Thursday, September 8, 2011

Societies and Book Publishers: A New Partnership?

This week the annual national FGS Conference is taking place in Springfield, IL. I'm not at the conference but that doesn't keep me from thinking about it.

One of the main themes of the conference is "Focus on Societies for organizational leadership training." I've always been interested in clubs and societies and what makes them succeed or not.  Lectures during the FGS conference will try to provide society officers with suggestions that will help their societies thrive.

As many of you know, I've been thinking a lot about publishers lately in my quest to find hard to find books.  It seems to me that publishers and genealogical societies are similar in many ways.  They are both struggling to find a new audience and are both suffering from lower numbers.

Many publishers, even ones that aren't specifically genealogical, provide local history books that are of great interest to genealogists.  Some publishers that come to mind from looking at my own book shelf are Arcadia Publishing, The History Press, Down East Books and even university publishers such as the University of New Hampshire Press which publishes a series called Revisiting New England: The New Regionalism.

I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about publishing companies and how they work.  But from my point of view a partnership between genealogical societies and publishers would be a good fit.

Here's why:

What Publishers Have to Offer Societies

1) Publishers can provide authors as speakers for meetings and events.  This would give their authors greater exposure and give the societies a broader range of topics for their members.  Authors can also do book signings at the meetings.

2) Publishers can send representatives to talk to society members about what they are looking for in authors and topics.  This will increase the pool of potential authors and let publishers establish relationships with them.  This will help genealogists realize that their research is worth publishing.

3) Publishers can send representatives to talk to society audiences about the specifics of pitching a book and the do's and don'ts of writing a book.  This kind of insight would be invaluable to potential authors and would benefit the publishers by having new authors provide something closer to a polished finished product.

4) Sponsorship of events. Societies have strong expertise and a willingness to share it amongst the community but they often lack the funds or the know-how to publicize a regional event.  Publishers and societies should team up to co-sponsor a local event whether it be a multiple author book signing or an ancestors road show.  The society will have the opportunity to increase its membership and get much needed publicity while the publisher will sell books, get publicity for their authors and build brand awareness.

What Societies Have to Offer Publishers

1) Societies can offer a perfect target audience.  Their members are just the people that publishing companies want buying their books.  I'm not sure why more history-focused publishing companies don't spend more effort targeting genealogists.

2) Societies can offer sales.  Genealogists often lament that they don't have the money to buy database subscriptions or attend conferences. But, honestly, show me a genealogist who won't spend $25 on a book that will give them greater insight into their ancestors.  If a genealogist thinks that a book or other item with help them solve an ancestral brick wall then they will find a way to buy it.  The big problem is that many genealogist aren't aware of these books by smaller publishers.  You can't buy something you don't know about.

3) Societies can offer a window into understanding an unknown market.  For those history publishers who don't target genealogists, a relationship with a genealogical society will provide the knowledge of who genealogists are and what makes them tick.  Very few major demographic research studies have been done on the genealogical market.  Be proactive and go straight to the source to get your answers.

4) Societies can offer potential book reviewers. Among its membership there may be people who would like to write book reviews for their local society newsletter or quarterly and potentially for other magazines or journals as well.  Book publishers should cultivate this aspect of a relationship with societies.

These are just some ideas of ways in which genealogical societies and book publishers can work together.  I'm sure with a bit more brainstorming even more creative ideas could materialize. The key thing is the think "out of the box."  Shake it up and create something completely new so that by working together you can both attract a new audience to increase your bottom line.

Photo Credit: Photo by Horia Varlan used under the creative commons license.


  1. The Ontario Genealogical Society and Dundurn Press (one of Canada's biggest publishers) have been in partnership for over two years. They have a joint publications committee for Dundurn's "Genealogist's Reference Shelf" series, with eight titles published now. A BIG benefit for the society? -- wider marketing and major *distribution*!

  2. BDM - thanks for sharing that. Wonderful news to know that the partnership has been successful.