Small Presses

L.A. Indie Book Publishers Are Thriving. How Is That Possible?

5 November 2012

From LA Weekly:

Starting a book publishing house in today’s economic climate, Anthony Berryman acknowledges, was “insane.” He admits, “From a business perspective, it was never a thought that I was going to be a book publisher. I’m a high school teacher. That’s what I do.”

But start a publishing house is just what he did. Berryman, who teaches English and philosophy at Compton High School, founded Mugger Press in his one-bedroom apartment in Eagle Rock in 2011. He wasn’t deterred by the catastrophic collapse the publishing industry is facing; he wasn’t frightened by the Great Recession. All he wanted was to bring Sam McPheeters’ novel The Loom Of Ruin into the world.

Blame his experience working at Bookfellows in Glendale — now called Mystery and Imagination Bookshop. One day, owner Malcolm Bell placed a first edition of John Fante’s Ask the Dust in Berryman’s hands. That’s when Berryman knew he wanted to publish books.

. . . .

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Berryman says.

Because of the recession and the way that online commerce, from Amazon to e-books, is shaking up the book business, larger publishing houses seem mostly interested in projects they know will sell. They’re less likely to take a chance on a new author with a unique vision or a literary bent. But that has only created a niche for guys like Berryman.

. . . .

While it might be easy to deride these publishers as fiscally irresponsible idealists, it’s probably better to look at them as pioneers, men and women who are determined to bring quality projects to the collective consciousness, despite the overwhelming odds of failure. In fact, the founders of Writ Large Press first started a literary journal,Wednesday, with failure in mind. That premise, says its editor and publisher, Chiwan Choi, frees their creative process. Writ Large now has published five books.

Link to the rest at LA Weekly and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Major League Lesson In Humility.

5 July 2012

From Indie Jane:

“I have to admit, as an author, I struggle with negative reviews. I know reviews are for readers and not for writers, but when I read that someone hated my book, it makes me cry a little inside.

“But authors aren’t the only ones who get criticism. There are downers in every field–or on every field. My favorite ball player, Mark Trumbo, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s a home run god, but just received his invite to the HR Derby. He was named an All-Star, but that’s no thanks to fans who loaded the ballot with Yankees and Rangers.

“So when I read this article about how he deals with criticism, I realized 1) We actually have something in common, and 2) I could learn something from his philosophical approach.

“I’ll just take a moment for the fact that I’ve just claimed to have something in common with a Major League All Star to sink in with you all.

“Still taking a moment….”

Read the rest of the article here:  Indie Jane

—  Julia Barrett

In E-Book War, the Independent Publishers Strike Back

4 July 2012

The Atlantic Monthly allows contributing writer and small-time publishing exec Peter Osnos to post a piece of self-congratulatory fiction masquerading as business news:
[I’ll skip his first paragraph recapping the state of play in the DoJ lawsuit. It was the only non-fiction part of the piece. Also, I’ve highlighted a few key phrases]

Now, nine of the country’s leading independent publishers have taken a bold step, and deserve public recognition for their action. On June 25, they submitted a cogent, twenty-page comment to the court…  At first glance, this may seem like a complex legal dispute far outside the general concerns of most bookbuyers. But stay with me and hopefully you will appreciate why the publishers deserve credit, and why this contentious issue matters to readers.

At the core of the case is the role of Amazon, which has dominated the e-book market since its release of the Kindle in 2007 set off the enormous surge in digital reading. … The dispute is essentially over how e-book prices should be determined: by the retailer under the longstanding practice known as “wholesale” pricing, or by the publisher in the “agency” model, in which the bookseller takes a commission on each sale. The Department of Justice contends that the publishers colluded to satisfy Apple’s preference for agency pricing when the iPad was unveiled in 2010. Unexpectedly, the agency concept came to be seen as a way to expand opportunities for bookselling and to limit Amazon’s ability to undercut the prices of its competitors.

In their comment, the independent publishers asserted that, “in aggregate, according to market data published by Nielsen BookScan the independents accounted for approximately 49 percent of total trade book sales nationwide in 2011.” A significant portion of those sales were through Amazon, which is why their decision to challenge the settlement and incur the possible wrath of this retailing giant is courageous.

Using language that in legal terms is very strong, the publishers objected to the proposed settlement as lacking “adequate factual basis” and “contrary to the public interest.” The outcome of this case will have a profound impact on how books are sold in the digital era, but at least these nine publishers have made it clear where they stand: in favor of robust competition. And that is why they deserve our thanks.

You can read the entire article at The Atlantic.

Folks who are tired of all the back and forth over this lawsuit may want to skip this because I’m going to spill quite a few electrons rebutting this non-sense.

Here in the USA it’s Independence Day. This is my patriotic contribution to cleaning up our public discourse of that form of argumentation described in Harry Frankfurt’s seminal work, On Bullshit. The purpose of Mr. Osnos is clear. He wants to shape your thinking about the DoJ lawsuit by appealing to one of our primal myths.

We are treated to a classic formulation of the fearless little guy taking a brave stand against a powerful and mysterious force that threatens the well-being of the audience. We have the “bold step”, “incur the … wrath of this … giant”,  and “courageous”. Look at what our heroes “deserve”:  “recognition”, credit”,  and “our thanks”. This tightly constructed narrative is built out of a rather amazing amalgam of flotsam and jetsam Osnos has collected the shipwreck that is traditional publishing’s justification for collusive behavior.

Let’s dismantle this edifice piece by piece, remembering that the key to a properly constructed exemplar of this art form is the complete lack of regard for the truth value of any particular component. That lack of regard for truth means that it is pointless to wonder whether the author is aware of the truth or falseness of any particular claim he includes. Nor can we discern when omissions of pertinent facts are deliberate. A practitioner of this dark art doesn’t dabble in such niceties. All that matters is that each element contributes to the construction of his myth.

The foundation of this article is this falsehood: “At the core of the case is the role of Amazon”. The entire publishing industry is irrevocably committed to hiding behind the notion that Amazon is the bogeyman. Amazon is relevant to the DoJ lawsuit only in that Amazon was the target of the alleged colluders’ actions. Far from being the central actor, Amazon isn’t even the alleged victim. Read the lawsuit. The DoJ is alleging that bookbuyers were the victims. The Price-Fix Six aimed to take out Amazon by forcing you and me to pay more for ebooks. That’s the core of this case.

Resting atop the false claim about Amazon’s centrality, is this statement:

The dispute is essentially over how e-book prices should be determined: by the retailer under the longstanding practice known as “wholesale” pricing, or by the publisher in the “agency” model, in which the bookseller takes a commission on each sale.

Sadly, no. This is roughly equivalent to claiming that a lawsuit arising from one person stabbing another person with a butcher knife is about the proper use of butcher knives. That lawsuit would essentially be about the stabbing, not about the butcher knife.  And if there was a legal order barring the stabber from approaching the victim with butcher knife in hand, that wouldn’t amount to outlawing butcher knives. This lawsuit is about a group of wholesale producers with substantial  market power in conspiring with a new entrant into the retail marketplace to raise the retail prices of ebooks and end the ability of retailers to compete on the basis of price. Agency pricing was just the tool that was used to accomplish these ends.

What Osnos leaves out of his discussion of the settlement is the quite salient fact that agency pricing is not prohibited by the settlement. Mentioning that fact would be a bit problematic for the argument that “Unexpectedly, the agency concept came to be seen as a way to expand opportunities for bookselling and to limit Amazon’s ability to undercut the prices of its competitors.” It wasn’t the agency concept that limited Amazon’s ability to undercut prices. It was the illegal collusion.

And what about that “Unexpectedly” floating untethered from any syntactical anchor at the beginning of that sentence? Who didn’t expect the outcome of the collusion? The colluders certainly expected it. Steve Jobs is on video describing exactly what was about to happen to Walter Mossberg at the iPad launch. Immediately after the five publishers signed an agreement to force Amazon to raise the prices of bestselling ebooks, but before they had implemented the plan, there’s Steve Jobs laying out how they would accomplish it. Anyone who didn’t expect what was about to happen just wasn’t paying attention.

In the real world, Osnos works for a company that is, at most, an interested bystander in this case. In the myth that Osnos is spinning, his employer and the other eight publishers who banded together are transformed into protagonists, acting forcefully against the Amazonian menace. Here is his one original contribution to the publishing industry myth, the notion that this hardy band of smaller publishers have become central actors in this drama by adopting, in full, the Big Six argument that the true threat to competition in the ebook business is not the price-fixing actions of Apple and all of the Big Six except Random House, but Amazon’s use of bestsellers as loss leaders. The act at the core of this bit of myth-making is simply after-the-fact “yeah, what he said”.

So, what are we, the audience, supposed to do in response to this myth? We are supposed to applaud these publishers for the courageous act of filing of a public comment about the proposed settlement between the DoJ and the three publishers who had enough sense to know when to fold rather than going all in on a losing hand. Seriously? For filing a public comment? That’s what passes for action in the world of publishing.

And why are we to believe these publishers are so brave for doing pointless paperwork that will assuredly be ignored by the court because the filers ignored the central issues of the case? Because they might incur the possible wrath of Amazon. If Mr. Osnos wanted to sell me on the idea that Amazon is a ruthless business that will do anything for a buck, I would be willing to listen. But he’s selling the notion that Amazon is a petulant bully that will extract revenge on these publishers because they said unflattering things about Amazon. And his evidence is? Nothing. Crickets.

To briefly recap: I call B.S. on Mr. Osnos.

-Guest post by William Ockham, who is solely responsible for the content of this post. The opinions stated herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the proprietor of this blog or the other guest bloggers.

The Book Arts Program.

28 June 2012

University of Maine, Machias.  The Book Arts Program.

Read more here: University of Maine at Machias.

Julia Barrett

From Jen Talty: Publishing is a Business of Business as Usual

25 June 2012
Comments Off

“and that is very bad.”

Over on Write it Forward:

“I have a fundamental problem with the idea of “business as usual”. Not in the sense that we have to run a business and it has to be done on a day-to-day business, but most business today are fluid and if you don’t keep up with the fluidity, well, for those of us living Rochester, NY it’s one word: Kodak. My father worked for Kodak way back in the day as a Regional Sales Rep for the Motion Picture Division and even then he said (mind you this is way back in the late 70’s) that if Kodak didn’t move with the times when it came to cameras they’d be a hurting company… Of course, Kodak was really a “film” company but you know there is this little thing called digital that seems to be turning many businesses upside down and inside out.

“Well, not my business.

“Bob and I have been in business together since December of 2009 (officially). Since then, we have changed or modified our business plan every 6 months. We just did it back in January and we’re doing it again this July (already making notes in Google docs for the Cool Gus Business meeting at Thrillerfest).  It’s exhausting and often times frustrating, but our industry is changing and we have to make adjustments or we’re going to go down with the Titanic (even though we got off a long time ago).

“Business as usual is a form of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Perhaps making a very slight adjustment like reducing print runs and deciding to remove DRM from eBooks. Well, I guess better late than never. Yes, I know, authors are screaming that I think smaller print runs are a good thing. How about lower advances? I once said that it wasn’t just publishers that had to change the way they think and do business, but that the author had to as well. Funny thing about change, most of us don’t like it. It took Bob a good year to wrap his brain around what we were doing. Not that I got there any sooner, but my perspective was different. I’d never been traditionally published and I read eBooks.”

Read the rest at Write It Forward.

—  Julia Barrett

What E-Publishing Means to a Country Boy.

22 June 2012

From Stant Litore, author of The Zombie Bible:

“Bea over at Writing Off the Rails asked me a few days ago what digital publishing, indie publishing, e-publishing, etc., means to me. That made me sit back and think a moment, because it means a lot to me. And not just what you’d expect. Here’s the answer I came up with.

It means all bets are off.

For the first time in quite a while, writers have options. A writer with a fantastic story, some marketing chutzpah, and the self-discipline of an old workhorse can take a decent shot at self-publishing, and that’s been good for a number of novelists. It’s a long shot, but thanks to the rapid growth of the e-book market and the ease of connecting writers and readers via the Internet, it’s far more feasible than it has been in the past.

Another thing that’s exciting to me is the new species of publishers emerging. Some of the small presses are not only entrepreneurial but also give their writers a fair deal, which is something that hasn’t really been the norm among large publishing houses since the 1950s.

And there are the Amazon imprints – Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, 47North, and the others. These not only offer a fair deal but a very powerful marketing engine, and they’re run by innovative people who invest in the author-editor relationship. They’re bringing good work out and they put their weight behind it – not just behind one or two titles they’re banking everything on, they put their weight behind all their books. I’m impressed by that.

All of this means that a good writer has a better shot at making a living than has been the case in quite a few decades.

That’s a good thing.

But what the e-book market and the digital publishing phenomenon really means to me is bigger than that. Much bigger.”

Read the rest at:  New Wave Authors, What E-Publishing Means to a Country Boy.

Julia Barrett

The Author as Publisher, Author as Fraud

5 June 2012

Photo Credit: Amy Gizienski

From author and frequent visitor Bridget McKenna:

So, should independent author-publishers have their own publishing imprints?
I wondered about this when I was first dippng my toes in the indie waters this time last year, so I asked a couple of experienced people I respected whether they thought it was necessary and beneficial, and they said absolutely yes. I created my publishing company, Ravenscourt Press, and got on with the business of publishing some books. It did not then occur to me that in the minds of many people I was doing something wrong.

A discussion elsewhere in the indie community a while back brought up the question of whether or not indie publishers should form their own publishing imprint. The blog author was not especially in favor of it and asked for opinions. As the commenters began to chime in, the idea of creating a publishing entity for self-published books was labeled “not right”, “criminal”, “fake”, “duping the reader”, “dishonest”, “deception”, and “morally questionable” just in the first handful of comments.

. . . .

After my comment, other author-publishers chimed in on the pro side: 

“There is nothing wrong with creating your own business whether it’s books, dresses, or gift items. A product is a product no matter what it’s form is. And I don’t understand this concept of morality that comes into it. You’re either in business or you’re not.”

“I’m just not understanding why being up front about approaching selling books as a business (separate from the craft of writing them) would be perceived as a lie. Your readers want a good book. If you’re giving them that, how many of them do you suppose are really invested in whether or not you have a publishing identity separate from your name?”

“It’s a one-person press, sure, but a press nonetheless. And frankly, anyone who’s willing to do all the work themselves (often many of us around family and day job obligations) should be proud to call themselves both an indie and a press.”

. . . .

I publish my books under an imprintand anyone who cares to do the research can pretty quickly discern that I’m the only author Ravenscourt Press publishes. I make no attempt to hide it. I’m proud of the books I publish or I wouldn’t be doing this.

I love my books, and I love my very, very small publishing company. I love making sure each new publication is as good as I can make it with the help of a good editor, and I love finding and being found by readers. I did it New York’s way; it was thrilling to have all the trappings of literary legitimacy as we defined it then. We have new definitions now, and a new world of publishing opportunity to explore.

In the interest of full disclosure, there was a time when I would have argued against what I’m doing with my publishing business for pretty much the same reasons other people object to it now. But the game has changed, and self-publishing, as well as an opportunity writers have never had before in quite this way, is a business.

Link to the rest at Points of View

Passive Guy’s view on this is colored by interaction with some small publishers who appear to operate their businesses with all the sophistication of a lemonade stand and whose contracts include at least one grammatical error per paragraph.

In PG’s evanescently humble opinion, the idea that an author owning a publisher for purposes of self-publishing is some sort of misrepresentation is crazy. The fact that Cold Gray Walls Publishing is owned by an ex-con instead of an author has no impact on the quality of the books published. Just like agents, nobody licenses publishers and nobody regulates them for quality.

On a more serious note, there may be some good business reasons for having an entity as the publisher of record for your indie books. For one thing, it may ease the process of estate planning. Having a separate bank account for the publisher into which all publishing income goes and out of which all publishing expenses are paid makes record-keeping for purposes of taxes a little simpler as well.

An indie author is a small business and having a publishing imprint is a little more businesslike.

The End of an Indie Publisher

29 November 2011

About a year ago, internet guru and bestselling author Seth Godin announced the Domino Project, a new-model indie publisher “powered by Amazon.”

Today, he announced that the Domino Project is ending after publishing its 12th book.

Excerpts from Seth’s blog:

By most of the measures I set out at the beginning, the project has been a success. So why stop? Mostly because it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever.

The goal was to explore what could be done in a fast-changing environment. Rather than whining about the loss of the status quo, I thought it would be interesting to help invent a new status quo and learn some things along the way. Here are a few of my takeaways:

. . . .

2. The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years. It’s hard for me to see significant ways traditional book publishers can add the value they’re used to adding when it comes to marketing ebooks, unless they get busy with #1. [#1 is Permission Marketing]

3. Booksellers have a starfish problem. Without permission (see #1) it’s almost impossible for a publisher to be heard above the noise, largely because long tail merchants haven’t built the promotional tools traditional retailers have long used to highlight one title over another. You used to be able to buy useful and efficient shelf space at a retailer. Hard to do that now.

. . . .

6. Sponsored ebooks [a la Kickstarter] are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. I’m proud to have pioneered this, and I think it’s a trend worth pursuing. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.

7. The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built, that will. Ebooks are way too hard to give as gifts and to share. Too hard to integrate into social media. And the ebook reader is a lousy platform for discovery and promotion of new titles (what a missed chance). All that will happen, the road map is there, but it’s going to take commitment from Apple, B&N and Amazon.

8. If you’re an author, pick yourself. Don’t wait for a publisher to pick you. And if you work for a big publishing house, think really hard about the economics of starting your own permission-based ebook publisher. Now’s the time.

Link to the rest at Seth Godin’s Blog

One Micro-Publisher’s Book Sales

22 October 2011

An interesting picture of ebook sales from January 2010 to September 2011.

From Walt Shiel – Author, Pilot, Publisher:

The first, gratifying, news is that we are selling a lot more books. Although we’ve been in business since 2005, our total sales increased by 450% over those seven quarters! And that is unit sales, not dollar volume. I’m not going to get into raw numbers, since that is not my point…so don’t even ask. Again in unit sales, eBooks represented about 18% of our sales in the first quarter of 2010 but, and this is the kicker, 76% of unit sales in the last quarter (July-September 2011).



Next I looked at our sales of eBooks alone. We offer eBooks in three formats — Kindle, ePub, and PDF. So far, sales of the PDF formats is insignificant, down there in the noise level of the data. And, far and away, we sell more Kindle books than ePub books. We have our ePub editions for sale in the B&N Nook Store, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo Books, BooksonBoard, and a dozen other miscellaneous sites (the first three represent about 99% of our ePub sales). It turns out that, although Kindle represents the largest percentage of our eBooks sales, ePub is making some inroads, having jumped from almost zero in the first quarter of 2010 to about 20% in the last quarter.



So, what does it all mean? We’re still mulling it over. I have to admit that I am somewhat saddened by the tremendous increase in sales of eBooks while, at the same time, encouraged by the heady jump in total books sold. As for dollar sales, I will say that we make at least as much (in some cases more) per eBook sale as we do per print book sale.

Why would I be saddened? Personally, I am not a big fan of eBooks in any format, although I do read them occasionally. Somehow, I think we are losing something as a culture if eBook sales continue to increase the way they have over the past couple of years. However, if our readers want eBooks, we will offer eBooks.

Link to the rest at Walt Shiel – Author, Pilot, Publisher

Indie Publishing for the Love of It

18 August 2011

Australian indie publisher and teacher librarian Tehani Croft Wessely loves books:

My time at ASIM [Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative] was pretty much my internship in publishing – I did every role involved in creating a publication that you could do, I’m sure! I slushread, commissioned stories and art, edited, did layout, proofread, organised contracts and payments, marketing, promotions, sales, e-publications and every little thing in between that gets an issue of a magazine from being just an idea, to being in the reader’s hands. The structure of ASIM was both its beauty and its curse – organising anything by committee can be difficult, but for the most part, the support provided by the ever-varying ASIM team meant that you had people to rely on, and also that someone in the group would usually know how to solve a problem. As a learning experience, it was a very good one and has, I think, stood me in good stead in my own publishing ventures. It’s even led me to paying jobs in academic editing, which is a nice sideline!

Being an indie publisher is not an easy road. For every indie press that makes a book that breaks even or, even more rarely, makes a profit, there are dozens, even hundreds, that see money vanish into big boxes of books stacked up in spare rooms and sheds, until the erstwhile owner (or their long-suffering spouse) finally says, “Enough.” It’s fascinating to chart to progress of these publishers, to see them rise and fall, to see the authors who put their faith in them get a start, and read the projects they produce. They continue to emerge, perhaps in even greater numbers in recent years with the advent of E and POD publishing options that make it more cost-effective to produce books, and easier to reach a wider audience. Well, I say “easier”, but what I mean is “possible”, because as the numbers of indie publishers rise, so do the number of self- and vanity publishers, which means the role of the publisher – that of gatekeeper and quality control – is being lost under the white noise. And sometimes it’s very difficult for readers (and authors) to distinguish between an indie press and a vanity one, which has a negative impact on the perception of all independents.

I think this brings us to the part of indie publishing which is the most difficult – it’s not finding the right project, or having the skill to help authors polish their work to the best it can be, or the design skills to produce a quality book, or the money to do a decent print run, and then the tenacity to sell them (although all of those things help). No, I believe that the most important part of being a successful indie publisher is marketing and promotion – getting your books out there in places they can be found and will be purchased. And this is so very, VERY difficult to do.

Not only are our local bookstores closing in droves, not only are the online bookstores being flooded by self-published books that clog up the filters of search engines, not only are the big publishers closing ranks on DRM and ebooks and pricing, all of which makes the indie publisher’s life more difficult, but of course, we try to compete on a shoestring budget. The best way to get into bookstores is to have a distributor. To get a distributor, you need a print run of at least 1000, often more. You also have to sign agreements that almost guarantee you will lose money on the books you send to that distributor, with discounts of up to 70% of RRP necessary for them to take you on. You also run the risk of losses in transit, in the warehouse, and in the end, to pulping, as the contract may give them the right to dump your stock with no returns.

. . . .

I guess it has to come down to love – editors and publishers in indie press have to love what they do. The thrill that comes with being the first person to read a new story, discover a new author, to make a new book! It costs money to publish – money that comes out of the indie publisher’s own pocket for the most part, although there have been some very successful crowd-funded projects in the very recent past (it’s all about the signal boosting!). Even if you decide to only run your manuscript through the Smashwords meatgrinder and hope to sell that way, there’s still an investment of time that has to go into a quality product, the money to pay the authors, artists, designers (if you use them), and the money it costs to market – because there are ALWAYS costs.

So we have to do it because we love the process. Some of us may hope to use our experience to step up to another level in publishing, but even that is becoming a distant hope, with the way publishing is teetering on a financial knife edge at the moment, and particularly in Australia, where jobs in the industry have never been prolific. So indie publishing is perhaps our way of expressing our love for books, for writing, and supporting the industry that gives us much joy.

Link to the rest at A Conversational Life and to FableCroft Publishing, an independent press dedicated to the future of speculative fiction in Australia.