We've been discussing independent booksellers and independent publishers, but this week we'll explore a variation on the theme: an indie bookseller who has also become an indie publisher.
Susan Novotny owns the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y., and Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y. She is also co-owner of POD service The Troy Book Makers and, earlier this year, launched Staff Picks Press (Shelf Awareness, May 24, 2010).
During the summer, Susan published the picture book Change: A Story for All Ages by Judith Barnes and Erick James, illustrated by Jeff Grader. She describes this project as her "weather balloon" for Staff Picks Press, noting that 450 copies were distributed through ABA's White Box in July. "Though the book didn't bear the Staff Picks Press logo, I included a letter to my colleagues introducing the concept of independent booksellers doing their own publishing. I received only 10 orders, but each buyer articulated their conviction that Change was destined to become a classic and should be in hardcover; the perfect 'under-the-radar' kind of book independents know how to sell." This generated "enough enthusiasm to land Change on the December IndieNext list. When Change won the Creativity 40 award for Gold in Book Design and Platinum for Illustration, I turned the distribution over to the wholesalers."
Her goal for Staff Picks Press "is to bring excellent authors who are being overlooked by the New York agent/editing scene to the attention of booksellers and the reading public. Independent booksellers choose the manuscripts and carry out book design, cover art, copyright, ISBN and printing--digital or offset. No book is published without being fully vetted and heartily endorsed by an experienced and opinionated group of booksellers. You do not need the expensive overhead of a Manhattan address to publish truly beautiful and excellent books. All we need is the low-hanging fruit of talented writers."
This week Staff Picks Press released Peter Golden's novel Comeback Love, "a very well-written, intelligent love story set during the turbulent late '60s and early '70s," Susan observed. "It's for anyone over 50, man or woman, who has a love regret from this era. And who doesn't? This demographic is very big and they read. I feel lucky to have this as the first novel from Staff Picks Press." Author James Howard Kunstler praised the book as "a heartfelt and lyrical novel. A stylishly composed, moving tale of loss and redemption."
Golden, a journalist who has written five nonfiction books, said the decision to go with an indie press for Comeback Love was an easy one: "Susan and her friends in the indie world were particularly well positioned to market this book, since the target audience makes up a large percentage of their customer base. Susan had already read and liked the novel (I often seek a wide variety of views on my early drafts), so publishing with her was a no-brainer. We’ll sell everything she prints, probably collect some decent reviews, and my name, as a novelist, will get out there and my sales will not be held against me when it comes time to take my next novel to market. So far, she has been remarkably helpful--a result of her experience and her sterling reputation among her peers, and I’m learning a good deal about the needs of booksellers--something writers should pay attention to. Best of all, I’m having a wonderful time working with her."
An author's marketing responsibilities are substantial in this relationship, Golden acknowledges, though he calls them the "same as the author who publishes with a major press. The fact is unless you are extremely lucky--I mean winning a $300-million-lottery lucky--writers have to use all of the avenues available for marketing their books. I have been in bookstores and seen books from celebrated writers gathering dust on the shelves--books, I should add, that I’ve never heard of, and I read all the time. This means somebody--the writer, in my view--is falling down on the job.
"At BEA in May, I heard Esther Newberg discuss how a new writer--whose book she sold--was pushing her novel through social media, and added that this is an absolute must today. And that’s a novel from a major publisher, agented by one of the premier agents working today. Besides, what’s more fun than being in touch with people who love to read? I don’t see it as onerous. It’s one of the perks of publishing a book you believe in, for if you didn’t believe in it, why publish it at all?"
For Susan, the creation of Staff Picks Press is a logical response to the current state of the book trade: "The anatomy of publishing has changed and the navel of the publishing universe is no longer in Manhattan. The lifeline for authors is in a bookstore--bookseller to reader. I don't believe many authors are aware how compromised the relationship between some big publishers and most booksellers is at this moment in time. Credit departments cannot ask us to pay in 30/60 days for the pleasure of a crapshoot on their titles. The credit department bean pickers have written us off. Editors, sales and marketing all seem to grasp that the independents who have survived the past 15 years of big boxes and Amazon are a smart and tenacious lot, but to quote Roxanne Coady, 'We are not their pets.' Don't pat us on the head, ask us to do tricks then withhold the food, otherwise we are going to go out and catch it ourselves."--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1324.
Note to booksellers: Orders for Change: A Story for All Ages ($14.95, 9781935534617) and Comeback Love ($16.95, 9781935680000) can be directed to Ingram or Bookazine.