It is with great pleasure that I announce that as of November 1, 2015, Central Avenue Publishing books will be sold and distributed to the trade by Independent Publishers Group. IPG is the original and second largest distributor of independently published books and I consider ourselves honoured to be counted among the fine publishers that work with IPG.
You might have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog. It’s because there has been so much going on behind the scenes, that I’ve hardly been able to think, let alone write any updates. But now it’s time, and if you have some time, read on. If you don’t, then check out the press release.
This whole story started back in May, when one of our books, Heart of a Dove, won a gold medal at the Independent Publishers Awards. This prompted a trip to Book Expo America in New York and displaying our books at a cooperative booth. I knew our books would be a needle in a haystack so I looked at this trip as a chance to listen and learn.
After the first few hours of walking the floor, I realized I was among everyone who lives books – just like me. There were publishers, printers, distributors, publicists, reviewers, offshore agents of all sizes and shapes. I realized that while my original intent was to simply listen and learn, I could also take this opportunity to meet people who might be able to advance my publishing program. The one thing that I have been missing over the past six years is a traditional sales force and distributor. You see, I could do almost everything myself – by adopting print on demand and digital publishing a long time ago, I was at the forefront of a lot of trends in publishing and that brought me to where I am today. But it was this model of non-traditional publishing which excluded me from a lot of opportunities. I’ve known this for a long time, and over the years, I had submitted time and again to many distributors, but with the industry changing so much, many distributors didn’t want to gamble on a new publisher.
For those of you who are not familiar with what the traditional publishing supply chain might mean (since I wasn’t when I first started down this publishing path), let me explain as best I can. Authors write books. Publishers make books. Distributors warehouse and sell those books to the trade. The book trade, which includes chain & indie bookstores, libraries, gift shops, schools and online bookstores, sells books to customers. The trade has pretty specific launch seasons and ways of doing things, and it is an old but evolving industry. Of course, there are new and changing ways of publishing books, but the vast majority of successful publishers adhere to this more traditional method.
Previous to now, my model of getting digital books to customers involved making the book and then sending the book directly to the stores that I could get direct agreements with. While that included many of the major ones, there were also lots missing. At the online store, it competed with a million other books and hopefully gained some traction through whatever marketing we could do to get the algorithms that drive online bookstores so as to perhaps get noticed by more customers. My model of getting print books to customers involved using print on demand with Lightning Source who then had their parent company, Ingram, list the book in their catalog. So the book showed up in the databases that exist, and that’s about it. However, the trade didn’t really know about our books, there was no-one introducing them and showing them off because the trade simply can’t support thousands of publishers coming into meet with them in buying meetings. Furthermore, the major review organizations tend to eschew POD books since for the most part (and we know this isn’t true of all books), POD tends to represent titles that are of a lesser quality and published by houses not willing to make the investment in print runs.
So, back to BEA. I walked the floor again. I looked for distributors that looked friendly, professional, busy and a good fit for me. Among the many were four of them. I went up to each of their booths and looked around until I could find someone that was free. I then went right up to them and asked if I could talk to them about my little publishing house. I had my opening line which was short: “My name is Michelle Halket and I run a small publishing house out of Vancouver. I sell X copies of books a month and I’m looking for a partner who can help advance my program.” (Yes, I felt a little like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride). I then whipped out my bestselling backlist book (I Wrote This For You) and a few of my front list. Luckily all four of them were very interested in talking to me and they all invited me to submit. But it was Jeff Palicki at IPG who interested me the most. To tell you the truth, their booth also intimidated me the most since it was so big and had people sitting at tables talking amongst stacks of papers and books. But he said, “Let’s sit down.” and we chatted for a long while. He was blunt, interested, truthful and knew his stuff. I walked away from that conversation feeling really good.
What followed was the sending of submission packages to these distributors and the negotiation and discovery that ensues with any new partnership. After a lot of spreadsheets and scanning of contracts, I decided on IPG and I couldn’t feel better about my decision.
Having IPG on my side means I now get to play with the big kids in traditional publishing. In working with them, I will now have the missing element: a major distribution and sales force on the ground actively selling our books to the trade. They have very strong relationships with Barnes & Noble and Amazon and teams of sales people in the US, Canada, UK & Australia. They’ll guide us on marketing, sales, production, pricing, cover design, and can secure promotional opportunities at major online and bricks and mortar accounts I could only dream of.
In short, this is a very exciting time for Central Avenue Publishing. But it’s also a scary one, because none of this comes without significant investment. I’ve spent the last few months researching costs, talking to other publishers and devising and revising pricing models, trying to make the numbers work. It’s fortunate that I’m good at that kind of thing, since I plan on being around for the long term and I won’t let what happens to a lot of small publishers happen to me. In doing all this work, I found myself laughing at the many articles I came across by self publishing advocates who warn writers about the huge margins that publishers make on the backs of their authors. At least for independent presses, it’s so far from the truth that I can barely hold myself back from commenting on their posts. Trust me, the margins are truly razor thin for everyone involved, returns average 25% and in many cases it is the author who makes more money than their publisher.
All of this has meant a huge change to the way I do business. I’ve pushed back the release of our fall titles to Spring 2016 so that IPG can sell them into the trade during the accepted time frames and hopefully get them noticed enough to get picked up. This gives me the time to send out copies to all the major review organizations, (many who wouldn’t have even bothered once they discovered the book was POD), and to organize offset printing for my bestselling books and the front list titles for 2016 and onwards. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in paper stock, print samples, all while learning new forms, reading contracts and marketing calendars and preparing presentations for an upcoming sales conference in November. I’ve even opened up submissions and for the first time in a long time, I can say I’ll be working with a new author, (more on that later).
I consider myself very lucky to be working with the amazingly helpful and knowledgeable team at IPG. So far I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the Chicago team, including Mary, Lauren, Anna, Jeff, Salma, Berianne, Mallori, Nicole, Mark, Cynthia, Dana and Caitlin who’ve all been very patient, responsive and helpful and I haven’t even met the sales teams yet! For someone who works by herself in a tiny office in the ‘burbs of Vancouver, this is pretty mind-blowing. They’ve been a boatload of resources so far, and I can’t wait to see how things will move forward. No matter what, it’ll be an amazing ride.