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Just Her Type: Her Books Are Her Babies

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Just Her Type: Her Books Are Her Babies
Marie Galastro and her husband

Parents often think they know what is best for their children, and sometimes they really do. Despite the plethora of “My son, the doctor” jokes, parents may intuitively understand what career path might best suit their children’s skills. A case in point is Marie Galastro, book packager, publisher, agent, and marketer at MLG & Associates. Growing up in Riverdale, NY, she attended Bronx High School of Science. There she was fascinated by microbiology, and she also loved books and languages, an interest she got from her father, a Columbia University graduate who imported raw materials for the pharmaceutical and food industries — and who spoke English, Spanish, French, German, and a little Persian. Yet her father insisted that she had a head for business and assured her that languages would come in handy later during forays in international corporate ventures.

From her mother, an executive secretary for top management at Stauffer Chemical Company, an engineering firm, Galastro imbibed the determination to have a career as well as an approach to life that combines energy and creativity. Her parents taught her and her siblings the value of a dollar at a very young age. “We all worked — babysitting and doing community service,” says Galastro. “We weren’t spoon fed, and we learned to appreciate that it is hard work to earn money.”

With her mom at work, Galastro, as the eldest child, turned into something of a mom-substitute, taking care of her brother, 15 months younger than she, and her sister, three years younger. Galastro quickly displayed a knack for keeping things running smoothly by organizing things on the home front. “From a young age I took on lot of responsibility,” she says. “I had my mother’s slippers by the door when she came in and dinner started.” It was her first taste of management.

Galastro’s still sees her 88-year-old mother, who lives alone in Riverdale and still drives a car. “I give her credit,” says her daughter. “She told me, ‘Don’t dwell on things, keep moving, follow your goals, don’t be afraid to try new things; and if you fail, step up and do something else.’”

In 2007, after 18 years in the publishing industry, Galastro was ready to follow her mother’s advice and try something new. Her current employer in the house plans industry had bought out her contract, and after spending a little time refueling, Galastro spent much of 2008 exploring the potential for a retail venture in the Princeton area. She investigated three different ideas: a retail shop in Princeton, an art gallery in Newtown, PA, and a coffee shop in Rocky Hill near the Bloomberg headquarters.

But she eventually realized that retail wasn’t the right direction for her. “I needed to do something where I used my brain,” she recalls. “I needed to go back to publishing.” She opened MLG & Associates, as a print publishing agent and provider of Internet marketing services.

Galastro helps clients find publishers or self-publish, and pulls together all the marketing, editorial, and design expertise necessary to create and publicize their books. She encourages her authors to seek out opportunities locally. Readings at bookstores and libraries are a good place to start. One of Galastro’s authors, Penny Bussell Stansfield, will appear on Saturday, March 19, at Princeton Public Library’s Local and Independent Author Day.

She also serves as an agent for several illustrators, and she now represents a total of eight independent authors for whom she has submitted proposals to publishers: five children’s books and three self-help/career guides.

“I understand the publishing industry and know what a publisher is looking for and how they make money,” says Galastro. “You have to have a concept that appeals to a large enough audience, and package it properly to appeal to a publisher.”

Her business got going through word of mouth, and then she started giving seminars on how to get a book published. Toward the end of 2008, a pair of identical twins approached her with a few cute stories about their experiences as twins and told her they wanted to write a memoir. Galastro liked the idea and began to consider what format the book might take and what its market might be. Would it be best as a gift book? Does anybody care about stories of growing up? What would the take-away value be for readers who were not twins?

She decided to divide the book into different life stages, to connect the stories of twins to the challenges faced by all people. In the preteen section, for example, the women shared stories of how they had been buffered and sheltered from bullying and cattiness because they always had a twin by their side.

In the meantime, to generate some publicity, Galastro secured a place for the authors in the audience of Martha Stewart’s “Twin Show,” and she also has a Hollywood casting director actively developing a script and pitching the book to television networks. She is learning that with one media form in hand, it becomes easier to reach out to another. “If a book has been published, it’s easier to sell to TV networks,” she says, “and if the casting director gets a lead first, it will help me open doors.”

As Galastro started to build up a list of contacts through networking and research, however, she found a publishing industry that is in decline, with self-publishing on the rise. She quickly grasped the value of self-publishing, both for her own business and for clients. She realized that facilitating self-publishing could provide her with a dependable cash flow while she works as an agent for clients to publishing houses, which do not pay royalties until a book is published and has earned back its advance.

As the publishing industry gets even more competitive, it becomes even more difficult, says Galastro, for first-time authors to break in — unless a person has an extraordinarily unique story or a very robust marketing platform. One of her clients, for example, is a keynote speaker, Scott Asalone, who travels all over the world and hence has a considerable readymade audience for his book, “Pathways to Personal Greatness.”

“Having a presence and a following is becoming increasingly important if you are trying to get a book published by a bigger publisher,” says Galastro. “You have to have some connection with large masses of people.” What can make the difference between being published or not is having a popular website, being very active in social media, owning a store, or being a teacher with many students.

Galastro has already shepherded a number of self-published books. For “Labors for Love,” written by doula Penny Bussell Stansfield (see story page 32), the stories about the childbirths that the author attended were well written but required a little editing for consistency, which Galastro did herself. Galastro hired writer and illustrator Bruce Arant to create the introductions to each childbirth vignette and graphic designer Jill Abrahamsen to lay out the book. Interestingly, after Stansfield read his introductions, she said to Galastro, not realizing that Bruce was, well, Bruce, “I’d love to meet her; she seems so in tune with the birth process.”

In choosing between self-publishing and conventional publishing, Galastro believes it is important to understand both the author’s goals and the intended audience. “People don’t go into this if they are looking to make a fortune,” she says. “It’s not a money-making business, unless you are hugely successful.” In Stansfield’s case, for example, a self-published book made sense as the next logical step in her career. As a teacher of doulas and massage therapists, she is always out speaking to people, and it’s useful to have a book available in the back of the room when she gives a presentation. “It’s definitely a strong benefit for the author who has a story to tell,” says Galastro. “It’s their marketing piece really.”

Another early self-published book grew out of Galastro meeting Roy James, deputy chief of the Princeton Fire Department, two years ago when a 150-foot pine tree had partially fallen and was touching the power lines. Galastro asked James why he had become a fire fighter and learned that he had always wanted to write a children’s book, but was just not a writer. She asked him to send her bullet points that she would flesh out into a story. It worked, and the result was “A Boy’s Dream: Why I Became a Fireman,” illustrated by Bruce Arant, a former colleague of Galastro’s at Cool House Plans. The book was published under the imprint of Galastro’s publishing company, Farfallina Press. (“Farfallina” is Italian for “a little butterfly who wants to become a bigger butterfly.”)

In conjunction with its recent exhibition, “Emergency: Princeton’s First Responders,” the Princeton Historical Society carried the book in its bookstore.

Galastro is also developing a cookbook with the Terra Momo Restaurant Group. Her husband, Nino, makes all of Eno Terra’s homemade pasta as well as its fresh mozzarella cheese. At a holiday party for the company’s staff, she asked Raoul Momo, “When are you going to do your cookbook?” Soon after, in January, 2010, they started brainstorming and are now in the process of developing a prototype.

Galastro started college at Lehman, part of the City University of New York. When her father died two years into her college education, she felt responsible for her mother, even though her mother was working fulltime, and went to work fulltime as as a secretary to an international research consortium in chemical engineering, located on the campus of Manhattan College.

She then transferred to Manhattan College, taking classes at night while continuing to work for the consortium. When she graduated with a dual major in business management and marketing in 1983, the engineers promoted her to operations manager.

While at this job, her father’s predictions that she would delve into new languages came true. She traveled to Italy and her skills in Italian language and culture helped her impress the locals. “You have to know how to play the game,” she says. “What I tell my clients is that image is paramount. Your goal is to create the best possible image, and you have to have a sense of who you’re playing to — a sense of audience.”

Early on in her tenure at the engineering consortium, where she stayed from 1976 to 1989, she met her husband Nino — on a second cruise. He was working on the ship as the chef de rang (captain of the dining room). They married in 1980.

In 1989 the consortium decided to move its laboratories to the Institute of Gas Technology in Chicago. Because she wanted to stay in New York close to her family, Galastro eventually joined Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. This was her entry into the industry of “house plan” magazines.

For Hachette, Galastro analyzed the business of “Best Selling Home Plans,” developed a marketing plan, and presented it to Hachette, telling them, “Here’s what you need, here’s who you have to hire, and I’d like to be your marketing director.” They hired her, and thus began her long career in publishing. Commenting on the way she jumped into an entirely new industry, she says, “I think one of my strongest qualities is that I am resourceful. I see opportunities and jump on them and pull people together, and pull resources together, and try to make things better.”

While at Hachette, Galastro had a taste of the rich and famous. She worked with John F. Kennedy Jr., who in the mid-1990s until his untimely death was publisher and founder of “George” magazine. “While we each had our own publications and staff there was a lot of interaction corporately and socially among the publishers,” says Galastro in an E-mail.

When Galastro left Hachette in 2000, she took six months off to spend more time with her children in Princeton, where the family had moved in 1991. That year she launched an Internet site that sold house plans, noting, “I was always conscious of the potential conflict and told my employers that I had the site, and it worked.” Several people had approached her with this idea, and she developed a business model and found a partner with the necessary technical knowhow to build a complex website with a huge database.

After the hiatus following her departure from Hachette, Galastro went to work for one of her clients, Drummond Designs, an architecture firm based in Montreal that also published house plan magazines in Canada. She was hired as president of its United States division. She flew to Canada once a month or more, but did much of her work from an office on Witherspoon Street. The job also gave her a chance to improve her French.

After four years with the architecture firm, Galastro had quadrupled its annual revenue, set up long-term contracts, and got them a segment on Bob Vila’s home improvement show. “You get to the point in any job where you feel like you have maxed out and have done the most you can possibly do.” So she was starting to think about what her next move would be. “I always need a challenge,” she says. “Forward motion is my mantra.”

In 2004 a friend called to tell her about an opportunity to work with a new publishing company, Active Interest Media, that had recently acquired the Garlinghouse Company, a 100-year-old publisher of house plan designs. The job would come with an extensive budget and a nice salary, but she was asked to rebuild the Garlinghouse Company in a two-year time frame. The only caveat was that she would have to move to Chantilly, Virginia. She thought it would be fun, and her husband was very agreeable, so they rented out their house in Princeton and moved south.

“The challenge was that Garlinghouse had not kept up with the times. It was a huge undertaking, and I wondered, ‘What did I get myself into?’ It was a complicated undertaking, with a lot happening simultaneously,” says Galastro. “It was a lot of fun and a lot of work.” Despite these significant improvements, the outside economic environment started to encroach, and about a year into the redesign, in 2006 and 2007, the housing market forecast was grim, with a major decline predicted.

Then her employers pulled a fast one. “My company decided they didn’t want to be in the house plans industry anymore,” she says. “They didn’t think there was an opportunity for long-term growth.”

So now she had to turn the deal around and try to convince Cool House Plans that it made more sense for them to own Garlinghouse. She succeeded, and the deal was consummated in 2006, and Cool House Plans hired her as chief executive officer to run the newly merged companies. “I had to figure out how to create economies of scale with two companies doing the same thing, one print driven and one Internet driven, while trying to keep the brands distinct and unique,” says Galastro.

Cool House Plans was a big presence in the industry but largely unknown among consumers. But after two years, the economy was slowly souring, and the housing market had completely dropped off. At the same time, her family’s move to Virginia had been difficult for her mother, and Galastro was ready for another change.

“I felt like I had met the challenge, and turned the companies around, and they didn’t need me any more,” she says. “The owners of the company were reporting to me, and that didn’t make sense.” She suggested a deal where she would return to Princeton and handle their marketing remotely, but they decided to buy out her contract, and by July, 2007, she was back in Princeton.

During most of her career, the supportive presence of Galastro’s husband, Nino, has been critical to her growth and development. “Without having his support all those years, it would have been very difficult for me to keep moving ahead in my own career,” she says. “He did so without complaining and having dinner on the table every night when I got home.” Then once their daughter, Eva, was born in 1996, he took on the role of stay-at-home-dad. Eva is now 14 and a student at Princeton High School; her brother, Dan, is 12 and attends John Witherspoon Middle School.

Nino had trained in hotel and restaurant management in Italy, including the art of presentation. After they married in 1980, he ended his 10-year career as a chef on cruise ships, and put in a decade in upscale Italian restaurants, mostly in New York City. The last one was Nanni il Valletto on East 61st street, a hotspot for movie stars and politicians, where he was sous chef. He took care of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were regulars, and Nino actually served Lennon his last meal, a lunch, of Dover sole. “I remember Nino calling me at home right after the news broke of Lennon’s assassination and him telling me that he had just said goodbye to John and Yoko a few hours earlier and was crushed to hear the news,” Galastro says.

But the restaurant work was grueling. “He worked very late hours; it’s easily a 12-hour day on your feet, and he was getting burned out,” says Galastro. So she encouraged him to stop, telling him, “I love working.”

He had done some catering of corporate events when Galastro was with the engineering consortium, and when they moved to Princeton, he started catering parties for friends, which through word of mouth expanded into a real business. After their daughter’s birth, he continued catering from home while caring first for her and then two years later for her brother also. Recalling that period, Galastro says, “He would be in the kitchen cooking, and they were in little baskets, or under his arm, as he was stirring.”

Once she had left the corporate world and was working at home, the catering business had started to get spotty. Nino knew the Momos from town, and Carlo called him when they opened Eno Terra in 2008, and asked him to make their pasta and mozzarella. “He’s out there demonstrating, behind a glass partition, and people love to talk to him, and they like his accent,” says Galastro. “He’s very personable. He knows more people in town than I do, and is very sociable and outgoing.”

For her current publishing endeavor, Galastro has given herself a couple years to make it a going concern, and she is heartened by her early efforts. Sales have doubled since year one, and she has a contract with the Momos to finish the next phase on the cookbook. Currently she is working on her website and wants to get out and promote herself more; after a recent seminar at the Hopewell library, she says, she added a half dozen new clients.

What she misses most about corporate life is the day-to-day interactions with people but has settled comfortably into her new home-based business. Galastro has already been helping her clients to arrange book signings, write press releases, and develop promotional postcards, and she would like to get even more involved in the after-sale activities. She says, “If they are going to self-publish, they need to be active in promoting themselves and making people aware through speaking engagements, social networking, and having a website to develop a platform and visibility.” She also wants to work more on developing unique ways to distribute her authors’ books.

When people look at her career path, which started in an engineering firm and seamlessly moved into corporate niche publishing and now into more traditional book publishing and self-publishing, they are often amazed. But Galastro says, “It’s all the same, it’s just a transfer of skills — marketing, brand building, promotion, having a sense of audience, and knowing who your client is — that could be used in any industry.”

MLG & Associates, 66 Witherspoon Street, Sutie 115, Princeton 08542. 609-203-1498. Owner: Marie L. Galastro.

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