Currently viewing the tag: "publishing"

A few years ago cupcakes were all the rage. Adorable little cupcake shops were cropping up everywhere and customers were flocking to them. I admired these entrepreneurs and their gumption for transforming their passion–baking cupcakes–into a business.

But what if Hostess (owned by a venture capital firm before it went bankrupt) declared it had the only real recipe and process for baking cupcakes? What if Entenmann’s (which produces all manner of baked goods, including cupcakes) declared only its processes could produce a quality product? What if these large companies spent millions upon millions in advertising and marketing to convince others in the baking industry that any cupcakes not produced, marketed, and sold by them were somehow not only of poorer quality but that they damaged the whole cupcake baking enterprise? That they were dangerous! That entrepreneurial cupcakes were more fattening and led consumers down the road to laziness and sloth and that with all those inferior and dangerous cupcakes lurking out there, how were lovers of baked goods to sift through the chaff to find the wheat of goodness that they themselves produced?

That’s crazy, you say. Well….

Let’s say your passion is not baking. Let’s say your passion is writing. And let’s say you’d love nothing more than to write a novel and publish it yourself–hire editors, proofreaders, designers, and, being entrepreneurially minded, sell it directly to readers. Just a few short years ago, you’d have been be a pariah in the publishing world. How could you–a writer?!–deign to write, package, publish, and market your own book? How could you create an actual business around that when obviously (the publishing world would say) your recipe and your ingredients and your processes are so inferior as to be dangerous to the culture at large. How could you even KNOW if your product is ready for the marketplace if it hasn’t gone through the processes established by the major players in the industry? And publish your OWN WORK?  It’s permissible to start a small press and publish OTHER people’s work–but your own? No, no, no! No writing and publishing for you–unless your work has been vetted by the Hostesses and Entenmann’s of the publishing world. Unless you hand over your recipe to a traditional, established company to produce, your work is of no value at best and dangerous at worst.

Sound ridiculous?

Unfortunately, it’s not. That attitude still exists in some corners of the publishing world, and the only reason it changed at all is because of Amazon–that horrible, terrible, no good, very bad Amazon that developed the technology and opened up a platform to entrepreneurial authors and revolutionized an industry. Of course there is a difference between baking a cupcake and writing a book. So let’s expand the cupcake example out to cooking in general.

Imagine the presidents of such culinary behemouths as McDonalds, Applebees, Olive Garden, Chick-fil-A and Subway taking a stand and telling the world that Grant Achatz–owner of Alinea in Chicago, recognized leader in molecular gastronomy and someone who has revolutionized cooking and dining–and his recipes and his processes are of dubious quality and that he is a threat to the culture of food because he didn’t franchise his restaurants through one of their companies. After all, although he might have a degree from an established culinary school, he can’t just run around starting restaurants using his own recipes. That’s, horrors, self-restauranting! 

The idea that any group that publishes books by “writers” like Snookie and the latest YouTube cat sensation owns the moral high ground and should be taken seriously when they run around declaring they are the only true arbiters and protectors of culture is ridiculous. And the idea that they need to be protected from competition is even more ridiculous. We’re in the middle of a publishing revolution, and, I’m afraid, as in most revolutions, blood (metaphorical, in this case) will be spilled. War cries are echoing far and wide as publishers and authors take sides, declare loyalties and allegiances, and brand one side as the devil incarnate and the other as innocent victim.

I have, my whole life, been a writer. I’ve written bad poetry, worse short stories, and started and completed several novels. But it was only in the past five years or so that I ever attempted to actually get published. I polished off a novel, sent queries to about twenty agents and editors, got lots of rejections and a few requests for partials and fulls and even an if-you-edit-this-a-bit-more-and-send-it-back-we-think-it-will-fit-our-list maybe from one editor. So I hired an editor, reworked the manuscript, and then didn’t send it back. Why? Because in the meantime, technology changed, Amazon single-handedly created a forum through which authors could publish their own work, and, after looking at the book covers and reading plenty of books repped by or published by those I’d queried, I decided I could do the publishing end of the job just as well as they could. After all, don’t I run a small press? Don’t I publish other people’s work? Why should I be ashamed to publish my own? As a restauranteur, would I only prepare and serve other people’s recipes?

Oracles of Delphi, my historical fiction set in 340 BCE in Delphi, Greece and put out under the name Marie Savage, will be published by an imprint of Blank Slate Press this fall. Why the pen name? Because I’ve also co-written and am in the midst of self-publishing a sci-fi/YA trilogy with my daughters under the name K. Makansi and I don’t want to confuse the two author names in the marketplace.

I have great admiration for entrepreneurs in general. Folks who put it all on the line to create a new business and to put themselves out there. Take indie bookstores. I have often dreamed of owning my own bookstore/coffee shop/wine bar/art gallery and so I’ve always sympathized with and recognized the challenges independent bookstores face when competing against huge retailers. Just a few years ago, it was Barnes & Noble and Borders who were the big boys throwing their weight around and the indie bookstores had to compete against their ability to discount titles given that the big publishers gave the big chains better terms because of higher volumes.

Bookstores–big and small–are wonderful. But back in the old days (last year), your local indie was most likely the only bookstore to take on a book (let alone feature it) by a local entrepreneurial author. It hadn’t been vetted was one reason, and it might be awful (and often times I’m sure it was awful) was another. Or it had to be sold on consignment, which is a pain. And if a store took one self-published book, it would open the floodgate to a gazillion others begging for limited shelf space. Certainly no chain bookseller would touch a self-published book–at all. Period. Unless, of course, somehow the book had sold a gazillion copies already.

But now?

All that has changed thanks to Amazon. Amazon, along with advances in digital printing and companies such as Ingram/Lightning Source, created opportunity for entrepreneurial authors–authors that everyone else in the publishing world treated with scorn–and  now every big publishing company on the planet wants a piece of that same self-pubbed author’s purse. These big publishers are snapping up companies like Author House or are creating their own paid self-publishing platforms. Amazon created a market for authors to reach readers (and in the process allowed many authors to make real money off their writing for the first time ever) and the very publishers who decry Amazon’s dominance are scrambling to get a piece of that same market–a market they wouldn’t have touched with a 100-foot pole just a few short years ago.

Yes, Amazon’s dominance in this new marketplace is real, but I suspect part of the reason large publishers fear that dominance is because through the democratization function of the self-publishing platform, power has shifted away from the publisher as gatekeeper to the author as creator. This is, as a small publisher and self-published author, a welcome development, and I don’t understand how anyone who believes in free and unfettered access to the marketplace could see this as a bad thing. With lower barriers to entry, there will be more suppliers and more choices for readers, a more competitive market that will drive authors to strive to improve their work in order to stand out from the crowd, and lower prices to the consumer. And, readers, authors, publishers and retailers benefit (not to mention trees) when books sitting on “online shelves” don’t have to be returned and pulped to make room for the next big (or small) thing. At the end of the day, the best thing for the marketplace is a diverse ecosystem in which consumers have the widest choice, authors have agency over their product and are valued and monetarily rewarded for their creative content, and publishers and retailers can make a profit. There will naturally be give and take on all sides as the marketplace evolves.

My mantra in life is that if you meet anyone who insists they KNOW the THE TRUTH, turn and run the other way. Life is complicated. Nothing is black and white. Markets are messy. Companies put their own self-interests first. If publishers believe Amazon is out to ruin them and, in the process, usher in the end of books and of culture itself, why continue to do business with it? If authors truly believe Amazon is the devil incarnate, why are they not stipulating in their contracts that small independent bookstores be the only outlets for selling their books?

As  a reader, I ADORE brick and mortar bookstores (especially the small, often quirky indies!), and I have spent countless hours in them browsing, finding new gems to read, and generally soaking up the ambiance. But, as an author, I THANK my lucky stars that Amazon has revolutionized the technology to democratize publishing and to give writers like me (and my co-authors) the ability to compete for readers without bias or without being segregated or scorned for daring to be entrepreneurial. As a small press publisher, I LOVE BOTH indie and chain brick and mortar stores AND Amazon and other online retailers for allowing me to connect the authors I believe in with the readers who will enjoy their books.

I’m not great at baking cupcakes or at creating innovative recipes, but as a writer and a publisher–both of other people’s work and of my own–I shouldn’t be ashamed of the desire and the drive to be entrepreneurial, and I am thankful that Amazon created the market environment in which I was able to transform my passion into a business.

Now, I need a cupcake.

 

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After a lot of careful evaluation and thought, Blank Slate Press has made the critical decision to begin a new relationship with Midpoint Trade Books.

Why use a distributor in the first place? 

After three years in the publishing industry, we’re convinced that the growth in the future of publishing is in small press and self-publishing. With the rise of e-book sales and digital distribution through Amazon et. al., the future of indies is bright. By working with a small press, authors get access to professional cover design, an experienced editorial team to make the book the best it can be, layout and design services, and assistance with marketing and publicity. But authors who choose to self-publish can have access to all the same things, provided they can pay out-of-pocket for such services. So what sets small presses apart from self-publishing? What advantage does an author achieve by signing with a small press rather than simply self-publishing?

The answer is in distribution.

Many distributors only work with publishers who have more than a few titles on a backlist, which enables them to sell more books in bulk to their buyers. This prohibits self-published authors from signing with distributors. Self-published authors can also occasionally find distribution cost-prohibitive. It’s only by working with a larger number of authors and titles that small presses can achieve the economies of scale to make distribution viable. What does this mean for us? In order for Blank Slate Press to continue to attract authors of the highest caliber, those who deliver the kind of award-winning prose our readers have come to expect, we have to provide them with something valuable – beyond services that authors could pay for on a service basis. By working with a distributor with a powerful, well-established sales team and national reach, we can provide Blank Slate Press authors with the opportunity to have their voices heard far and wide, from the largest booksellers in the world to the nooks and crannies of your favorite neighborhood bookstore.

Why Midpoint? 

As we reached out to distributors and considered all our options, the team at Midpoint stood out to us. They were impressed with the quality of work we’ve sought out thus far, and they are passionate about bringing small press books to the fore. The sales and administration team at Midpoint has several decades of experience between them, coming from high-ranking positions at some of the top publishers and booksellers. We can learn from them, and in exchange, we can provide them with incredible books and talented authors. Midpoint works with booksellers all over the country, and they have connections in the United Kingdom and Canada as well. They have personal relationships with buyers at Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Barnes and Noble, Target, Walmart, K-Mart, Follett, and many more, as well as hundreds of small and independent bookstores throughout the country. By partnering with Midpoint, Blank Slate Press will achieve a new level of distribution and be able to bring BSP books and authors to hundreds of new hands. We’re thrilled to be able to work with them, and we believe that all our authors will benefit from the new opportunities Midpoint affords.

And every team member at Midpoint we’ve dealt with so far has been enthusiastic, kind, polite, and patient. We’re looking forward to growing Blank Slate Press with Midpoint on our side.

I follow agent’s blogs. It’s a great way to learn about publishing and to understand the challenges agents face. This new adventure in publishing, Blank Slate Press, is exciting and wonderful, but the impetus for getting into publishing in the first place is that as a reader and a struggling (all writers struggle) writer, there’s no industry I’d rather dive into. (And since I’m approaching 50, the industry is in flux, there are fantastic authors in our area writing, and struggling, and just waiting to be discovered, we figured there’s no better time than now.) And since we’re new to the scene, we’re trying to learn as much as we can as fast as we can.

As a writer (this is Kristy speaking here) I’ve only sent out a couple of tentative queries and have never put any real effort into getting anything published. (Perhaps that’s because I’m never satisfied enough to call something “finished”…or maybe it’s because I’ve actually never finished anything.) However, I subscribe to several writer’s forums and read daily the exasperating and demoralizing rejection letters writers get from agents. So, following agent’s blogs allows me to see the world from their point of view. And one blog I love to read is Colleen Lindsay’s.

Her recent entry on how changing the model of agent/writer relationships and writer advances, and the related discussions on Twitter, have been fascinating. I recommend you check it out:

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2010/06/round-up-agent-pay-advances-and-slush.html

Also, via twitter, I found a reference to a post she wrote in 2008 about the economics of book tours and why more and more publishers and authors are staying home. Just imagine how much technology and social media have changed since then.

Check that post out here:

http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/09/pimpin-your-book-economics-of-average.html

I just came across an article on Smithsonianmag.com about the inception and cultural impact of the paperback novel. It’s a short piece and a nice read. You can find it here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/How-the-Paperback-Novel-Changed-Popular-Literature.html.

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I dragged out the books on publishing that I bought 10 years ago when we first started dreaming about starting a publishing venture. My how times have changed. The books actually talked about faxing press releases to news outlets! That is so 20th century.

Of course bootstrapping any business means that you have to: 

  1. partner with people you trust and respect who have the same passions
  2. develop your business model and create your business plan
  3. work with legal/cpa professionals to set the business up right to begin with
  4. develop your brand — your name, your logo and your “look” to position yourself amidst the competition

And now, in addition to all those things, you need to:

  1. know–or hire someone who does know–how to design and create an interactive website
  2. know–or learn in a hurry–all about social media
    1. create a blog (hello!)
    2. create a Facebook page
    3. create a twitter account (well, at least one of us has a twitter account!)
  3. keep up-to-date on all the changes in your rapidly changing industry (wow…that’s a tough one in publishing these days)
  4. attract investors
  5. sign authors
  6. and, voila!, publish and, hopefully, prosper.

Obviously, this is the abbreviated to-do list for how to start a publishing company. So, first things first. We’ll be meeting with our CPA later in the week to iron out the business of the business and so today, I concentrated on the website. I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on the home page and I’ll be working on the other pages the rest of the week. We’re not spending gazillions of dollars on a flashy site (I used to work at a creative firm and it was easy to bill out $10,000 for a pretty standard interactive site). Instead we want something that looks good, that reflects our brand, and that helps us connect with writers and readers in the greater Saint Louis area. Instead of putting our money into flash, we want to put it behind our authors.

Anyway, hopefully we’ll be able to launch our full site by next Monday. Just in time for our “roll-out” cocktail hour.

Mmmm. I’m looking forward to popping the cork on a nice bottle of vino now…

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As we get up and running, we’re going to be blogging here about writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc. as well as about what it takes to start a brand new business.  

Our website is under construction. We’re designing our prospectus, our business cards, and, we set up this blog. We’re talking to our CPA and to other interested parties about exactly how to structure the back end of the business. And we’re planning a “debut” party for writers and potential investors.  Things are starting to roll…

Check back here and at Blank Slate Press to see what’s going on in our new adventure in the future of publishing.

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