Thursday 18 August 2011

The new professional self-publishers co-operative?

There was some discussion again yesterday about self-publishing. There are a lot of issues that self-publishers face that are also concerns for the small press, such as the three imprints I work with.  
It’s relatively easy to produce a book, especially if you have the experience to edit it well, if you actually know how to write and if you know a little about how the industry works. Marketing it and distributing it are hard work and for many writers these are thankless tasks. You probably need to spend about 75% of your available time on these activities. The small press and self-publisher alike lack the resources that the big publishing houses have at their fingertips. Poor self-published books have put even the independent booksellers off. So, even though you still are expected to get into promoting your book if you’re published mainstream, you have a bit of a head start because of the contacts the publisher has built up over the years.
Eyes light up and cash registers ring in heads when one thinks about a print on demand 130 page book that can sell at least £5.00 costing just £2.00 to produce and an e-book published on Kindle or with Smashwords with no upfront costs. However, there are still set up costs for the print book – about £50.00 -,  ISBNs for all books,  copy to British Library for the print book, cover design for all books (minimum £250 – artists have to live too and even stock pictures can cost a fair amount if you do sell well) editing and copy editing. Yes, the latter two are important. The author is the last person who should do this for their own work. Editors and copy-editors have to live too. If you do everything properly, perhaps throwing in a few review copies – and many self-publishers are beginning to do everything that professionally – you’re rapidly approaching £1000 set-up costs. And you risk, unless your marketing is brilliant, not selling a single copy.
You can keep control of the finances – you can vow not to publish a second book until you have recouped the costs for the first. So, small press and self-publishers can avoid the commercial pressures that the big guys face. They don’t  have people on salaries and grand offices in London to support. A professional small press may or may not have offices – many don’t – and their only overhead might be membership of the Independent Publishers Guild. Many self-publishers find it commercially advisable to create themselves as sole-trader publishing houses and therefore face exactly the same issues.       
So might it be canny to team up with a business expert and agree to share the profit? That seems a good idea. There is, however, a snag. Business experts can make tons more money for the same amount of effort promoting other businesses. You really need either a business guru who has a love of books or a writer who has also got a good business head. Both creatures are rather rare.
At Bridge House and The Red Telephone we’ve worked on a profit share basis. Editors, copy-editors designers and publicists have worked really hard for 10p an hour (ish) - we’ve had one or two books that have not gone into profit. Chapeltown is operating in a slightly different way – a mixture of buying in services and profit share amongst the family members that run it. GoldenfordPublishing, a small press based in Guilford, is a type of cooperative, though not quite. Read up about them – they are really interesting!  But at least all of these small presses have absolute freedom in their creative choices. No need to have “fart” in the title of a children’s book – that was part of the debate yesterday.
We do pay royalties but they’re peanuts. That doesn’t preclude getting a best-seller one day. And of course loads of peanuts make a feast, which could also be the business model for the self-publisher. If you can make the promotional side of it palatable, you would at least be spending your time doing what you love until the feast appears.
Is there a way around some of those extra expenses? I’m thinking here of the old baby-sitting circles. Could those of us who wish to self-publish, edit, copy-edit, design and promote for each other? Could we even get artists involved?
If anyone is interested in this idea, email me at I’m going to be away 24 August to 15 September, so I’ll collate any responses after that.