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Greenleaf’s “Publishing Incubator” Puts You in Control, For a Price

By Edward Nawotka

Greenleaf Book Group

Self-publishing, whether online or in print, has become an attractive option for many. But it’s not for everyone. Many authors find companies like Xlibis and Lulu.com wanting. But for those that are looking for a more robust and professional approach, companies like Greenleaf Book Group have emerged to bridge the gap between bare-bones do-it-yourself publishing and working with a traditional publisher.

Greenleaf, which is based in Austin, Texas, offers a fee-based suite of publishing services to clients who want to retain control of the rights to their work. In exchange for anywhere from $10,000 to as much as $250,000, Greenleaf handles editing, design, printing, distribution, marketing and sales of a client’s book. In return the author gets a 70% royalty rate on all copies sold.

“The old model is broken,” says 34-year old company president and CEO, Clint Greenleaf. “I’m not a vanity press, I’m a publishing incubator, looking to work with authors who are willing to invest in their books and grow their publishing business on their own terms. The fact that I work with authors who don’t need an advance means that I don’t have to vet them, I know they are going to work to make the book a success.”

Founded in 1997 as a distribution company to promote the founder’s own book on men’s grooming, the company started publishing books under its own imprint in 2000. It has nearly doubled its output in recent years, from 45 titles in 2006 to 85 in 2008.

The company’s growth has been notable—it has been a fixture in the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies—with net sales jumping from $4.64 million in 2006 to $8.12 million in 2008. “Despite the recession, I still expect to see 10% growth and wouldn’t be surprised if we hit $9 million for the year.”

The services side of the business is “not scalable,” says Greenleaf and, ultimately, is ancillary to the core business of picking clients and books the company believes will sell. “We turn away thousands of people a year because we don’t think their book is right for us,” says Greenleaf. “We’re really looking for partnerships where we can mitigate the risk on both sides.” On average the company takes just six of the 200 submissions it gets per month.

Business titles have been the company’s “bread and butter.” In 2008, Killing Sacred Cows: Overcoming the Financial Myths That Are Destroying Your Prosperity by Garrett B. Gunderson sold some 60,000 copies, bolstered by numerous media appearances. The company has also had success with medical titles, self-help and some limited fiction. Recently, the company has moved into working with celebrities and has produced a volume for singer Kanye West entitled Thank You And You’re Welcome, which is described as “an entertaining volume of ‘Kanye-isms’—the creative, humorous and insightful philosophies and anecdotes used in creating his path to success.”

The company distributes through the usual channels, including chain bookstores and online retailers, though Greenleaf says it is particularly adept at “special sales,” that is, getting books into venues like airport stores and other non-traditional book retailers. The company “can do e-books,” but it’s not “what we’re good at,” says Greenleaf, who doesn’t see much of an upside to the digital domain as yet.

Greenleaf says that the economic crisis has offered his firm the opportunity to pick up a variety of talented individuals who have been jettisoned from New York publishing houses; indeed the company has been actively recruiting, and added four new staff members to its team of 30 in the month of September alone.

“Ultimately, I consider this company to be a $25 million to $100 million business,” says Greenleaf, “With the infrastructure I’m putting in place, we could easily do it.”

VISIT: Greenleaf Book Group’s Web site for further information

READ: Greenleaf’s Big Bad Book Blog for publishing tips and other news

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