Jan 9, 2018

Looking Back: The Challenges of Part-Time Publishing

When I initially created American Biblioverken, my goal was to simply create an imprint that I could use to publish and distribute my first novel, The Steadfast, back in 2002.

I had briefly investigated finding an agent, but although my queries did obtain some helpful feedback, the process seemed just too time-consuming. Furthermore, my vision for the book included the finished product, with very specific design and layout parameters, and I was disinclined to leave all of this to someone else. I thought the best way to bring this vision to reality was to publish the book myself, which I did.

Never mind that I did not have time to market the book (I was busy at a full-time job as it was) -- part of my motivation was to check “Writing a Novel” off my bucket list of things to do, and move on. I was appreciative of a few nice reviews I got—including the local newspaper—but fifteen years ago, hardly any review publications were accepting self-published work. So, I moved on.

However, after completing one book, it was tempting to try another. I started working on a few more projects, and completed a second book for some professional colleagues, The BLT Hypothesis – A New Approach to ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, which I produced and created for their own imprint. I also took an interest in curating and re-publishing some public domain works, and began several long-term projects along these lines. Stories of Ohio, a work by Ohio writer William Dean Howells, was the first of these, published in 2012.

With an interest in design, architecture and bookmaking, I followed up with two William Morris books, Hopes and Fears for Art and The Art & Craft of Printing in 2013, which kicked off a design series for the website The Long Gallery. For another website, International Beer News, I started a new History of Brewing book series in 2015, beginning with The London & Country Brewer and followed by A Treatise on The Brewing of Beer—two classic works on traditional English beer craft.

In re-publishing these public domain works, it has always been my intention to do them the right way, rather than simply scan an old volume and republish it with a generic cover, as some online “book mills” continue to do. All our reprints have been completely re-designed and newly typeset, including specially-designed full color covers that capture the spirit of the work—rather than drop a new title onto the same generic cover used for every book. While this does take additional time and care, it has not required us to charge a premium for these editions; in fact, our prices remain among the lowest for these titles and represent a far better value.

The general approach taken on all these projects can best be expressed as finding a book or subject I like and creating an all-new volume that I would be proud to display on my own bookshelf.

Another publishing-related project was to expand into the realm of game design and publishing, and a card game—Mind Your Manors, was created for The Long Gallery in 2016. While quite satisfied with the creative results, we have done little marketing to date – though I feel there is a lot of potential in this area and have plans to do additional themed card sets.

Overall, the process has been satisfying, though not as consistent as I would like—and there lies the real challenge in publishing on a part-time basis.
Print on Demand (POD) is the only realistic approach that can be taken here, with its low/negligible up-front costs. So far, we have utilized Createspace/Amazon for producing most of our book projects, since we have been generally satisfied with the product and enjoy a solid profit margin. Recently, their production costs and distribution setup has become even more favorable, though we are always looking for alternatives on a project-by-project basis.

This also means that we don’t purchase a lot of copies for review or to take to shows, or that we even go to shows, either—for that matter. That may come in a few years (as I prepare to retire from my full-time job) but there’s simply no budget for it at this point.

Of course, I’m always looking to take on new projects as well, but many of these would involve paid book design projects, or some creative royalty arrangements with writers who are prepared to do most of their own marketing. It’s an open proposition.

The new year has encouraged a flurry of work; we will be adding another William Morris title to our design library by the end of the month, and our IBN History of Brewing Series has a new addition, Danish Beer & Continental Beer Gardens, which is just now in print.

Before going on too much further, there remain at least three or four mostly-complete-but-as-yet-unfinished books that we need to clear out of the way before embarking on anything new.

As we continue to add books to the collection and fill out our various lines, I feel we will be in a better position to promote American Biblioverken and clarify our niche as a small publisher. That means doing marketing and distributing a catalog to better identify ourselves and our product offerings—and to also promote our design and publishing services. So far, I have been hesitant to do this, since my current approach allows me to work when I am so inclined, and not in response to deadlines or customer desires. If I depended completely on publishing for my livelihood, this would be different, but for now it will suffice.

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