An insider’s look into the book publishing business
by Kris Valencia
Sara Juday, Associate Publisher of Alaska Northwest Books and Regional Manager for Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, shared her thoughts on her almost 20-year career in the very tough business of book publishing – how she got where she is, and what’s happened in the book business along the way – to an appreciative crowd of book lovers at the November APW luncheon.
Sara found her passion early, as co-editor of the high school yearbook, and went on to graduate from Indiana University with a degree in journalism. But she says it was more luck than planning that eventually led her to a long but never boring career with Alaska Northwest Books.
From entry level jobs at newspapers (where “entry level” meant you did everything) to work with environmental groups and the tourism industry, Sara’s varied background proved useful when Bob Henning hired her in 1986 to do advertising sales and book marketing (and anything else he could think of) for Alaska Northwest Books. A few years after that, Henning sold Alaska Northwest Books to GTE Discovery Publications, then GTE sold the book line to Graphic Arts Center in Portland, OR. Sara got sold right along with the books, changing job titles along the way, but continuing to live and work in Alaska, where she had moved with her husband, Jerry, an attorney, in 1981.
With a career that stretches from the days of paste-up to desktop publishing, Sara says she has never tired of the business of books. And it is a business. As an associate publisher and regional manager, it’s Sara’s job to pick the titles that will sell, sell these picks to the publisher, and then sell the books to reviewers, retailers and individual book buyers. A very tough job in what has become a very tough market.
In recent years, “there’s been a 30 percent increase industry-wide in the number of titles published,” Sara says, “but only a 10 percent increase in sales.” Sara credits desktop publishing, and the resulting explosion in small, 1- or 2-title publishers, for at least part of the increase in books published. Chains like Home Depot and Barnes & Noble have also stepped into the publishing game with their own imprints. All this, says Sara, adds up to more books, but not necessarily more book sales. Sara cites the economy, DVDs and video games, and fewer bookstores as having a negative impact on book sales.
Getting your book noticed, or the “hoopla factor” as Sara calls it, is harder than ever too, with a tremendous number of new books vying for attention from reviewers and from potential readers. If you are not J.K. Rowling, Sara says, you are lucky if you show up on the radar. Unforeseen fortuitous events, like PBS broadcasting a special about “One Man’s Wilderness,” can send book sales soaring, as it did with the Alaska Northwest title. But that kind of free publicity is hard to come by.
But even in what she calls a “very competitive” marketplace, Sara sees several lights at the end of the tunnel, or at least along the tunnel. The Internet has provided a new outlet for book sales for all authors and publishers, regardless of sizes. On the regional level, Alaskans have a healthy appetite for books about their state, as do the droves of tourists who visit in the summer. Locally, venues like the annual Thanksgiving book fair at the museum serve to showcase local authors and get books in front of book buyers.
Whatever the future brings in the book business, Sara is glad to be along for the ride. “It’s the best job ever,” she says. “I get paid to read. What could be better than that?!”