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Nine Lessons from a Small Indie Publisher

13 February 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

Last October here at Publishing Perspectives, I wrote about starting my new publishing house—actually more like a publishing room—Mensch Publishing.

I promised/threatened an update when its first book hit the streets, and February 7 saw the release of Guy Kennaway’s affectionate, funny, and important story of his mother’s desire to end her own life. Time To Go will be available around the world in English, in print, in ebook, and in audio formats.

What, if anything, have I learned? Perhaps nine lessons to follow up a Christmas theme.

Lesson 1. Finding the right book is by far the most important thing, but getting the small things right is vital and unbelievably hard work.

Lesson 2. Being a small (tiny) independent publisher is liberating in its avoidance of group think and corporate bureaucracy but challenging in its complexity. I have more than 1,000 emails in my files all for one book and that’s computed after I’ve assiduously deleted the several thousand I was copied into for no reason.

Lesson 3. Treat your suppliers with respect. I’ve taken a policy decision to pay cash owed into a freelancer’s account the same day I receive the invoice. My cash flow is important but respecting other people’s cash flow generates goodwill, and better relationships are vital for a small enterprise—perhaps for big enterprises too.

Lesson 4. Everything costs more than estimated, and income is always less. Those who see publishers, large or small, as greedy monsters making large profits should try it for themselves.

. . . .

Lesson 8. Managing a site. Tweeting. Communicating with authors, agents, sales, distribution, rights, design, production, finance, agents. Setting up accounts with Publishers Licensing Society. With Nielsen. All take time, obsession, attention to detail and all are essential.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

When PG read the OP, he was curious about whether a publisher with a single employee (the author of the OP) used the same types of contracts and paid royalties at the same rate a much larger publisher would. PG notes from the book’s Amazon listing that the one-person publisher is pricing the book at the same level a major international publishing house would.

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16 Comments to “Nine Lessons from a Small Indie Publisher”

  1. When PG read the OP, he was curious about whether a publisher with a single employee (the author of the OP) used the same types of contracts and paid royalties at the same rate a much larger publisher would. PG notes from the book’s Amazon listing that the one-person publisher is pricing the book at the same level a major international publishing house would.

    That is because of the background of this single-employee “publisher”. He knows his rut very well.

    From the OP…

    Richard Charkin is a former President of the IPA and for 11 years was Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He has held many senior posts at major publishing houses, including Macmillan, Oxford University Press and Reed Elsevier, and has led many other organizations, such as the UK Publishers Association and The Book Society.

  2. 1) No one knows what will be a hit – or a flop.

    2) Means there aren’t enough hours in the day to devote enough time to any one thing.

    3) Annoy them and they’ll go elsewhere, be it the writers, readers or your editor (I do hope they actually have one …)

    4) They are, they’re called indies …

    5) which makes you wonder why you worry about tweets and such.

    6) Then don’t print a price on it! so much easier to sell it for less if it wasn’t selling at the first price.

    7) Yup, we all do on good days (learn something new that is.)

    8) See #2 and how many of those accounts actually help sell books? (I don’t know of anyone that cares what Nielsen says when book shopping.)

    9) Yup, a lot of them out there.

    “PG notes from the book’s Amazon listing that the one-person publisher is pricing the book at the same level a major international publishing house would.”

    Yeah, that might hurt sales – which might be why no price on the book so it can be lowered if it doesn’t sell at the higher price …

  3. I may be wrong, but my sense is that this is not going to end well for him.

  4. The book was released on February 7 and has no customer reviews at Amazon.com and only two at Amazon.co.uk. Three ratings, no reviews on Goodreads.

  5. Lesson 1. [G]etting the small things right is vital and unbelievably hard work.

    This is the most important thing in any endeavor. If you take care of the little things, the big things get done as a result. I would that I only had to learn that lesson once, but, no, the Universe repeated this lesson with me times without number.

    Lesson 2. I have more than 1,000 emails in my files all for one book and that’s computed after I’ve assiduously deleted the several thousand I was copied into for no reason.

    Deleting those emails was, is, and will be a fatal mistake, world without end.

    Lesson 3. [P]ay cash owed into a freelancer’s account the same day I receive the invoice. [R]especting other people’s cash flow generates goodwill. . . .

    Not sure if this means he pays his contractors on receipt of invoice or if this means he deposits monies into an account (escrow?) to pay later. If the former, good. If the latter, okay but could be better.

    Lesson 4. Everything costs more . . . , and income is always less.

    Missed one. ‘Everything cost more and takes longer.’

    Lesson 8. Communicating with authors, agents, sales, distribution, rights, design, production, finance, agents. [Why are customers and readers absent from this list?] . . . All take time, obsession, attention to detail and all are essential.

    Again with the little things. No harm in being reminded.

    • “Missed one. ‘Everything cost more and takes longer.’”
      —-
      Yeah, Cheops’ Law is as universal as Captain Murphy’s Law.

      Too many people in publishing (both sides) ignore the perversity laws of the universe. Finagle is their payback for ignoring the Second Law of Thermo. Entropy always wins.

  6. A contractor who makes money by selling services has a vested interest in selling as much service as possible. That is what we see here.

    • Not mentioned is whether he farms out any of the editing/covers – or is he one of those one-armed wallpaper hangers? 😉

  7. IMHO this is not a “small indie publisher.” This is a traditional publisher doing his best to make indie publishing look bad, and he’s doing such a bad job of it that the attempt is transparent.

    Yes, in true indie publishing the hours are long and the work occasionally piles up, but the reward is fantastic: 100% of net royalties for the life of the copyright (intellectual property), which the author also retains for the duration of his or her life plus 70 years.

    As noted by TPG, this publisher priced his book in line with traditional publishing prices. Hence the article leaves me wondering whether the Mensch contract also mimics tradpub by assuming all rights or outright ownership of the copyright (again, valuable IP) like other traditional publishing contracts do.

    In exchange for a pittance of an advance (maybe) and a ridiculously low royalty rate.

    No, this is not at all “how it is” (per another comment on the OP), at least not at the majority of true small indie publishers, one of which I have been (successfully) since 2011.

    • Heh, if he’s giving a standard trad-pub contract to his writers then he is a ‘greedy monster making large profits’ as he isn’t paying the staff and support that trad-pub is – if of course it sells at all at his prices. (and I wonder if he’s doing all the editing/formatting/cover design as well as a one-man shop.)

  8. That cover is awful. At rank 76000 means he’s selling a book every three days? There’s no way he’s making his money back on this.

  9. Smart Debut Author

    It’s barely sold 25 copies lifetime, in all formats. I’m guessing this “indie publisher” will be one and done.

    Hopefully, Guy Kennaway got a big advance to make up for the low sales his publisher’s launch marketing and pricing acumen have enabled.

    But somehow, I doubt it…

  10. Everything costs more than estimated, and income is always less.

    Poor estimates. Poor work scope definition.

  11. Good business is good business. Trust, but insist on records, verify the records, and raise a voice when the waters get fishy. This is the boring hard-work side of being an entrepreneur, but it is vital to success.

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