Friday, May 15, 2009

My co-publisher and severest critic takes center stage this week:

Bridge Works for the past 17 years has taken risks introducing promising new authors, Tom Perrotta among them. What is unique about the current economic circumstances is that most booksellers and print reviewers have lost the resources they once had to lend even limited support to such small-publisher literary offerings.
Booksellers, fighting to stay alive as customers cut spending, have to cut inventories, and as they buy fewer copies of fewer titles the unknown authors are the first to be eliminated. Book stores feel safer with known names and/or purchases from big publishers with big promotion budgets to spend.
It is the same with the once-supportive book editors at newspapers and magazines, as their publications' declining ad revenues have brought cuts of 50% or more in space available for book reviews. With such triage taking place everywhere,, new authors and small publishers are the first to feel the pain.
Agent Robert Brown is right, in his earlier comment on your blog, when he says that it is reader word-of-mouth recommendations to friends, not book advertising, that is most effective in creating demand for particular books of merit. Large publishers have an advantage here, too, as they can afford to flood booksellers and book clubs with advance galley copies to try to create word-of-mouth.
But hats off to those book clubs, web sites, online reviewers and other discriminating readers still willing to seek out the gems still coming from small publishers who are dedicated to discovering and investing in the author stars of tomorrow. Though the economy and book business are tough, let's be thankful we are not car dealers, stock brokers or investment bankers these days. They are even more familiar with what glut on a market can bring. -- Warren Phillips

On to more comments about small publishers: I do have some small knowledge about publishing and small publishers as my partner and I decided, about four years ago, to make the plunge. We were tired of seeing great books good un-published, so we mounted our chargers did battle--for about a year. We found two writers who were willing to fight the battle with us, even though it was a huge risk for all concerned. One thing I'd suggest to anyone who wants to do this is--DON'T. Don't do it unless you want to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week and wish there were eight days a week. Also, make sure you have lots of money that you want to risk--(read that throw away). We put out two titles that actually did fairly well--combined the did well I should say. And we even sold reprint rights on one, which helped us break even. "Break even you say, what about that year's work? Surely breaking even was after wages, right?" Wrong. No wages. We broke even by getting our initial investment back is what I mean by break even. But what an education! The education alone was worth all the effort. What did we learn? Everything. We took a book from a raw manuscript, edited it, ordered revisions, edited again, copy edited, set the book up, made galleys, printed, bound and shipped our own review copies (actually printed and folded pages and bound them with covers--all by hand). Arranged for printing, hired a cover artist, designed a cover, wrote cover copy, found distribution, warehoused books, and did shipping and handing. That's publishing, baby!! That's what it's all about. I've probably left out a few steps because it has been a few years. Was it a waste of time? Definitely not. We actually loved every moment of it. Got printers ink under our fingernails and in our blood and loved the whole process. There's nothing like opening a box of books, smelling the fresh ink and realizing that this is something you and your writers put together--gave birth to--created. A book is a treasure and in this form it can be held and read and enjoyed. "So if you loved it, why aren't you still in it? I'd say the biggest deterrent was distribution. Finding a way into bookstores is the biggest roadblock that anyone ever tried to get over, get past, or around. Major distributors, the ones who move book books out of the warehouse, have to have a great sales force to get a small publisher's books into bookstores and they don't want to even try unless you've published at least ten titles. Even at small volumes, publishing ten titles would cost at least $50,000 dollars, and that's probably a very conservative estimate of what it would cost. Even at that, there's still no guarantee that any major will accept your books--and you have to get a major because places like Biblio want 70% of cover price. And they all want a guarantee that you'll accept and reimburse them for all returns--all of them, because that's what bookstores accept. On top of that, you pay shipping and that alone, in small volumes can kill your business.. If you publish under ten titles, you're stuck with Amazon and Baker and Taylor who order a few books here and there. B & T used to pay ever 90 days but I think it's now 180 days. Amazon pays monthly and is much easier to with with. Baker and Taylor is not worth the effort--believe me. So after two titles, because of the lack of distribution, we gave it up. But I'd do it again. Anyone have a few thousand dollars that they don't need? This is why shared cost between the publisher and writer is very appealing. You and your writers become the publisher and you share the risks inherent in this business. However, another thing I've noticed the many writers shy away from is marketing. Writer people, you have to market your books. Readers don't want to kibitz with the publisher--they want the author. So marketing becomes something authors must do to make their book a success. Publishers, after all, put in the sweat to get that manuscript between two nice covers, the writer must also do his or her part to make the venture a success. R. Brown, Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency

What are you doing next Monday? L.P.
O.K. That's it for today. See you next week. Barbara Phillips

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