The MPub Book Project
While it may be pitched as the most intimidating and largest of projects, looking back on it from the other side, I can assure that the MPub Book Project is more than manageable. Future cohorts take note: you will make it through the next six weeks.
The Book Project is a compilation of everything we learned throughout the semester, and so nearly everything you do in the project has already been taught in class. It’s a way of putting things into practice in a mock real world scenario. While the eighteen or so assignments spread out over six weeks sound impossible at first, remember that you are sharing the workload with five or six highly competent classmates, and most of the assignments build on the previous assignments. These assignments are not marked but rather are opportunities for feedback from industry professionals and course instructors who lecture twice a week throughout the project.
So what can you expect?
Week 1: Envision Your Press
Things start off slowly, with the first week dedicated to envisioning your hypothetical imprint for an existing Canadian publishing house. In 2017, our three teams came up with Pebble Press (Greystone Books), Spindel Press (House of Anansi), and Cue Publishing (ECW Press). After coming up with this new company (whose mandate fell within the boundaries of a predetermined theme), we had to come up with our company specs, a mission statement and SWOT, logo and branding, and six titles.
Week 2: Work on Titles
In the second week, we began to flesh out our sales strategies by filling out tip sheets, determining rights and formats, and doing some content research. We heard from a sales representative who drilled in the importance of tailoring everything about our books to making sure they will sell (for example, cookbooks must be filled with high-quality colour photographs and feature at least 100 recipes).
We also began filling in what we could for our P&Ls, but quickly learned (and the same was true for all assignments), that we would constantly be doing revisions as we learned more and received differing feedback from the experts.
This was also the week that we met with Friesens Printers, who walked us through how to get quotes for our books and helped us determine the best paper and specs based on book type and budget.
This should also be the week where I warn of impending sickness. The flu—or at the very least a nasty cold—will rip through the program sometime in the middle of the Book Project, leaving some groups to shoulder additional work while their teammates recover at home in bed. Wash your hands, remember to get some fresh air, and do all of the other regular healthy things to reduce your risk of catching the MPub plague.
Week 3: Revise & Improve
I think for quite a few of us, the biggest surprise during the Project was the amount of revisions that take place in building a list of books. While our titles (we were now down to four, having had to cut two) were all unique, at the same time they had to work together. For example, sometimes it made sense to share the marketing budgets between books, which affected P&Ls. Every small change made in effort to perfect our list had to be replicated on the tip sheet, the marketing plan, and the company specs. Our groups used Google Drive folders to stay organized, which was helpful as the number of documents continued to multiply.
Week 3 was also when we started polishing our marketing plans. Like everything else in publishing, there was not much money to be spent, and so we had to be creative in our planning. We dreamed up many partnerships, sponsorships, author-led publicity, and social media campaigns so that we could spread out dollars further.
Week 4: Refine & Optimize
This week we had many meetings with industry professionals, who occasionally gave us conflicting advice. If one person loved our marketing plan, another would point out all of its flaws. So it is in the real world, and our teams had many long meetings where we had to sit down, talk through the feedback, and then make what we hoped were solid, research-based decisions.
We also began working on our catalogue copy, which while very similar to our marketing plan and tip sheet still required its own voice, style, and message. Publishing is not only about selling books to the customer, but also to the sales representatives (through the catalogue copy) and your own team (through the tip sheet). They all need roughly the same information, but you have to sell it to them differently as their roles in the process are different. With four titles, this amounts to quite a few different audiences receiving different messaging that we had to keep straight.
In Week 4, we also began working on our cover designs. Some we were able to finalize right away, while others we continued to revise right up until the final tweaks in Week 6. For books falling into a well-established genre, designing a cover was much easier as we knew what our customers wanted and expected (for cookbooks, this a beautiful picture of food). But for more unique books, such as a guide to reconciliation for Canadians, it was very difficult to come up with a cover that wouldn’t offend Indigenous Peoples or look “too Canadian,” but would still be a book that settlers would want to pick up and buy.
Week 5: Polishing
In Week 5 we met with sales consultants, who gave our groups suggestions on selling to retailers, wholesalers, and libraries. We continued to change our print runs as we received more advice, and of course also continued to edit our multitude of other important documents as well. Meet, revise, edit, and resubmit (with the occasional new assignment, such as the jacket copy, thrown in) was our life.
Week 6: Final Tweaks
More marketing and promotions feedback. More creative ideas and advice from the industry. More revisions of the company specs, tip sheets, catalogues, covers, marketing summaries, and P&Ls. By this point, we had a lot going on (but we were also so close to being finished). We were down to the final tweaks.
It was early on in this week (or perhaps the end of Week 5, as it all begins to blur together) that our group sat down together and went through every major document with a sharp eye. Every unresolved comment and every inconsistency was dealt with. While spending four hours talking through everything was exhausting, it also ensured that we were all well-versed on all of our books.
Finally, it was time to send our presentation documents to print (we had gotten quotes and begun working with local printers a few weeks prior).
Week 7: Sales Conference
We picked up our catalogue and final report from the printers, taped our covers onto existing books of the same size, finished our slideshow, made various promotional items (both in hard copy and/or digital versions), and ran through our presentation over and over. We had approximately 25 minutes to present, which meant about five minutes to introduce the company and another five minutes to talk about each title. Of course, our lead title and other books that required more explanation may have needed an extra minute or two, so we had to decide how to best use our time to sell our books to the panel. Our group focused more on our detailed marketing plan, while other groups gave more time to the titles themselves or to the digital integration they had incorporated into their company.
Finally, it was presentation day. We ran through our presentations in the morning in the theatre room and practiced setting up our displays—then took everything down, had lunch, and anxiously waited until it was time to begin. We presented to the panel of three industry guests, who as always had solid feedback and encouraging words.
The Book Project was finished, and all we had left was one more Monday morning class (with a breakfast potluck) before a month of holiday freedom. We had made it through the first semester.