Vanity, thy name
isn't Milli Brown
helps authors with their stories—and sticks with them
By Cheryl Hall, business columnist,
The Dallas Morning News - Sunday, March 26, 2006
Don’t dare call Milli Brown a vanity publisher. If you want to publish a book, she can help you. But she has to believe the book will sell and is worthy of having her name on its spine.
When an agent for convicted murderer Scott Peterson came calling last year, the 56-year-old chief executive of Dallas-based Brown Books Publishing Group told him and his client to take a hike. “Scott had his chance to tell his story—on the witness stand,” she told them.
She calls her business “relationship publishing.”
For $20,000 to $40,000, she and her staff of 11 will help get the book written and edited, design a book jacket and print 3,000 or so copies.
The author keeps the rights to the manuscript and pockets any profits—something that doesn’t happen in the major publishing world.
“Until I came along,” Ms. Brown says, “there were vanity publishers, the bad-guy shysters who’ll take anybody’s money and print anything, and the ‘it’ll-probably-never-happen’ big boys in Manhattan: Random House, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins and the rest of the royalty pack.”
Brown Books fills
a gap in publishing
Last year, Brown Books, located just off the Dallas North Tollway at Keller Springs, published 110 works ranging from business tomes to children’s tales. Profit more than doubled on $2 million in revenue.
Ms. Brown expects to publish 125 to 130 books this year, with growth coming through repeats and referrals —just as it has since she got started 16 years ago.
Most clients aren’t polished writers. “Many are successful CEOs and entrepreneurs who aren’t intimidated about this being a product to be sold,” she says. “When you combine the energy of an entrepreneurial publisher and an entrepreneurial client working toward the same objective, sparks fly. It’s magical.”
A million by 31
Ms. Brown’s entrepreneurial life began in Atlanta 30 years ago when she was the first franchisee in the South for Weight Loss Medical Centers, now NutriSystems.
“I wanted to make my first million by the age of 30. I missed it by a year.”
She moved to Dallas to get married in 1990, taking time off to be a stay-at-home stepmother and support her husband’s business.
Neither lasted—her retirement nor the marriage.
She came up with the idea of taking oral family histories and printing them as keepsakes, but her first interviewee went to sleep before she could start her questions. When he woke up, she proceeded without mentioning the snooze.
She used the experience as the basis for a book: How to Interview a Sleeping
Man, a tongue-in-cheek how-to for writing family histories.
Then authors started asking her to help get their books printed. She discovered this gaping hole and incorporated in 1994.
Publishing books is the fun part. Then the real work begins.
Brown Books can provide PR and marketing, but that costs $150 an hour extra. Ms. Brown says a typical campaign will run $9,000 for a three-month commitment.
The books are sold either through direct distribution or through Ingram Book Group Inc., the world’s largest wholesaler.
The Nashville, Tenn., giant won’t give precise numbers, its sales of Brown Books to bookstores and Amazon.com were up 117 percent in 2005.
“I love working with them,” says Trent Harmon, Ingram’s lead buyer. “They’re really getting good authors and good books.”
Taking the challenge
Dallas oilman Robie Vaughn, an Olympic competitor in 2002, wanted a one-stop shop for his book on skeleton, the luge-like sledding sport.
“Milli is perfect for executives like me who don’t have time to make this a full-time pursuit,” says the 50-year-old chief executive of Vaughn Petroleum LLC.
He had one stipulation: At least one of the ghostwriters had to careen 80 miles an hour headfirst down a skeleton course.
“I have more than 300 writers all over the country in my files,” says Ms. Brown. “People could not get off the phone fast enough.”
But Trey Garrison, a freelance writer for D Magazine, took the challenge.
“There’s no way to capture Robie’s story without experiencing what he did,” he says.
Sales of Headfirst, released in January, have been boosted by Mr. Vaughn’s TV appearances during the Olympics and a glowing review by Publishers Weekly.
“The first phone call we got after the strong review in Publishers Weekly,” says Ms. Brown, “was from a gentleman who wanted to know who owned the movie rights. If that book is made into a movie, Robie gets all the money.”
Another Brown book, Spirituality of Success, has sold 200,000 copies, and the rights have been purchased in 24 countries. All that revenue has gone to author Vinny Roazzi.
“The greatest phone call is from someone saying, ‘I’m out of books,’ “ she says. “We can handle that with a phone call. We run off another 10,000, and they have the books in a couple of weeks.”