by Meredith Maslich
In the two years that Possibilities Publishing Company has been around, I’ve faced many challenges as CEO. Such as choosing the best printing/distribution system, finding the right accounting system, and figuring out how to add four to six hours to every day.
But I anticipated all those things as part of the challenge — and, if you’re a management nerd like me, the fun — of starting a new business. And this is a really exciting time to be innovating in the publishing world. Every element of “this is how it’s done” is negotiable, and the freedom to create is invigorating.
However, one challenge I did not anticipate and still struggle mightily with is author engagement. In the beginning, I believed that if anyone was going to be committed to promoting a book, it would be the author. I actually worried that I would have a hard time keeping up with authors’ energy and creativity.
I was so naive.
I told writers about my company’s philosophy of an author/publisher partnership that would turn certain conventions — such as royalty splits — on their heads. My authors would receive the majority of the royalties because without them, how could I have a company? We would make money together. We would market their books and grow and find success together.
So. Damn. Naive.
Almost immediately, authors started resisting when I suggested various marketing ideas, such as a blog tour or walking their books into indie bookstores that didn’t return email messages or phone calls.
And when a book didn’t immediately hit the bestseller list or meet whatever measure of success an author had set, it was a slow slide into total disengagement. Except I was still here, trying to recoup my investment and trying to not to go bankrupt on each book so I could meet my obligation to my other upcoming authors.
Something had to change. And fast.
I developed a much greater appreciation for the traditional royalty structure where the author gets 25% or less. At least then the publisher has some financial protection. But changing my royalty structure was a non-starter — it’s a central tenet of our philosophy. So I tried looking at the issue from the writers’ point of view, and I was reminded that visions of fame and being able to relax while someone else sells the book often helped motivate them to keep writing. And I get that.
I was also reminded that standing before your friends and family, not to mention the general public, and saying, “Look at my book! Please buy this piece of my soul and say nice things about it,” is really scary. And really hard.
I began to appreciate why an author might get discouraged and decide it was easier to just move on to something else.
I realized it was my job, as their publisher and partner, to help writers set realistic goals and expectations. So I have formalized and quantified my notion of partnership publishing.
PPCo will continue devoting time, experience, money, and brand collateral to each book we publish. In addition, authors will receive 60% of royalties for the first 500 books sold. After passing the 500 mark, they will receive 65% of royalties. At the 750 and beyond mark, they will receive 70% of royalties.
Additionally, each author will be asked to make a financial investment in the success of his or her book. This is NOT a fee to get the book published, and contracts will still be based solely on the strength and marketability of the book. Instead, we are asking for concrete evidence of writers’ commitment in a form that everyone respects: money. That money will be used for marketing efforts for the book. We look at it this way: if the writer ends up totally dropping the ball on social media, and we have to make up that difference by buying ads and promoting posts, then this is the money that will pay for that. It’s a way to ensure the author’s commitment, even if the author falls short of expectations.
The amount of the investment is equal to the amount that PPCo will invest in the book and is based on an estimate of what a writer can earn back in royalties with the first 500 books. The funds will be used for mutually agreed-upon marketing or promotional expenses. The goal is to make sure that authors are fully invested in promoting the book after all the writing is done. That is absolutely essential to a book’s success. And if authors fail to live up to their end of the partnership by disengaging from the marketing process, they forfeit their investment.
We didn’t invent the term “partnership publishing,” and other publishers interpret it slightly differently. But this is a model that we feel fits well within the PPCo ethos and will ensure that we continue to grow and produce strong books — and strong authors.
Meredith Maslich is president and CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company. She is also on the faculty at SpeakeasyDC, where she has been teaching the art of storytelling for more than six years.