Partnerships: Two NY Times Bestselling Authors Spread their Publishing Wings
At Cool Gus Publishing, we’ve just brought on board our second NY Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Probst, in a three book deal, launching her new Posse series in November of this year. We’re very excited about this and it’s caused us to reflect how we got here from our start, several years ago, in days of yore when men were men, and goats ran scared.
In late 2010 I was preparing to bring a new manuscript to my agent. I was hearing and reading buzz about “Self-publishing” with eBooks but few seemed to be taking it seriously. At Digital Book World 2010, agents were laughing about a part of the industry that took in only 3% of income.
I wasn’t laughing. I knew how slow and technophobic traditional publishing was, after spending 20 years and 42 books in it and hitting all the bestseller lists, while also experiencing being dumped by various publishers at times due to decreasing print runs with increasing sell-through (that refrain sounds familiar to any of you authors?).
So I peered into my crystal ball and wondered: “What will publishing be like in 2013?” Because if my agent took this manuscript and sold it to another traditional publisher, like all my other deals, I knew pub date would be mid-2012 to early 2013.
Having been part of the Army where we transitioned from focusing on fighting the Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap, to being among those few officers who traded in their crossed rifles of the Infantry to the crossed arrows of Special Forces, and the focus shifted to unconventional warfare, I had gone through a radical change in a large organization before. I’d been on numerous boards and committees and actually was part of the implementation of so many things the military takes for granted now (Special Forces Branch, Special Operations Command, Task Force 160, Delta Force, Seal Team Six, etc).
I applied my experience to publishing. Then Jen Talty approached me at a conference and asked about my backlist, which was moldering, doing nothing. With some experience in digital publishing via romance (that genre led the way), she suggested we partner and start putting my backlist out. So for 2010, that’s what she did, working for practically nothing (we earned a gross of $26,000 that year).
Things changed in 2011 and even more in 2012. We grossed over seven figures. We brought on other authors.
Things have changed again. In January, I flew up to NY to meet with Jen Squared (which is what we call Jen Talty and Jennifer Probst). The day before that meeting, Jen (Talty) and I were sitting in a diner discussing our business model. She had these binders full of graphs and numbers and analytics and while it was all very informative, I began feeling that something was really off. We were getting bogged down in detail, but perhaps after three years, publishing has gone through another cycle and we needed to reboot our business model?
What exactly was Cool Gus? What could we offer Jennifer that was different and unique and make it worth her while?
And then we went back to our roots. We could offer her a publishing partnership. We work with her as an individual author in a unique situation. We would factor in her traditional publishing schedule and deals. We would respect her ability to control her rights, to have the option to pursue other venues that were advantageous to her career. We’d give her the highest royalty rates we’ve heard of in the industry, paid out monthly, within a week of receiving any money due her. We’d set up her promotion, her interviews, her trip to BEA, presentations at other conferences. Most importantly, we were offering her the partnership that Jen Talty and I had built over three years, which meant our experience. We’d learned through that experience. We’d made a lot of mistakes. But we’ve learned from them. We’ve also made numerous contacts over the years and we can now extend all that to Jennifer (Probst).
Ultimately, we’re a partner that works with each author as a unique entity. As part of the very interesting survey about authors put out by DBW, one statistic was that 1/3 of traditionally published authors want to branch out to self-publishing. That struck me. Because, if you want to do it right, you really can’t “self” publish. The learning curve is much too steep to risk it. That’s why most traditional writers I talk to who are considering it say they are scared. They should be, and I say that nicely. It’s a scary world in publishing right now, but it’s also a very lucrative one and very wide open for authors who are willing take smart, calculated risks.
Experience is invaluable in the digital world and there are not many who have the full gamut of experience from author to all the various aspects of making the book available to readers. I think larger publishers have all the pieces, but do the pieces work together smoothly and seamlessly? All our pieces are in a small, agile company. Yes, a lot of the work can be contracted out, but do those contractors have a vested interest in the eBook’s success, in the author’s career? Does the contractor have the full gamut of experience, and, very importantly do they have all the personal connections with the distribution channels? Do contractors understand that while a print book is static, and eBook is organic and constantly evolving?
I’m excited about this new mindset for Cool Gus. He would be too, except he’s asleep under my desk. We’re a partner with the author, actually working for the author, and we provide value to readers.
Nothing but good times ahead.