This is a story about seeing beyond either/or. It’s a story about choosing friends and fulfillment and your readers while still forwarding your career. It’s a story about collaborative publishing. It’s a tale of two novels, too, coming out on the same day by the same author.
But context, first. (Skip down if you don’t like context.)
Renowned screenwriter, playwright, and essayist David Mamet decided, with his agent, to self-publish his next book – a novella and two short stories. He did so not because the Pulitzer Prize-winning author couldn’t get a book deal. He did it because it made sense – financially and artistically. In this New York Times piece by Leslie Kaufman, Mamet says,
Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon and because publishing is like Hollywood – nobody ever does the marketing they promise.
He also has the option because his literary agency, ICM Partners, is offering a new service that includes self-publishing. ICM is part of a trend among agents and agencies who are becoming sort of a combination literary agency + authors services company that helps some of their established clients take more control of their publishing options.
Kaufman gives this analysis:
As digital disruption continues to reshape the publishing market, self-publishing — including distribution digitally or as print on demand — has become more and more popular, and more feasible, with an increasing array of options for anyone with an idea and a keyboard. Most of the attention so far has focused on unknown and unsigned authors who storm onto the best-seller lists through their own ingenuity.
The announcement by ICM and Mr. Mamet suggests that self-publishing will begin to widen its net and become attractive also to more established authors. For one thing, as traditional publishers have cut back on marketing, this route allows well-known figures like Mr. Mamet to look after their own publicity.
Here’s the Deal: Hybrid Authors
I’ve studied the ever-changing fields of publishing for my clients, colleagues, and mentorees, and I’ve realized this: authors in the early 21st century have more than only two mutually exclusive options to publish. Our biological make-up leads us to think in either-ors. (1) Left or right, up or down, inside or out. Self-publish or legacy publish. Legacy publishing and indie press publishing make sense for certain authors under certain conditions. And so does artisan self-publishing.(2)
Hybrid authors are authors who examine their author goals and resources, study their publishing options, and make choices accordingly. They refuse to feel trapped by thinking there’s only one way or the other.
When I attended the Digital Book World Conference in New York City, the statistics presented repeated one clear fact to the publishers and authors in attendance: hybrid authors are the most consistently successful if you measure success in terms of money, impact, and fulfillment.
In fact, what makes hybrid authors – and artisan-indie authors especially – successful is what indie author Hugh Howey calls “a maniacal focus on readers.” You can read more about Howey’s meteoric success and audience engagement in journalist Porter Anderson’s piece at Publishing Perspectives, “Hybrid Author Hugh Howey on Self vs. Traditional Publishing.”
Where the Story Begins: Collaborative Publishing
Then, consider Laraine Herring. Laraine has published nonfiction books such as The Writing Warrior and Writing Begins with the Breath, both successful mid-list books with the notable indie press Shambhala Press.
After trying for over a year, Herring’s agent Linda Roghaar came close to but didn’t sell Herring’s forthcoming novel Gathering Lights: A Story of San Francisco. The novel tells the story of a man and woman trying to decide their marriage’s fate on a visit to San Francisco. On the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, they meet a host of wild characters, ghosts, and a faithful dog. Herring wanted the novel to have a home. The former feminist theatre founder has rarely if ever settled for status quo answers. Herring sought another option – collaborative publishing.
Collaborative publishing comes in a variety of forms. Collaborative publishers, unlike most publish-on-demand or author services companies, usually are selective. In some cases, authors have to pay for publishing costs and share major marketing costs and are expected to have huge built-in platforms (GreenLeaf Book Group in Austin, for example). In other cases, such as with Herring and her choice of collaborative publisher, not.
Herring’s novel comes out today with The Concentrium. The Concentrium describes itself as
A place for story.
The Concentrium is home to high quality, innovative fiction. From character-driven sci-fi to hard-boiled crime dramas, we create and publish stories that inspire us, in all shapes and sizes. It’s headed up by a designer who is the lead designer for the City of Phoenix, Arizona, and by a novelist and award-winning illustrator & designer.
In her deal with The Concentrium, Herring pays nothing up front and receives 70% of all royalties – a handsome profit in the industry. Compare that to 5-15% among legacy top 5 publishers and @70-85% for most author service companies and publish-on-demand companies that require upfront fees. In other words, Concentrium takes all of the risks like a conventional publisher, and Herring scores on the profit scale. In return, though, Herring offers her name and ideas to The Concentrium to help them build their name and list. Hence, the collaboration.
Drawbacks? From what I can tell, The Concentrium likely does not have a huge distribution outreach or promotion system & team in place.
But for now the plusses outweigh the drawbacks for Herring. She continues to develop a solid body of published work, she serves her readers, and there’s another quirky twist. For 30 years, Herring has known whom she calls “the wickedly talented geeks” who operate The Concentrium. To connect with these longtime friends in this way is an “amazing payoff,” Herring told me via email.
A Bonus Book
Herring is the first author I know to launch two novels, two books, on the same day. Along with Gathering Lights, Herring and The Concentrium also will publish today Into the Garden of Gethesmane, Georgia.
Herring calls Into the Garden “a love letter to writers and readers.” It focuses around a once-celebrated, now-embittered writer who has a strange visitor – a character who has been cut from her best-selling novel. Since Roghaar didn’t think it had wide enough appeal for her to sell, Herring thought at first she’d give it away as a .pdf to anyone who signed up for a newsletter. (Note: An entire novel for a newsletter sign-up may be the single most generous list sign-up gift I’ve heard of right up there with Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits give-away a few years ago.)
But after talking to her publishers at The Concentrium, they decided to make the novel available for sale not only in all digital formats (Kindle, i, Nook, Kobo); they also are printing a paper edition.
Herring’s advice to authors and aspiring authors thinking of self-publishing or collaborative publishing:
Self-pubbing is a powerful way we can take charge of the stories we’re being given to share, and the stigma is clearly vanishing if the work is of quality. Study craft. Read and read and read. You can wait your whole life for someone else to say yes. If you’ve done due diligence to the art and craft of writing, stand behind it and claim it.
Full disclosure: Herring is one of 25 mentorees in my Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program. Stay tuned to watch what Herring launches soon in part as an outgrowth of our work on her owning and honing her signature presence in the world.
Hint: It’s going to be fierce.
What viable publishing options are you and your colleagues scoping out in the early 21st century? Other examples of collaborative publishing? Your assessments? Carry on the conversation in the Comments section below.
Thanks for running with me,
P.S. It’s not too late to join the free webinar Why Book Design Matters Now More Than Ever: A Webinar Conversation with NYT Bestselling Author & Designer Julie Metz. Tuesday, September 17, noon-1:30 pm EST. -JD
(1) George Lakoff and other cognitive linguists and scientists argue that our human biological physiology – itself dichotomous – leads us to create unconscious cognitive dichotomies.
(2) Note: “Indie authors” is another word for authors who take self-publishing routes – which should not be confused with “indie presses,” presses that operate as small presses independent from the Big 5 legacy publishers.