Insights Into What Makes The Leading Publisher Of Equestrian Books Tick
By Nikki Alvin-Smith

The challenges facing Trafalgar Square Books are equivalent to those facing horse and rider on a five-star cross country course. The ducks and dives, sunlight and shadows, muddy going and hard fast ground, not to mention large obstacles, make the publishing world for this independent Vermont based publishing house tougher than that faced by the ‘big’ five U.S.A. based publishing houses.

But being the little horse that can, Trafalgar Square Books has successfully navigated its way to the front of the leaderboard in the realm of everything equine and equestrian. The quality of their titles has always been stellar. No compromises have been made to either the content or quality of production even while pivots and ‘go arounds’ have been necessary over the past 37 years.

The undaunted team of Caroline Robbins, Martha Cook and Rebecca Didier gallop on with their ‘Horse and Rider’ book business despite many difficulties.

“Traditional publishing post the Covid pandemic has faced a tirade of obstacles. Freight costs have risen dramatically and balancing both book production costs and the budget has never been harder,” explains Didier, Managing Editor and Graphic Designer for the firm.

“We’ve ridden through tough changes with e-books and the digital age. There is a resurgence in the print industry and people are again appreciating the physical break from devices that picking up a good read can provide. Highly illustrated titles in print are very popular. Naturally if you are travelling the e-book can beat a suitcase full of heavy hardcover titles for easy access entertainment. Outside of that it seems folks are learning ‘old skills’ anew and seek the enjoyment of sitting down and relaxing with a good print book. At Trafalgar Square we offer books in digital and print format that cover fiction and non-fiction. Aside from equestrian titles we also publish instructional books for crafters.”

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile Didier is keen to keep the traditional publishing industry alive. Clearly a romantic at heart, Didier’s passion for the written word is apparent.

“I love a good book and a good story. I love how many books smell. I love how they look and feel in your hand. When poking about in bookstores I love to find books with inscriptions and notes inside. Hybrid publishing is here to stay, but for me the traditional print edition will always be at the heart of it. We just need to address the associated costs.”

Despite the rising expenses associated with operating as a small publishing house in a niche market, the company team maintains the ethic that a book price under $40 is a fair price in their market and do whatever possible to bring that book to the table without compromising on quality.

The global supply chain issue has affected many businesses, and Didier describes how it has affected their publishing efforts as, “Utter turmoil”.

“The pressure in the past year has been appalling and very tough on us. Presses in China for four-color production have increased their prices and timelines are slow. Global freight costs are three times higher than before the pandemic. Domestic printing press facilities were quickly booked by larger publishers, leaving smaller houses like ours without many options for production. The American publishing industry will hopefully learn from experience that this interdependency is a fragile concern that needs to be addressed. As an industry we were unprepared. Today US presses are suffering staff shortages even as they try to operate 24 hours a day to meet the production demand. We need to drastically expand our printing capabilities in this country and encourage more professionals to take up the task.”

Sincere quality in the publishing world is more than brilliant graphics and a high standard of book binding and paper with a good distribution pipeline. It is also about good copy. As any writer knows good writing is in the re-writing. The Copy Editor must offer a sharp focus when it comes to editing text. Basics tenets of publishing are often absent in modern day self-publishing and the digital opportunity to present titles.

Didier’s daily tasks are to acquire and manage authors and format and produce in-house copy and design. In the equestrian genre Trafalgar Square Books currently publishes between 15-18 titles a year on horse care, horse training and autobiographical works alongside a small fictional fare.

The budding author often finds themselves intimidated to approach a publishing house for fear of rejection. Surprisingly perhaps, many writers shoot themselves in the foot before they even get started, limping along oblivious to how to direct their pitch or self-marketing efforts.

“We receive hundreds of submissions every year and obviously we can’t publish them all. Sometimes we’ll turn away an author because the work is just not suited to us a publisher. We have turned down several books over the years that we felt belonged with one of the big houses that have gone on to become NY Times bestsellers. Then there are others that are just sloppy submissions altogether.”

Prospective authors that don’t want to waste their time or that of a publisher do need to do some homework if they want to be successful.

Aside from what would seem a blatantly obvious starting point (that is often strangely overlooked), of knowing what types of titles and copy the publisher regularly produces and identifying a good fit for the material with the publishing house, there is also little excuse not to best present yourself in terms of content of a submission and know to whose attention it should be addressed.

“I am a writer at heart and have co-written several titles during my career. I totally respect and honor that for a writer putting yourself out there is a brave thing to do. To open yourself to critique is not an easy step to take. Our site offers writer’s guidelines, and it is a smart idea to review them and follow them to help engage our team from the beginning and make a good first impression. As much as I’d like to have the time to help educate and guide every potential author, I must focus my energy. Whipping off a quick email to me with typos and spelling errors, not knowing my name or spelling it incorrectly, or not having explained succinctly what your book is about doesn’t set you off on a good foot. I try to get back to everyone that submits though it may take some time.”

If the title is of interest to Didier and the submitted sample chapters show promise, Didier openly shares her next step.

“Publishing a book is an expensive business and a leap of faith. The first thing I, and many of my industry colleagues do, is to hit the internet and search down the author to ascertain who they are and whether they have any marketing or media presence.”

An established personal brand identity and showcasing of some marketing savvy via a website and social media presence is a good forerunner to encourage confidence in the author by the publisher.

“When pitching your title our writer’s guidelines suggest that you include your ideas on how you will help market the book. We are not a big publishing house and do not have the big budget that they can throw at their top titles. Publishing a book is a collaborative effort and so is marketing it.”

When Didier was asked what the most important attribute is an author can possess (outside their talent to communicate interesting content on a page) her answer was emphatic, “Open-mindedness.”

If you consider the process of editing someone else’s words and voice and designing the layouts and graphics to complement a title you can see why this is an essential characteristic for a successful partnership. But this is a two-way street, and Didier clearly provides much guidance and patience to help authors along the way. As many of the acknowledgement pages in the books published by Trafalgar Square Books attest.

The future of this small publishing house certainly looks secure with the three ladies, Robbins, Cook and Didier firmly seated in the saddle. Their eyes peeling the horizon for new content and seasoned experience setting a stalwart course.

While Didier currently works between her home in Boston, MA., and her childhood location in Vermont. Changes in her own plans are already in motion. Didier and her husband plan to move back to Vermont soon full-time and take up residence next door to her parents’ farm, where she will be able to keep horses at hand and spending more time outdoors enjoying all that the beautiful State of Vermont has to offer.

Raised in a family of creative types that paint, write poetry, play music, and follow the arts in general, it won’t be long before Didier takes up her own quill again to embrace her heartfelt passion of the written word as an author.

“Outside of this job that I love, I hope to find time to read my massive TBR {to be read} pile of books, and perhaps to write a fictional work,” Didier confides.

This author wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Didier’s name on the NY Times bestseller list. With her language talents she certainly has a leg-up on the competition.

Some Recent Trafalgar Sqare Releases...

The Horse Is My Teacher By Van Hargis The Horse Is My Teacher By Van Hargis MSRP $22.95

A frank and open tone sets the stage for a delightful read of horse training wisdom from Van Hargis. Less a slick cowboy and more an earnest horse whisperer, the life lessons horses have taught Hargis are far and wide and reach beyond riding disciplines and horsemanship.

The humility that threads throughout the text is wonderful, you feel as if the author is addressing you in person and without fuss in his own pattern and phrasing, so it carries you along. The sign of good editing,

This title is a refreshingly honest approach to sharing an understanding of horses based on personal experiences that cross Eastern and Western horsemanship and there is something for all equestrians to learn within these pages.

A good read and one not to be overlooked.

For The Love Of The Horse
Looking Back, Looking Forward By Mark Rashid
MSRP $21.95

For The Love Of The Horse, Looking Back, Looking Forward By Mark Rashid MThe horse’s point of view has always been front and center in Rashid’s mind’s eye. His earlier work, ‘Considering the Horse’, was a forerunner of the culture shift in equestrian life where the focus of training centered on the horse’s perspective rather than those attributes we humans assign to the equine.

In this title, Rashid’s storytelling ability and compassion for horses are front and center. In his inimitable style, Rashid takes us on a journey that shares what he has learned over the past 30 years and how he sees the future. His fame as a bestselling author beyond the scope of the equestrian world encompasses non-fiction books, a novel and a major motion picture is well-earned and reflects his enviable talents to draw the reader into a world that surpasses their usual frame of reference.

Rashid’s exploration of the martial art, Aikido, has aided his pilgrimage to learn how to work with a horse in true harmony. Throughout this book you will encounter knowledge that resonates as truths, and lessons you can take into your daily work with horses that increase your mindful appreciation of seemingly minor yet pivotal communications from your horse.

A lovely read that sets the tone for a thoughtful future for the attuned equestrian trainer to develop.

The Kid’s Guide to Horsemanship and Grooming By Cat Hill and Emma Ford MSRP $26.95

The Kid’s Guide to Horsemanship and Grooming By Cat Hill and Emma FordThis title is a much-needed resource for the horse loving kid. Every kid should have a copy. Some important but often overlooked protocols are included which were a delight to see included here. Some examples include the right way to measure and fit a bridle and how to correctly place the saddle and girth the horse. The approachable content offers a wealth of information with over 700 photos and easy to follow numbered steps for each task.

Cat Hill and Emma Ford are teachers, trainers and have both enjoyed stellar careers working at the top echelons of equestrian sport as grooms. Their shared experiences offer many handy tips and tricks that a neophyte horse rider would not know together with essential safety methods for completing daily routines. This book is especially helpful as it doesn’t just cover life at home, but also shows and competitions and how to prep for those extra special days.

No horse crazy kid should be without this guide! Their ponies and their family and friends will appreciate the knowledge they gain that will set them up for a lifetime of best practices around horses.

Suitable for ages 8-12 years.

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