I recently had the great fortune to spend a couple of days in the company of Alan Day and Lynn Wiese, co-authors of the forthcoming UNP book The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs. We met outside of Valentine, Nebraska, a small community in the north-central part of the state, mainly because it is the closest population center to Alan’s old ranch, Mustang Meadows, which sits just across the South Dakota border from Valentine. Alan hasn’t ranched Mustang Meadows since 2003, when he closed the door on a rehabilitation program for wild mustangs. The 35,000-acre ranch at one time held fifteen hundred mustangs gathered from across the United States; Alan had a contract with the federal government to manage and care for these beauties.
I’m hopeful you will read Alan and Lynn’s book this spring rather than accept my abbreviated version of the story now. But at this time, meeting with these two wonderful people made me think about the role of relationships in the success of a book and the part marketing can play. Alan and Lynn didn’t need to invite me on what was, in some ways, a very personal trip for them—a time for Alan to reminisce and talk about his experiences with the mustangs and capture them on a series of short video vignettes, and Lynn to see and experience the place that she and Alan had written about and thus “knew” so well but had never actually visited. But they did, and I am grateful. Not only did the trip allow me also to put flesh on the bones of this wonderful story, it gave me the chance to develop a relationship with these talented authors that will, I believe, pay dividends as we begin to market The Horse Lover.
University press marketing departments certainly do not need to know each of their authors personally. Whether or not we have a connection because we have had the chance to look an author in the eye and shake a hand will not affect our desire to make the book the best it can be and to sell as many copies as we possibly can. But developing a body of knowledge about an author–what he or she likes, how they think, what energizes or annoys–can provide to a marketing team the necessary context for a book and the person behind it. Deeper knowledge of any project and its author can only allow for better marketing. But how does a marketing department at a university press, which likely consists of no more than a handful of people (except at the largest presses), build in the amount of time needed to reach out to each of its authors in a more personal manner? Indeed, should that relationship development even be necessary? Or does the Author Information Form suffice? Can we glean enough about a person by simply reading the words in the book at hand and the notes on the form to understand the author and thus provide the marketing needed and deserved? My answer is, yes, to the latter question—at least in general. But I also think that establishing relationships with authors whenever possible can only be a positive. If we are unable to meet each author in person, we can at least use email and telephones to create a semblance of that relationship, and, even then, we have others in house who know the author well enough to give us a sense of who they are.
In this instance, the opportunity to spend some quality time with Alan and Lynn and thus begin a more personal relationship arose. I think we have set ourselves up for success. We have built the foundations of a professional and personal relationship that will guide us through the good times, and we have the understanding and respect for each other that will make the tougher marketing conversations and decisions yet to come far easier. Marketing a book successfully is a complicated and multilayered endeavor; creating a strong author-marketing relationship is a good way to make that effort all the better.