Alt-publishers help keep authors in control

In February, our publisher Maggie Langrick spoke with The Globe & Mail about alternative publishing models, explaining how hybrid publishers help business authors maintain control over their finished books. The article is reproduced in text below, and can be accessed by subscribers on The Globe & Mail website.

Alt-publishers help keep authors in control

By Marina Strauss

When marketing guru Joe Jackman set out to write a book about his day job – reviving tired retailers such as Old Navy – he turned to his wide network of contacts for publishing advice.

A business acquaintance at one of the big publishers warned him that he would inevitably lose some control of the message if he went with a major publishing house. Yet another business contact suggested he seek an alternative, more collaborative option: boutique publishing firm Page Two. It’s run by two veterans of established houses, and gives the author more leeway to shape the product.

“That appealed to me,” rookie author Jackman says in an interview about his new book, The Reinventionist Mindset: Learning to Love Change and the Human How of Doing It Brilliantly, published by the Vancouver-based Page Two. “I obsess over the details of things.”

Just as Jackman’s consulting firm rushes to reinvent troubled businesses, Page Two is among a small but growing band of publishing concerns that are racing to do their bit to reshape the challenged publishing world in a fast-changing digital age.

Page Two and some other startups are “hybrids”: a cross between self-publishing and providing authors with specialty services such as editing and design work. Still others are beginning to focus on crowdfunding to raise money for writers.

Business consultants, including Jackman, and other experts increasingly are signing up with an array of these alternative publishers rather than their traditional rivals as a way to have more say over the finished product and timing of its release. Consultants are writing books to use as something of a calling card to raise their profile and lure clients – whether or not they make money from it, says Maggie Langrick, chief executive of LifeTree Media in Vancouver, another hybrid publisher. And they appreciate getting the help of veteran editors and other specialists.

For many business advisers, a book is the “price of entry,” she adds. “You have to have a book if you want to be taken seriously as a consultant.”

Hybrid publishers tend to focus on non-fiction books because their authors are experts who are adept at marketing their own products, she says. The publishers are drawn to business books at a time when major publishers are producing fewer of them.

Greg Ioannou, founder of hybrid publisher Iguana Books in Toronto, says his and other hybrids can be more nimble, producing books in as little as six months compared with two to three years at the major publishing houses.

Iguana Books now sends some of its authors to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise money for their would-be tomes. Later this year, Ioannou plans to launch PubLaunch, a crowdfunding site tailored specifically to raise money for authors and their suppliers.

Crowdfunding can be a good test of whether a book will have a potential market, he says. London-based crowdfunding publisher Unbound is starting to sell some books in Canada, industry insiders say. (An Unbound official could not be reached for comment.)

“Page Two and other companies like them have elevated the standards, if you want to call it, of self-publishing – that term has evolved,” says literary agent Rick Broadhead, who represents authors such as Howard Green (Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison), who have used Page Two and another Vancouver-based firm, Figure 1. “The options are much more sophisticated now.”

Figure 1 teams up with art galleries and chefs to produce high-end illustrated tomes, says co-founder Chris Labonte, another veteran of established publishing.

Still, Labonte warns that while some hybrids are thriving, other alternative publishers have floundered. “Successful book publishing remains very challenging,” he says. “Those who have found success in new models tend to be seasoned publishing professionals, often having cut their teeth in traditional trade publishing.”

Broadhead cautions the alternatives are not for everybody. They work for authors such as Jackman who are well connected and can help spread the word of their new book. He’s a regular on the speaking circuit, where his book can be sold at healthy profit margins.

But authors such as Jackman take on more risk and upfront costs compared with working with a traditional publisher, which assumes the risk and control, Broadhead says. For one, traditional publishers often pay writers an advance fee of between roughly $10,000 and $1-million or more for signing on to write a book.

Jesse Finkelstein, co-founder of Page Two, says Jackman’s entrepreneurial bent matched up well with her six-year-old publishing firm’s aim to serve authors who want to break out of the conventional mould, but still get support from a team of seasoned specialists. She even learned from his business insights. “I’m part of a young, very disruptive and very innovative company and yet we have to stay on our toes all the time …

“There’s something that is really key to the kind of authors we serve, including people like Joe,” she adds. “They’re entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators, people who in every other aspect of their work do have control or a great deal of control.”

LifeTree, for example, has two types of authors: those who are business consultants or other experts and do a lot of public speaking where they can drum up interest in their book; and writers who have a strong online following – especially bloggers – and write on food, parenting and other lifestyle issues, Langrick says.

The authors want to influence everything from marketing to compensation. Page Two’s authors can make twice as much or more as those at traditional publishing houses, Finkelstein says. For example, while writers usually get an advance from their publisher, plus roughly 8 per cent to 10 per cent (in royalties) of retail sales of print books in conventional publishing, Page Two authors take in about 30 per cent of retail sales (and 100 per cent of bulk sales, minus discounts for the purchaser and shipping costs, at speaking events.) But those authors pay Page Two a fee-for-service.

David Swail, president of the Canadian Publishers’ Council, which represents major publishers, says fee-for-service compensation is relatively uncommon in the industry, with firms such as Page Two bridging the gap between self-publishing and a firm of seasoned publishing experts.

Swail says Page Two gives Jackman final say on the finished product while letting him tap into his marketing savvy to tout his book in an era when even established publishers have scaled back on promoting authors. “He has all the chops to know where he needs to go with that,” Swail says. On YouTube alone, Jackman already has had tens of thousands of views of the video he posted on Jan. 15 about his book.

Jackman says he wrote his book to pass on insights to his own staff and others. He says he didn’t write it specifically to lure more consulting clients, of which he says he has plenty. But he adds: “Would I like additional opportunities? Sure.”

He says he originally had thought of writing a textbook. But his editors at Page Two felt he could do more. “My publisher said: ‘You write stiffly, but you speak fluidly. So just write the way you speak.’ And that’s what I started to do,” Jackman says.

He also sought advice from Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music, the country’s largest book chain, and one of his many contacts. She encouraged him to do it and had a tip for him. She suggested he incorporate his company’s signature colour – hot pink to denote boldness – in the book’s cover design “because it will cut through,” he recalls her saying.

He took her advice, and didn’t have to get the nod from his publisher to do so.

Jesmine Cham

Jesmine Cham

Publishing Coordinator at LifeTree Media
Jesmine honed her editing and marketing skills at Geist Magazine, Greystone Books, and Quietly, among other organizations. In between freelance projects, she is either engaging in acts of mindfulness or whittling down (and adding) to her TBR list.
Jesmine Cham

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