View Full Version : Advice needed: Launching a small press

Gigi Sahi
03-04-2008, 10:49 PM
I apologize in advance for the length of this post (1900 words approx), and hope that I’ve put this in the right place.

As some of you may know, I’m a self-publishing hobbyist. I’ve set up a company, own a 10-block of ISBNs, and have published and self-distributed three books, with modest success, to date.

A little over a month ago, a writer-friend asked me to have a look at her manuscript for feedback. I did, and I positively LOVE it. It’s the first in a trilogy of detective stories. I’ve since read the completed second book, which I also love, and she’s currently working on the third and final book in the series.

To be fair to her, I immediately advised her to seek agent representation. She gave me a few reasons why she didn’t want to go that route. I don’t completely agree with her reasons, but they are HER reasons. I then suggested Soho Press. Again, she gave me HER reasons for not wanting to submit to them. All the while, she has no idea that I have a little home-based publishing setup.

I’m so bowled over by her writing and the stories themselves that I’m willing to invest my money in her work. Admittedly, I’m green. My self-published books, three e-zine articles, one poem published in a print magazine, one short story published in a small press anthology, and attending various book fairs, writing and publishing conferences and seminars throughout NYC over the last seven years are the extent of my book world experience. And yes, I have copies of Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual (sixteenth edition), Tom and Marilyn Ross’ The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (fourth edition), The Complete Guide to Successful Publishing by Avery Cardoza, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days by Fern Reiss, as well as the Chicago Manual of Style (fourteenth edition) and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style; and of course, the abundance of wisdom and experiences here at AW. So while I’m not clueless about the publishing industry, and have been researching my butt off, publishing books other than my own is definitely uncharted territory for me.

Having been burned by PA, and all that entailed, I’m determined to do right by this author - if she’ll have me. I’m not a disgruntled, delusional ex-PA author who thinks publishing is easy; nor a way to make a quick buck. I want to make her a serious offer to publish her detective trilogy. I also wish to make a serious attempt at launching a small press. I’ve worked out a plan that, based on my publishing knowledge, is in keeping with a legitimate commercial publishing business model. I’d greatly appreciate any feedback and comments. Thanks in advance.

Advance against Royalty: $500 (for each book, for a total $1500 advance, paid in 3 installments: when she signs our contract agreement, approval of final text, and just before publication date. $500 will be the advance I’ll offer to any subsequent authors whose books I’ll publish, until I’m in a position to increase it. For single books, the $500 will be paid in 2 installments: half upon returning the publisher’s copy of the signed contract agreement, and the balance just before publication).

Royalties: Printed books - 10% of cover price first 5000, 12.5% of cover price 5001-10,000, 15% of cover price above 10,000; 40% of cover price on Ebooks - regardless of quantity sold; all royalties paid semi-annually. (One of my dearest friends is a tax attorney. He’s agreed to help me setup my accounting/bookkeeping records. Not just for the sake of royalty payments, but for my company in general).

Book Rights: 5-year contract; first print publishing rights and electronic rights in world English ONLY. (Ebook and print book will be released simultaneously). That’s all, nothing else. All other rights are the authors’ to do with as they please.

Out-of-Print: IMO, if less than 500 copies sell for two consecutive years, what’s the point in keeping the book in print?

Copyright and LCCN: I’ll register the copyright in the author’s name at my expense. I’ll apply for LCCN after assigning the ISBN and once I have an idea of what the final page count will be.

Books-in-Print database: I’ll handle this; takes just minutes.

Editing: I have a friend who has 10+ years freelance editing experience. She worked at a university press for 12 years. I’ve worked with her on my books. She does good work, and I can afford her rates.

Proofreading: This I can do myself, and the author will also receive a galley to look over before the book goes to the printer.

Format: 5½ x 8½ trade paperback

Publication Date: If she accepts my offer sometime this month, target publication date will be early summer 2009 for the first book in the trilogy. All books will be published within 12-16 months of signed contract.

Cover Design: (I lucked up on this one. My brother is an illustrator/graphic designer/photographer. His portfolio is extensive, including shooting covers for a few top fashion magazines. He’s my kid brother. If he doesn’t do my book covers, I’ll beat the snot outta him - just like the good ol’ days. More ideal, he can put me in touch with one of his colleagues for professional cover design). RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD BE APPRECIATED

Press Releases and Back Cover Copy: I feel capable of writing these myself. I also know how to put together a press kit.

Page Layout: I’ve laid out all of my self-pubbed books myself using books pubbed by major houses as my guide, and feel confident I can handle this task personally. At the risk of tooting my own horn, people have told me that if I hadn’t told them I did the page layout on my home computer, they would’ve never guessed. So, I’ll give this a go myself first. If I’m not happy with the results, I’ll outsource this step. RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

Printing: 2000 copies (offset, initial print run for each book. I can always do additional print runs if the demand calls for such. Book Masters and Fidlar Doubleday both come highly recommended.)

ARCs: The usual suspects: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, USAToday, NYTBR, (with full knowledge that there’s no guarantee of a review), as well as a few smaller but reputable review venues that specialize in reviewing detective stories/mysteries/thrillers/suspense; 4-6 months prior to publication date, of course.

The Big D - Distribution: I’m looking at Midpoint Trade Books. I haven’t contacted them yet. (I don’t know if the author will accept my offer. If she doesn’t, then there’s no need for me to strike a distribution deal with Midpoint - just yet. If she does, then contacting Midpoint will be my first order of business).

Marketing and Promotion: In addition to all other expenses, I have $5000 to spend on M&P. I’m still researching how to get the most bang for my buck. I’ll employ a few things that have worked for me as a self-publisher, but I know I’ll need to do more for this project. SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE APPRECIATED

Internet Sales: Publisher’s website with PayPal (already in place). I’ll just need to upload her cover thumbnail, synopsis, and generate the code for the book’s Paypal button - takes all of 10 minutes. I’m also thinking of joining PMA to establish a relationship with B&T; as well as uploading this book to Lightning Source to establish a relationship with Ingram, and so various Internet book retailers (Amazon, BN, Abe Books, etc,) will have the book available on their sites. I'M STILL SOMEWHAT UNCLEAR ABOUT THIS STEP. AM I GOING ABOUT THIS BACKASSWARD?

Returnable: Absolutely!

Standard distributor, wholesale, and bookstore discounts: Absolutely!

Competitive Cover Prices: based on my research: 200-300 pages ($14.95), 300-400 pages ($15.95), and 400-500 pages ($16.95) in 5.5x8.5 trade paperback format are competitive cover prices. I doubt I’ll publish anything less than 200 pages or more than 500. I’m looking at 70K-100K word count per novel.

Genres: I want my press to focus on Detective/Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, Urban Fiction, and Women’s Fiction. I enjoy these genres most, so I’ll seek to publish books that I personally would want to read. Also, because I do most of my reading in these genres, I know crap when I see it. I know what’s been done to death, what’s cliché, and other nuances specific to these genres. My goal is to ultimately publish 10 books per year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I currently have a day job and I’m a divorced mom. Ultimately, I hope to resign from my day job and focus on my press fulltime. But now is not that time, and I’ll still have my little ones to care for. For these reasons, this author, and any subsequent authors (HOPEFULLY), will be expected to assist in promoting their work in their local area and by setting up an author website, if they don’t already have one. I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER request my authors purchase their own books; nor will I target their family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, pets… I will NOT spam emails and/or forums to promote any books. I haven’t done that with my self-pubbed books, so what good reason would I have to do that with my authors’ books? To discourage my authors from buying their own books, I want to provide them with about 10-20 complimentary copies of their book to give away to whomever they please.

There’ll be no sneaking of the books upon bookstore shelves. In fact, I don’t see why they’ll need to contact bookstores or libraries on their own. What’s the point in having a distributor if the author still needs to do that? They may approach a local bookstore or library to request a signing or reading, if they like. I’ll ask that they forward all contact info to me and I’ll follow up on all particulars. I think it looks better, more professional, coming from the publisher than the author. By local author-assisted promotions I mean, I really don’t see anything wrong with posting fliers or leaving door hangers (a la Pizza Hut, and my latest favorite promotional gadget). I’ll pay for the fliers and door hangers, send them to the author, and they can post them around town in their spare time. It’s a visual, and another way of getting the word out about their books. This is simple, affordable, and effective grassroots advertising.

All of the above will be at my expense. The author will never be required to invest a dime of their money to have their book published - not upfront, not on the backend, not EVER. The only expense the author will incur is providing an author photo, which I will have duplicated at my expense to include in their press kit.

I’m not open for submissions just yet; I don’t foresee that for at least two years down the line. I’m hoping to cut my teeth on her trilogy. And of course, I’ll tell her upfront that I’m new at this - before she signs or agrees to anything.

I’ve crunched the numbers. This project is going to run me in the area of $15,000. I’m not independently wealthy, but I’m comfortable and I have the money. I could blow it on a fur coat, or I could launch a micro/small press and go in business for myself. I can’t think of a better way to invest my money than getting behind a book (series) that I’m passionate about.

Well, there ya have it. Thanks again for reading through all of this. Your suggestions, comments, recommendations, personal experiences, cautionary tales, brutal honesty, and feedback are greatly appreciated. I don’t want my press to end up being torn apart on the Bewares and Background Checks forum. ;-)

03-05-2008, 01:40 AM
Yours is an admirably thorough and well thought out plan, in my opinion.


A couple of thoughts.

Consider asking for a bid from McNaugton & Gunn, in Michigan ( www.bookprinters.com/index1.html ).One of my small-publisher friends swears by them.

Be more open to the possibility that it might make sense for the author to buy books at a discount (consider the same discount you would give to bookstores or to distributors) for sale when the author makes non-bookstore appearances (at libraries, groups, organizations). Of course there is no need to encourage that, but I have seen many cases in which that was a mutually satisfactory practice, especially where the author is a good public speaker and lines up appearances. That really is a question of what works for the author, of course, and the author's own preferences and style. And it is a courtesy to have some copies available for sale and signing when speaking to writers' groups and the like. (Speakers at local groups I am in typically do, including those published by major houses. If I have enjoyed the talk, I usually buy a book, and I see others doing likewise.)

Consider approaching prominent local newspaper columnists about a human-interest type of story about the author in advance of publication date. Ditto perhaps about you as publisher, for that matter. This can be a win-win -- nice publicity AND good article material of interest to the paper's audience. "Local author makes good" seems to be of perennial interest. Human-interest/local-even columnists are probably better prospects than the book-review editor, judging from my observations in this area.

Consider whether keeping book(s) in print longer term via POD might make sense. Even large publishers are reportedly doing that now. Just a thought, there -- maybe not feasible or desirable in this case, but who knows.

Be sure to send ARCs to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Both have book review columns. By the way, Lulu.com is very convenient for printing ARCs. (For the past week or more, Lulu's system has been broken, unable to complete the publication process, but they should get it fixed soon, I hope.)

In conclusion, more power to you! Best wishes for success.


03-05-2008, 02:00 AM
One other thing while I think of it. A Sacramento author named Stephanie Chandler wrote a book on online marketing for authors, The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, forthcoming in May, I believe, from Quill Driver Press. You might want to put that on your shopping list. She originally self-published it via Lulu.com, but Quill Driver wanted rights to it and the deal was made.

If you need a website, I can recommend an excellent website designer whose prices are quite competitive. See http://www.williamswriting.com/web/web.shtml -- and tell Sandra I sent you.


03-05-2008, 03:07 AM
Sounds really well thought out. When you are happy with your proposal, can you open it for AW writers to send you submissions?

03-05-2008, 04:32 AM
Looks very fair to me.

I never thought I'd say this, but your royalties are too high! They're hardcover royalties, with hardcover increase points. A more standard royalty for trade paper is 7.5% (they can go as high as 10%, but that's unusual), with no increase points.

- Victoria

03-05-2008, 08:35 AM
Micropublishing is fun as long as you don't invest more money than you can afford to lose!

You sound like you have a good plan there. Don't forget the "hometown hero" factor in getting reviews--it's well worth the cost of the ARC to send one to the hometown papers of everywhere your author has lived, and to the alumni magazines of any colleges or universities she's attended.

There are some book review publications that are targeted specifically for library-goers (Book Pages is the one my library makes available, and there's at least one other) and they're a strong placement.

Another thing to think of is joining Sisters in Crime; that could be a really useful networking tool, both for you and for her.

Do you know what I think the most critical thing in successful micropublishing is? Don't laugh when you hear this: I think it's getting a memorable Internet domain name. Keep this in mind when you're naming your venture.

Gigi Sahi
03-08-2008, 05:47 PM
Thank you all for the comments and resources. They're most appreciated. It feels wonderful having confirmation from people who know the publishing ropes that I'm on the "write" track. Welp, I sent the author an e-mail with my offer just minutes ago, along with a link to this thread. I've got my fingers crossed, my toes crossed, my eyes crossed...:) Thx again.

03-10-2008, 04:23 AM
The plan you presented sounded pretty well thought out. The only thing I was 'iffy' about was this part:

'Competitive Cover Prices: based on my research: 200-300 pages ($14.95), 300-400 pages ($15.95), and 400-500 pages ($16.95) in 5.5x8.5 trade paperback format are competitive cover prices.'

This sounds fairly high for trade paperback. If it is however, a good price, then it also assumes you are going to offer up wholesale at 50-55% of cover. Better check whether wholesalers think 50% of those quoted prices you have there is legitimate wholesale, otherwise bookstores may shy away.

04-20-2008, 03:23 PM

I am in the UK and have some similarities with you. I began my small press in 2002 purely to publish two local/women's history books that I had written. Then I published another author, and by the end of 2007 had published six others.

My personal experience was that I spent so much time on other people's books that I had no time to write my own books. Therefore as of October 2007 I decided not to publish any other author. I have made commitments to my boyfriend and to a close friend, and will honour them, but I am not accepting any other work.

Your plan sounds like you have given it some thought, and you have been given some good advice on this thread.

I did not pay anyone an advance, by the way. I offered 10% royalty instead.

I don't think I can be of much help since it's different on each side of the Atlantic.


07-15-2008, 05:51 AM
Anything to update on your venture?

I'm curious since I own a company that among other things prints & binds softcover books. I work a lot with the local authors but am not doing anything in so far as publishing. We have looked at that part of the puzzle and have a good handle on it but are not sure that is the direction we want to go.

I would be interested to know what progress you have made and what pitfalls you have encountered.

07-15-2008, 06:41 AM
You're doing well in the planning department. I launched a printing and publishing company in far north USA many years ago, complete with offset printing press & all that goes with it to publish books, a magazine, and, we did job printing.
Writers came to us to edit and publish their books and paid us to do it so no royalties or agents came into the picture.
Part of our service was to promote their books in our magazine.
It all worked well until our printer decided to escape north Michigan winter blizzards and move to Florida. I could find no one to take on the job, so we closed.
Still, in a less severe climate, it's a good and profitable way to publish.

08-06-2008, 01:18 AM
I'd be interested in starting a small press-- not simply to do it, but as a business, as a way to support myself. How likely would that be? I have cerebral palsy, and I'm looking for a way to support myself that would allow me to work at home on my computer. Could a small press, perhaps tilted towards E-publishing, be a profitable, going concern in the real world?

I work as a freelance journalist now, but make virtually no money. I have also written five novels that are publication quality, but as you know, finding an agent and publishers takes time. Time is no longer on my side.