WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Turning the page

TRAVERSE CITY – After seven years in the publishing business, Rebecca Austin and Jennifer Nelson, owners of Austin and Nelson Publishing in downtown Traverse City, decided last December it was time to publish a book of their own.

But they weren’t quite sure what to write about.

At the time, Nelson’s mother was working at the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau and told Nelson she had nothing to show potential visitors.

So the duo decided to write their own book about the Traverse City area. Combining Nelson’s graphic design skills and Austin’s writing and photography skills, the two have put together a visually-stunning book.

“Traverse City and the Beautiful Surrounding Area” contains over 80 full-color photographs by Austin and various well-known area photographers.

“We wanted to have the most beautiful photos, and spent a lot of time picking images unique to Traverse City,” said Austin, a native New Yorker who has lived here 13 years.

Nelson, a Traverse City native, said they wanted to include pictures other area natives would relate to–like Oleson’s buffalo herd–so they, too, would buy the book.

“When we’re in the big cities and tell people we are from Traverse City, they think of it as a Podunk town,” Austin said. “We tell them it’s a beautiful place to live. But it’s hard to explain to others, so now we have the book to show them.”

The 79-page book provides an overview of Traverse City during all four seasons, a brief history, the city today, maps, cherry recipes, an events schedule, color tour routes, and important numbers to know. Leelanau County is also included.

“We wanted to make it a quaint book, like our town,” Nelson said. “And we wanted to make it affordable and in an easy-to-carry size.”

The book retails for $16.95 and, at seven by seven inches, is easily portable.

Except for the printing and free lance photos, the publishing duo has done everything themselves, including sales and delivery.

Already, they have sold half of their initial print run of 5,000 copies.

“Everything turned out the way we wanted it to,” Austin said. “We put in many, many hours and we think (the book) will be around a long time.”

She feels the same way about their company, which they opened in 1995 after leaving Publishers Distribution Service in Interlochen, now Access Publishers Network. There, Austin had served as vice president and Nelson as her assistant and catalog designer.

“We complement each other and there’s a good blending of skills,” Austin noted.

For the first six months after opening their business, graphic design work was their sole source of income before they were able to build up the sales portion of their business, which is their main focus.

“We’re sales people,” said Nelson, who graduated with a degree in advertising and is an award-winning graphic designer.

Austin and Nelson sell books for small- and mid-size publishers to national bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Borders and Waldenbooks.

“We look for high-quality, niche publications,” Austin said. “They’re the ones that do well in the chain bookstores.”

Examples include a series of sign language books for children, various specialized outdoor activity books and several educational publishers.

They spend about one week every month traveling to Chicago, New York or Ann Arbor to sell their books.

Nelson says there are a lot of perks to their job, like the time they got to meet Oprah Winfrey. But there are the down times to be weathered, too.

“Owning your own business is tough and you have to be tough and diligent to be in business,” Nelson said.

But, Austin added, it’s worth it.

“We’re investing in ourselves and that’s important to us,” she said.

Their plans for the future include book packaging, an expanded graphic design service, publishing three more books similar to their first and, eventually, hiring more employees.

“We’re growing it slowly and plan to be in business a long time,” Austin said.

On August 23, Borders Books and Music will host a book signing by Austin and Nelson, as well as a gallery showing of the book’s freelance photography.