I Was Peter Possum
I quickly became an expert in copyright law, ran all over New York buying out-of-copyright children’s books with magnificent artwork by great illustrators of the past such as Beatrix Potter, Walter Crane, Edward Lear, L. Leslie Brooke, Gustav Doré and Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monville. The design of the covers was elegant and practical—much white space with a four-color illustration in a center oval. It was practical, because money was being saved by not varnishing the covers. Had unvarnished ink been used on heavily designed covers, little fingers would have become dirty and the cover and pages smudged.
The test mailings went out, and bags full of orders and cash piled in. It was a raging success.
The four partners ganged up on me. Instead of allowing me to roll out with our successful test that offered nine books, I was told more is better and ordered to go find 15 more titles. The covers now were to be solid colors and varnished. I said, “Yeah, but don’t we want to mail the old mailing against the new one?” I was shot down. “We know this business. The more titles the better. Color covers are better. Do as we say.” And, oh, by the way, I was told to start a book club for the next grade levels.
So I worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week. My then wife left me. What had been a beautiful, easily readable mailing brochure to teachers and kids was a jumble of mousetype with book illustrations smaller than postage stamps.
So did The Gold Mine Book Club for older kids.
My mentor and friend, Lew Smith, left to go work for Lester Wunderman, and I was fired shortly thereafter.
The direct marketing rules indelibly etched in my mind: (1) Let people own their jobs. (2) Test out of a successful control s-l-o-w-l-y. (3) Never abandon a successful control because you’re bored or think you know better. (4) Always back test. yy