A (More) Perfect Union

Publishers Brandish New Models to Support Authors: Joint-, Co-, & Assisted Self-Publishing

When Arthur Klebanoff began shopping around longtime BBDO CEO Allen Rosenshine’s book Funny Business a few years ago, nobody bit. Rather than a straight how-to-succeed-in-business type of book, Rosenshine had written an anecdotal memoir about his experiences in the ad industry. “Here was this prominent person who had written quite a good book, where the company was going to buy a pile of them, and yet I was encountering resistance from the traditional suspects,” Klebanoff said.

Sterling’s Michael Fragnito suggested that Klebanoff try Beaufort Books, a joint-venture publisher that operates under the “shared cost/shared profit” model where author and publisher split costs and profit 50/50.

In the case of Rosenshine, someone who had the means and the desire to enter into a shared-risk situation, the agreement was perfect. “If you take a book like this that wouldn’t attract a fat advance,” Klebanoff said, “even at a quality publisher it would have gotten a young editor and had no contact with marketing, PR, or any kind of senior staff. Their attention is dedicated to the major books that their money is tied up in.” At Beaufort (for a price) Rosenshine had the Publisher, the Owner, and a variety of seasoned freelance editors, marketers, and publicity people all sitting down for regular, intensely collaborative meetings.

In earlier days, authors had two alternatives: the traditional publisher or the so-called vanity publisher. Today, the commoditization of the publishing process has expanded the author/publisher relationship to form a more perfect – or at least, more perfectly tailored – union. Publishers are increasingly making it easier for authors to create their own shopping cart approach, and authors are responding by footing part (or all) of the bill.

It’s the Sales, Stupid

Eric Kampmann, CEO of Midpoint Trade Distribution and owner of Beaufort Books, is very clear that although Beaufort is author subsidized, it is in no way a vanity press. “The goal is to produce sales and revenue to be shared with the author – We’re interested in selling. Our middle, first, and last name is sales. Beaufort only works if Midpoint can sell.”

At an “assisted self-publishing” outfit like AuthorHouse, authors pay upfront fees according to the monetized services they wish to receive. “Standard Paperback” publishing runs $698, but if you want to add “ancillaries” like copyright registration ($170), copy editing ($.015/word), or a book review ($500), the tab increases. What sets Beaufort apart from an operation like AuthorHouse (or XLibris, or iUniverse) is that Beaufort books are guaranteed traditional distribution and marketing through Midpoint Trade. “If Beaufort weren’t distributed through Midpoint, the model wouldn’t make any sense,” Klebanoff said.

At CDS Books, an imprint of the Perseus Book Group since 2005 and distribution company of the same name, authors earn no advance and higher royalties, starting at 20% of retail cover price (rising to 30%) and l5% of retail cover price for trade paperback and mass market.

Unlike Beaufort, CDS doesn’t require authors to put in money upfront. The publishing arm relies not only on CDS distribution capabilities, but on the strong capabilities of the Perseus sales team.

The fully author-supported, Austin-based venture Greenleaf Book Group charges a fee (anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 plus depending on services provided) is set apart from assisted self-publishing by its traditional distribution operation to targeted trade outlets beyond online stores like Amazon.

“We’re very rooted in distribution,” Meg La Borde EVP of Greenleaf (which began distributing small press and self-published titles in 1997) said. “The biggest hole in the publishing process is distribution. We built our distribution company first, and then around that we built a publishing program”

Since, Greenleaf makes the majority of their money from distribution, La Borde emphasized that Greenleaf is not a pay to publish program (they only accept about 3% of submissions). “You can’t just walk in with a checkbook,” she said. “We’ll lose money.”

Osteen, King, Epping?

In the ten years since Stephen King voluntarily slashed his advance for Bag of Bones from $17 million to $2 mil in order to split publisher profits 50/50 with Simon & Schuster, S&S has signed similar deals with big names like Dr. Phil and recently television evangelist Joel Osteen. These “co-ventures” as Free Press Publisher Martha Levin (who worked on the Osteen deal) calls them, are by no means standard practice, and are offered primarily to bestselling authors. “Because the authors are contractually our partners,” Levin said, “we do discuss a much broader range of topics with them including how marketing dollars are spent and how and where we invest in co-op.”

At CDS, VP Publisher Roger Cooper says that the authors that choose to be published by CDS Books feel, that for one reason or another, the audience they’ve built up over the years hasn’t been reached or targeted in an aggressive or creative way. With CDS they are looking for a publishing partnership that markedly increases their sales and profile in the marketplace. The CDS model includes contractually guaranteed marketing dollars, real time flow-through of actual proceeds, and royalties paid on a monthly basis, driven by Bookscan data reflecting actual sales in the marketplace. “That’s what CDS Books is all about,” Cooper said. “A unique kind of creative and financial collaboration that provides authors with a publishing experience that they perhaps used to have, or have always hoped they would have.”

The ideal CDS fiction authors have some kind of viable sales track record in hardcover, an established fan base, and want to participate in the aggressive level of CDS’ marketing. Cooper says that CDS has plans to publish quality commercial fiction in all fiction genres such as upcoming novels Scavenger by David Morrell, Quantico by Greg Bear and Woman in Red by Eileen Goudge. CDS will also publish “overtly commercial” nonfiction, whether it be opportunistic – such as this month’s Secrets of Mary Magdalene or The Real Estate Millionaire (TK May 2007) – or business, health, diet, self help, inspiration, etc.

CDS’ first title after being acquired by Perseus, Creepers (by Morrell, multiple NYTimes Bestselling author), was published last fall. The book took off with a 30-city author tour, and strong internet marketing. Morrell’s agent Jane Dystel said that the deals she’s done with Morrell and CDS “have worked out beautifully,” but, she said, she’s not sure if they would work with a less seasoned and successful author.

Apart from enhanced marketing and collaboration with the author, another important component of the CDS model is outsourcing (at CDS, publicity and editorial are outsourced). Beaufort outsources almost all of the work as well.

“Thoughtful outsourcing is key,” Kampmann said. “It’s a great way for a smaller publisher to work.” Klebanoff mentioned that at Beaufort, much of the publishing package is a menu that can be tailored to fit each author, and each book’s needs, permitting a client to focus money where it makes sense. “With the normal trade,” Klebanoff says, “It’s the reverse. Publishers always say, ‘It’s our job, we’ll figure it out.’”

Beaufort is currently at a stage where they are taking advantage of POD technology for paperbacks in shorter runs (between 500 and 1,000 copies). “We’ll then just keep reprinting until the book finds its market,” Kampmann said. “It’s a strategy for success over a long period of time. We’re not stuck in the model of racing to keep up, publishing a thousand books per minute.” This month, Beaufort is publishing Gordon Zacks’ book Defining Moments: Stories of Character, Courage and Leadership about (mostly Israeli) leadership, with an initial run of 12,000 and a strong advance into Barnes & Noble. (Zacks, like Rosenshine, is also repped by Klebanoff.)

At CDS the scale is much larger – Cooper is looking for books that can ship over 40,000 copies in hardcover. There are over 400,000 copies of Secrets of the Code in print, over 100,000 copies of Creepers, and CDS has shipped approximately l00,000 copies of Secrets of Mary Magdalene.
Greenleaf officially published its first book under its own imprint this spring – Trust by Charles Epping – with a first printing of 15,000 copies. Epping’s previous book A Beginner’s Guide to the World Economy was published by Random House in 2001. “I’ve had a great experience publishing my novel with Greenleaf,” Epping said. “Their attention to detail, market-savvy, and creative power is just as strong as at a major publishing house.” Epping added that Greenleaf “hit the ground running” (the book appeared on the cover of Publishers Weekly) and that they’re already planning a second printing.

When Epping’s book came out in June, Greenleaf estimated that they would ease into publishing, putting out about 5 books a year. Three months later, they’ve revised their projection to around 25.

EVP La Borde says that today, almost every publisher, distributor and agent is looking for the authors with the biggest platforms. “We’ve built a model most attractive to authors with big platforms,” she said. (Currently, the ratio of new authors to previously published authors is loosely about 60/40.) Authors retain 100% of the publication rights, and 100% of the cover price on books that they sell directly (e.g. at a speaking event). On books that are distributed to the trade through Greenleaf, the author makes a smaller percentage (although still measurably heftier that what he or she would receive from traditional royalties).

When a submission is made to Greenleaf, it goes through an “editorial diagnosis” and is then run through a gamut of assessments (profit margin, break even point, etc.) to make an investment projection. Greenleaf then “quotes it out” to the author based on 3 different sized print runs. “It’s all done up front,” La Borde says. “And then it’s a business decision for the author. We ask them how many they can move, and we tell them how many we can move (through BN, Borders, airports, etc.).” Unlike Beaufort and CDS, Greenleaf outsources very little (some marketing, and all publicity) with most editorial, design and general production done in-house.

Happy Agents Sans Advances

As everyone at Beaufort worked to ramp up the publishing program, owner Kampmann said, “What shocked us was how many books were landing at Beaufort through agents.”

With all of the hands-on attention the non-traditional models demand, agents usually collaborate throughout the publishing process, which is time consuming and without the cushion of an advance. Klebanoff, who is currently working on his third Beaufort Book, says that, “although it can be more demanding, it’s also more gratifying.” Klebanoff gave the example that recently Beaufort rushed a number of copies of Funny Business onto an airplane for a conference Rosenshine was giving across the country. “Beaufort did it because it made sense. A big publisher might do that for Clinton’s memoir, but not for some small commercial book. Instead of fighting through 30 or 40 books a month, here you are THE book of the month.”

At Greenleaf, La Borde said that the agents they’ve worked with have been enthusiastic as well, and usually stay involved throughout the entire process (vetting cover comps, overseeing a marketing plan, etc.). “Some agents have authors that don’t like New York publishing for one reason or another,” she said. “But if they self publish, they could damage the brand, damage film rights.” She also added that even if they aren’t receiving a cut of the advance, they can still sometimes charge a consulting fee.

Susan Ginsburg, Eileen Goudge’s agent at Writer’s House, added that the amount of attention paid to the authors by publishers operating these models offsets any diminution in the amount of the advance. “As traditional publishing has changed in so many ways, there are particular books and situations that are going to be served better by more creative, more unusual, more innovative approaches,” she said.