Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Publishing: One size doesn’t fit all

The big boys just keep getting bigger.

Earlier this month, the Random House-Penguin merger was completed. (No, the new house is not called Random Penguin, though we wish it were.) According to the New York Times, “The combined companies will control more than 25 percent of the book business, with more than 10,000 employees, 250 independent publishing imprints and about $3.9 billion in annual revenues.”

That’s big. And isn’t it every writer’s dream to be published by one of the Bigs?

I’ve been fortunate to have published with houses of all sizes, including Penguin (before it was Random), so I’m speaking from experience when I say that bigger is not always better. More of my books—substantially more—have reached readers through smaller publishers. With a dozen books under my belt, I now pay a lot more attention to which houses are the best fit for which books.

At the other end of the scale from the Bigs is the Lone Wolf, the author who’s releasing books on her own. The Lone Wolf enjoys the control of every aspect of publication—creation, production, promotion, distribution—but she faces some daunting numbers. Some three million books came out in 2012. That pencils out at about 9000 books coming out every day. Of the annual total, 318,000 were released by traditional publishers. The rest—upwards of 2.5 million—came from independent authors, publishing their own work. That means small is really small, as in very tough to get noticed.

But what if some of those independent or hybrid authors banded together to create a curated showcase for their work? Before I launched my first indie book, a re-release of a novel that had been traditionally published, I talked with a few author friends about the idea of an authors’ cooperative in which affiliates, each publishing at least some titles independently, could aggregate their books.

The result was Running Fox Books, where I publish some of my own work (some I still publish with other houses), but also showcase the good work of authors I know and trust. Running Fox and its affiliates are dedicated to high-quality books with strong commercial literary appeal, written by spirited, independent authors who care about language and the shared pleasure of a good book. I’m proud to have authors David Marusek, Ned Rozell, and Howard Weaver on board for the launch.

Setting up Running Fox took some time. That investment will continue each time I update the website or send out a press release or a newsletter. Some would say those hours be spent on my own books. But I’m pretty good at making sure I spend a good chunk of each day on creative projects. I’m also a big believer in giving back where you can, and thinking beyond yourself.

It’s not all about big. Cooperative ventures like Running Fox offer viable alternatives for authors. "I believe this is one of the savviest business models in publishing today," says publicist Julie Schoerke of JKS Communications. “This is a smart business move for top-notch authors on a number of levels."