Monday, June 29, 2009

Ooligan: a small press perspective of publishing

Ooligan BookThe Pearl of Carol blog is giving away two copies of a mini-book, RETHINKING PAPER & INK regarding sustainability in publishing to celebrate the recent Write to Publish Conference sponsored by Ooligan Press. Mention ‘enter to win’ in your comments to participate. Drawing to be held at end of month.

Part One: The evolving marketplace of publishing, industry's move from credit for unsold books to cash refunds, emerging print-on-demand options, the increase in the number of self-published books.

Part Two: Authors abandoned from the big houses use their savvy to generate the small press movement, wholesalers and distributors keep small press—literary non-fiction on the shelves, the influence of the mega-booksellers and Amazon.

Part Three: this is the final installment of the three part series.

How do new authors break in?

Besides inspired writing, what do new authors need to break into publishing? “Five years ago I would have said you need $200,000 and eat very little for the first five years to afford the cost of returns, in fact, keep your day job,” recommended Dennis Stovall, professor of English and Coordinator of Publishing Curriculum at Portland State University. Stovall opened the recent Write to Publish Conference with a talk on the state of the publishing industry. Today he adds, “Create a kind of word of mouth, viral marketing that reaches more people than traditional media or book store browsing.” Many are finding Facebook fans, swooping in for Twitter followers, and connecting with LinkedIN to begin their outreach to a potential fan base. [The First Carol on Twitter].

Despite these social media opportunities, bookstores remain the best distribution outlet. Established authors dominate the chains, and it’s hard to find anyone willing to open small shops unless they are far away from the mega-sellers. Add to that the current lag in the economy which has roughed up the remaining marketplace as sellers jostle for share, and you have all bad news. Right? Not necessarily. “Eating each other up leaves opportunity,” comments Stovall, and opportunity, he suggests, may lie in places other than paper and ink. “Forty percent of every print run goes into recycle—that’s the average. That doesn’t happen with digital books.”

Watch what happens when bookstores order books they can’t sell:

Sales and reading

Dennis Stovall challenged assumptions we’ve been making over the last twenty about reading. “The National Endowment of the Arts did two major surveys concluding reading is at risk. You read that and you became demoralized. It appeared all we were reading were cookbooks and weight loss books. It’s been nothing like that.” he said, and stressed the studies ignored a critical aspect of reading, namely all the new ways the new generation is reading, and it’s not always the traditional canon of literature. “I have particular interest in what constitutes writing as art and writing as commerce. It’s shifting so fast. I see it in the papers that I grade, an enormous shift. You don’t go back you only go forward.” But go forward into what? “Where does the potential lie?” Stovall asked, then answered, “We don’t KNOW what is going to happen next. It (publishing) can be invented again now, not only in this country but world-wide. It is being reinvented and reinvented quickly.

“Non-fiction continues to sell better than anything else. The average life of a book sells 5,000 copies, non-fiction 7,500, poetry under a 1,000. Performance poetry, revival of an oral tradition is finding its way into print,” Stovall noted. “Something very few of us thought we’d see happen. Now that audience becomes potentially much larger than it ever was before.” To grow any audience it must be nurtured.

Opportunities to develop audience abound for those willing to speak and to teach with the realization they do not generate enormous sales, but rather incremental gains in audience. “Lose the gleam in your eye that says, ‘I’m going to sell a million books.’ The realistic view is that if you pursue correctly you may not be able to make a great living, but you may be able to develop a body of work that won’t go out of print in a digital world."

Stovall weighed in on the industry’s struggle with the pricing structure. “How do we price in this new model?” he asked. The marketplace is still deciding how much it will pay for a digital book.” Other sources indicate readers believe there is great savings when a book does not consume paper and ink, and they want that savings passed along not pocketed. But pricing the POD less than a printed book may not be the answer.

Small presses are discovering they are not making money on actual sales, but the associated ads on the web-site or on the events that come later. Again, speaking to your audience whether online or in-person is growing in significance while publishing encompasses smaller and smaller venues. “The short form is rising in popularity. Micro presses are doing short work and really short work. The best selling book in Japan was written on the I-phone for the I-phone.”

Mass vs. made-to-order printing

The print-on-demand machine looks like a large refrigerator, punch up the book you want, put in your credit card, and in 3-5 minutes you can hold a printed book completely bound with cover in your hands. It’s the ATM of books, making them more accessible, reviving books that are abandoned, no longer in print, or only available on library shelves. It can instantly put books where you want them when you want them, for example, an Espresso Book Machine at the trail head of a National Park spewing books on flora and fauna. You’re not likely to reach for that book anywhere else, but in that moment it has great value.

What are the advantages of breaking in with print on demand - one book at a time publishing? Digital short run printing is accomplished with liquid toners rather than powder and is rather economically produced. “We are a capitalist society, as the costs come down with new technology we’ll have a slightly more economic entry point.”

Currently, mass printing costs $1.50 per volume versus approximately $3 for print on demand. On the other hand, with POD you don’t have a distributor and a book store taking 10% and 40% along the way and the process produces little to no waste. “This gives you a more realistic view of what is actually selling, and offers what the small bookstores used to produce in our neighborhoods, a sense of community,” said Stovall, and he noted big players are entering the field. “Managing the digital process is being picked up by Amazon. They print, take their cut and send you your money. There’s no cost to store month to month.”

The Espresso Book Machine’s $100,000 price tag limits its mainstream access, but it is making inroads. Pocket Books who mass markets Paperbooks, is now promoting the Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Lightning Source Inc., an Ingram Content company announced EBM as a distribution channel to all publishers that work with the company. Stovall sees tremendous democracy in these actions, but admits machine owners still dictate content. “You’re going to see mix and match opportunities, enormous opportunities for both writers and publishers, but the problem for writers is they have taken the notion of self-publishing too far.”

Authors can’t do it all

All aspects of publishing cannot be tackled by a writer. “Editing it yourself is a mistake.” If you’re not a book designer you can’t know what others have studied earnestly to comprehend—visuals that sell. “Less than stellar projects do not create audiences, they get ignored, are not cataloged and are not bought,” Stovall said. In reality almost nothing is ready to go to press at the beginning. Writers need to remember their book is not done simply because they’ve completed their massive draft. “But books are being produced that have not been vetted in any way, and yet the more demanding the marketplace, the more it requires professionals.”

A manuscript is done when it’s received collaboration and received critical insight on whether the story is well told or not. Stovall presented publishers as the ideal filter. “Publishers always had a role of impresarios. We add value to what the author does by editing, packaging and still have that role, but if there are 560,000 books coming through the system, we need to mediate them so readers understand what ones have been well-developed. We don’t need to print all those books some are ephemeral,” but he quickly adds, “Better to have all of that and find among it the real gems.”

Literary Agencies along with publishers are another necessary mediator, “But if there is push for profit agencies may be driven out. We’ll see agents with a shifted role,” Stovall predicted, then lamented the lack of agent input, “Lulu has published the largest pool of bad poetry in the world.” He also noted a common query: grandparents with stories they told their kids. “Mushy stuff we should have kept to ourselves.”

Over and over again publishers read queries not appropriate to the press. “The onus is on the author to pay attention to what the press publishes and create a strong proposal.” Stovall advised. “Even a rough cut gem will get a serious reading, but direct yourself to the right publisher.”

To locate the correct publishing partner you need to first define your audience. Stovall offered several suggestions including, “Locate a magazine you know is read by the same people who would be interested in your book, and ask the magazine for their media kit, or look for their media kit online. It tells you the demographic of their audience and you now have the audience for your book.” He further added, “Go to Powell’s, imagine what shelf your book might be on, look at the shelf and check out the publishers.” A little research on those publishers can confirm whether they should be targeted. “Bet on that as an author and then you’ll get a hearing,” Stovall promised.

His final admonition critical to success. “When asked who would read your book, the worst thing you can say, ‘Anyone who likes a good read.’ You have to know who would read your book. You HAVE to know.”


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ooo, Ooo, Ooligan Part II ~ WIN Book

I'm giving away two copies of an Ooligan Press mini-book, RETHINKING PAPER & INK regarding sustainability in publishing. Mention, ‘enter to win book’ in your comments to participate. Drawing to be held at end of month.

This is a continuation of Professor Dennis Stovall’s seminar on the publishing industry from Ooligan Press’ Write to Publish Conference. Dennis Stovall is an Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of Publishing Curriculum at Portland State University, Oregon.

Part I introduced the evolving marketplace of publishing, the move away from credit to cash refunds for unsold books, the growing influence of print-on-demand options leading to the increase in the number of self-published books, and the emerging importance of amateur reviewers.

Abandoned authors rise like phoenixes

The number of books that a big publishing house needs to publish is rather high. The focused influence of mega book stores pressured publishers to market to the masses. This loosened the bonds they felt to their lower selling authors, and low list authors were cut loose. Those abandoned formed their own publishing companies, and as it turns out, smaller presses can be profitable. “A new milieu of small presses representing non-fiction authors appeared, they sold fairly well, and created a new small press movement,” Stovall said.

A pool of money to support literary publishing emerged. Readers Digest Fund, Carnegie Foundation and others underwrote the cream of the crop and served out several million dollars to sustain both for profit and nonprofit small presses. The small press came into its own and emerged as an opportunity for new voices to find new audiences, a critical component of publishing. “Without the edginess of new writing you have a stale culture of writing'; big publishing aims at the lowest denominator of books that can sell, all of that edginess gets pushed aside.”

A challenge of all publishing is getting the books on your list into the bookstores. This was originally done by sales reps from the publisher who called on bookstores, understood each store’s unique audience, and knew what from their list would likely sell. The landscape altered with the rain of new tax laws that made it costly to warehouse books. Sprouting like mushrooms emerged a group of intermediary book wholesalers and distributors who gathered up a variety of houses and acted as sales reps for not just one publisher, but for many.

They offered the added advantage of allowing a bookstore to buy books from anyone they represented and more importantly, allowed booksellers to return the unsold to one site. This one site drop hadn’t existed before. Access also eased open for literary presses, and they seeped into the distributor mix. Some smaller presses still followed the old trend of making a commitment to an author because they thought, maybe this book won’t sell, but maybe the fifth or sixth will, so developing authors also found their way into the distribution stream.

Few consider the impact of the small press

Books that are sold into bookstores and libraries should all have an ISBN number. ISBN identifies one title from another, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors. Since 1996-97 the US produced approximately 11,000 new ISBN registrations annually. About twelve years ago former editor of Publisher Weekly, John Baker, estimated only 50,000 publishers were registered with ISBN, and further estimated an additional 150,000 unregistered.

Currently, a tremendous number of small, highly targeted presses produce to narrow audiences and never register. Estimates of how many exist are just that, estimates. “We have this kind of ‘hidden from view’ side of publishing for profit which is almost exclusively non-fiction. But we still have the other side that most of us are either writing to or publishing to, think of books being sold in bookstores, that’s where we’ve seen the most significant changes.” Big conglomerates Barnes & Noble, Borders, Chapters, and the mega online store Amazon have changed the face of book selling and publishing, but they are not the only influencers. “Small presses are largely ignored when calculating the economic impact of publishing.” Stovall said.

Ooligan Press was surveyed six years ago by Publishers Weekly. After Stovall completed the documents he was told, ‘you don’t qualify as a small press.’ Surprised he asked, “Just how small a press do you have to be to qualify?” No, you’re not large enough, he was told. He pushed for clarification and discovered PW was not counting anyone as a publisher unless they did $1 million a year. “They were ignoring 90-95% of all publishers in the country, ignoring the cultural impact of all that publishing. ” The BISG (Book Industry Study Group), reported in "The Rest of Us" study, that all small presses combined actually offer as much economic impact as everyone else.

Small presses were remarkable in how they opened up venues for new authors. The largest collaboration of new authors supporting each other happened in the 80’s, and reached its peak in the 90’s. “Large publishers are reluctant to take new authors until the author has ten books in print. How do you get to that point if you can’t get into the stores? As the traditional side of publishing is constricted, the new media side is opening exponentially.”

If you’re following the trade press it’s clear major publishing houses are struggling to deal with the crisis in the economy. They’ve stopped acquisitions or at minimum cut back, but according to Stovall the economic slide did not scare small presses. “There’s a little mantra we said to ourselves when the economy started going down, ‘oh boy, everyone else will suffer but not the small press.’ Large publishers are simply locked up at the moment with problems they created themselves. Superstores drive things towards the lowest common denominator. The books had to suit those superstores, the superstores depended on mall traffic, and when mall traffic goes down, book sales go down. The New York Times Best Sellers list gives the impression that there are a lot of books out there, but it’s the thinnest slice of what’s marketable to people on their way to buy shoes or books,” Stovall commented.

“Now we see a crisis in sales, Borders will not exist next year,” Stovall predicted, “Or just a few stores in a few places; they are that close to going under, and got there by a series of choices of their own. Barnes and Noble announced that they’re doing reasonably well at the moment, but if you look at their statistics they do usually well in new stores, but stores already in existence are down. They once cannibalized sales of indies, and now they’re head to head with themselves and dealing with an even bigger gorilla: Amazon.”

Amazon started on the democratic process, they took anyone. Once everyone was in the charges started, and sellers were weighted by how much money they made Amazon. “The more you make them the more prominent you are on the ‘people who bought this also bought’ position,” said Stovall, and not too unlike chains who offer the end cap, face out, top shelf position…when you pay for it.

  • How does a new author enter the fray with even the slightest slice of equality with the rest of the field?

Stay tuned, stay employed, and keep writing. The next post deals with how to make money in publishing in this new environment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Enter to WIN. Ooo, Ooo, Ooligan Part I

I'm giving away two copies of an Ooligan Press mini-book, RETHINKING PAPER & INK regarding sustainability in publishing. Mention 'enter me to win' in the comments section to participate. Drawing to be held at end of month.

Dennis Stovall, Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of Publishing Curriculum at Portland State University in Oregon, has too long a title. That was the only negative of the first hour and a half he spent with me (from my perspective). He met me at the Write to Publish Conference organized by Ooligan Press. I’d just finished checking in, signed my debit card receipt, noticed engineering student Flake had left the amount blank, thrust a finger in his chest and demanded, “Fill it in.” I’m exaggerating. I was nice, but he continued to mess up and processed incorrect card verification code which created a small stir when the box office had to track me down in the afternoon for ‘re-processing.’ I have no idea why everyone gets sidetracked when I appear.

Professor Stovall is a friendly guy, walked right up and asked if he could help us find our desired session. I hadn’t chosen anything—and thrown off guard by someone just as friendly as me—regarded him suspiciously. He smiled, we exchanged formalities, and once I figured out who he was (my friend Eliza whispered his department position and warned “Behave!”) I stated, “I’m following you!”

Hang out with the top guys I always say. I wagged my tail like a puppy and padded after Stovall to Classroom B.

“Are you a writer?” he asked.

“Not a real writer,” I sighed, then brightened, “Wait a minute, I am! I am published in a book. I’ve got a whole chapter, or at least part of one, can’t remember. It’s a book called Laughing Nine to Five: Humor in the Workplace.”

That’s when he brightened, “I designed that book.” We high-fived over the twenty people who had purchased it.

Now that I was elevated in his eyes, due to my collaborative published work, it was his turn to impress me. I took a seat, pulled out my laptop, quirked an eyebrow as fingers hovered over the keys. I was here to learn the business. Isn’t that what all the literary agents’ blogs stress, learn the business? Bring it on, baby, for six hours I’m a student of publishing.

Ooligan, a teaching press

Stovall’s perspective comes from a unique position: author, educator, publisher. He runs Portland State’s publishing program and press. It is unique in the world. Similar curriculum exist elsewhere, you can find it in four other schools, but other universities are not willing to turn everything over to the students. At PSU hierarchy is practically vanquished, students are colleagues of professors, and separation of classroom and press a mere nuance of proximity.

The PSU’s masters in publishing program produces a high level of participation and extraordinary student commitment, and despite budget cuts in all areas of education, this program is not suffering. It’s self-supporting. The grad students learn the art and craft of publishing by, well, publishing books! Book revenues underwrite a portion of their funding.

Ooligan Press is the general trade press where the students apprentice. They chose manuscripts carefully, and their 2008/2009 catalogue offers 21 titles featuring Pacific Northwest writers and works which honor the cultural and natural diversity of the region.

Part of my interest in Ooligan was their prior interest in me. A Willamette Writers encounter with a student holding pitch sessions resulted in a request for my first four chapters. At the time, I realized it wasn’t a good fit, but it felt good, and I lived on that encouragement for months. In retrospect, I can admit my query was about 10 months premature. Today, I’m a better writer, better educated, and better armed to do battle with publishing, and Stovall filled in the gaps.

He got right down to the stats.

Espresso Publishing

Last year 560,000 new titles were published in the United States, up from the year 2002 which only saw 120,000. “That enormous increase runs at a rate of 70 books an hour, but that doesn’t mean that all those books even ought to have been published,” Stovall said. The advent of very inexpensive self publishing, POD (print on demand), and espresso book machines have allowed authors to rush their work to the marketplace without thorough vetting via professional editing serivces. “For the first time, the addition of e-books and digital books surpassed traditionally printed books. If we don’t include stats on these forms of publishing we will be misled. The trajectory they point to, may give us the direction of the future.”

I’d never heard of a book vending machine, and I am fascinated by the notion. I can imagine The First Carol running a small, highly lucrative bookstore, small as in closet-sized, low rent, pushing buttons and popping out books by request. According to what I saw on You Tube, it’s within the realm of possibilities for the book seller, but really I’m more interested in writing.

What does self-publishing mean to an author? A money drain and no book review according to Dennis Stovall. “It’s estimated self-published writers can expect in the range of 10-20 copies sold during the life of their book.” That’s the total for all time, and for those twenty sold copies thousands of dollars are being spent to have that book in hand, but with no hope of a book review. “Nationally, we’re down to only a handful of professional reviewers,” Stovall said, “We don’t have enough to even look at them. Virtual marketing on Twitter and Facebook has assumed much of the role of the professionals, and today, the public is regarding the casual review of readers on Amazon, for example, more heavily than reviews of professional reviewers.”

Devote a career to learning the craft of reviewing literature only to be usurped by the overindulged, over net-worked, over-opinionated public. Hm, can't beat 'em join 'em? Just a thought.

Tax laws, back lists and the right of return

Not only has the system of reviewing morphed, but so has the entire system of publishing. A publisher’s back list used to represented their gold mine and how they sustained the press. But tax decisions of the late 60-70’s affected how manufacturers handled obsolete inventory. The new laws made publishers abandon much of their backlist; they couldn’t afford to keep it in inventory. Books now needed to sell quickly, warehousing was no longer affordable. Prior to these tax laws, a publisher could invest in an author with a long term view, banking on receiving a payback by the fifth or sixth book. Waiting to discover what the author would develop in six years was a time and expense luxury no longer affordable. Unsold books become remainders. Remainders ended up in discount outlets (which pay nothing to the author) and came to represent that the publisher had given up on the book.

The ‘right of return,’ in place since the great depression and originally intended to allow a smaller bookseller to try and find the correct mix of books for their store, allowed unsold inventory to be returned to the publisher for a credit. “You could try them out and send them back to that publisher if they didn’t sell,” Stovall stated. The publisher was only required to offer new books, not a cash refund.

That altered in the 70-80’s when superstores came to dominate. Publishers found themselves with returns coming in from huge corporations powerful enough to control the conditions. The big players dictated books could be returned at any time—no matter the condition—and still earn a full refund. In cash. Not a replacement.

Under the dominance of the big guys collegiality disappeared. Money woos and publishers fell under the spell of the mega-store influence. “As that shift took place we began to see publishers making accommodations to the new markets and no longer printing books that their marketing department did not agree with; they were overwhelming being driven by the marketing potential of a book.”

The industry, in great turmoil, cut loose a lot of authors...

  • Will the mega stores continue to demolish collegiality in publishing?

  • Will abandoned authors shake themselves loose of publishing or use their creativity to develop new strategies to stay in print?

  • Will self-published authors ever learn the value of professional editing?

  • Will The First Carol be courageous enough to re-pitch her manuscript to Ooligan Press?

Stay tuned. Dennis Stovall’s lecture and more from Ooligan’s Write to Publish conference continues throughout the week. Remember to note in comments your entry to win the free book.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Celebrities who've met ME!

Since Mondays are meant to be all about me, and of course the lovely celebrities who clamor to meet me, and since I am behind sharing the latest news with you (and believe me there's plenty), I'm taking a short cut and doing today's post in pictures.

There's filming in the neighborhood again, this time for television, and that kind of entertainment means opportunity. Arrive prepared I say.

Stay tuned, because they'll be here for awhile. in the meantime, quick question: do you watch television? If yes, what's your favorite show?


Sunday, June 7, 2009

For my daughter and all in love

Wishing you happy journeys, always, and not just in fiction.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

From Today's Email

Remember that [Literary agency name redacted] [contest name redacted] we entered? Well, I just got a reply from them that said, "Sorry, this contest ended 2 months ago."

The following replies have come to mind:
  1. The straight forward approach. "I know it you dumb asses; that's why I sent it two months ago."

  2. The contrite approach. "Oh my, I had no idea you wouldn't accept 2 month late submissions. Please forgive me for being so stupid."

  3. The flattering approach. "Actually, I did send this to you two months ago, but, of course being such a large, well-respected agency, it is understandable that you wouldn't have had time to get all of the submissions read in a timely manner. Thank you for doing your best."

  4. The indignant approach. "Well, you certainly have a lot of nerve. If you had even considered noticing when my submission was emailed to you, you might have had the brains to also notice that it was sent over two months ago."
Personally, I like the straight forward one the best. Burning bridges is right up my alley.


Your Writing Friend


I say, wait two months and then reply, "What contest?"




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