From ‘Older’ Publishing to New: Two Industry Veterans Go Indie

In News by Porter Anderson

Ashton Applewhite and Bob Stein list 37 vendors and counting, in producing Applewhite’s ‘This Chair Rocks.’ That’s how you roll, they say, when you take the indie route—and mean to get it right.
Image - iStockphoto: Dan Logan

Image – iStockphoto: Dan Logan

 

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Creating Their Own Supply Chain
Brexit-scarred London can be forgiven for feeling its age.

The grand old capital of the English-speaking world seems to be reaching for hopes that Thursday’s (June 23) Leave-vote might not be irreversible. An official UK Government and Parliament petition has blown right past 3.4 million signers as this article is written, and key observers are clarifying that without the activation of the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50, a UK exit from the European Union has not, in fact, begun.

A Washington Post chart compares Brexit Leave voters in the UK and Trump supporters in the US and finds that "olders," as Ashton Applewhite terms them, gravitate toward both.

A Washington Post chart compares Brexit Leave voters in the UK and Trump supporters in the US and finds that “olders,” as Ashton Applewhite terms them, gravitate toward both.

As author Ashton Applewhite might have predicted, however, there are fault lines newly highlighted along generational divides, as well as in so many other sectors of the British population.

The younger vote went to the Remain camp in Thursday’s fateful referendum, while older voters opted for Leave. And, as voiced by Jack Lennard in his piece on the day of the referendum, younger voters say Brexit Is a Middle Finger From the Baby Boomers to Young People Like Me.

These are terms that reflect Applewhite’s specialization: we are, she says, programmed to think as ageists.

She says we turn stereotypical thinking about age and aging against ourselves and each other. We’re sensitive about age in so pervasive a way that only by focusing on the specifics of genuine experience and misleading myths can we stop being prey to thoughtless discrimination.

Applewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is more than a discussion of self- and culturally inflicted bias, it’s the platform for what Applewhite sees as a movement. She refers to herself as an activist, and writes in her introduction:

Ashton Applewhite. Image: Adrian Buckmaster

Ashton Applewhite. Image: Adrian Buckmaster

“Since the only unobjectionable term used to describe older people is ‘older people,’ I’ve shortened the term to ‘olders’ and use it, along with ‘youngers,’ as a noun. It’s clear and value-neutral, and it emphasizes that age is a continuum.

“There is no old/young divide. We’re always older than some people and younger than others. Since no one on the planet is getting any younger, let’s stop using ‘aging’ as a pejorative—’aging boomers,’ for example, as though it were yet another bit of self-indulgence on the part of that pesky generation, or ‘aging entertainers,’ as though their fans were cryogenically preserved.

And as Applewhite takes her message and book to several appearances in the UK this week, industry observers might be interested to know that it’s an exercise in self-publishing—and far from one of the cases in which the folks involved will tell you that indie publishing is “easy.”

“If you’re not being published by any publisher, and are just doing it by yourself, it seems to me that you just don’t get any traction.”

“Two characteristics of marginalized populations? Self-loathing and passivity— what my daughter tactfully dubbed the ‘yuck/ pity factor’ that the prospect of growing old invokes in so many.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

That’s Applewhite’s partner, Bob Stein, one of the international publishing scene’s most visible commentators, recognized for his pioneering work in CD-ROM publishing with The Voyager Company and his Institute for the Future of the Book, which describes itself as “a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens.”

With Applewhite’s and Stein’s connections in the publishing world, you might assume that finding a publisher for This Chair Rocks should have been easy.

“We sent a letter to about 25 national media people,” Stein says, “and the only one who responded was a senior writer for The Washington Post, and she only responded because she already had a copy of the book, one that Ashton had given her.” The result of that response is Tara Bahrampour’s article, It’s No Longer Okay To Be Sexist or Racist. She Asks Why It’s Still Okay To Be Ageist.

“As with every other aspect of growing old, the trajectory of brain aging is different for every individual. The way people function depends largely on how they adapt to these changes.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

“The flip side of this,” says Stein, “is that this is what the publishers didn’t appreciate: Ashton spoke to all the big publishers and some of the smaller ones, and they completely didn’t appreciate the value of the platform that she had built.”

Applewhite says she believes that the resistance that she and Stein ran into when shopping the book to publishers is rooted in “the idea that anything that has to do with aging must be depressing. And, of course, the entire point of my book is to spell out where that message comes from, how wrong it is, and how much damage it does. This is not a depressing book.”

Applewhite talks of getting a letter from one of the Big Five publishers saying that they’d published a book on aging and had received so much ageist backlash from members of the media that “they didn’t want to do that again,” as she puts it.

Getting The Book Published

Prior to publication on March 15, Applewhite and Stein told Publishing Perspectives that the goal for sales was some 100,000 copies.

Stein reports to us now that as they left Christo’s new The Floating Piers installation at Lake Iseo in Northern Italy to fly via Bergamo to London for this week’s appearances in support of the book, This Chair Rocks had sold “a bit more than 4,000” copies, with “Amazon accounting for about 75 percent.”

The rankings look good at Amazon.com. As this writing, This Chair Rocks is No. 3 in social sciences/gerentology; No. 14 in social sciences/gender studies/general; and No. 49 in health-fitness-dieting/aging.

Bob Stein

Bob Stein

“From a long-term perspective,” Stein says, “we’re sure the decision to self-publish was the right one, but we’re also aware of the short-term difficulties: few reviews and spotty bookstore placement.

“Ashton finally got her first serious review, a rave in The Los Angeles Review of Books by a leading light in the field, Margaret Morganroth Gullette,” a writer and lecturer in cultural studies of age, directing the Free High School for Adults at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

“There are no others in the pipeline that we know of and no national TV or radio coverage yet.  We know it will come, as the movement picks up speed in the months and years to come, but the refusal to review self-published books is frustrating.

“Last month (May 2016) there was a quick tour to the Raleigh-Durham (North Carolina) area with a sold-out audience of 140 and two standing-room-only bookstore readings—more than 100 people, selling out the 52 copies they had ordered.

“The response everywhere the book lands is off the charts. Ashton has been flooded with speaking invitations, including many keynotes at national conferences; a talk in August at the Library of Congress; one in September to kick off the New York City Department for the Aging’s anti-ageism initiative; and a keynote at the UN in October for the International Day of Older People.

“The Amazon reviews,” Stein says, “are just stunning.”

Ironically, in producing the book—and doing what Applewhite and Stein agree was essentially creating their own supply chain—Amazon, where they’ve sold most of their books and attracted those “stunning” reviews, was also the biggest challenge.

“I think the hardest part,” Stein says, “was navigating the constraints that Amazon puts on the marketplace…We found a really good printer who could send out individual copies to people who ordered them and could satisfy and ship to Amazon. We could have gone to [Amazon’s] CreateSpace to satisfy Amazon, but the deal was economically so repulsive that we didn’t.

“And then we discovered that if we wanted to get into bookstores, no bookstore was going to order from us directly. We had to get it to Ingram. And the way to get it to Ingram was to have the book printed by Ingram at IngramSpark” because Ingram needed a publisher as the supplier and IngramSpark effectively makes a self-publisher that publisher.

This Chair Rocks cover art“So I would say the most difficult thing along the way has been trying to understand all the different ways we have to print the book to get it into bookstores. IngramSpark is now taking care of bookstores worldwide. To get it into a bookstore in London, we had to go with CreateSpace,” because, Stein says, they couldn’t get the book listed on Amazon.co.uk unless they went through CreateSpace. In the States, their Minnesota-based printer ships to Amazon.com, and by using that route rather than CreateSpace, Stein says, they save about $2 per book in the US.

“So effectively,” he says, “we have three different companies printing for us.

“Plus you have Apple, Kobo, and Kindle. Each one of these entities required a different cover. I don’t mean a different design [the book’s cover design is by Rebeca Mendez], I mean a different format. And one of the vendors we’ve used is our daughter-in-law who had to wrestle with this and it was not trivial, rendering these covers in the forms they wanted.”

“Getting the design of the book” by Dan Visel “to look okay in these formats,” Applewhite says, was another problem.

Initially, Applewhite and Stein expected to use Pronoun as the book’s multiformat producer, only to find that Pronoun, Stein said, wouldn’t take an EPUB and wanted a Word document.

“The aggregators who will serve up your ebook to all these services,” Stein says, “do that by reducing your format to the lowest common denominator. So if you want to actually have a book that looks decent electronically, you have to do it yourself.

“Ashton hired someone, a really excellent producer, to do a fantastic audiobook version…”

“Our ageist society pathologizes natural transitions and our consumer society sells us remedies to “fix” them, like hormone replacement therapy, erectile dysfunction drugs, and facelifts.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

“Because I think it’s important for your complete list,” Applewhite jumps in, “and because you’re dealing with people who are vision-impaired. I think it’s important to make an audiobook available…”

“So I go to Amazon,” Stein picks up the conversation, “to upload the audio version, and I discover that you actually can’t sell an audio version through Amazon. To get it into Amazon, you must go through Audible,” which is owned by Amazon. “Where it really gets bad is in their terms.”

Stein and Applewhite were discovering what countless indie authors have been yelling about since Audible abruptly lowered its royalty rates in spring 2014. At Amazon, you can get a 70-percent royalty rate on an ebook. “But you upload your audio file to Audible,” Stein says, “they give you a choice: if you want this book to be exclusive to Audible, they’ll give you 40 percent. If you want it to be non-exclusive so you can distribute this book to other places, not just Audible?—25 percent.

“This is not Amazon-bashing,” Stein says, “because at this point that wouldn’t make sense. But there are ways in which they have made it very difficult for someone to self-publish. You give up a huge amount to play in their ballpark. We’re doing it, we’re doing it happily.”

“And we have no doubt that we made the right decision,” Applewhite says. “But to me, speaking as an author, [Amazon’s constraints] seem almost punitive, like a very fierce deterrent.”

‘Kind of Astonishing’

Cutting Loose cover artThese are the sorts of complexities dealt with daily by self-publishing authors, of course, and there are platforms and service-bundlers eager to handle various parts of the process, with more such outfits turning up all the time. Watching out for sub-par “services” and scams has become part of the job for indies.

Applewhite and Stein are emblematic of a breed that comes to self-publishing from lengthy traditional publishing backgrounds, and this is the source of some of their surprise—they readily concede that.

And stand by for a mild bit of irony on the age theme of the book as Stein says, “Ashton and I are old enough—and both of us come out of the book industry—that we had a vision of what book publishing meant. We’re trying to replicate some of that.”

In fact, writing Ballentine’s 1980s Truly Tasteless Jokes series as Blanche Knott (say it aloud), Applewhite was, she says with a laugh, “the first person to have four books on The New York Times bestseller list. I was also the reason they inaugurated the ‘Miscellaneous’ and ‘How To’ category because my titles were besmirching the list.

“It was Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well (HarperCollins) that turned me into a serious writer on social issues.

“I’d moved to New York when I was 25,” Applewhite says, “and I worked as a literary agent and an editor. I’ve been published by four of the Big Five.”

“‘Occupying age’ doesn’t mean old age. It means acknowledging and embracing the actual process of change on which we embark the day we’re born. Aging means living, and birthdays commemorate that happy fact.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

And when she and Stein started contacting publishers about This Chair Rocks, she says, “It was kind of astonishing to not get any inkling that the publishers are doing anything differently than they were when I was employed full time in that industry 35 years ago.”

The couple also says they know that they’d be doing the same marketing and networking work they’re doing now, even if a trade publisher had picked up the book.

“I’d still be milking my contacts,” Applewhite says, “and gladly, because I’m fortunate enough to have these connections in the field, thanks to what I do” as a specialist in aging and ageism, who started blogging on the topic nearly a decade ago. “But to see Bob consumed with this idiotic paperwork, and so many hurdles that seem so unnecessary, that’s another matter.”

Stein refers to the hybrid author Hugh Howey: “I’ve told Hugh that he’s a brilliant intuitive marketer, and that what he’s going to end up doing is helping other authors and becoming a publisher. That’s what I’ve started to see in this self-publishing arena. We’re likely to see over the years to come, the emergence of new publishers who grasp at a deep level what it means to publish in the era of the Internet.”

“Almost all of us are prejudiced against older people, and olders themselves are no exception. Ageism is woven into the fabric of life, reinforced by the media and popular culture at every turn, and seldom challenged. How could anyone be entirely free of it?”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

In such cases, Stein says, “You’ll see much more partnership between the publisher and the author, and the author’s role will have shifted dramatically from just producing a manuscript to being the face of an author-platform.”

“A much flatter model,” Applewhite says, “not so hierarchical” as exists in traditional publishing.

“I’m very glad I’m not a frustrated novelist,” she says. “I feel that I’m a mouthpiece, a vehicle for a social message.” This, she says, makes it easier for her to fight through the sheer technical work of self-publishing.

Still, she concedes with Stein, the lift has been unexpectedly heavy.

And this is a message we hear from many writers who come from the trade and produce work, themselves, as indies. Here’s one example (you can drop in at 10:00 on the player), the Canadian author Kate Pullinger spoke candidly with BBC Radio 4’s Front Row about how “tremendously difficult” she has found it to self-publish well.

Stein gets a laugh from Applewhite when he says, “Look, we may look back five years from now and say, ‘That was just a waste of time.'”

The Vendors Used to Make the Chair Rock

Stein has provided Publishing Perspectives with a partial list of vendors he and Ashton have used so far, with more to come to produce and market This Chair Rocks.

Vendors requiring unique log-ins and accounts

  • Gmail (business account)
  • Facebook page for book
  • Amazon KDP
  • Amazon Advantage
    “People tell ageist jokes all the time, even in bastions of political correctness— listen for ’em on NPR. They can be funny as hell. They also draw on the stereotype of olders as asexual, physically weak, and mentally impaired. And while it’s okay to make fun of people, it’s not okay to discriminate against them.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks
  • Amazon Seller Central (Look Inside)
  • Amazon Author Central
  • Amazon CreateSpace (POD for Amazon UK and Amazon Europe)
  • Amazon Goodreads
  • Kobo
  • Barnes & Noble Nook
  • iBooks
  • iBooks Connect
  • iBooks affiliate program
  • IngramSpark (POD for distribution to bookstores)
  • Wells Fargo (bank)
  • Wells Fargo merchant services (online)
  • Wells Fargo Merchant Services (terminal)
  • Wells Fargo Business Track
  • Authorize.net (credit card clearing
  • Ecwid (WordPress store module)
  • Bowker (ISBNs)
  • Basecamp (to work with publicists)
  • Siteground (ISP)
  • WordPress (website)
  • Mailchimp (newsletters)
  • GoDaddy.com (url broker)
  • Booklife.com (route to Publisher’s Weekly)

Printing and Warehousing

  • Bookmobile (printer in Minnesota)
    “Not one of the negative stereotypes that older workers confront holds up under scrutiny.”Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks
  • Itasca (book warehouse in Minnesota)

Individuals

  • Rebeca Mendez (cover design)
  • Dan Visel (book design and web design)
  • Valerie Brooks (copy editor)
  • Colin Robinson (extensive paper edit)
  • Diane Kaganova (even more extensive electronic edit)
  • Jon Geyer (site administrator)
  • Alita Holly (ebook creation)
  • Lisa Weinert / Tyson Cornell (publicists)
About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.