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Business of Writing, Publishing, Self Publishing

Inventing the Future of Publishing

Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, had an interesting quote about the economy recently. He said the young people of his generation, on graduating high school or college, had the luxury of going out and finding jobs. Today, they must invent jobs.

I recently read a blog about an author who persevered through more than 200 rejections before an agent accepted her novel. 200! Is that perseverance or masochism? And her story is not unusual.

What if 100 rejections are more than a person can bear? How about 50? Would a writer be branded a quitter if s/he didn’t shepherd that cherished novel through all that negativity to publication? Many writers don’t, choosing to shelve their work indefinitely.

Of course, the alternative today is self-publishing.

I fought the idea of self-publishing for a long time. To me, it carried the stigma of vanity presses, costly exercises in self-indulgence that dwelled in literature’s shadows during the pre-internet age. And of course, many of the books produced by self-publishers today still fit that description: self-aggrandizement that’s poorly written or edited or designed—often all three.

But much of the stigma has been removed. Other factors have come into play: the market for literature is a small percentage of the entertainment industry; so many talented people find it difficult to be published; the corporations that control publishing are more interested in sales than literature. It’s true that having an established publisher to produce one’s book gives it a sense of legitimacy—it says someone, an expert in books in fact, believes in the work. Still, many works that could or should be published aren’t.

The deals new writers must accept from traditional publishers don’t make that path as attractive as it used to be. Most large publishing houses barely market new authors. Most small ones can’t afford to. I’ve related stories before of authors who must pay for their book tours or endorsements out of their own pockets. The big guys now insist on things like rights to the work in perpetuity and in any format, and sometimes rights of refusal for the next work.

Many authors who have developed followings are opting to go the self-published route. They can get a more lucrative outcome if they produce and market their work themselves. Publishing technology now makes it possible for anyone with sufficient computer skills to do it all. And if that person can do a little marketing, the venture may prove profitable.

To me, it seems the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is diminishing. Rapidly.

So back to Tom Friedman. Writers now have the challenge/opportunity to invent their future. Self-publishing is part of that equation.

For more than a year I’ve been meeting and talking with some local writers about creating an entity that could both expand publishing opportunities for local writers and create connections with support craftspeople like designers and editors. We think we may have a viable idea. It’s called Woodward Press, named for Michigan’s Route 1, a legendary thoroughfare that connects Detroit and the surrounding cities, and the road where our usual meeting place is located.

We understand that self-pub is becoming a substantial part of the literary world, and that for many, many writers it represents their best option for publication, from the author who wishes to take greater control of his enterprise, to the writer who has had enough of rejection, to the individual who just wants to create a family memoir.

For these people we plan to offer a series of educational seminars on what’s involved in self-publishing—the necessary writing, editing and technical skills; legal rights and responsibilities; distribution options and marketing. And for those who want, we’ll have a network of trusted specialists in each of those fields to help produce a professional product.

We also know there are plenty of scammers who offer the same services and some questionable ones (like bookstore sales insurance… wtf?). The difference, though, is that we’re writers—real writers with lots of writing, editing and publishing experience. While this is a business, we know we won’t get rich running it (certainly not by splitting the proceeds five ways!). We plan to go live in June, showcasing what we can do with the release of books written, edited and designed by our principals.

Later, we may get a little more traditional by offering to display and market some of the best books we’ve shepherded to publication. But for now, this foray into the future of publishing is a good start.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


28 thoughts on “Inventing the Future of Publishing

  1. Good for you, Joe! I love the thoughtful process behind this venture, and that you have a group of folks that you want to do this kind of work with. I look forward to hear about the step-by-step process of how this goes!!

    As far as how many rejections are too many? I guess none of us really know until it’ happening to us. And if you have an agent, it depends on the agent. A friend of mine has an agent at a well-known firm and her m.s. has been sent out to the group of editors/publishers for the genre, all rejections — maybe 15 or 20??? So the agent is now saying, “How about you write something else and we’ll try that.” What do you do when you get this kind of response?

    I once heard that great sage George Clooney say to a group of young actors (and I’m paraphrasing): The most successful of you will be the ones who take rejection the best and the most, the ones who get rejected 3 times today and go right back out on auditions tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day …

    Posted by Teri | May 25, 2013, 1:47 PM
    • I think you make a great point about people’s limits for rejection, Teri. When I add up all the agent, publisher and lit journal rejections, it’s somewhere around 600. Almost like a badge of honor. And despite this foray into the business end of publishing, there are some works of mine that I think are worth continuing to send out. I don’t plan on self-pubbing everything, just works that have been previously published, and a few stories that couldn’t seem to find a home. But for the most part, I’ll still look for some validation (critical and remunerative, that is).

      Posted by jpon | May 26, 2013, 10:24 AM
  2. Closely reasoned and well said.

    Posted by Jon Zech | May 25, 2013, 2:07 PM
  3. Wonderful news, Joe. i had hoped this is what you had up your sleeve. You will be marvelous at this adventure. I look forward to following your journey into publishing and will buy and read the books you put out there.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | May 25, 2013, 2:42 PM
    • Thanks, Darrelyn. I’m excited about the possibilities. There really does seem to be opportunity out there, if one is willing to incorporate new technology into the equation. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad we’re approaching this as a team–for one person (especially someone who’d rather spend time writing), it can be pretty overwhelming.

      Posted by jpon | May 26, 2013, 10:58 AM
  4. Good to hear that plans are moving forward!

    I hope Woodward Press will have the heft to negotiate distribution arrangements with brick-and-mortar bookstores. As in, go to indie bookstores and hustle a bit, to get Woodward’s local author titles displayed prominently.

    My little self-pubbing venture has suffered from a lack of effort lately, but I have a weird dilemma. Some of my friends have told me they liked the book. Some really liked it. A few wrote nice reviews on Amazon and B&N. I gave away 9 paper copies on goodreads (at not insignificant personal expense). And then… nothing.

    Having a book on Amazon is not a distribution strategy. If your book is not in the top 100, for all intents and purposes, it’s invisible. So you can tell your friends and family about it. But if they don’t pick up the baton and promote it to their networks, it stops selling. This is something all of the new-fangled self-pressing pubbers will have to contend with. Don’t take this as a wet blanket — many of your authors will have deeper networks of fans than I do. But part of this book-selling schtick is attracting people who’ve never heard of you to read your book. And that’s pretty damn hard to do.

    Next up for me: Doing a promo bit in the alumni newsletter for my alma mater.

    Posted by akhoffman | May 25, 2013, 3:51 PM
    • Marketing and distribution are pretty much the elephants in the room when it comes to self or indie publishing. That’s why we’re starting by only offering advisory and support services to people who wish to go that route. We know we can’t compete in that arena with the big publishers (even though they do little to promote new authors, having a recognizable name on the spine and having their clout with distributors makes a big difference). We certainly won’t make empty promises to the writers who come to us. On the other hand, we have a great network in our local region, and I think it matters to the writers who live here that we support each other to a certain extent. We’re starting small.

      Posted by jpon | May 26, 2013, 11:12 AM
  5. Congratulations, Joe! Wish you all the best and looking forward to hearing more about this! The more “good energy” out there, the better!

    BTW, you might want to change your “Book Review Editor at LA Review” in About jpon. :-]

    Posted by fpdorchak | May 25, 2013, 5:17 PM
  6. From Pete Brooks, via Facebook: Publishing is dead. In 10 years it’ll be easier to find a cigar shop than a store that sells new books. We either embrace the new paradigm or die by it.

    Posted by jpon | May 25, 2013, 6:51 PM
  7. Joe, this sounds fantastic! I can’t wait to read more about it. Yesterday I chatted with my 16-year-old nephew, who wants to pursue writing/journalism in college. I told him this was a great time to enter the industry, since it’s going through revolutionary changes. Opportunities are endless for young people wanting to pursue this line of work. Thank you for spearheading this effort — once it’s underway, I look forward to learning about the writers you’ve helped.

    Posted by Gwen | May 26, 2013, 11:34 AM
    • Believe me, it’s been a long path to get to this point. The hardest part was getting past clinging to a model of publishing rooted in the 1970s (just like the big publishing companies). I’d always dreamed of a contemplative life, filled with writing and reading, but the industry has changed and that goal never came within reach for me. I’ll still write and read as much as possible, but now there’s another angle to pursue. Thanks for the good wishes.

      Posted by jpon | May 27, 2013, 10:10 PM
  8. I am interested in your upcoming enterprise and look forward to hearing more about it.

    Posted by Rebecca Groff | May 26, 2013, 4:37 PM
  9. This sounds intriguing. I wish you well with your new enterprise and look forward to following/hearing more about it. Best of luck.

    Posted by Rebecca Groff | May 26, 2013, 4:38 PM
  10. Masel Tov on your new venture, Joe! It sounds exciting!

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | May 27, 2013, 12:09 AM
  11. This is exciting news, Joe! It sounds like you’re in a really good place to begin this venture, and you’ll all be able to learn from each other and from the process as you go along. Can’t wait to hear more about it.

    Posted by Averil Dean | May 27, 2013, 3:36 PM
    • Learning from each other is one of the reasons I believe it will work. Each of us brings something different to the table. A smorgasbord of skills.

      Posted by jpon | May 27, 2013, 10:12 PM
  12. This sounds really cool and fits in with the way I see a lot of things that are coming down the road. If those involved are who I think they are you guys have a great talent pool to inform everyone from, so you’ll pull it off nicely.

    Posted by Kevin Stewart | May 29, 2013, 6:27 PM
  13. Is there a means by which people who don’t live locally in and around Woodward can apply to be published? I.e., how much can this be broadened out (can we hearing from you hope to participate eventually?)?

    Posted by shadowoperator | May 29, 2013, 7:28 PM
    • Yes, definitely we’ll be open to authors from outside our area. But our focus will be local at first. The people I’m working with believe that creating a book, whether traditionally published or self-published, works better if the people involved have a level of trust that just isn’t possible when one deals with a huge corporation, and everything is done impersonally over the internet.

      Posted by jpon | May 29, 2013, 10:09 PM
  14. What a wonderful concept, Joe. I’ll watch the development of Woodward Press with great interest, especially since I’m nine months into my own regional (Oregon) small press adventure. I think you’re so smart to offer a variety of services targeted to helping self-publishing authors achieve success; my press is traditional in terms of how we operate: choosing authors from the slush pile, putting in time and money to publish their books, then hoping we make that investment back. It’s the old model done on a very small, very local level, and while being traditional allows us to ask for major national reviews, there’s no guarantee we’ll get any coverage at all. And we’re going to have to sell a lot of books to break even. We launch our fiction catalog this September with a linked short story collection, so I’ll know more in a few months, but for now I’ll be excited to watch what you guys do with Woodward Press. I wish you the best of luck!

    Posted by Laura Stanfill | June 9, 2013, 5:04 AM
    • Thanks, Laura. I applaud your efforts to publish books the traditional way and wish you the best of luck too. From the titles we reviewed at the LA Review, I know your books are of excellent quality. But from a business standpoint, it seemed the only feasible decision for us to make was to look at the self-publishing angle. And I wouldn’t be so sure that going this way precludes coverage by the media. Now that some of the big publishers are getting into self-publishing services, you can be sure they’ll have their eye on which of their clients sell, and when they do, they’ll move those authors over into the “traditional” realm by supporting them with marketing and editorial help. Which is exactly what we’ll do, only on a local level.

      Posted by jpon | June 9, 2013, 10:42 AM
      • That’s a great point about how quality self-publishing can transcend the old barriers. Your team of editing and publishing professionals will help authors take their work to the next level and challenge those barriers. It’s a smart business setup, too, compared to the traditional route, which feels uncomfortably like gambling. That being said, our goals are very similar–helping authors and making connections within the local writing community. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to support your project, Joe.

        Posted by Laura Stanfill | June 9, 2013, 2:53 PM
      • Thanks, Laura. I certainly will. I’m sure there will be opportunities to co-promote.

        Posted by jpon | June 10, 2013, 12:19 AM

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