Friday, 30 April 2010

Time For Independents To Take To The Stage

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We have been reviewing author solutions services, printers and new innovators in the world of publishing for some time on POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing. Over the past two and a half years we have looked at 400+ companies, from printers to innovative publishers employing new models of publishing. The development of this site has seen us acknowledge all forms of publishing under the one uniform umbrella. At the end of last year, we spoke about bringing you profiles (overviews) of independent publishers. Some of that has been achieved in our series of publishing innovators, but we have yet to really start to bite into the substantive work in that area.

We have now created a listing to the right called Independent Publishing Houses, and yesterday we completed our first overview of Maverick House Publishers. Much of our focus for the rest of the year will concentrate in this area, and while we are still committed to carrying out reviews of self-publishing services, most, if not all of the main players have been covered. If there is a specific self-publishing service you feel we have not covered and deserves to be covered for good reason, then, by all means, let us know in the comment section below, and provided it meets our strict criteria, we will carry out the review in the coming weeks and months.

We are still perfecting the criteria for our Independent Publishing Houses section, but we have compiled a short list of companies we would like to begin with. By all means, add your suggestions in the comment section. The following Independent publishers are our first shortlist to review over the coming months. The reviews themselves will be perfected as we analysis and test our criteria. We are looking forward to them. I hope you will be too.

...till then...        

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Maverick House Publishers (Overview) & The Province of Irish Publishing

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Maverick House Publishers is an independent publisher of non-fiction books founded by Jean Harrington in 2002 with its main headquarters in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland. Expansion of the company has seen them open a second office in Bangkok, Thailand to augment their sales and distribution representation in the Far East, as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK. The company is a member of CLE, the Irish Book Publishers' Association and MD Jean Harrington  was elected president of the association in May 2010.

Maverick House has come a long way since late 2002 when they released their first two titles; a book on the paranormal in Ireland and another on pop culture mogul Louis Walsh. As launch titles for the fledgling publisher, they were shrewd titles to begin with from a business and marketing perspective, and it suggested a new publisher on the block clued-in to what might sell best and committed to sticking to tried and trusted publishing trends. Nothing could have been further from the path Maverick House was to ultimately take.

If we look at the books in the Maverick House catalogue, it tells us socially and politically driven books on true-crime, terrorism, sport, memoirs, biographies and environmental issues are the cornerstone of their output. We could be looking at the preferences for any significant imprint of Random House. HarperCollins or Macmillan. Like all successful publishers, Maverick House grew slowly, and crucially, they understood the need to learn from their experiences in the Irish market, but also to identify the importance of not allowing it to become a comfort blanket or means to an end. Too often in Ireland, its native publishers have chosen to become Irish publishers first and foremost, rather than simply publishers.

From the Maverick House website:

“Maverick House has one objective: to publish socially and politically relevant non-fiction books. What separates us from most other publishing houses is our approach and outlook: we publish not just for local markets, but for the international one.”

This was the core to Maverick House developing as a publisher. Irish publishing as a whole is terrified of the word ‘international’ and the furthest their heady highs will take them is far flung places like Belfast, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, and yes, the far and distant London. I know of no Irish publisher, outside of Maverick, who have a working office in another publishing territory (outside of course of London), and no, some bloke with a mobile phone living in a wooden shack in Calcutta does not equate to an ‘Eastern Office’. And please exclude the endeavours of publishers like Hachette, Penguin and Transworld (Random House) who have entered the Irish landscape to inject some form of international presence in the Irish publishing industry, but those authors almost inevitably switch to the UK imprints.

Again, from the Maverick House website:

“From its humble beginnings in Ireland the company has grown, and now has operations in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and across Southeast Asia supported by a team of dedicated staff in Bangkok and Dublin.
We are inevitably drawn towards subjects that few publishers want to handle. And such books have always proven to be our strongest - Survivor: Memoirs of a Prostitute by Martina Keogh, Black Operations: The Secret War Against the Real IRA by John Mooney and Michael O’Toole, and Heroin, Julie O’Toole’s biography about her descent into heroin addiction, have all been bestsellers. But they are also important because they carry strong social agendas.”

There is no doubt in my mind the above quote ‘subjects that few publishers want to handle’ refers to Irish publishers indirectly, because while such subjects have been covered by the lists of Irish publishers—more often—it is usually the above mentioned international publishers operating offices in Ireland who are tackling such books in Ireland. For the most part, indigenous Irish publishers want to drown themselves in the controversies of Irish history and leave the modern controversies in Ireland to radio and newspaper media—happy in the knowledge that someone else is looking after the international future of Ireland’s best authors. The few authors who have published books with Irish publishers usually come from the world of journalism and write specifically on subjects like gangland crime and major personalities in Irish politics.

Yes, given the finance and means, Irish publishers do want to sell Ireland to markets abroad, but so long as it is the romantic and literary Ireland of Yeats and Joyce, steeped in folklore, mythology and from a pre 1960 era. Similarly, many of our modern novelists, like their literary forefathers, work in exile from their native soil. Sure, it’s all grand; we still have Maeve Binchy, Edna O’Brien and John Banville—trapped in a world of black caps, ballrooms and na gCopaleen’s bicycle.

What does remain healthy in Ireland is its small poetry presses and journals who do extraordinary things under sometimes impossible economic circumstances. Stand up and be counted, Gallery PressSalmon Poetry, Dedalus Press and Poetry Ireland. You are our true international publishers by forging writing communities and representation throughout the world. 

Maverick House Publishers offers two distinct lists; an Irish one and an international one. There are crossovers, like Dead drunk by Paul Garrigan, the story of an Irishman living in Thailand overcoming alcoholism with Buddist monks, but many of their titles do not sell nearly as well in Ireland as they do overseas.

“At book fairs, it is our ‘international’ list that generates the most interest. While Irish people are eternally interested in Irish subjects, the rest of the world is not that excited by them. Of course, the notable exceptions are the Irish fiction writers, who have captured audiences around the world, but I am strictly talking about non-fiction here.”

Jean Harrington, Maverick House Publishers MD on Irish Publishing News

Maverick House Publishers will consider unsolicited manuscripts and will take queries and book proposals by email from authors without an agent, provided they follow their submission guidelines. The guidelines are pretty comprehensive, so I would advise a querying author to study them before undertaking a submission.

Maverick House has published more than sixty Irish and international authors since they began in 2002. And they are certainly like no other Irish publisher I have ever come across before in Ireland. Their remit is broad and bold, and that is the way it should be for any publisher with a modicum of ambition. It is only a pity Maverick House could not transfer this to a fiction list, then we might have our own native version of an independent fiction publisher like a Granta, Canongate, Soho or Snowbooks. At the moment, the closest to this type of independent publisher on Irish shores is Stinging Fly Press. But as Harrington in her article for Irish Publishing News suggests, the Irish reader has some responsibility to take in all of this too, they can be equally parochial in their preferences for books.

I will finish this piece with an extract from the back cover of one of Maverick House Publishers forthcoming titles this year, A Shattered Youth by Savathy Kim.

A Shattered Youth
by Savathy Kim
This is the rare testament of one of the few survivors of the Pol Pot regime, under which the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million people.

Sathavy Kim recounts the treacherous days in 1975 following the invasion of Phnom Pen by the Khmer Rouge. She and her extended family fled together, working the black market until they had not a single possession to trade for food. They were rounded up with the other non-peasants, identifiable by their lighter skin and soft hands as upper-class, and forced to live with a family of workers until further word.

The villagers took them in reluctantly, and there was much resentment.  They had to work the rice fields where they suffered the cuts and backache of harvesting rice. Soon after that the internments began and the camp system was ready to receive its first victims. Deported at age 21, Savathy Kim spent four years of her life as prisoner of a “Korngchalat”, a forced labour camp.

In 1998 she finally went back to the place where the camp stood, and the memories returned. She remembered her life as Borgn Tha, the name she was forced to use under Pol Pot, and began to write.

Thomson-Shore Offer POD with $12m Digital Print Centre

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Thomson-Shore printers will begin offering print-on-demand services for publishers and authors as part of a two-year $12m capital improvement project with the installation of a digital print centre. Thomson-Shore has offered very short offset print runs of as few as 150 copies to authors, small presses and universities, but their new digital centre will allow them print even single copies of a book.

Thomson-Shore has been offering authors and publishers full book creation services from editing, cover design and layout, right through to print runs and delivery for many years.

"We know how important your book is to you and we know how hard it can be to manage the creation process without some guidance. We are here to make that process easier for you. Through our Book Creation Services, we can provide you with the support you need to move your title from manuscript to bookshelf. We offer a variety of services to get you on your way, from editing and design to getting your work formatted for eBooks, we can help you."

UPDATE, February, 2014
Thomson-Shore Expands Self-Publishing Services with PublishNext Acquisition

RATING: 7.1/10

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Bookmasters Launch CONVERSO: A Creation & Digital Distribution Solution

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The Bookmasters Group, the Ohio-based global publishing service for small presses and mid-sized publishers, has today announced the launch of CONVERSO, a digital content conversion solution. CONVERSO is a global service which will create an e-book, convert it to any format (EPUB, EPDF, PRC, Flash, HTML 5, Blio etc) and distribute it to more than 40 digital outlets. The new service from The Bookmasters Group is specifically aimed at the company's large client list of small and mid-sized publishers - making digital content products accessible to them on a global distribution network.

The key points of CONVERSO according to the press release are:

Publishers get a better deal on revenue-sharing and conversion than competing offerings

Produces files that will be clearly owned by publishers to take wherever they want after the initial contract

Distribution to more than 40 digital outlets

Gives publishers the ability to earn credits toward hard copy reprints and distribution for their books.

The second point on file creation ownership is one which has been a particular source of frustration for self-published authors and single-owner small presses using POD publishing companies. Many of these companies will not release the digital files even when a contract has ended. This was a particular core value Mark Levine insisted self-published authors should look for before signing contracts with self-publishing services, and I suspect Levine, recently recruited as Bookmasters Public Relations Manager is starting to have an influence on some strategies and policies.

In commenting on the CONVERSO service offered by The Bookmasters Group, Business Development Manager for Integrated Solutions, Bob Kasher said:

"CONVERSO is the best and most comprehensive offer on the market today for small and mid-sized publishers looking to digitize their collections and distribute them worldwide."

Pulitzer Winner Harding Secures UK Publication Deal

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Random House UK imprint William Heinemann has won the rights to publish Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding's novel, Tinkers. The deal follows a seven-publisher auction bid brokered by literary agent Kent Wolff of Global Literary Management on behalf of Erika Goldman of Bellevue Literary Press. Bellevue Literary Press is the US independent press who published the first US edition of Harding's novel.

Paul Harding was the surprise winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, Tinkers; a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.

Harding's agent, Ellen Levine has also managed to secure a deal for his next two novels with Heinemann UK, including his forthcoming novel Enon due out later this year. Deals should also be concluded in the coming weeks for Italian, German and French translated editions.   

The Publishing Road Less Traveled: How Self-Publishing Really Works

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Authors can get understandably frustrated when trying to navigate the crowded waters to a mainstream publishing contract, and often their perception is that the road to a published book is marked by a stoney-faced gatekeeper lurking at every twist and turn, ready with a bellowing bark; 'Thou shall not past less thee be worthy'. No-one can pretend that this road is not arduous, requiring careful and dedicated hard work to fine-tune a manuscript to catch the eye of an agent or editor.

I have no doubt there are many authors, who for the right reasons, make the decision to follow an alternative route to publishing their books. I am an advocate of publishing, whether a book is published by an author, a small independent press, a non-profit organisation or a mainstream publisher - whatever the source or means used - provided a sound education of the book publishing industry is demonstrated and a fair and reasoned expectation on the perceived measured of success is employed. The fruits of which tend to stand more chance of success from a savvy and informed mind, rather than from a mind filled with feelings of stubbornness, desperation or the pre-occupation with viewing every thought and dream through rose-tinted glasses.

I have always advised that the decision to pursue an alternative route to publishing should be based on several years of honing your writing craft in a writers' workshop or group and embarking on a journey down The Publishing Road Less Traveled. Just like Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled, the journey may be difficult, frustrating and ultimately painful, but there is a strong likelihood a writer will learn a great deal about the value and merit of the words they write, as well as a great deal about themselves as writers.

Today, Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works reflected on the opportunities and empowerment self-publishing can provide if executed correctly and for the right reasons. Vanity publishing is certainly the trapdoor many authors fall down because they choose to make their decisions to self-publish based on frustration, impatience and lack of research. Smith might very well have called her post today; How Self-Publishing Really Works.

"This is where self-publication comes into its own. It is available to everyone and needn’t cost a penny if you choose a POD provider like Lulu, CreateSpace or Lightning Source (and yes, I’m well aware that there are other options out there and I hope you’ll suggest a few which aren't vanity publishers in disguise)."

Real self-publishing does not involve vanity or vanity publishers. Crucially, it means the author retains all rights, owns the ISBN (book published in their name or imprint), and if they do not have all the hands-on skills required in pre and post-production; they contract out these services to proven professionals - not fly-by-night 'Publishers' who confound, mislead and exploit every possible cent from an author without doing little else.

Self-publishing is certainly The Publishing Road Less Traveled, but being prepared properly before you set out on the journey can allow you to avoid many a pothole, and most importantly discover that self-publishing undertaken the right way and for the right reasons can bring its rewards. It will be your approach, decisions and actions as author and publisher that will colour much of your experience.

Reader Views Editor Irene Watson on Book Sizes

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Irene Watson is Managing Editor for Reader Views, a resource for writers which provides book reviews and various author services. She has written a great guest post on Yorkshire Publishing's blog, Ask The Publishing Guru about the choice of book size a self-publishing author should consider before embarking on their book project.

"What size should your book be? Both beginning and longtime authors have to make this decision with each book, and depending on the kind of book, it can be an easy or a difficult decision. Here are some basic guidelines for determining your book's size depending on the kind of book you are publishing."

You can read the rest of Irene Watson's short article here.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Lulu Abandons IPO Moves For Now

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DIY self-publishing service Lulu have abandoned plans to sell shares on the Canadian stock market in an effor to raise investment to finance expansion in their distribution and sales sectors. Lulu had also intended to use the investment to pay off outstanding debts. CEO Bob Young has commented recently on that the market was not 'enthuastic' and they were in no rush to get a deal done. It is expected Lulu may consider selling shares when the markets pick up in the future.  

Normal Service Resumed: Site Administration

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Normal service has now resumed at POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing with a new black-white-red logo. You will also notice we have completely revamped the site and finally put to bed the template we were using since we first officially launched the site in January 2008. There is only so much you can do with a template and the one retired was laden with customizations, widgets and a great deal of compromises to facilitate the wealth of content we feature. We took the old Blogger template as far as we could take it. Originally we started out with a very basic two-column entity, added another column, but even that presented limitations. So, this evening, we set her out to pasture, and shrugged off the moody dark and light browns and oranges for more whiteness, expanse and freshness.

You will find everything that was on the old site here, but the additional extra column now lets us fully separate out the social networking links and traffic graphics from our reviews and resources. The posts-preview window returns after we had to switch it off last week due to continued script and flash-loading errors throughout the past few weeks.

There is a few more tweaks to put in place over the coming days, but essentially, the site will be as you see it now. 

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Latest Amazon Grants For Publishers and Writers' Groups

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Yesterday we reported Amazon's announcement of a 46% jump in net sales for the first quarter of 2010. In the current economic climate you might be forgiven for thinking that Amazon would be eager to trouser as much of that cash as possible. Actually, it is worth mentioning Amazon operate a grant system through invited nominations for author and publisher groups (nonprofit) who promote discussion, creation and publication of books and literature every year.

"If you represent a nonprofit group that fosters the creation, discussion, and publication of great books, please let us know. We’re looking to support innovative groups with a proven track record of success; an ability to work effectively with us to execute on the organization's goals, including appropriate public outreach; and an established presence and voice in the publishing community. While a national presence is preferred, we will also consider groups that are active in communities in which Amazon employees live and work."

The latest recipients of grants include Milkweed Editions, Center for the Art of Translation, Copper Canyon Press, Open Letter (Rochester University), Small Press Distribution, Words Without Borders, as well as 25 other writers' groups, workshops, literacy advocates, humanity organisations and communities.

You can view a full list of the recipients here.

Nonprofit Author and Publisher Group Nomination offers grants and sponsorships for nonprofit author and publisher groups that share our obsession with fostering the creation, discussion, publication, and dissemination of books. If you represent such a group and would like to be considered for a grant or sponsorship, please fill out the form below. Please note that in order to be considered through this form, your group must be registered as a 501(c)(3) organization with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The State of Irish Publishing: Maverick Style!

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There is a fascinating guest blog over on Irish Publishing News which again touches on the burning question of books and literature in Ireland. In February this year Julian Gough, the Irish novelist, took a swipe at modern Irish authors for being fixated with the past, and in particular with themes and settings from 1950's Ireland. We covered some of that debate in this article; Gough and The State of Irish Publishing.

Eoin Purcell ran a poll on Irish Publishing News recently, asking the question; Is Irish Publishing Provincial? The broad concensus of the poll suggested many people agreed that publishers were quite provincial in Ireland. In today's guest blog on Irish Publishing News, Jean Harrington, Managing Director at Maverick House Publishers, an Irish-based publisher, adds considerable insight and perspective to the debate. Harrington notes that Ireland has a similar population to Manchester, England, and she makes the following observation based on her experience of running a publishing house with an international list of books and projects commissioned from various territories throughout the world.

"It is my experience that it is the Irish reader who is provincial, and that is why Irish publishing is mainly provincial. Of all the books that Maverick House has published, it is only ones of ‘Irish interest’ that sell well in Ireland. Non-fiction books by international authors on international subjects don’t do the same figures. On the other hand, books of many different topics by different authors sell in large numbers in Britain."

You can read all of her post here.

Distribution or Be Damned?

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Should a publisher ever pay for shelf space in a bookstore, even if the publisher is the author?

The quick and immediate answer is absolutely not.

Take a deep breath, pause for thirty seconds while contemplating the models of business for mainstream publishing and the various opportunities and avenues for authors looking to self-publish their book. Consider how large publishers operate and market books and consider, too, how precious shelf space is to a small independent press and a self-published author even using the most professional services they can hire.

Ruminate on all that for another thirty seconds.

Now, we will ask the question again.

Should a publisher ever pay for shelf space in a bookstore, even if the publisher is the author?

The real answer is that both publisher and author already do. If anything, the mainstream publisher has no choice, but at least the small press publisher and self-published author can resign themselves to the reality of niche market, flexibility, the potential to exploit a direct social network with their customers and readers, and without the impending pressures of having to make a title pay soon after publication and move on to the next batch of titles. If anything, we are quickly learning that the savvy self-published author can become highly adept at fusing the tools of social networking, along with their own personal web presence and online sales platforms like Amazon, Scribd, Smashwords, and the Apple iBookstore.

Even if a self-published author employs professional editors and book designers—following the design, production and printing of a book—there is one fact which still sets mainstream publishers apart from their small press and self-publishing brethren. Mainstream publishers worth their salt have in place a dedicated avenue of distribution to physical stores. While an independent publishing house may not have an in-built sales distribution team like large groups like Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin or Macmillan, they will have agreed deals with national distributors who represent an array of publishers. Those distribution deals have to be paid for by the publisher. Distributors are not some form of clandestine literary charity in the publishing industry.

Some companies will be general distributors dealing with both major retailer chains and independent bookstores, and others will have particular markets or even be genre specific, for example; academic and business books; the Christian book market; gift and pocket books; children and illustrated books; foreign language books; book clubs and library editions.

What makes a distributor different to say a wholesaler is that the distributor, using a team of representatives, is actively selling books into bookstores—the wholesaler is simply a logistical centre storing and listing a catalogue of books, ready and waiting to react to a received order before shipping the product out. Distributors have skilled sales representatives who actively visit and deal with book product buyers in retail outlets, actively promoting and selling the publishers catalogue day after day.

In short, here is the adage:

Wholesalers – React
Distributors – Pro-act

...or another way...

Wholesalers – Store, list, make things available, and follow orders and ship.
Distributors – Show it, Shop it, and Sell it.

Some companies like the Ingram Group in the USA are both wholesalers and distributors, but believe me, there is a hell of a difference between a wholesale contract and a distribution contract. Most POD publishers who offer self-publishing services have wholesale contracts with Ingram. And by the way—no—even if you paid your POD publisher service $200 to get listed in the Ingram catalogue, you are still not having your book distributed by Ingram. Oh, and by the way, most of the POD publishers use Lightning Source as their choice of printer. Lightning Source is owned by the Ingram Group. Is the penny dropping now? Perhaps you understand why so many POD publishers mention the tag line – ‘your book will be available in 25,000 retailers worldwide’. It’s call getting a listing with Ingram who supplies books, via LSI POD facilities, to most major online retailers in the USA.

But guess what...

Proper distribution will not transform a bad book into being a good book, nor will it make a good book a bestseller, but what it will do is give a book the best possible chance it can have to reach the widest readership it can and earn back the initial expenditure invested by a publisher or author to get it printed and published.

The decision to self-publish for an author is entirely arbitrary—even if the decision takes into account how that author’s work is received and critiqued within their network and reading community. The decision to accept a submission and publish a book by a mainstream publisher, and even for an independent publisher, is mostly made on marketing considerations, and the potential reach and sales of a book. An independent publisher may have more leeway and be prepared to look less starkly at the thin line between profit and loss, but ultimately, their desire is like any other publisher—they want to be here tomorrow and not just today.

Are some telling porkies and selling invisible space?

Last month, Megan Garber, writing in the Nieman Journalist Lab, highlighted one store in Boulder, Colorado, USA, who have taken the bull by the horns and put it up to self-published authors. In this case, yes, the author can buy shelf space.

“They’ve paid for the privilege. The store charges its consignment authors according to a tiered fee structure: $25 simply to stock a book (five copies at a time, replenished as needed by the author for no additional fee); $75 to feature a book for at least two weeks in the “Recommended” section; and $125 to, in addition to everything else, mention the book in the store’s email newsletter, feature it on the Local Favorites page of the store’s website for at least 60 days, and enable people to buy it online for the time it’s stocked in the store.
And for $255 — essentially, the platinum package — the store will throw in an in-store reading and book-signing event.”

For a self-published author, this offer by the Boulder store might actually have its rewards if an author has a book worthy of its readership, and a readership supportive enough to attend a book signing and stump up the cash for a signed copy, and an author happy in the knowledge their book will be stocked there as long as they also stump up the cash. AuthorHouse offered a deal like this for their authors using Waterstones and Borders, as part of their publishing packages, but frankly, this really is bottom of the barrel stuff if you are attempting to equate this with any semblance of what could be called distribution.

Likewise, PublishAmerica, AuthorHouse, Dorrance, iUniverse, Xlibris,Trafford and even Lulu are now engaging in these kinds of foolhardy promotional schemes for authors. That was very apparent at this week’s London Book Fair. At least the efforts in Boulder provider a real store committed to supporting independent authors. The shack foisted upon visitors as an excuse for ‘publisher presence’, ‘bookshop’, ‘exhibition stand’, or a heavenly oasis to discover the next great literary hope for the world resembled more like a temporary halting point on the way to purgatory. I am indebted to Emily Veinglory and POD People for directing me to this footage of video (still shot below) filmed this past Monday afternoon at the London Book Fair, but above all to Peter May who made it available.


Should a publisher ever pay for shelf space in a bookstore, even if the publisher is the author?

Well, if it is your local bookstore, perhaps, but only if you believe the expense is going to be compensated by the sales you will generate. The Boulder store model is an experiment, and you may find local and regional stores willing to stock your book on consignment without an upfront fee. For the most part, real distribution costs any publisher money or a significant discount. It can be as near as impossible for a self-published author unless they have a number of titles and their own imprint and are prepared to negotiate a deal with a proven national distributor willing to take their book(s) on.

For mainstream publishers, shelf space is a racket—it always has been. The retail business in music and film operates much in the same way, except that the book industry is less willing to learn by the mistakes of an ailing music business. Every month, publishers meet with their distributor representatives, who meet with head buyers from major store chains and discuss space, units, who is paying for the marketing point-of-sale, and just how many units are coming back as returns.

Ultimately, we are all paying in some form or another, whether we are publisher, author or reader.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Amazon's 46% Jump in Net Sales Tell Us - No Recession Around Here!

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From the media release:

Operating cash flow was $2.78 billion for the trailing twelve months, compared with $1.76 billion for the trailing twelve months ended March 31, 2009. Free cash flow increased 62% to $2.32 billion for the trailing twelve months, compared with $1.43 billion for the trailing twelve months ended March 31, 2009.

Common shares outstanding plus shares underlying stock-based awards totaled 463 million on March 31, 2010, compared with 447 million a year ago.

Net sales increased 46% to $7.13 billion in the first quarter, compared with $4.89 billion in first quarter 2009. Excluding the $185 million favorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, net sales would have grown 42% compared with first quarter 2009.

Operating income increased 62% to $394 million in the first quarter, compared with $244 million in first quarter 2009. Excluding the $15 million favorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, operating income would have grown 56% compared with first quarter 2009.

Net income increased 68% to $299 million in the first quarter, or $0.66 per diluted share, compared with net income of $177 million, or $0.41 per diluted share, in first quarter 2009.

"We remain heads-down focused on customers. Amazon Prime has just celebrated its fifth anniversary, adoption of Amazon Web Services continues to accelerate, Kindle remains our #1 bestselling product, and earlier this week, Kindle selection reached 500,000 titles."

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of

If you want to read the whole press release, you can visit here.

Blurb Launch Online Bookshow Widget

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Blurb has announced the launch of their Blurb BookShow, a preview feature enabling authors to share their books in a showcase format on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, a web site, and many other social media networks allowing third-party programs. Blurb has become a very popular option for self-publishers, micro-publishers, photographers and artists to publish good quality colour illustrated books as well as standard black and white text-only books. The launch of Blurb Bookshow is a freeware tool allowing publishers to share books with their online communities, as well as being a tool for promotion and sales of their printed books. In additional, Blurb BookShow has also been optimized for viewing on the iPad without the need to download an application.

Users will be able to flip through the book’s pages online and the on the iPad, users can use the device’s touch-pad to flick through the book pages as well as pinch and zoom to enlarge images. Authors publishing books with Blurb will be able to control how much of the book to share in the Blurb BookShow. BookShow is free to use, and has been designed to maximize the potential for online sharing. The Blurb Bookshow features a 'Buy' button which will direct a potential customer to the author or publisher's Blurb storefront.

“Authors are eager to share their stories. Blurb BookShow makes an author’s book more discoverable, more exciting to experience and drives interest in the printed book. We know that some of our customers will use BookShow to simply share their work with friends and family, and that’s great. Other Blurb authors will take advantage of BookShow to share and sell their books among their communities. Whatever the intention for sharing, we are incredibly excited to help our customers facilitate a deeper level of engagement with their friends and fans.”

Eileen Gittens, CEO and founder of Blurb

Blurb have been carrying out tests using Blurb Bookshow with some of their authors and they say in many cases authors reported a six-fold increase in visits to their bookstore pages compared to the control group who did not use Blurb BookShow. The Blurb BookShow test group also saw an 88% increase in book sales compared to the control group. The test and control group during beta testing was comprised of over 25,000 users enrolled in the Blurb Set Your Own Price program. The control group utilized Blurb’s existing online marketing tools while the test group utilized Blurb BookShow. The beta test period ran from 4 March – 6 April 2010.

To view an example of Blurb BookShow, click here.

To see Blurb Bookshow on the iPad, click here.

The Valley of the Squinting Windows: Delvin Book Fair 2010

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In 1918 a seemingly unremarkable novel appeared for the first time, published by Sampson Low, Marston, a small publisher in London, the novel was called The Valley of the Squinting Windows and was it written by Irish author Brinsley MacNamara (real name, John Weldon). MacNamara came from a small rural village called Delvin in Co. Westmeath in the midlands of Ireland.

The novel tells the story of life in a rural village (Garradrimna) in Catholic Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century and the power of gossip and public perception of an inward-looking society. The last time this novel was officially read in publicly was the year of its publication in 1918 on the steps of Clonyn castle to the gathered villagers of Delvin. Understandably, the locals were excited that one of their own had written a published book. During the reading, the locals quickly realized that the fictional characters in the novel were representative of the people in and around the village of Delvin. Pride instantly turned to hostility and an ensuing national scandal in Ireland.

Copies of the book were burned in the centre of the village and MacNamara found himself hauled before the courts and ordered to pay compensation. But the villagers, so insulted by MacNamara’s novel, turned their anger towards the author’s father, James Weldon, who was principal of the national school at nearby Balinvalley. Parents refused to send their children to the school. Ultimately, MacNamara’s father was forced to emigrate, and Brindsley himself left Delvin never to return.

MacNamara's novel has been reprinted several times by Anvil Books UK, often when interest in the scandal re-emerges. In fact, the phrase itself, valley of the squinting windows, has become a colloquial term, particularly in Ireland, to describe a society obsessed with providing neighbours and peers with a good perception of one's personal matters, sometimes at any cost.

Ninety-two years later, the locals of the Delvin community have decided it is time to move on, and a reprise reading of The Valley of the Squinting Windows will form part of Delvin’s Book Fair on 2nd May from noon until 6pm. So far, book donations have been extraordinary and it is on course to be Ireland's largest ever book fair. As part of the fair, Irish celebrities, including actress Mary McEvoy, who lives locally in Delvin, will publicly read extracts from the novel. Current book donations continue to be taken and organizers are hoping that they will have in excess of 20,000 books for sale on the day.

This comes from their website and press release.

“Get Ready For The Garradrimna Book Fair!

On Sunday May 2nd, more than 20,000 books will be up for sale in what could well be the largest book fair ever seen in the county.

Hard back books will be available for €1 each and paperbacks for just 50c each.

Every type of book will be available with something to suit every taste imaginable.

In addition to the book sale, there will be readings by special guests including Mary McEvoy and Eamonn Lawlor. An art exhibition and food fair is also planned, and there will be plenty of entertainment for the children.

Mark the date in your diaries now as this promises to be a very special event and all proceeds will go towards the Delvin Sports & Leisure Centre project.”

Bookbuzzr Interview: April Hamilton

Print Friendly and PDF interviewed April Hamilton, Publetariat founder and author of The Indie Author Guide, which was ranked fourth among the Top 10 Books of 2009 on BookBuzzr. You can read the full interview with April here.

"April L. Hamilton is an author, blogger, Technorati BlogCritic, leading advocate and speaker for the indie author movement, and founder of Publetariat, the premier online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints. She’s spoken at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference and the Writers Digest Business of Getting Published conference. Recently, she launched the Publetariat Vault, an acquisitions crowdsourcing tool to serve trade publishers and self-published authors. In her popular self-published reference book, The IndieAuthor Guide (to be released in a revised and updated edition from Writer’s Digest Books in November of ‘10), she offers aspiring self-published authors a roadmap to success. She is also the author of novels available in both ebook and POD form. She’s been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money and The Washington Times, profiled by ABNA Books and The Writing Cast podcast, and her book, The IndieAuthor Guide, has received favorable mention on CNET and The Huffington Post."

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

London Book Fair: More Content Over Form & Contentment Over Frustration

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The final day of the London Book Fair takes place tomorrow and there is no doubt how low-key the event has been so far. The flight restrictions on overseas attendees due to the Icelandic volcano plumes has underlined that while this event is an international fixture on the publishing calendar, the general British press has paid little or no attention to the event, and ultimately, it has made its attendees direct a greater deal of attention on their own publishing industries in the UK and Ireland. Actually, it would not surprise me if in the coming weeks and months we get wind of quite a number of deals with Irish and UK publishers.

For me, Emma Barnes of UK award winning independent publisher, Snowbooks, summed up the general air of the London Book Fair this week when she blogged on Monday evening:

"The Fair was a bit odd because, hmm, where was everyone? Stuck in Dubai / Dublin / insert city of choice accessible only by plane. Rather handily, though, the clearing out of 30% of the expected population meant that a lot of people were just wandering round looking for something to do. A nice lady showed me photos of her baby. An important CEO stopped by to relieve the boredom. People who tried to avoid eye contact with me failed because there was no one else to hide behind, and so got pounced on by the catalogue-waving weirdo I was."

Sometimes, conferences and book fairs are exactly like that. Like an author going to their first book signing; you turn up, mortified by the turnout, and yet your intensity and desperation makes you return home with something more than you ever expected had the halls, stands and shelves been packed to the rafters. The London Book Fair this week has thrown together people who had to be there, and people who no matter what, were going to be there come hell or high water. In the normal run of life, the twain could attend a thousand book fairs and never shall their paths cross or eyes meet.

No. This year's London Book Fair will not be remembered by visionary presentations and speeches by some of the international luminaries and commentators of the publishing world from the USA, South Africa, the Middle East and other far-off places of publishing wisdom and lore, but it may be fondly remembered in these publishing waters, when down-to-god-damn-earth publishing really understood where it was, and without the gallant, inspiring, and mesmerizing speeches about digitalization of content, ebooks, agency models and the future of publishing.

This week, for a savoringly quite few days, Salt Publishing must have reflected how they are still here, still standing, and still vehemently committed to daring to celebrate poetry in a time when poetry and the language it uses in contemporary society seems so defunct, and so out of kilter in a chaotic world - the words they publish are almost romantically revolutionary. That Sparkling Books, as a recent publishing starter in 2009, dare to see the hallowed hardback as a gift to its readers, and intend celebrating and delivering it in that manner. That independents in the UK like Snowbooks and Two Ravens Press may not be looking for world domination--but possess a sharpened sword and a history as sharp as Bloodaxe--they would still have gladly jumped on the large platform Canongate and Faber have had these past three days at the London Book Fair.

Come tomorrow evening, I still believe the little guys will travel back to the North; Glasgow, Aberdeen and Newcastle; the midlands of Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester; the South of Plymouth, Southampton and Cornwall; even to Dublin if they can catch a ferry; all feeling that the London Book Fair 2010 somehow meant more than any other year.

Maybe there was a reason for all this. When they all get home; they will understand what it was.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Guernica Magazine: Nicorvo Examines The Death Of Literary Fiction

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Guernica, a literary magazine of the arts and politics, features an article by poet and author Jay Baron Nicorvo in their April edition. Third Degree Burns is a fascinating look at what has caused the potential death of literary fiction. Nicorvo has written this feature in response to another article by Ted Genoways called The Death of Fiction which appeared in the January edition of Mother Jones, Virginia Quarterly Review.

Nicorvo begins with the following opening declaration:

"It’s not navel-gazing MFA graduates who are killing literary fiction, says Jay Nicorvo. It’s blockbuster-hungry book editors and their habit of anticipating anticipations. A response to Ted Genoways in Mother Jones."

...and later continues:

"The dominant, dysfunctional business model for movies has been adapted for books. And this is why more authors like John Edgar Wideman have had enough; he’d rather self-publish and have a larger say than be hamstrung by a system favoring quantity over quality."

You can read the whole of Nicorvo's article in Guernica here.

Nielsen Set To Sell Bookseller To its Managing Director

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Media research company Nielsen has agreed a deal 'in principle' to sell The Bookseller to managing director Nigel Roby. Is is expected the deal may be concluded at the end of this month. Negotiations are expected to conclude at the end of April. All the editorial, sales and marketing and events teams will remain in their current positions.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Publishing Perspectives Interview with New PW President George Slowik

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Publishing Perspectives reporter Hannah Johnson caught up with new Publishers Weekly president George Slowik and talked to him about his return and plans for the magazine.

First Day of London Book Fair

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The London Book Fair opened in earnest today and it was noticeably quieter than it has been for several years. About one out of every five of the eighty events planned across today had to be cancelled due to absent guests unable to reach London due to the weekend's severe flight restrictions. Ironically, it now looks like some flights will resume this evening and tomorrow in and out of UK airports with some European airports already running some flights.

The substantial absence of the overseas contingent has meant that many planned deals on foreign publishing rights and translation rights will not be signed off. Traditionally international book fairs are an ideal opportunity for publishers, agents, distributors, retailers and printers to get together to discuss partnerships and deals face to face. What this does mean is that Book Expo America (BEA) in a few weeks and the Frankfurt Book Fair later in the year will take on even greater significance than they already have.

Major announcements were pretty thin on the ground and the most talked about snippet seemed to be the faux pas performed by Penguin Australia, covered in the Sydney Morning Herald. Their latest cooking opus, Pasta Bible, hit the shelves with the following direction for budding cooks to add 'salt and freshly ground black people' to one recipe! Penguin have reprinted the 7000 copies from the initial print run and say they are happy to replace the books with the typo. They might also have thought of adding a disclaimer in the reprinted edition - 'no black pepper was offended in the printing of this edition'.

London Book Fair 2010: Monday Schedule Beats The Ash!

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The official start to the London Book Fair 2010 today gets under way in the next few hours. With a UK flight ban still in force until 7pm this evening, this is now a case of it is as it is for the Fair's organizers and this year's event is going to have a much more national than international feel about it.

The London Book Fair runs from today until Wednesday, but it is now very clear the skies above Earls Court will remain silent but for the birds. Ryanair, one of the major airlines, has cancelled all scheduled flights between the UK, Irish Republic, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states until 1300 BST on Wednesday. There are flights in Europe operating for several hours out of airports, but in very limited pockets of airspace.

Some airlines were bold enough on Sunday to carry out test flights through the volcanic dust clouds. KLM, Lufthansa and Air France all carried out flights in their own national airspace and reported no problems, fueling a growing feeling within many of the major airlines that air safety authorities should consider reducing the flight restrictions. The British Prime Minister is actually discussing with his Spanish counterpart the possibility of using the Spanish mainland as a pick-up hub for stranded Britons and deploying Navy ships to return people to the UK.

The Book Channel: TV Vanity or A Break For Authors?

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The Book Channel is a satellite TV channel that launched in 2009 and broadcasts its show three times a week on SKY and Freesat, as well as on their Youtube channel and website. Each show is presented by author Tina Bettison and features three interviews with authors talking about their books and there is also a slot for writing a book and getting it published. The Book Channel was the idea of ex-ITV program-maker Richard Flewitt, Fred Perkins, CEO of Information TV, and Paul Hammond, a business entrepreneur.

From the promotional flyer for Book Channel TV:

"The benefits:
Authors have an extremely high broadcast quality video to promote their book at less than the cost of doing a home video.
Authors are promoted through the book channel internationally to new audiences, through internet marketing, viral messaging, PR and TV.
Authors can refer to the interview through bloggs, twitter, micro websites, YouTube, press releases that the video is available

The book can be advertised to book shops as going to be on TV driving early sales and stand positioning.

Publishers can actively promote getting their authors on television.*
(*The Book Channel reserve the right to not broadcast unsuitable or inappropriate material.)
Publishers will also receive a license to use the content on other websites to promote the book.
Videos are being actively encouraged by Amazon and Borders for their websites.
Publishers working with us can also come on as the expert providing advice.

Takes place twice per month
Books will be selected as appropriate to provide a balanced programme
Filming takes place near Nottingham. Closest train station is Grantham (just over 1 hour from London) where a taxi can pick up the author and transfer them.
Transportation costs are the responsibility of the author

Cost is only £990 + vat, which for a high broadcast quality video interview is excellent. See for yourself at

Please submit books via:

NB; No refund is provided for authors that cancel although we will endeavour to move to the next available filming dates or you can transfer the slot to another appropriate book on the same day."

And from the Book Channel TV website...

"International applications are accepted although you will have to be in the UK on one of our filming dates."

Flewitt came up with the idea for Book Channel TV because of the saturation of celebrity book reviews on TV and the lack of deserving space for less well-known authors and their books. The book review/interview slots are essentially paid marketing segments for authors and publishers, and less actual book reviews. I don't see Tina Bettison telling an author, 'Your book is shit' after that author or their publisher has forked out £990+vat!

The Book Channel do say submission of books is free (gee, thanks) and those submissions will be screened and reviewed for possible inclusion. Successful applicants will then be contacted and a film date organised at their Nottingham studio location. It should be noted the above detailed flyer about fees did not come from the Book Channel TV site itself, but from Flewitt's page on, a business network site.

After four shows (12 marketing slots), the most notable publishers to have taken part are HarperCollinsMarshall Cavendish, Michael Joseph (Penguin), and Phoenix (Orion Publishing). All of these previous publishers were part of the fourth and last show to be aired. The previous three shows featured the following publishers;  Childrens World Publishing  (one book, one author, one company - see the link), Word4Word (small indie press/author resources), Ecademy Press (fee-charging co-operative publishing service) and Live Consciously (one book, one author, one company). Ecademy and Word4Word accounted for six of the twelve featured books and authors.

There are a few things we can glean. This remains a relatively new endeavor, but with a great deal of potential, and I entirely accept that putting together a TV slot on SKY satellite is going to run into a four figure amount, even  for a 30 minute program, so maybe £990+vat for an author is not so expensive, but then, the guidelines for the Book Channel TV tell us you don't just 'pay your money and off you go on TV' - only some submission applicants are successful - if you call shifting £990+vat out of your back pocket a successful move. The finished licensed video given to an author using this service could be a very significant crowbar to leverage promotion of their book and drive sales - that cannot be in doubt.

Here is the caveat and what to ponder on. Is this simply vanity publishing for TV? The fact the last show featured all commercial publishing houses and the other three shows featured authors who may have self-published or used a publishing service or are linked to a business suggests not. In fact, with commercial publishing houses like HarperCollins, Penguin (its imprints), Marshall Cavendish and Orion (its imprints) getting on board, if anything, there is the possibility the small guys and the self-publishing guys might get entirely pushed out if the commercial publishing houses see this as an ideal opportunity for their less well-known authors to gain TV exposure, and at £990+vat, that is a pretty good return for a marketing department at a large house.

If you visit the Book Channel TV website, have a close look at the advertising blocks below the header and to the right. AuthorHouse are never too far away when there is a new gig in town. If anything, they are the most prominent purchaser of advert space on the site at the moment. Remember the price charged - £990+vat, so if you start seeing 'Get your book and author interview on TV' packages appearing on the AuthorHouse site, or any other author solutions service, beware of what you are being asked to pay for it.

The Book Channel TV show will be at the London Book Fair, no doubt looking to fill their forthcoming author interview slots, but they will also be covering events at the Fair on Tuesday and Wednesday. The two shows planned will be broadcast over the first two weeks of May.              

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Virtualbookworm US - Reviewed

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When I first started researching companies who provide author solutions services some years ago, Virtualbookworm (VBM) was one high on the radar. About four or five years ago, had you dropped ‘self-publishing’ as a keyword into a Google search or visited many self-publishing resources looking for information on self-publishing, you can bet VBW would have been pretty high up there in prominence. Try the same now and you will have to do far more extensive searches before you come across the name, VBM.

Instinctively, when I came across VBM a few years ago, I held off reviewing them. In many ways, they should have been in our first batch of reviews in early 2008. Back then, they provided quite an extensive range of services and price-ranges easily reviewed without the need to spend a considerable amount of time looking at what they had to offer. I actually still have a book I ordered from them in 2008 as an example of their physical book product with an intention to doing a review back then. It never happened.


For one, their services required a great deal of research and time, due to the wealth of information they provided, as well as the fact I had noticed a considerable slide off the top-notch of choices for self-publishing authors. I do not think a lack of a review did anything to help nor take away from what VBM had to offer self-publishing authors.

I know I checked the books the amount of titles they had published on Amazon and it was in the very high hundreds. A couple of years on—I note that it shows 1034 titles. The Virtualbookworm site has been radically redesigned since I looked at it in late 2009, around the time I had planned to look at their services again and do a full review. I actually led with an article in the autumn of 2009 suggesting the review would come in the following few weeks. The reality was every time I started my review of them, I perceived a continual shift in the sands, and felt it pointless to focus on a company struggling to maintain its high-ranking position as an author solutions services, with all the changes of print-on-demand and digital publishing.

In some ways, VBW, were a company who had decided to take a trip to some far-off flung island and just sit back and see how things panned out. At least that is what it seemed like; certainly they dropped off the radar for me and a great many other authors regarding usage and feedback I was getting in 2008. In fact, on more than one occasion I checked just to make sure VBW were still in business. We actually ran a poll in that year and the companies most popular with authors were as follows:

1. Xlibris
2. Lulu
3. iUniverse
4. Outskirts press

Outside of the top four, we had services like Booklocker, Infinity and Authors online in the UK. VBW came in around 8 to 12th, a reasonable enough performance and representation. This was a time when we had less than half the amount of author solutions services we have now, and a time when services like CreateSpace were not offering online distribution beyond Amazon and companies like Dog Ear Publishing and Mill City were only finding their feet in the self-publishing world.

So, who and where are Virtualbookworm now?

“Then he [writer and founder] discovered self publishing and the endless opportunities it presented. However, such a venture requires countless hours of research of printers, proofreaders, artists, etc. And after publication, even more time is consumed trying to market the book.

So, was established as a "clearinghouse" for authors, since it offers virtually everything under one roof. Although we now charge setup and design fees, those costs are kept to a minimum so as to cover all expenses. And, as with "traditional" publishers, we carefully review each manuscript and only offer contracts to authors who truly have exceptional manuscripts. We don't print garbage, and we want our authors to proudly say they were published by Virtualbookworm. If we accept your book for publication, you can rest assured that it will be sold next to other quality books, and not just work that had enough money behind it. And, you'll receive some of the best royalties in the business!”

I have never once thought that a writer founding a service for self-publishing is entirely a sound foundation, unless of course that writer has had considerable experience in all the critical areas of the industry—sales, marketing, editing and production under the umbrella of a traditional publisher. I also do not think authors of any savvy will take to the description of VBW as being a ‘clearing house’ when it first was established.

I asked who and where is Virtual Bookworm? The short answer is Bobby Bernshausen and Texas. Bernshausen is listed as the owner and president of Virtual Bookworm, founded in 2000. In light of the above quote from the Virtual bookworm site, I found it odd I could not find a single book by Bernshausen, or that I could not unearth any sources of business experience in publishing or marketing. I am sure it could be there—somewhere—but I certainly did not find it. For a writer running a business offering publishing services; I’m more alarmed that I cannot find a book by Bernshausen on Amazon or anywhere—not even on VBW!

To be fair, we do not ask the same question of the CEO of Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan or Penguin, but author solutions services are a different kettle of fish, and they are often founded on the reasons Bernshausen describes above—for me—it remains curious, but something I am happy to put to bed. Bernshausen has being doing this gig for more than ten years and it should have brought him a wealth of experience in a changing industry. He founded and presided over a company which was one of the earliest to dip its toes into print on demand publishing.

The 2010 incarnation of the VBW homepage features one advertised book and large glaring icons about their services. This is a step backwards for VBW—the intent is clear—whatever they were, they are certainly driven now by attracting authors and present little for what their output might offer readers.

“What makes different than other POD providers?
Well, first off, we won't print garbage. You must follow the submission and genre guidelines ... and each manuscript must be reviewed and approved before we will accept your order. If we do accept the order, we will give you as much personalized support as necessary until the project is complete. This means your book won't be selling on the same site as a book that has tons of errors just because the other author had enough cash! Plus, is one of the most established POD publishers in the industry, having been in business since 2000.”

VBW are based in Texas—their address is a post-office box—but they do offer a support centre driven by email and a ‘ticket’ formula to answer questions on their services and the process of publication. Beyond reading their FAQ’s, this is their preferred method of query and contact.

“Have a question or comment? Need help ordering or with the publishing section? First check our searchable Knowledge Base for Frequently Asked Questions. If you didn't find the answer to your question, please click the link below to go to our Support Center, which is on a separate server to save resources. After registering, you can submit a trouble ticket (which can be used for any question, etc.) or check the status of a ticket.”

VBW do offer a downloadable publishing guide to their services, an online bookstore, a latest release link at the bottom of their web pages, and a recently launched author community, which turns out to be essentially links to their Facebook and Twitter pages. However, for the first real time, we get a glimpse at a number of published titles with links directly to their online bookstore.

From memory, their previous web design worked better. It was more classical and stylish, and the present graphic rendition is glary with its blue background and white text. The links provide a FAQ, information pages, as well as details of their publishing packages.

VBM offer a bespoke service for authors wishing to truly self-publish by submitting their own completed files and can avail of design, edit and print services in preparing their book. Alternatively, they have a number of flexible packages.

The following are included in all packages:

Softcover available on white or creme paper.
Page counts as low as 48 and many as 828 pages.
Electronic proof
ISBN assignment (author can provide own ISBN and imprint at no additional charge)
Copyright application kit
Book page on our website
15 free internal graphics/images (must be submitted to specs)
Data Backup
Full Distribution
Drop Shipment
Book registration through, Barnes & Noble, Books in Print and many others
50% royalties of net receipts (Approximately 30-35% of cover price on paperbacks sold through us!)
Monthly Sales Report
Author may purchase first order of his/her softcover edition for 50% off list price (subsequent orders at least 30% off list, but discount increases with larger orders)

VBW list their packages in levels as to what is included. Each package includes the above basics as well as what is listed below for each individual level.

Level A: Includes all of the above services and one free book. The package includes a generic cover with an author photo and bio on the back. (The author may supply artwork for the cover as well, as long as the work is 300dpi or greater)
Level A Price: $360

Level B: Includes all of the basic services, Library of Congress number and three free books.
Level B Price: $440

Level C: Includes all of the basic services, Library of Congress number, five free books and professional cover.
Level C Price: $495

Level D: Includes all of the Level C services plus professional editing package (for up to 75,000 words).
Level D Price: $790

Level E: Includes all of Level D services, plus Bronze Marketing Package.
Level E Price: $1,110

Level F: Includes all of Level D services and the Silver Marketing Package.
Level F Price: $1,390

Level G: Includes all of Level D services and the Gold Marketing Package.
Level G Price: $1,950

If there is one thing I can remember from looking at VBW services over the years, it is the flexibility, but complexity of the packages and levels on offer, and again, I feel the latest incarnation of presented options for a self-publishing author is detailed, but somewhat confusing. Even for me—familiar with looking at many different companies and services—this really is a handful for any author even with a basic understanding of what it is they are looking for their self-publishing endeavours.

The above level packages have approximately an additional 10% increase if you are intending publishing a hardcover (packages range from $430 to $2100) and about 15% if you want a combination of paperback and hardcover (packages range from $590 to $2225). I am not going to represent all the levels for hardback and combination (paperback & hardback editions) packages here for the purposes of this review.

The marketing packages are included in the more advanced level packages, but can be purchased separately and are listed below.

Bronze Marketing Package: $400 (if purchased separately). Includes professional press release, 100 four-color business cards, and a personal storefront for two years!

Silver Marketing Package: $700 (if purchased separately). With this package, we will write a press release and send it to over 200 media outlets and send review copies of your book to at least 10 major reviewers. You will also get a Personal Storefront for two years and 100 four-color business cards.

Gold Marketing Package: $1,300 (if purchased separately). This package includes a professional press release written and distributed to over 200 media outlets, review copies of your book sent to at least 15 major reviewers, a Personal Storefront for two years, placement in Ingram's Advance Magazine, 500 four-color post cards, 500 business cards and 500 2X6" book markers.

VBW also offer colour (illustrated packages ranging from $625 to $2095) and an ebook package is $99 or $65 if purchased with a print option.

The standard 200 page paperback from VBW retails at $13.95, about average for a trade paperback, with the average hardback ranging from $20 to $26 for retail purchase. VBW offers its authors a 50% discount on the listed retail price on the first order of paperbacks placed with them, and 30% thereafter. For hardback books, the author gets a 35% discount on their first order and 30% thereafter. Even at the initial 50% discount on an order of paperbacks, the author will have to fork out $7 ($6.97) per copy on a book costing $3.90 to print as listed by Lightning Source. That is almost an 80% mark up from print cost, and by my reckoning, way too much. I can live with an author solutions service marking up a modest profit take per unit of say 20%, but 80% is just out of the park.

VBW pay royalties at 50% of net receipts to their authors. To clarify, net is after the print and retailers discount have been subtracted.

“How much of a discount does the distributor and/or bookstores receive?
This is a tough question since it depends on a number of factors. We usually list our books at a 30-35% discount. This keeps the retail price low and is acceptable by Amazon and the other "big boys." However, some small bookstores want a 40-50% discount. Since it is your bottom line that is affected (royalties), we let YOU decide on the discount (however higher discounts will raise the retail price).”

Taking the retailer discount at its lowest, for books sold through distribution networks like Amazon, the breakdown is as follows:

$13.95 – the retail cost of a book
-$3.90 – the cost of printing the book
-$4.18 – the discount given to the retailer
$5.87 – the net receipt to the publisher and author

VBW splits this net receipt 50/50 giving an equal share of $2.93. While it is not the worst deal I have seen from an author solutions service, it is by no means the best deal you will find out there. Royalties are paid on a monthly basis (others only pay quarterly or every six months) but the amount must exceed $25 before it is payable. This is a common clause and pretty much standard fare from most author solutions services. I have never really understood why some author solutions services choose to pay royalties on a monthly basis—it is just not necessary when most authors are simply not going to earn enough royalties through sales to warrant the time, effort and expense for a publisher to administrate this process. It is another sign of an author solutions service stretching itself in an area where there is no mutual benefit for anybody.

Distribution is the standard online global listing and availability offered by most author solutions services using print on demand. However, VBW do offer a $100 warehousing option, meaning they will keep a very small inventory of books onsite to fulfil and ship same day orders to customers who purchase directly from the VBW online store. A returns program for books is also offered to authors as an option. This is a service VBW ran for quite some time and they were one of the earliest author solutions services to do so. It was withdrawn for a period of time due to it being ‘abused’ and has been recently reintroduced again. I have previously expressed my opinions on publishers and author solutions services using POD for print providing these returns programs to the retail sector. I will say again, I believe it is admirable some companies want to make POD produced books acceptable to the book retail trade, but ultimately, it is entirely at odds with an on-demand print and fulfilment model of business. A returns program would be of real use and sense if author solutions services offered it in conjunction with a committed short print run of books.

VBW will provide a ‘true self-publishing’ service to authors. In other words, they will facilitate an author with their own block of ISBN’s and their own imprint and whatever bespoke services are required for a book project.

“Since some authors think true self publishing is when you do all of the setup, etc. yourself, we’ve decided to just put all of the services under one roof (er, website) for you. Instead of having to search for a cover designer, layout artist, editor, printer, etc., you can simply do it all here. Just let us know which services you need and how many copies you would like in your original order and we will send you an estimate.

Please note that you will be sent the master files of everything, so you can always go elsewhere to get the books printed if you prefer.”

VBW offer their authors a non-exclusive contract, though it should be noted they require exclusive distribution rights for ebooks—meaning you cannot make your ebook for sale outside of VBW’s distribution channels. The contract contains a cancellation term of 90 days for the author, but this is subject to a $50 fee before the author can move their book to another provider/publisher. The term of the contract is for two years.

I cannot fault VBW for aiming high and they offer a vast range of services and options many large competitors do not offer. I like VBW and what they do. The overall approach is sound and ten years as an author solutions service shows they understand the business and are doing a lot right. But sometimes when you offer so much in one place as a small operation, things can spread out a little thin in other areas. The lower priced packages promise a great deal, even offering editing and book cover design. I cannot help feeling it is a considerable stretch for an author solutions service to make a $600 to $800 package include a full cover design and an edit—no matter how basic the edit—at all the listed prices. At look through the VBW store reveals a mix of strong cover art and some pretty basic stuff.

While the VBW book retail prices are competitive, I would find it hard to live with an author solutions service taking an almost 80% mark up on print costs when I was the one forking out the cash for the set-up. But, that is just me, and if an author can get over that, then VBW has a great deal to offer an author and a multitude of options. This is going to particularly work against VBW if an author is already considering submitting print ready files. Frankly, those authors would be far wiser going with CreateSpace or directly with Lightning Source who can do their distribution and fulfilment.

The web page provided for authors is a very basic static listing for a book and I think it reflects the limitations of VBW’s own website design, which is flat and lacks any real dynamics, not to mention books. The contract on offer is reasonable, though there is one or two terms in there I would be uneasy about in the event of a dispute.

Contract – Paragraph one.

“The Author also agrees that he/she will hold, its distributors, and any retailer harmless against any recovery or penalty arising out of his/her breach of this warranty. Author will also reimburse Publishing for all court costs and legal fees incurred.”

Heck, I don’t fancy paying VBW’s court costs even when I’ve won a judgement! I am not sure how this term would play out with a judge in a court of law, but technically, I have signed the contract and I am bound by its terms.

I stated at the beginning of this review that VBW were one of the earliest author solutions services I looked at several years ago. Back then VBW were very much part of the big six of options for an author considering self-publishing, but with authors becoming more savvy, business orientated and discerning, and with the rise in DIY services like CreateSpace and the direct option of going with Lightning Source, VBW seem less elevated on the map of self-publishing solutions. I have thought long and hard about what precisely it is about VBW that has changed over the past few years. Maybe it is my own self-imposed nostalgia or the fact that this publishing business as a whole changes and develops month to month, but VBW isn’t like I use to remember it.

Reviewing VBW this week was like going back to a wonderful restaurant you remember from a few years back. The food is still good, the staff pleasant, and the prices ok, though the decor has changed a little, but overall, the experience is not quite the same. The restaurant is still were it always was in the street, but many of the other buildings have changed. If you weren’t absolutely sure that’s where it was, you’d has passed it by without noticing it.

VBW need to go one of two ways. Either they need to strip away the complex levels in their packages and have no more than four basic packages with a list of add-on services, or they need to offer all services as tailored bespoke options for an author’s book project. Attempting to do all things for all authors in the way they are creates an illusion of an operation working on a grand scale and dilutes VBW’s ability to stress what their core strength is or should now be—working one on one with authors on a book project.

Sometimes in life, less can be a great deal more.

RATED: 06/10

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