Book by Committee: Creating an Effective Steering Committee for Your Book Project

Publishing a book is a lot of work and, traditionally, organizations and businesses taking on book projects dedicate a group of people to act as a steering committee. Whether it’s a bicentennial book for your city, an anniversary book for your company, a history book for your museum or nonprofit, or even a collectible book for your capital campaign, a steering committee will give the project momentum.

When Columbus, Ohio celebrated its bicentennial in 2012, it brought together donors, sponsors, and stakeholders from leading organizations and businesses across Columbus. Its bicentennial book Revealed: Columbus evidenced the diversity in input by capturing a wide cross-section of Columbus culture.

When Columbus, Ohio celebrated its bicentennial in 2012, it brought together donors, sponsors, and stakeholders from leading organizations and businesses across Columbus. Its bicentennial book Revealed: Columbus evidenced the diversity in input by capturing a wide cross-section of Columbus culture.


But book-by-committee can be tough, as it involves multiple stakeholders and opinions. It helps to focus on a few key objectives when you’re assembling your team:

1.    Your goal is to manage expectations and outcomes—not production: You need a team of people who can help manage what the book will look like, what purpose it will serve, who it will be sold/given to, which company will handle its execution, and how much it should cost. You may help assemble materials for the book, or assign people to approve copy, photos, etc., but this group should not be responsible for actual production details, such as formatting the acknowledgements page or designing the cover. These are details best handled by a publishing partner.

2.    You will need diverse voices: A successful book project will incorporate a marketing and sales plan, compelling content and vision, and follow-through. It will help to assemble a team with varied experience either within your company or your community. City bicentennials, for example, often involve business and civic leaders across several industries.

3.    You will need a strong leader: This person sets the goal and timeline, manages competing opinions, determines the course of publication, and communicates with company or community leaders on progress and outcomes.

4.    You will need a project coordinator: This is the person who will communicate with your publishing partner. He/she will assemble and deliver content for the book, approve drafts and proofs, and relay feedback between your publishing partner and steering committee. This role is crucial—the process can break down if too many people try to communicate with your publishing partner.

Custom books are an investment in time and creativity, and they are only successful when they have internal support and a group of committed people. Don’t let the committee become too cumbersome, and don’t let competing opinions halt progress. With clearly defined roles, most obstacles that pop up during publication can be overcome.

What to do with an anniversary book, Part 3: Businesses

Company history is becoming more critical to branding and marketing every year. Take, for example, last year’s Dodge commercial. Rather than your typical car commercial—shiny car kicking up dust as it speeds around a deserted dirt road—it showcases the early twentieth century cars, the brothers who believed in quality, and a true American story of entrepreneurship, hard work, and ultimately, success. Including a company’s founding year in a logo is almost ubiquitous now, and very few companies neglect to include an “about us” or “history” page on their websites.

Why the emphasis on history? 

Because customers are looking for relationships when they purchase products or services. They want to feel connected. History makes us feel a sense of nostalgia, and it makes us believe that the companies we support care because they are made up of real people like us. 

An anniversary is your opportunity to leverage your history. When your company is celebrating a significant milestone, you can emphasize your legacy of innovation and leadership, remind your customers how it all came to be, and make your employees, customers/clients, and business partners feel like they have a key role to play in advancing your company into its future.

Our clients often use anniversary books in a variety of ways. Here are some of the ideas we’ve gathered over the years:

1. Gift to employees. Obviously employee engagement is critical to satisfaction, retention, and productivity. Making employees feel part of something bigger than themselves—particularly something mission-driven and storied—is a great way to reconnect them with your core purpose. Employees want to feel like they are more than employees—they want to be part of your history and partners in your success. A book celebrating your company’s history and legacy can go a long way in reaffirming this relationship.

Richard Farmer didn't sell a single copy of his book and instead gave them all away to employees, partners, family, and friends. It was a great way to spread the story behind his company and make a lasting impression.

Richard Farmer didn't sell a single copy of his book and instead gave them all away to employees, partners, family, and friends. It was a great way to spread the story behind his company and make a lasting impression.

2. Branding. A book can function as the core of a rebranding initiative. For some companies, an anniversary is energizing and revealing. The focus internally around an anniversary might showcase opportunities for a new direction. A book can set the pace, define the story, and create a look and feel that your company can rally around.

3. Marketing collateral. A book is a powerful leave-behind. It speaks quality and sincerity. As it’s  a higher investment than standard marketing collateral, it communicates a stronger intention. You can use your book when approaching high-profile potential clients or when exploring new partnerships. 

4. Sales piece. For some business-to-consumer companies, your brand is strong enough that customers will be interested in your story. This is especially relevant if the story revolves around a single founder that has a personal following or a compelling life story. In these instances, a book can be sold to customers in your own retail locations or online.

While not an anniversary book, The Art of the Meal leveraged Cameron Mitchell's unique story and was sold in all of his restaurants. It sold through three print runs.

While not an anniversary book, The Art of the Meal leveraged Cameron Mitchell's unique story and was sold in all of his restaurants. It sold through three print runs.

Do it for the Monarchs

CBS Sunday Morning had a wonderful segment this weekend highlighting just how critical native plants are to the survival of the Monarch butterfly. Photographer Joel Sartore shares his own transcendent experience with Monarchs in Mexicowhere they migrate in the winter monthsand reflects on his decision to convert part of his farmland to native plants. It's a wonderful featurewe recommend checking it out for some spring inspiration:

Native plants are often overshadowed by the flashy, hybridized annuals (and perennials) that modern gardeners see in many commercial greenhouses: exotic black wave petunias, knock-out roses, or any of the other thousands of new varieties of garden plants that promise resilience and color. Native perennials require patience and an eye for natural beauty, but those that know how to work with them and coordinate them, love them, and they're the favorites of master gardeners. While blooming periods for native plants are often shorter than those of today's more commercial annuals, months-long color can be achieved with the right mix of plants in your landscape. Native plants also support native creatures (like bees and butterflies) and more balanced local ecosystems.

Our author Frank Porter explores the versatility and beauty of native plants in his book, Back to Eden: Landscaping with Native Plants. And he discusses in more detail several of the natives mentioned in Sartore's featuremilkweed, asters, and more.

Butterfly Milkweed and Nodding Ladies Tresses in the Trella Romine Prairie in Marion County, Ohio

Butterfly Milkweed and Nodding Ladies Tresses in the Trella Romine Prairie in Marion County, Ohio

Heart-leaved aster

Heart-leaved aster

If you're already dreaming of spring, check out Frank's book for inspiration. Whether you're trying to find creative solutions for landscape problem spots or you simply want more context for today's ongoing discussion of native plants and animals, Back to Eden is a lovely read.

 

What to do with an anniversary book, Part 2: Nonprofits

In my first post in this series, I focused on anniversary books for universities—why they matter for an anniversary celebration and how to use them as a complement to other anniversary projects and events. 

Nonprofit anniversaries are very different, though. Because a nonprofit relies on outside donors to fund all projects, it must strike a careful balance between showcasing the organization’s legacy and its donors, and spending too much donor money on a project that is not seen as mission-specific. When we work with nonprofits, we often start at this juncture: what kind of book will meet the needs of the celebration and honor supporters while making the best possible use of anniversary funds.

The key to achieving both is to think of an anniversary book as more than a one-time thank you gift. A book should be used in outreach and fundraising and can even be used for recruitment and mission development.

Here are some ideas:

1. Thank you gift. This is the starting place for any anniversary book. Donors give time and money and honoring their support is critical to your mission. Some nonprofits will give a book free-of-charge to all donors, while some only give to top donors—this is your choice. Remember that your book should underscore who you are and what you do and remind your donors why they support you. People donate to nonprofits because there is an emotional return-on-investment—we love feeling like we can make a difference. A book gives you an opportunity to rekindle these feelings.

2. Fundraising gift. Books make excellent gifts in fundraising campaigns. The value of a book increases dramatically when tied to a fundraising campaign, and you will earn well beyond the unit cost of the book in donations. If you plan on using your anniversary book in this way, though, it needs to be a high-quality book. A cheap book may optimize your per-unit return, but it doesn’t set you up well for the following year.

Jan Thrope’s book, InnerVisions: Grassroots Stories of Truth and Hope, celebrates the difficult but worthwhile work happening in Cleveland, Ohio. Thrope often gives this book to area nonprofits so that they can in turn use it as a fundraising tool.

3. Outreach collateral. Books are great conversation starters. When meeting with organizations that may partner with you or support you financially, a book serves as a high-quality leave-behind. A book can tell your story in more depth than a meeting ever will and it will stick around their office longer. They may throw out your pamphlets, but they will hold onto your book.

A great example of this is the book we created for the Clinton County Foundation. The book celebrates the people and places of Clinton County and it’s given to elected officials, media, businesses, local leaders, and others. It reminds visitors and community members alike that Clinton County is more than a place, it’s a community of people with lives and histories and dreams. It’s a powerful leave-behind.

4. Talent recruitment. Finding employees who believe in your mission is crucial to building a successful organization. People are drawn to organizations where they feel like they fit in, where they are valued, where they can see themselves making a difference. A book can engage potential employees with your history and identity in a way that an application can’t.

5. Mission development. This is an extension of recruitment. When employees feel engaged with the history and successes of an organization—even those successes they weren’t around to witness or take part in—they feel more engaged with the mission. A book celebrating your organization’s legacy can help your employees feel pride in your organization’s accomplishment and fuel their drive to build on your successes.

While not an anniversary book, the book we published for Ronald McDonald House Charities was used to highlight the history and mission of the organization. It showcased in a unique coffee-table book form (the front cover opened like doors) all of the Ronald McDonald Houses around the world. It was given to each house as a display item, so that visiting supporters could see the international impact of the organization, families could feel part of something bigger, and employees could see the breadth and depth of the organization they were working for.

An anniversary book is as useful as you make it. It can languish in a warehouse to be pulled out for the occasional thank you gift, or it can become a central part of your storytelling and outreach. The former will make your book a waste of valuable donor funds, while the latter will make your book a critical part of your mission.

Publishing Books Close to Home: 2014

Last year, we celebrated our Ohio authors in a special post: Publishing Books Close to Home. We love that we are accessible to writers throughout Ohio, and we learn so much through their stories. Whether it's the survival story of a veteran, the memoir of a Slaughterhouse Kid, the legacy of a respected nun, or even a cookbook (but Not Just Another Cookbook), our authors stories become a part of us, and a part of our own "story" as a book publisher. So here's round two, celebrating our Ohio authors in 2014!