March is Small Press Month
Vanilla Heart Publishing
with Kimberlee Williams, Managing Editor
In your words, what is a small press?
Evolving, always evolving. In general, when I first began this journey into publishing, I considered any publisher with fewer than ten titles and 5 individual authors small press. As Vanilla Heart Publishing has grown and evolved, I would now call a publisher a small press who has fewer than 20 titles each year and fewer than 15 authors. The bigger determining factor to me is the level of publisher/CEO interaction with the authors. Small presses can and do participate on most every level, while the biggies can’t, due to time and volume issues.
Why would an author go to a small press? What can an author expect from small press?
I would expect authors go to small press publishers for a long list of reasons, but in my conversations with authors and having been an author ages ago, some of the biggest reasons are: we’re friendlier, more helpful, more open to books that don’t quite fit ‘the mold’, more willing to take a chance, more involved in the whole process – before and after publication – and more accessible.
With Vanilla Heart Publishing, an author can expect professional editing, covers, design, formatting, and all that, but also, much more openness and assistance with the all important facets such as building their author platform, industry information, promotion, distribution, wholesale venues, handholding when necessary, brainstorming with the publisher (me) or with the person on staff or contracted who does whatever is needed at the time. We like exploring new marketing methods, and may ask our valued authors to ‘test’ run something for us, or at the very minimum, discuss their ideas and ours with us. Our authors are valuable members of our team.
To us, even more important is what an author should not expect and should not accept from a small press publisher. A reputable small press publisher is NOT a vanity or subsidy press, and authors should always research any publisher before submitting a manuscript.
Can the reading public expect the same quality book from a small press as from a “big NY house”
They MUST. And small press publishers MUST deliver, maybe not ‘just’ the same quality, but better – more tightly edited, cleaner/better/more engaging novels, industry standard or exceeding industry standard from front cover to back, good font size, crisp print, even to the support small press authors receive for learning to help promote their books and responding to bookseller interest – everything we small press companies do MUST be of the highest caliber. A single small press title that goes on the market and is less than that denigrates all of us.
The book industry overall has felt the effects of the recession; how has the recession affected small presses?
We’ve been chatting a bit about that in my various professional groups and the general consensus is that it is hitting us as hard as any other industry. Many of us signed contracts when things were great for publishing, and now must find ways to cut expenses while maintaining quality, with the knowledge that we can’t be quite so generous with contracts, advances, expenses (things like conferences and bookfairs that don’t show a historical record of high return, advertising, full page magazine ads for a small niche book, etc.)
Really, I think it is not such a bad thing. This gives us a chance to really brainstorm and be flexible in learning new, better, and less expensive ways to manage all the many details and expenses involved in putting out fabulous books. Even such things as the cost-value of purchasing 100 or 100 ISBNs for example. Sure it seems like a fortune to purchase a block of 1000 ISBNs when we aren’t putting out more than 30 books or so a year, but by buying the larger blocks, we get the per unit cost down to a reasonable expenditure, and we can use them for three years, rather than have to purchase smaller blocks at greater per unit costs. Spending $1000 on design software for the interior bookblocks might seem scary (it did to me) but by learning and learning it well, the software saves us both time (independent contractor formatters and layout people) and money (the same people), so if two or three of us here learn it well, woohoo, we’re saving big bucks.
Another cost-benefit to think about is expanding sales venues. For us, that means sucking up the horridly high distributor discounts and just doing it, but also developing even more channels and versions such as Ebook and Kindle versions on every title at the same time as print.
A few small presses have gone out of business. More have cut back the number of titles they put out and authors they sign. Even more are more selective of the manuscripts they accept. Where a couple years ago, a small press might have taken a chance, paid for content or developmental editing rather than a simple professional edit, even reworked an entire 600 manuscript…maybe now they aren’t so likely to say ‘good story, needs a lot of work, let’s sign them’ quite as much as ‘good story, thanks but no thanks, you need to blah blah blah before resubmitting, good luck’.
So, maybe people are a bit more nervous about spending money, but we’ll keep putting out great books by terrific authors and I expect that the economy will turn back around soon enough.
What is the biggest challenge to you as a small press managing editor?
The biggest challenge for me is time management. Time to read manuscripts and make the best decisions, time to write an encouraging rejection letter when warranted, time to write a concise rejection letter when it is obvious the effort is nil, time to oversee every detail of the production process and the contractors we hire, gee, I could go on and on, but let’s just say time management. OK, time management and taxes. Yes, taxes are right up there. Oh, and saying no to manuscripts and authors we just don’t feel are marketable or prepared prior to submission. Then there is the always fluctuating rules and regulations of the many different agencies and organizations we have to deal with on a daily basis. Hmmmm…
What has been the most rewarding to you as a small press managing editor?
Working with authors who blossom and grow along with us. Being allowed to participate in authors’ growth and emergence in their genre and occasionally explore new genre with them.Through selecting fantastic authors and manuscripts, we’ve been rewarded with watching our company grow and gain credibility to an extent we never imagined, gaining footholds in market channels that generally fight small press tooth and nail.. That is another big one. SMILES
Where do you see your small press 5 years from now? What do you see as the future of publishing and the book industry overall?
I see Vanilla Heart Publishing being involved in studio production of audiobook editions of our best sellers, managing movie and foreign rights, coordinating all the pieces of the puzzle, and appearing at awards banquets with our authors. Of course, I see all this from a semi-retired perspective with me on a beach in some warm gorgeous country, my laptops and a cabana boy (or two), while my executive directress manages everything else.
I see the publishing industry as growing, expanding into new markets, new technologies. I envision that someday the industry standard returns policies will change to accommodate financial patterns more accurately, and stop the ridiculous manner that those policies harm publishers, large and small. Just this past month, we saw the emergence of the new Kindle device, with speech to text capabilities, however basic they are. I see technology improving (doesn’t take a psychic to do that!) to the point where books are accessible to all, and reading becomes a ‘normal’ recreation. Again.
Can you tell us something about your small press company, the history, how many author/titles do you have, how do you distribute your books?
Vanilla Heart Publishing started out in erotica as Caged Heart Publishing and we were inundated by many many authors of more mainstream fiction with fabulous manuscripts, great author participation, and terrific energy. It was truly a no-brainer to switch fully to Vanilla Heart imprint and publish these quality books. My husband suggested way back in the old days that I was first looking to publish a novel of my own that I consider opening a publishing house, not so much for my own novels, but because I seemed so interested in the publishing process. He dared me to learn everything I could about it.
I don’t do dares well, lol, so a few years later, here we are, Vanilla Heart Publishing. I’ve studied successful publishers, taken classes and workshops, learned an amazing array of computer software I never believed I could learn, and best of all, I am still learning. I had a background in business management from owning and operating a successful legal secretarial and business services business, but managing independent contractors is much different than that, so I refine processes as we go along.
Currently, and through 2009, Vanilla Heart Publishing has 21 amazing, awesome authors with a total of 35 books released already, and 24 titles scheduled for release in 2009. Our distributors include Ingram Book Group, who are also wholesalers for some of our smaller niche titles, Baker & Taylor, suppliers for many schools and libraries, Follett Higher Education Group for some titles that meet their criteria for college and university bookstore placements, which they manage and operate for more than 1700 schools nationwide, Gardner’s in the UK and Europe, and of course, as many online venues as we can find, including Amazon, AmazonUK, Canada, France, Germany, and some in Japan, Barnes and Noble, Hastings, Borders, etc. My personal favorites to work with are the independent booksellers, because of their professional and pleasant behavior with small press and their willingness to work with us to set up events and signings for our authors and books.
March is Small Press Month, and Vanilla Heart Publishing is planning specials and prizes all throughout the month. March 8-14th is Read an Ebook Week and to celebrate , Vanilla Heart Publishing will be offering each of our Ebooks (with cover art and set in large type for accessibility) for the terrific price of just $5 each. That’s right! The whole week all of our ebooks will be just $5 each and remember, with Ebooks, no shipping! Instant Download!
Our VHP Xanga Blog will have details as the month-long celebration goes on, as well as our Vanilla Heart Books and Authors website.