Book publishing is a strange industry. It’s part business, part art; basically oil and water. No matter how much we stir it up, the two
parts just do not blend. It is an industry built on emotions, passions, egoism,
and narrow focus. It’s dependent on publicity, which is also caught in the
bifurcation of the business, and the mercurial nature of the book buyer.
From the business end, the basic tenets of good business are irrelevant. Look at the product (book) in terms of profit/loss:
The author spends sometimes years of his or her life, unpaid and unbidden, devoted to the work at hand, with (usually) no promise of any kind of return on investment.
If the publisher sees value in the work, or if enough editors simply like it, the rights are contracted and the publisher then spends
the next 9-12 months, sometimes more, investing thousands of dollars in
salaries and production costs, travel, office expense, etc., in bringing out
If distribution is going well, the product may actually be placed in reasonable quantities throughout the country. The wholesalers who
place the product have 90 days to pay, demanding 60 days from their booksellers
to either pay or return the product.
So the author waits for a royalty, or uses an advance against future royalties as payment for the time invested. Rarely is a royalty paid on
time, because of the ebb and flow of payments from wholesalers and
The publisher waits at least three more months after the publication of the book to see if their investment will be returned or if, instead, the product itself will come back.
The industry is broken, and has been for ages. But rather than fix it, we all have done our best to work around it, find other avenues
for bringing in cash flow, and streamlining publications in order to avoid
those big losers.
And that’s what PublishingWorks has done.
Originally set up as a subsidy press for local (NH) authors, we began stretching our wings in 2006 and taking on more and more traditional
contracts, buying rights to books we liked and felt had a market. As of 2011,
our entire list is traditional. But consequently, we lost our cash flow, so
badly needed in a poor economy. The micropublishers we took on to distribute,
believing that the commissions would help our cash flow, have instead drained
it. The time and resources involved in distributing books is out of balance
with the income because of the individual nature of the business: if one book
does well, but another is returned in vast quantities, the money stops. The
publisher of the book that sold demands payment, and is entitled to it, yet
there is nothing left in the coffers, thanks to the drain from other titles.
And so it spirals.
Our first remedy was to change our distribution set up and move it out. We contracted with Publishers Group West, and look forward to their marketing and sales expertise taking us out of the slump we suffered.
Our next step was to reinvent the company once again by taking on subsidy jobs through a separate imprint. We now sign books on our
Peapod Press imprint (children’s titles, predominantly) and take on a small fee
to edit, design, print/bind quality books. The onus for marketing, publicity
and sales rests with the authors, but we encourage and consult with them, in
hopes that they will place their book eventually with a larger children’s
press. If not, the fact that they have a nicely done book is often enough to
appease them. The investment isn’t huge, and the result is a work of art.
Peapod was created in January 2010, and now has seven titles published or in production. There
seems to be no shortage of interest in it. Many of the authors have already
researched online subsidy houses and found the factory-style of publishing to
be off putting. We are able, at least so long as we stay relatively small, to
actually discuss a project, make suggestions, advise and consult individually.
Publishing is a personal, emotional business, and authors are looking for that
Those authors interested only in a return on investment will be disappointed, and most likely not successful. They are in the wrong
business. Maybe we all are, but for some reason, writers are still creating,
and publishers are still finding a way to publish. It will become more and more
imperative that authors understand how the business operates and take a larger
part in making their project a success if they want to see it all continue.
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