Pretty much every other day, I take a moment to check whether the other shoe is starting to drop. I really can’t believe how lucky I am to be being given the opportunity to not only work on Twelfth Planet Press all day every day but also to be expected to be exploring new ideas, try new initiatives and to study practices around me. That the point of this whole exercise is to learn things about publishing in a time of great flux in the industry, and to hopefully, take out the other end of this study, a more viable and tangible business. Seriously. How did I get here? (The answer is always: Helen). It’s seriously try that if you find something you truly love, you never have to work a day in your life.
And the other great thing is getting to talk a lot about it as I go along. Documenting it as I go so I can pull it together into some kind of exegesis at the end.
After spending last week immersed in talking and listening to other people talk about the industry, I’ve been mulling over our novella line. I love novellas – I love the format. I love the fact that they are meaty enough to really tell a deep, expansive story but aren’t as big a reading commitment as a novel. We’ve had a lot of critical success at Twelfth Planet Press with this format. There is no shortage of really great novellas being written. The problem has been that the format in print is just not a viable product. As of this date, the only one that’s ever broken even is Horn by Peter M Ball. At some point, I had to make the decision that I couldn’t keep buying and publishing novellas when they weren’t breaking even. As much as I love the form, and as much as I believe that indie press exists to publish and bring to the reader works that are outside of the scope of commercial publishers, I couldn’t justify the drain on the cash flow. Especially when eventually that comes at the expense of being able to afford other projects that might be more financially viable.
Last week I participated in a panel with Joel Naoum from Momentum discussing all things publishing for a postgrad MasterClass at Curtin. One of the points that struck me about what they are doing at Momentum, is being able to pursue projects that are not viable in print form by going solely digital. Without a doubt, with the democratising of publishing via self publishing and with the merging of big publishers, we have two new and very strong factors at play. The first is that there are more titles being published every year than the year before. And I don’t really see that changing in the near future. Readers are still reading but I suspect the readers for every title is probably less, as the readers spread across more and more titles. I believe this means that the potential to earn for a writer (and publisher) is going to be less per title. Similarly, as the big publishers merge and try to compete against Amazon, they are looking to concentrate on high performing bestsellers. And we’ve seen that result in the loss of the midlist for some time. This, I still think is good news for a publisher like TPP, but not for authors who are still capable of earning reasonably but that “reasonably” is being redefined. And this is where we are seeing a lot of changes in publishing business models as savvy midlisters experiment with new ways to make a career.
A third, and no less important, factor is distribution. Bookstores are closing. Book distributors are folding. And it’s getting harder and easier to get stocked in bookstores. I’m finding that TPP is being picked up by a lot more franchised outlets of the big bookstores in Oz but that’s happening as I work harder to do distribution myself ie dealing with each bookstore one by one. At the same time, I’m also finding other bookstores becoming less open to stocking indie press. Responses like we only stock books by publishers like [named big five publisher] are also coming in.
What’s going to happen to traditional publishing? We don’t know yet but if publishers want to still be around, we’re going to have to adapt and change our models. What used to be is no longer. And what worked before may not in the future. What is clear is that we need to be flexible and open to new things. As I posted the other day, it is really clear that the stigma of digital only publishing or digital first publishing has long been lost in the romance genre. A genre which is alive and kicking and very financially successful.
The sum of all these thoughts: I love novellas and I’ve been looking for a way to be able to publish them again. And I’m keen to experiment with publishing models to see what and how to be successful going forward. And so, finally we are open to novella submissions again! http://www.twelfthplanetpress.com/submissions And hopefully, I’ll be able to use this in my thesis somewhere I do quite like the double credit points of working on my press AND my PhD at the same time!