The Invaluable Role of Enthusiasm in Book Publishing

Hamilcar Web site

The act of publishing is essentially the act of making public one’s own enthusiasm. Robert Gottlieb

In terms of the timing for this blog post what caught my attention first was a press release. I get press releases about new books all the time, but this one got my attention because it spoke to me of enthusiasm, genuine enthusiasm.

Frankly, I am not a boxing fan, but I am a fan of books and this line rang all the right bells for me: “We love boxing and books in equal measure,” says Kyle Sarofeen, Publisher and Principal of Hamilcar Publications, “Our aim is to share that passion with book buyers worldwide.”

So, here I was interested in a boutique publishing company just getting underway with a focus on the world of boxing. From the press release: “Supported by a dedicated, engaged, and loyal community of boxing fans, Hannibal Boxing will officially launch, in Fall 2018, Hamilcar Publicationsa book publishing imprint that provides a first-class home for authors and offers the finest boxing books available. The boutique publishing company will target an underserved niche in the book industry—readers devoted to the world of professional prizefighting.”

I contacted the sender of the press release, their rep at Smith Publicity, and asked a few questions (see below). Back came, in a short period of time, the publishers’ enthusiastic answers. Interesting, I thought, and filed the notes in my Blog folder to await use for another day, another post, some day.

Then, over the week-end, I started reading a book about book publishing, Avid Reader: a Life by Robert Gottlieb. If you have not heard of him, you are like thousands, maybe millions, of other people. But, if you are a reader, you have read at least a few of the books he has helped edited in his many decades as a book editor, acquisitions editor, and executive at major publishing houses in New York.

Early on in the book, which is a memoir of sorts, Gottlieb describes a “milestone” moment in his “education about publishing.” In the early days of his career, while at  S&S, he championed the publication of a book he describes as “very European, very distinguished, and definitely elitist novel.” This was not the standard type of book S&S was publishing then, to say the least. But, his enthusiasm and (and, admittedly, his marketing expertise) helped sell 20,000 copies of A Legacy.

From this experience Gottlieb learned an enduring lesson, he says in the book he learned (emphasis mine) “the act of publishing is essentially the act of making public one’s own enthusiasm. Whenever I deviated from that principle over the following half-century and published halfheartedly, things did not go well.”

There it was again, the coinciding of the concept of enthusiasm with the business of book publishing. I thought, how true, how true, how true! So, of course, my mind returned to the recent press release, and I decided to make my next blog post sooner rather than later and write about the importance of enthusiasm not just in boutique book publishing, but book publishing in general.

My point: if you, as a publisher, are not enthusiastic about your topic, how can you expect your potential readers to be? As Kyle expresses it, love the topic and books in equal measure.

Kyle and Andy were enthusiastic about answering my questions and provided lots of valuable details (valuable to book publishers, self-publishers, and so forth). Here is some information about them, and their answers to my questions appear below the info.

About Kyle Sarofeen and Andy Komack

Kyle Sarofeen, Publisher and Principal. Kyle has worked in the book publishing industry in the Boston area for more than 15 years for companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Quarto, and Pearson. His background is mainly in interior production and book manufacturing.

Other highlights include being selected as a jury member for the New England Book Show, and doing an editorial internship with the prestigious boutique publisher Shambhala Publications, which is where his career started. His passion for boxing started when he watched Marvin Hagler fights as a teenager growing up in Massachusetts in the eighties. In addition to his experience in the book business, he has an MBA from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Andy Komack, Principal. Andy has spent the past 20 years helping entrepreneurial companies with their digital marketing strategies and strategic partnership development. He founded and ran a digital marketing agency, which he sold to his partner in 2007. After selling agency, Andy worked with some of the most entrepreneurial companies in the Boston area, including DraftKings, where he created dozens of partnerships with some of the most-recognized teams in sports well as other sports marketing partnerships that added value to DraftKings’ unique brand of fantasy sports gaming. He has an MBA from Babson College.

My Questions, Their Answers

Q: What made them choose boxing?

[Kyle] Boxing has always been a passion of mine. I was heavily into sports as a kid, played some college soccer, but boxing is the one sport that held my interest throughout my twenties and beyond. What appeals to me most about it, and as we highlight in our “About Us” statement on our Web site, is the history, the artistry, and the culture of it.

There is really no other sport like boxing, in my view, when it comes to those elements. There is a real literary tradition that runs through the sport. Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates come to mind as two literary icons who wrote books about boxing.

Another thing I like about it is it has not become corporatized like the four major sports in the United States. Some may point to its corruption, which is, of course, an issue; but some of the unseemly elements, it must be said, add color to it too. Don King, for example, is a scoundrel, but he is not boring either.

As for choosing boxing as a category, it was a simple decision. It occurred to me about four or five years ago that there was definitely some sort of competitive advantage there because boxing, and books were my two main passions and, to a degree, obsessions.

I had worked at trade houses like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Quarto and I knew no one at those places knew anything about boxing to the degree that I did. It is not really a criticism, of course, but the established trade houses are generalists ,and I knew any editor acquiring books for them would never in a million years be as plugged into the boxing community as I was, and be as versed in the sport as I was.

Plus, being a production editor and production manager, I knew how to put a book together. That is the hard part, if you ask me. Book production is more like a trade, like being a carpenter; choosing books to publish in a sub-category you are already totally immersed in is fairly easy, intuitive.

Q: Have they been involved with other boutique publishing companies in the past, if so, what topics and how did those businesses do? If not, how did they come upon the idea and what do they find most appealing from a publishing and business standpoint?

[Kyle] My first experience being in a publishing house was when I did an editorial internship at Shambhala Publications, which is the foremost publisher of books on Eastern religion and spirituality in the West. Shambhala is the only boutique house I was ever involved with, and to my mind it is one of the best.

The thing that struck me then was the production and design quality of their books. The typography was and is beautiful, as are their cover designs, and their manufacturing and editorial standards are extremely high. Everyone there loved books and they were plugged into that community too–deeply. I see us fitting the same profile as Shambhala in all those ways, but, of course, we are publishing books about boxing and not Buddhism. Different worlds, to be certain, but our approach from a publishing and business standpoint is very similar.

[Andy] We have a fully integrated and robust marketing plan in place that we believe will set us apart from most publishing companies. Of course, there are the traditional tactics of smart PR and working hard to have our titles reviewed in the right places.

Retaining Smith Publicity was an important step in that regard. We were lucky we attended the most recent Book Expo and struck up a friendly conversation with them. Not many PR firms would be willing to spend so much time with a pre-revenue book publisher.

Also, when it comes to marketing and advertising, our use of targeted advertising across publishing trades, boxing media properties, social media ads that pinpoint likely readers of our style of books, Amazon ads, and advertising on Google for targeted phrases related to our category and titles, is only one small part of the plan.

Perhaps our greatest strength is in our approach to content marketing and becoming part of the boxing community. We have arguably the best staff of writers for our content Web site. We were lucky enough to have Carlos Acevedo come on board as the editor for our Web site and as a contributor. Carlos is widely viewed as one of the best boxing writers today.

And, Carlos brought on a team that is absolutely superb – Oliver Goldstein, Sean Nam, and Jimmy Tobin were the first on board and they cemented our place as delivering superior boxing content. With the addition of writers like Paul Beston and Frank Lotierzo, it just keeps getting better.

This content program means we can connect with the first group of book purchasers we have to reach – a very discerning audience that looks for the best boxing writing out there. Of course, that content powers our ability to be found in search engines and, more importantly, have quality conversations on social media.

While we use Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to share our content, Twitter (@hannibalbox) is where the real activity is in the boxing community. At this stage in our growth, it has been the quality of our Twitter community more than the number of followers that is generating momentum. And, the quantity of followers will naturally come as we continue to put out the highest-quality content and as our books come to market.

We are also about to send out our first monthly e-newsletter this month. And again, content will be a driving factor. Carlos recruited Steve Kim, one of the largest personalities in boxing journalism today, to write a monthly column for the newsletter. Having Steve write a column for our newsletter is a huge asset. And, with Carlos curating the other content, any boxing fan would find the newsletter an incredibly interesting read.

We also will be doing live events to reach our audience. Our plans include promoting our titles at events like the annual Boxing Fan Expo (next year, this coming weekend was too soon for us) and exhibiting at the Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where they allow companies to purchase space to connect with attendees.

Of course, there will be book-signing events, where we will be selective in our venues and looking to not only incorporate the traditional bookstore event approach, but also be creative and look to events at boxing gyms and similar venues.

The combination of everything in our plan is critical not just for raising public awareness and generating Amazon sales. We believe, due to the content and quality of our books, they belong on booksellers’s shelves and in libraries. Having strong distributors in place to help with on-the-ground sales is a key part of our strategy.

This includes having the right global partner. The market for boxing books is much greater in the United Kingdom than here in the United States. The United Kingdom will be a critical component of our success as a boutique publisher.

We also have two titles in manuscript stage that lend themselves to Spanish translation. There is a dearth of quality books about boxing in Spanish, and we know we can fill that void.

Last, but definitely not least, is our relationship with Ring 10, a charity based in New York that helps retired boxers in need. Boxing is a sport where there are no unions and no serious protections for future health and livelihood. Ring 10, run by former professional boxer Matt Farrago, is dedicated to helping anyone they can possibly help. They help retired boxers throughout the world.

The stories we have heard from Matt underscore for us how critical their mission is, and that if we are profiting from this sport, we need to give back. We first reached out to Ring 10 to see if we could develop a co-marketing program with them. We are still working on something formal, but we will be donating to the charity in some form no matter what. We have developed a deep relationship with Matt and we are committed to this cause.