From Authors Electric:
OK, so this is not about self-publishing and it’s not exclusively about digital, but it’s a case study of how two people with more ideals than sense decided to start a publishing company that would operate rather differently from the traditional model and the Big Five. If anyone else out there wants to follow suit, it might help you to avoid some of the mistakes we made.
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It was in the Roxy bar in Siena some time in July 2014. I was there drinking coffee with my husband Stephen Barber (I think he had a round cake too) and we were sitting outside, when the heavens opened and we were going to get soaked.
We ran inside and ordered another round of coffee while we waited out the storm. I had a notebook and pen with me (naturally) and we had been talking for some time about possibly starting an independent publishing house. We knew from blogs like this and the experience of friends that it was getting easier for complete tyros to bring out good-looking books.
We talked and roughed out a possible two-year publishing schedule. There are a couple of books Stephen wants to write and I had the feeling that no-one was going to want to publish my next two YA novels, which were both historical, so this could be a vehicle for both of us.
But I was also acutely aware of the tough time fellow YA novelists were having in getting publishing contracts – great writers, some of them prize-winning but writing the kind of books that just weren’t fashionable currently.
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It took a bit longer to take the definitive steps towards making it real but in October 2014 we registered The Greystones Press with Companies House. It was on a Sunday and took less than an hour. Setting up a business bank account with HSBC, however, took MUCH longer.
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My agent had sent a synopsis and some sample chapters to the main publishers the year before but had replies like “we already have a book on Shakespeare” or “we’ll need to see the whole text.” For someone who had been accustomed to sell a book on a paragraph or two of an idea, this could have been a bitter blow. But I determined that this was just the way things were now and wrote a different novel – of which more anon.
But having missed the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014, I suddenly realised that I had to get a move on if I wanted to make this year’s 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
I finished the first draft on January 22nd 2015, aware that no conventional publisher would be likely to get the book out in time, allowing for revisions, submission and then my agent sending it round all the publishers. So we said, “October then”, to get it out at the same time as the other Shakespeare titles.
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So we had some books. But what next? We had initially decided to do a small print run of paperbacks for review copies and author copies and then do Print on Demand (POD). And we would do ebooks too.
What we had to find was editors, designers and other team members. So we joined the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), got their book and started trawling the Net for likely people. Then we had a piece of good fortune – we found Talya Baker, who not only is a superb copy-editor but took on the role of Project Manager for fiction for us.
Talya, with whom I’d worked briefly at Bloomsbury, introduced us to the other rock of our enterprise, Nigel Hazle, Text Designer.
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To stop this post from being too long, I’ll whizz through some of the stages: we had to discover about writing Advance Information sheets (AIs), Press Releases, buying ISBNs and tangling with Nielsen’s Title Editor online.
We had to commission and provide material for a website, write contracts, decide what to do about PR, choose covers for five books, work out how on earth we were going to publish the illustrated book (of the kind we positive were not going to do, remember), re-think the whole POD and ebook model, have stationery designed, etc. etc.
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We had been veering towards Ingrams (Lightning Source) because of the shipping costs from America of using CreateSpace but as we were going to be a small independent publishing house rather than a self-publisher, we were fearful that bookshops would not only not stock but also not order our titles if they were POD only. A brutally frank email from a US publisher we were talking to made us think again about our publishing model.
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Kindle accounts for 85% of ebook sales so we have gone for the KDP Kindle Select option, which brings in 70% of the price, in return for exclusivity.
If you want your books available for other platforms, the royalty drops to 35%. Our margins are so tight on the paperbacks (see, I even talk like a publisher now) that it will be n Kindle if anywhere that we make some money, enough to enable us to publish more books.
Link to the rest at Authors Electric and thanks to Diana for the tip.
PG says these new publishers seem to be intelligent and well-intentioned people, but he wondered about the contracts they ask their authors to sign. Specifically, how long those contracts last.
PG hopes they did not follow standard industry practice and make their publishing contracts last for the life of the copyright or some other ridiculously long period of time.
It’s a big risk for an author to sign up with a new publisher. Most such publishers (like most new businesses) will not be successful and close their doors within a few years. If the authors can walk away with their work, both author and publisher can agree it was a tough learning experience but tomorrow will be a brighter day.
However, if the author’s work is tied up with a typical publishing contract, the author may not be able to walk away with his/her work. Rights to those books may go to whoever buys the assets of the failed publisher, either via the bankruptcy court or in a forced sale.
The publisher’s founders may have been the nicest, most honorable and well-meaning people in the world. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no guarantee that owner #2 will be of similar character. Every industry includes a collection of sleazeballs and thieves and publishing is no exception.
There are two simple contractual means of avoiding or ameliorating the author’s damages. Either one is good. Both are better.
- A Change of Control contract provision. Boiled down to basics, this clause says if the current owners lose ownership or control of the publisher, the author has the right to terminate the publishing contract and all rights to his/her book will revert. (PG notes that, if the publisher files for bankruptcy relief, the bankruptcy court may have something to say about enforcement of the Change of Control provision. Further discussion would put you to sleep.)
- A contract that lasts for a specific and limited period of time. Three years, five years, seven years would seem to give a publisher, old or new, the opportunity to demonstrate that the relationship is worthwhile to the author. If everyone is happy, they can renew the contract for another specified period of time. If not, entering into the contract may have been a regrettable experience, but not a disastrous one for the author.