards, with those famous little pie-shaped pieces, as table decoration for a little mental stimulation right before the sugar coma sets in.

A piechart of the pie poll results, created and color-coded by Claudean.

Overall, a pie-rrific time was had by all.

*Please pardon my pretentious p-word pageantry; the pie has gone to my head!

When I grow up (or why I work in Marketing)

I’m a marketing guy. I never really wanted to be a marketing guy. When I was a kid I wanted to be Bat-Man. Later, I wanted to be a comic book artist, but I wasn’t that good. Then I wanted to be a singer/guitar player in an indie-rock band, but I wasn’t that good. And then I wanted to be a writer (I’m still working on that).

So, like many aspiring writers I worked my way into the book business. And, now I work for this media company that produces books (and lots of other things) for writers. Some days, as a marketer, involve sitting in front of spreadsheets and being bombarded with emails about budgets, reforecasts, revenue goals and other things that make my stomach churn. But, other days I get to collaborate with a creative team of editors and designers to figure out the best ways to communicate with writers and create things that are helpful, informative, fun, smart and cool. Now, those are the days that make it something worth doing.

If you’re wondering what it’s like working for a book publisher–and I’m guessing maybe that’s why you’re reading this blog–then here’s the short version (from my point of view). It’s scary. Publishing is in the midst of an identity crisis where the scramble to find new ways to be profitable is paramount. The focus is on new media, and a culture that was once banded together simply by love of the printed word has to reinvent itself. But, at the same time all of this change allows us to be more honest. We can do more than just create a new book or magazine or video and then run an advertisement to tell you how good it is. We have a chance to have an open dialogue with our audience. To openly talk about what we’re trying to do and why we’re doing the things we do. Like I’m doing now.

I’m a marketing guy who doesn’t like to talk about money. I’m not in the job because I want to generate tons of revenue for some shareholder somewhere who doesn’t know that I always wanted to be Bat-Man. I do the work that I do because I believe that the things we produce, whether they are books or downloads are educating or entertaining people.

The people I work with on a daily basis are smart, passionate, creative, funny, and genuinely good people. I’m invested in this business because of them. And if someone asks me why they should buy one of our products, then I can answer without an ounce of smarmy salesmanship that it’s because I know that the people who created it really care about what they are doing. They care about their audience and have put together the best book, magazine, CD, webinar, download, video, or whatever-the-heck-else they possibly could have. Who wouldn’t want to buy something like that?

(check out my “marketing for writers” blog… it’s called The M-Word)