By Edward Nawotka
TUCSON: How does one man launch a niche publishing company in a credit-and-cash strapped economy, while incurring limited expenses in overhead and even less in personnel? For Greg Albers, founder of Hol Art Books—a new niche press focused on books about visual arts, ranging from art history to original fiction—the answer is “collaboration.”
“Our business model is called ‘team publishing,'” explained Albers, from his headquarters in Tuscon, Arizona. “We use the internet to establish a community of authors, editors, designers and others—basically anyone with the skills to contribute to the publishing process—and then we collaboratively identify, evaluate, and develop our titles. The process is open to everyone, and you can select your team to edit, design and promote the work. As a publisher, Hol Art Books will print, distribute and market it; in return, everyone takes a cut of the sales, including us. “Each contributor’s stake in the project is negotiable, save for the publisher, who maintains a standard contract.
What’s more, Albers, a former publications manager at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, has put his plan into action and recently published his first seven titles; three originals, four from the public domain. Each title is simultaneously available as a paperback, e-book, and hardcover or deluxe edition. The company prints and warehouses titles (because “POD is too expensive,” said Albers) and has hired independent sales reps to sell into bookstores.
Included on its inaugural list is Museum Legs: Fatigue and Hope in the Face of Art, a collection of essays by painter Amy Whitaker, and Nostalgia’s Thread by Randall Freisinger, a chapbook of ten poems written in response to ten paintings by Norman Rockwell.
“Museum Legs is our lead title for the fall,” said Albers, explaining that the “team” that came together to publish the books included experienced professionals drawn from traditional publishing circles. “The book’s editor, Libby Hruska, works as a full-time book editor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Designer Catherine Casalino is a designer at Grand Central and was previously with Random House, Simon & Schuster and Rodrigo Corral Design. And publicist Meghan Phillips—who unfortunately had to leave the project at the book’s publication—was a highly-recommended freelancer from Abrams.” In addition to the team, Hol Art hired and paid for an illustrator for the cover and a proofreader for the manuscript.
Freisinger’s book came together in a similar fashion: the editor, William Trowbridge, was one Freisinger had worked with before; project manager Therese Broderick previously ran a blog called Poetry about Art; the designer was an art graduate student and the publicist was a colleague of the author at Michigan Technological University. In addition, Alana Nolan, the manager of North Wind Books—a bookstore on the campus of Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan—joined the publishing team as a “bookstore sponsor,” where she participated in the publishing process and helped shape the packaging and offered ideas about promotion and marketing.
“In return for their services, bookstores sponsors are given higher discounts on the books and not subject to a minimum order,” said Albers.
With the first list published and available to stores, Albers is looking to the future and says that, initially, projects came to him through friends and acquaintances. He’s now looking at projects that have come to him through the company’s Web site, which allows would-be authors to post their potential projects and a description of the type of “team” needed.
“Any project can be posted on the site, so long as it’s within the scope of what we publish—books about art—and we don’t vet them,” said Albers, who pointed out that he’s seen a number of projects posted from authors outside the United States, some requiring translation.
Hol Art Book’s list already features a number of translations. The inaugural list contains a reprint of Auguste Rodin’s ode to the Venus de Milo, Venus, which includes a new translation by Tina Kover of Rodin’s lesser-known text, The Dance of Shiva. Next year, Hol Art Books will publish Kover’s translation—and the first into English—of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s 19th-century art novel, Manette Salomon! (Kover was recently awarded a $12,500 NEA translation grant to support the project).
Albers says that at the moment, the collaborative “team publishing” model appears to be working, albeit with plenty of input from him on top. “As of now, we’re doing a lot of vetting of different people and working to find team members for different projects, but my ideal vision for the company is to build a network of collaborators who are already in place and willing to work with minimal input from me.”
Right now, in addition to testing his publishing model, Albers’ top priority is generating interest and sales for his books. “Writing about art isn’t a widely recognized or exploited niche, but anyone who has spent time in a museum shop knows just how many books there are out there about art. There’s a huge crossover between the traditional art world and the public and that’s an audience we can serve.”
His first sign of success came in September, when Museum Legs was launched at the Brooklyn Book Festival. “We sold 34 copies,” said Albers, sounding pleased, “and I knew we were in business.”
CONTACT: Greg Albers directly.
VISIT: The Hol Art Books Web site for a look at current, forthcoming and proposed books.
READ: The Hol Art Books blogs for news and assorted art-related observations.
BONUS: Niche vs. Trade Publishing, Which Has a Brighter Future?