What makes something innovative? Sometimes it just means rethinking the traditional. In planning for the 2014 Sandbox Summit, we discovered In This Together Media, a publishing venture that’s telling a different kind of story with its innovative creators, content, and business strategy. I recently spoke with co-founders Carey Albertine and Saira Rao (who work virtually and seamlessly between Hoboken and Denver).
WS: What makes In This Together Media so buzz-worthy?
CA: First and foremost, we create GREAT stories for and about girls. You won’t see fangs, sparkly princesses or sex objectification in our books. What you will see are humor, heart, and relatable girls and women who are fallible, complicated and have ambition well beyond makeup and boys. So while we do have fantastical stories that’ll transport you from the North Pole to the Land of WhyNot!, once there, you’ll be able to recognize and relate to the girl characters.
WS: It seems as though your bifurcated business model is also based on today’s reality.
CA: Flexibility is key to how we work. Some of our books are acquired the old-fashioned way, meaning authors and agents submit manuscripts, and if we love them, we publish them. In other cases, we come up with the concept, characters, and a rough outline, and find talented people to write the stories. In both models, we partner with authors in a collaborative process to create and market the books.
WS: I’ve heard you’ve found authors on Craigslist. What are your criteria for a good In This Together Media author?
CA: We’ve found our writers in a variety of ways—from friends of friends to old college buddies to—it’s true—Craigslist. But we’re very deliberate when selecting authors we want to work with. We look for people who are open to feedback, enthusiastic, and intellectually curious. When we decide to publish a book, we consider it a long-term relationship and an investment in that writer’s growth.
WS: Is your marketing just as…novel?
SR: We develop a specific marketing strategy based for each book. There’s no one size-fits-all solution. We combine social media, both traditional and bloggers reviews, PR, book clubs, and promotions to get the word out. We take a multi-pronged approach and adapt quickly when something is or isn’t working. For Soccer Sisters, getting Brandi Chastain to partner with us was a huge boon. Whereas, Mrs. Claus and The School of Christmas Spirit was jumpstarted by a five-day free promotion right after Thanksgiving. We try everything and we are relentless.
WS: Saira, you wrote a book. But neither one of you has what I’d call a classic publishing background. Carey was a stand-up comedian and executive recruiter. Saira was a lawyer and news producer. How did you get into this?
SR: My debut novel, Chambermaid, was published by Grove Press in 2007. I had a wonderful experience, replete with a film deal, a bunch of foreign rights sales and a robust book tour. Then I had my first child—a girl. By the time the post-partum fog had lifted (it took a while), my daughter was watching preschool TV. I was shocked by the lack of character diversity, both in terms of race and gender. I called my close friend, Carey, who also had small children, a love of all things media, and a background in entertainment. With a bucket of hubris, we set out to create the next Dora. Over the course of the next year, and probably a hundred meetings/panels/events later, we felt strongly that there was a market hungry for smarter content for and about girls. We also discovered that the seismic shake-up in the publishing industry meant there were great opportunities for innovation.
WS: Right now your books are print-on-demand. Is that part of your long-term strategy or do you hope to be on the front table of Barnes & Noble next year?
SR: Our books are available in just about every channel you can imagine—Amazon, B&N.com, Kobo as well as independent bookstores, schools and libraries across the country. We are always expanding our distribution. The front table at Barnes and Noble sounds good to me!
WS: What’s your next book?
CA: We just released Personal Statement by Emmy-nominated writer Jason Odell Williams, a YA satire on the college admission process. Next up is our middle-grade book Kat McGee and the Halloween Costume Caper by Kristin Riddick, the second book in the Kat McGee Holiday series.
WS: Are there films or other media is your future?
SR: Personal Statement and Jason Odell Williams’ two follow-up novels were recently optioned for film by two former Miramax senior executives. We are actively working on finding TV, film, and digital outlets for all of our books.
WS: What books are on your night table now?
SR: Princess Recovery: A How-to Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters by Dr. Jennifer Hartstein AND Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling. One makes me cry, the other laugh. I like keeping things balanced.
CA: I’m reading the final draft of our upcoming book Aspen, by Rebekah Crane. And I can’t wait to start the new young adult book Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Have a story idea? Send a synopsis and the first two chapters to Carey Albertine at email@example.com. Otherwise, send any innovative media ideas for the next Sandbox Summit to firstname.lastname@example.org.