November 24, 2006

An Interview with Action Publishing's Michael Metzler

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Michael Metzler of Action Publishing

Michael Metzler, who heads up Action Publishing, is the kind of creative publisher who designs and excels at art. For instance, at our last real meeting — over dinner at Vitello's Italian Restaurant — he had us viewing (and reading in its entirety) Action's then-upcoming book, Margaret.

Although we've known him for quite some time, we were lucky enough to catch up with Michael, who is seemingly always on the go and always in the midst of projects, and he graciously agreed to our invitation to chat.

Michael, could you tell us a bit about Action Publishing and what you do?

Action publishes books — mainly children's books — and with our partner, Americanbooks, provides book packaging, consulting and printing services for other publishers and organizations. We've also published photography and playing cards.

The process of publishing books covers a wide range of skills and technology so I wear many hats. The biggest are marketing, editorial, design and, of course, sales. In a sense those are the basic components of publishing.

Interesting.  I know you've worked on a wide variety of projects. What kinds of projects have you done?

I've worked on marketing bestselling fiction, licensing foreign rights, self-help, childrens' books, a bit of photography.

So, as a marketer, you take care of everything in the marketing process, and I know you also oversee the printing process. What types of content do you prefer to publish? How do you go about making the choice?

This is a good question because it is very easy to follow your interests and quickly discover that you have overextended yourself. If you are involved in the whole distribution process then products that have different distribution channels tend to take you in diverse directions. An example was our playing card business which we sold last year. It was successful but had very little overlap with our book channels. It was difficult to sustain both.

I guess the first answer to your question is that I tend to follow my personal interests, things that engage me artistically. More specifically, I look for work that touches a bit of truth — even if that is just the purity of having fun or telling a good story — and thus inspires or releases a bit of the viewer's own creativity. I avoid the pedantic. We receive a lot of manuscripts for children's books that try to beat an idea into the kid's head and I don't like that much.

The second answer is that every publisher has a to make hard decisions based on current budgets, the number of books on their lists and timing. I find that the biggest part of the decision is making the commitment to the expenses and time of marketing the title. It's easier to find interesting work than it is to publish and market it.

One of my favorite projects ever happens to be the book I am working on right now — a children's picture book entitled "Margaret" by Jeremy Dubow.

Wow. That's quite a juggling act to balance time, interest and other factors. I've seen some of your work, and it's clear that you have an artist's fine eye for detail. So, how does it work? When a writer comes to you with a manuscript, how do you approach the process of turning it into a paper book? Do you start designing images, or what?

There is an easy and natural tendency to race ahead toward the design, selecting materials, finding an illustrator (the author is not also the illustrator) and so on. That part is always fun. The trick is to get your feet on the right path by first taking the time to:

  1. Understand the artistic effect that the author and illustrator intend to create.
  2. Think through the marketing for the product.

This doesn't have to be immensely complicated (although it can be a quite extensive and analytical process for some books) but it always takes a bit of self discipline not to jump ahead. In the case of "Margaret", the children's book I am working on now, it included reading the book with parents and their children. For an encyclopedia of dental technology we are developing for a client we are doing a lot of formal market research.

As you know, we loved the "Margaret" book. It's interesting that, as a publisher, editor and marketer, you have so much input into improving and completing the final product, things which the writer may not have included in, say, a written manuscript. That's a very creative process. How do you work with the artist in this regard?

You're trying to make the best presentation of the artist's work but there are manufacturing and printing limitations, costs and other considerations as well as the pricing and marketing issues. These have to be balanced and it's good to have an author who is engaged in the process. It's part of the creative process of making a book.

That's most interesting, Michael — particularly the way you work with the artist and bring your own talents to the table in order enhance what the artist has done. I know we've taken up much of your time, so I'll just ask: what's next on the agenda? Anything else you'd like to say?

Margaret was announced at Book Expo America but now come the fun of marketing and sales. We're getting some great children's books book reviews and I'm hoping that the nature conservation and environmental publications with recognize a kindred soul in Margaret. Meanwhile, I working on a book about on the U.S. Constitution and human rights and our first young adult book-movie tie-in project (more on that next time).

Thanks, Michael.

Go to Action Publishing
Also Verdugo Monthly's It’s a Big World After All

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One Comment for "An Interview with Action Publishing's Michael Metzler"

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