Editorial by Deborah Emin
No industry seems to be experiencing as many upheavals of vision as the publishing business. Due to this need for constant re-assessment of our business practices in such tumultuous times, many small publishers have folded due to a lack of flexibility required to adjust to the new ways we have to get books to market.
Consider this assessment to be one solution we have found.
The good fight to get a book to market has changed so much that for many good reasons, writers and publishers must ask their market to help finance their new projects. Finding ourselves cash poor to put the money up front to launch a title, but certain that these titles need to be read by as many people as possible, small publishing companies like mine (Sullivan Street Press) are now in essence creating long, intense pre-publication campaigns to raise the money needed to produce their titles.
For my company, this shift has entailed making some radical new provisions as to what we ask our authors to do and what we hope this will allow them to learn and achieve.
No matter how good a writer is at speaking to an audience about what she is an authority on, very few authors understand the ways to ask directly for money to launch a book so that once that book’s production is financed she will be able to collect royalties from her book’s sales. And if that author has written other books, that the tie-in to those titles will also be beneficial in terms of sales.
What do small publishers, such as Sullivan Street Press, see as the ultimate goals when we turn to crowdfunding and how do we make these decisions and trust that by relieving some of these financial impediments better books can get to market? Yes, the questions are key to creating a campaign and to finding partners to work with that will make these decisions bear the fruit we wish for.
It’s often said that smaller companies can turn their direction more quickly than the much larger companies because the infrastructure isn’t as unwieldy to maneuver. However, even with that greater flexibility, no matter the size of a company, the depth of understanding of your own authors, the market they must reach out to and who can help you and your author work best at this always rests on that strange mixture of compatibility and insight.
In other words, while these factors are always at play, can there be a cookie-cutter approach to crowdfunding that will allow most authors to take the received experience of one company specializing in this field and apply it to almost any book?
My opinion is my opinion, but I do believe that crowdfunding will help the authors I publish learn the fundamentals of speaking directly to their readers, past and present, and asking them to raise the money needed to produce their book.
Selfishly, I think many publishers would like to have some of the financial burden removed so that when the book is successfully funded, these start up costs for the title have been borne by a community rather than one corporation. (Perhaps writers and readers would also benefit from understanding how the book business works, and I do write about that as well but if they don’t understand that, we need to do a better job of explaining it.)
An equally important reason for this use of crowdfunding is the immersion an author must experience in her audience’s (market’s) expectations. This sort of combined social media and more personalized outreach via email opens up the author to pushing forward her ideas of who her community is, how to interact with it and then once the book is published to use that community of initial funders to build outward into the communities of her community.
This type of marketing, this kind of direct involvement is not easy to teach or to learn. Yet given the benefits over time and that means the lifetime of the book, I think the benefits far outweigh the learning curves and discomforts of direct appeals to those people who the author knows have backed her before and will be happy to be a part of her book’s community.
We chose to work with Pubslush because they focus on the book community. In its broadest sense, leaving out no faction, building from within the book business itself. Whether our titles are successful will be up to us, but the tools they provide are what small publishers like us are in need of.
As we work forward, title by title, we are also finding that each author’s rewards structure will establish more than early readers of their books. We also learn that the mutual giving creates other little side businesses, income streams for our books, that we would not have had.
With all the changes, upheavals, mergers and failures in publishing, we all still produce books that are vital to the furtherance of our understanding of this world. It is a part of our heritage. How we can produce them better will now be a good question to ask but we won’t need to ask why we produce them. Gathering our communities to help us, is a very exciting prospect.
Deborah Emin is the publisher at Sullivan Street Press and the author of the Scags Series. The third volume, Scags at 30, is due out this year.