inPublishing: Mascot Books
Mascot Books, a small publisher based out of Herndon, VA, got its start reaching out to eager readers because one little eager reader couldn’t find the book she wanted. Since publishing that first book (and many others) starring team mascots, they’ve branched out to publish books for children and adults on a variety of topics. As huge publishers combine and the odds of publishing seem tougher, Mascot Books co- founder and CEO Naren Aryal told me about how they offer publishing with a personal touch.
How did Mascot Books get its start?
I’m a Virginia Tech alum and in 2003, we [my daughter, myself, and my wife at the time] were in Blacksburg, VA attending a Virginia Tech football game. My 3-year-old daughter didn’t want a cheerleader outfit or sweatshirt; she wanted a book starring the Hokie bird (the team mascot). We couldn’t find one and it occurred to us that there should be a book, so we wrote one on the way home.
Fans, Virginia Tech and folks bought it to support [the school] and people with no affiliation [also] thought it was a great gift for Virginia Tech fans. It exceeded all expectations. I was working as a lawyer in software licensing at the time and I wasn’t passionate about my job. In a year’s time we had another 45 books.
I knew nothing about printing, editing, graphic design, or distribution. I was armed with a license agreement from the university and an idea that I thought was good. Indoctrination by fire—is that what they call it? The day my 2nd daughter was born was the day the delivery of 5000 copies of our first book arrived. I got a call at the hospital, and I had to figure out how to sell books.
We were well-received on campus but what surprised me was that Barnes and Noble picked it up.
How did your background as a lawyer help?
I’ve got a working understand of intellectual property law and trademarks. In that regard, [my legal background] helped me understand the steps I needed to take. I also knew how to set up a company and write contracts. It was a good base that helped me in the early years.
Why did you decide to publish other people’s books as well as your own?
Initially all of our books were [written] in-house so we did our own work. We gained traction in the marketplace and gained distribution so we were ‘everywhere books were sold,” as they say. 2008 was the height of our retail distribution. After the economy crashed, it became clear that we couldn’t do it all in house. We had a base, and expertise in kid’s books, specifically licensed children’s books. That was the first set of authors we took on.
Now we do a bit of everything, and we still publish a lot of children’s books. We look for books that fit in nicely with what we do here.
How does a book “fit in nicely?”
We have a limited staff and everyone here has a say about whether we work on a manuscript or not. It has to strike a chord with someone here. It has to be something that has a real chance to be a creative success.
On your Not By the Book Blog, you sometimes write about the lessons you’ve learned as a publisher. Can you tell us about one lesson you’ve learned and about one of your unexpected triumphs?
In addition to being a publisher, I also see myself as entrepreneur. There are highs and lows. That the biggest lesson-perseverance and showing up to work and overcoming obstacles. That’s all part of it. I learned early that it’s going to be a bumpy ride. You can’t get too high or too low based on what happened on any particular day.
An unexpected triumph: I authored a series of children’s books. When President-elect Barack Obama announced he’d get a dog for his daughters, we started working on it. We didn’t know what kind of dog it was. We wrote and illustrated a book and when news leaked about the dog’s identity, we quickly finished Bo’s America: Commander in Leash and had it on the market 10 days after news about the dog was released.
Now that you are publishing books by other authors, do you consider yourself a mentor as well as an entrepreneur?
The thing I love most about what I do is when I talk to someone who is passionate about their project. What I see or hear is basically me ten years ago: great idea and a lot of conviction but little knowledge about publishing. We take these engagements very seriously: that is what I enjoy most, being a mentor to less experienced authors.
Tell me about your e-books and apps.
We have e-books (you have to have e-books these days) available on various platforms. The question I get from people, particularly those publishing children’s books is “Do I really need to have an e-book?” There‘s a growing segment of parents who want to put an e-reader in a child’s hands and have them read electronically. However, given the social nature of reading with a child, it will be a long time before e-books replace paper books.
With the app, you can download a favorite mascot to share with friends and send messages with the mascot via social media.
We hope to do more interactive content—that’s on the horizon for 2013.
What about your Keepsake Books? And do you still do mascot books?
Those are books with smaller print runs for people who aren’t trying to do retail distribution—things like cookbooks. We do books for smaller schools, high schools, and customized books for elementary schools that parent-teacher organizations use as fundraisers.
What does your eldest daughter think about the company? Is she involved?
My eldest daughter is twelve now: she’s still a voracious reader and helps evaluate manuscripts. She also co-wrote a book starring her school’s mascot.