We have a special guest today--I asked my friend the multi-award-winning Alison Janssen, editor of Tyrus Books (formerly of Bleak House) if she would be willing to share her insight into the independent publishing world. Alison not only came back with a dynamite article, but also threw in an offer for Outfit readers. Hope you enjoy!
Let’s get transparent!
As some of you may already know, I’m the senior editor and part owner (along with Ben LeRoy) of a new(ish) independent publishing company, Tyrus Books. Before we started Tyrus, Ben and I worked together at Bleak House Books, a company he founded in, oh, ninteen-aught-six, I think.
In any case, last July we launched Tyrus, and we’ve so far seen a fair amount of critical success, with our first title, Silver Lake, by Peter Gadol, named a finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction, and our second release, Double Exposure, by Michael Lister, a winner of a Florida Book Award. We recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for our fourth title, Hello Kitty Must Die, by debut author Angela S. Choi, and we’re garnering lots of press attention for our big short story collection, Delta Blues (edited by Carolyn Haines), and our literacy efforts in partnership with the Mississippi Writers Guild and the charitable donations we’ll be making to the Rock River Foundation.
But I’m not here today to talk to you about critical attention, awards, press, book trailers, or why I hate it when an author uses the word “never” when first describing a character. I’m here to talk to you about the number one challenge faced by independent publishers. Here it is:
What a boring challenge! You were hoping I’d say that our single biggest challenge is keeping our authors plied with just enough whiskey to get them writing that great dark fiction, but not so much that they puke into their keyboards, huh? Or maybe you were hoping that our most oppressive obstacle is figuring out the right angle at which to sling our slingshot, so that we accurately take down our Goliath-like competition and become Kings (and Queens) of Crime Fiction?
But no, in the day-to-day trenches of independent crime fiction publishing, it’s cash flow that reigns. I guess it’s probably the same situation with many small start-up businesses. While Ben and I don’t suffer under the weight of an expensive lease for offices (yay, work from home!), we do have printing bills, freelance proofreaders, and designers to pay. Our authors receive advances (most of them do—we do have some exciting experiments in contracts happening at Tyrus), and we also do some limited advertising, trade show appearances, and promotional material creation. We have a website to keep up, and advance review copies to print, and every so often one of us takes a paycheck.
So that’s all money going out our door, and as for the money coming in, well, that’s on a fairly significant time delay. Like how my best friend lives in Seattle and I live in Madison and I have to be careful not to call her at ten on a Saturday morning because that would be mean. Only instead of a two hour difference, the difference between when we pay for a book and when we receive money from the sales of that that book is more like six months. Which means we need to have a fairly large reserve under the mattress to keep up with our cash flow needs, especially as we’re new and don’t have a deep back-list to generate slow and steady sales.
I’m sure this is not news for most—you visit The Outfit often and hear these wonderful authors talking about the industry. You probably know about sell-in and sell-through and returns and distribution and all of the system’s intricacies. Or, you have a vague idea and frankly don’t care to know more, because it’s not the publishing industry that interests you, but the books. The writing. The authors. And you shouldn’t have to understand the industry to enjoy the product. Goodness knows I have no idea how a Cadbury Creme Egg is made, but oh my gosh do I love them, and this time of year, when they are available on every counter display.
But here’s what I’m driving at in this already long-winded blog post. (Thank you, Marcus, for indulging me.) I would like to encourage all readers to buy crime fiction direct from the people who love it most, and who will most benefit from your dollars.
That means heading to your local indie bookstore to pick up the latest John Grisham. That means going to signings at your local library, and buying a book from the author while you’re there. That means buying direct online from indie publishers, rather than ordering through Amazon.
Yes, that also probably means paying a bit more for a book.
But listen. By buying direct from authors, indie bookstores, and indie publishers, you are helping us maintain our businesses. You are directly contributing to our bottom line. You, good reader, are making a difference.
Just like you like to buy your produce direct from local farmers at your local farmer’s market, I’d like you to consider buying your books direct from your favorite sources.
Many indie publishers offer direct sales through their websites, including Akashic, Busted Flush, and other, non-crime-fiction-focused publishers like McSweeney’s. We do, too, and we’d like to extend a big thank you to anyone who pre-orders one of our Spring 2010 titles direct. Use the code “theoutfit,” and we’ll give you $3 off. It’s a token of our appreciation for your support. And if you like the look of our upcoming titles, consider a subscription.
You can also buy direct from your local indie bookstore. Try IndieBound to find one close to you, and be sure to check out their events page. Every author loves a robust audience at their signing events.
It’s an interesting time in publishing, and in the world. Lots of people are focused on neighborhood-based, locally sourced food and goods for their homes. Etsy has become a wonderful way to support indie artists and craftspeople in all geographic regions. I’m asking you here, today, to take the extra step, the next time you see a book you want. Look to see if it’s available at your local bookstore. Check the author and publisher websites, try to order direct instead of through third party online vendors.
Even just one book sale can make a difference to an indie publisher.