Parenting Books for the World

A great concept with a valuable human message will sell around the world. To date, foreign rights for the Go Parent’s Guides have been sold for Croatia, Japan, Korea, Complex Chinese, Italian, polish and simple Chinese. "Foreign Rights sales represent a modest revenue source but also do a great job extending the brand, especially in the case of a series. Our distributor IPG has done a great job for us in this area," says publisher Alex Kahan.

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Nomad Press of Vermont

Careful Market Research Leads to Award-Winning Books
Norwich, Vermont is the quintessential New England town, with its historic inn, village green, and town hall. It may not be the most obvious location for an up-and-coming independent book publishing house, but then there isn’t much that is obvious about Nomad Press. Located next door to Fogg’s Hardware, in the former location of the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, the company’s image is much like its books: one part sophisticated and another part down-home plain and simple. The young company is doing something right: they were the only two-category winner in the 2003 Independent Publisher Book Awards sponsored by this publication.

Nomad Press is the publishing arm of Nomad Communications, a marketing and advertising agency founded by Alex Kahan and his wife Susan Hale in 1994. Marketing Director and Lauri Berkenkamp joined shortly thereafter, and now also holds the title of Acquisitions Editor. Over the years Nomad gradually expanded, and now has ten full-time employees. The company specializes in sports marketing campaigns for companies like Rollerblade and Salomon, and its founders have long had an interest in books and publishing. In 1998 they found an opportunity to work their way into it the book bizz...

“Most of us at Nomad have a background in fairly high-level sports, and several have young children, so we figured the best way to jump into publishing was to write about what we know,” says Berkenkamp. “In 1998 we pitched a series of coaching books geared to parents to McGraw-Hill’s Ragged Mountain Press. The idea behind the series was that most parents who are asked to volunteer to coach have no idea what they are doing, but want their kids -- and themselves -- to have fun.”

The inspiration behind the books came when founder Kahan, after getting cajoled into coaching his son’s basketball team, found that the books already out there were geared for people who knew what they were doing. “We’re cultivating a crazed youth sports culture in this country, and I could see firsthand the fun of sports going right out the window, creating a lot of frustrated kids and parents.”

“Our idea was to find high-level coaches who are also teachers of the game,” says Kahan. “If they emphasized fun and inclusion in their styles of coaching, the message might just sink in. I think we really hit a chord with that approach.”

Nomad recruited some big names in college athletics, such as David Faucher (Dartmouth College Basketball), Bobby Clark (Notre Dame & Stanford Soccer), and Paul Pasqualoni (Syracuse University Football), and ghostwrote the books for the coaches. McGraw-Hill’s Ragged Mountain Press liked the idea, and bought the series, eventually called “The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Youth Sports.” It has since become Ragged Mountain’s best-selling series.

“We did the first five books in the series for them, including soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, and football,” says Berkenkamp. “The way we ghostwrote the books was to provide a detailed outline and list of questions for each coach, then give them a little tape recorder. They’d go down the list, answer the questions, and we’d write the book based on their answers. After the first one we refined the process so we knew exactly what to ask and how to ask it to get the best possible answers from them. I had to write the softball book in two months, so I’m glad we had the drill down by then.”

After working with McGraw-Hill and packaging a few more books for self-published authors, Nomad decided to launch their own imprint in 2000. In Fall 2001 they published their first list, which included the third edition of The Bahamas Cruising Guide and Teaching Your Children Good Manners, the first book in a new series called Go Parents! Guides.

“I decided to become a kind of anti-publisher, questioning just about everything, and there are no rules we haven’t considered breaking,” says Kahan. “The way the major publishers acquired and promoted books told me the corporate model wasn’t the way to go, and that it certainly wouldn’t work for us. That’s why we decided to go out on our own.”

“I think that because we are also a marketing company and have helped bring many new products to market and developed brand awareness, we spend a considerable amount of time and effort in determining a book’s viability in the marketplace.  We do this through extensive focus group research with general consumers and book stores. We also have developed a methodology for conducting extensive on-line research with the appropriate target audiences to garner feedback. The result is that when we decide to go with a book or cover we at least have done our homework and tested the market. It’s not exactly perfect, but it sure beats a group of people making these kinds of decisions in isolation from the marketplace.” How does Kahan find talented people to produce great books in the isolation of rural Vermont? “I think it has a lot to do with the quality of life here. It’s a beautiful natural setting, and it’s nice to live in a community that’s small enough to get to know everyone, and know who your kids’ friends are. When I left Boston to start an ad agency up here, everyone thought I was crazy. But I can see the Connecticut River out my office window, and 200 yards out my back door is the Appalachian Trail. This is a very attractive place to do business.” Nomad is certainly not alone in the Green Mountain State. Other successful independents include Storey Books, Chelsea Green, Countryman, Jewish Lights, Inner Traditions, Williamson, and Images from the Past.

Kahan describes his team as “poster children for Attention Deficit Disorder” during weekly staff meetings, bouncing from topic to topic, with everyone throwing in their own two cents worth on everything. “We’re a pretty loose bunch, very non-hierarchal, and because of that the ideas that come out of here can really be insane. But I feel that for every good idea you come up with it takes 200 bad ones.”

The good ideas seem to be paying off: there are now four books in the Go Parents! guide series, and Scholastic bought Teaching Your Children Good Manners and “Mom, the Toilet’s Clogged!” Kid Disasters & How to Fix Them for its worldwide 2002 Book Fair program. Teaching Your Children Good Manners also won a 2002 Parents’ Choice Approved Award and Talking to Your Kids About Sex: From Toddlers to Preteens won the 2002 IPPY Award in the Parenting category.

The Go Parents! series came about in response to the Nomad staff’s own experiences as parents looking for advice. “We wanted to create a series of parenting books that address situations that every parent goes through, and provides advice that’s both practical and acknowledges that raising kids is supposed to be fun,” says Berkenkamp. “Most parenting books treat raising children like you’re battling some disease, and the advice parents find in them is great in theory, but often very hard to put into practice. We wanted to give advice that says, “Okay, try this right now and see what you think.” And it works (usually). We consider the books ‘Practical Parenting Guides with a Sense of Humor.’”

Nomad is also achieving success with their sailing books. They were commissioned by Volvo, the title sponsor of the Volvo Ocean Race, to create a book that both celebrated the race and branded it as the Volvo Ocean Race. Fighting Finish: The Volvo Ocean Race ‘Round the World 2001-2002, by Gary Jobson, was the award-winning result, as it brought home both the 2002 IPPY and the 2002 Clarion Awards. New release Maximum Sail Power, a definitive guide to sails and sailmaking by Brian Hancock, has received rave reviews from the biggest names in international sailing and the top US sailmakers.

Although parenting and sports books are at the core of Nomad Press’s list, they are beginning to expand their catalog to include memoirs, technical sailing and boating titles, and other “how-to” books. The latest offerings include The Risk in Being Alive, a collection of adventure stories by former professional sailor Brian Hancock; The New Teacher’s Handbook, featuring everything they don’t teach new teachers in college; and The Land of War Elephants, an account of travel in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by British Army officer Mathew Wilson.

“I find it fascinating that the corporate publishers churn out the same old formula stuff, year after year, but when a new small press creates something fresh, it comes with a stigma,” says Kahan. “We view publishing a book in many regards no differently than the bringing to market of any new product, much the way a consumer products company might approach it. For the few of us to sit here and decide about the details such as the cover design and the title without research would be crazy. When you’re this small you can’t afford to screw up.”


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