It may seem counter-intuitive at a time when large houses like Harlequin and Thomas Nelson are introducing self-publishing initiatives, but one small New England press that began as a self-publisher has seen double-digit growth by turning to a traditional model. Founded in Exeter, N.H., by former W.W. Norton assistant trade editor Jeremy Townsend in 2003, PublishingWorks merged with distribution/marketing firm Revolution Booksellers at the beginning of 2008 and moved away from self-publishing.
“Each year we have scheduled less and less subsidy work,” said v-p of marketing and sales Carol Corbett. “We do still handle a few, but that is mainly for cash flow and is now kept to small runs of a very regional or personal nature.” PW also distributes books for local institutions like Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth. Although it no longer actively solicits or distributes new self-published books, the press continues to keep earlier subsidy works on its backlist of 120 titles, including Cars on Mars, a collection of poems for children by former William Morrow publisher and editor-in-chief J.D. Landis.
PW, which saw its sales jump 35% in 2009, plans to cut its list by one third in the coming year to 20 books. “That gives us more time to massage the books,” said Corbett. It also will enable the press to do galley mailings six months in advance, which was hard to even consider with a 30-book list and staff of 8.
Among the titles that could benefit most from the transition are: Japanese artist Misuzu Oyama, whose Rue de la Nuit (January) will be published in a bilingual English and Japanese edition, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (March), retold and illustrated by Jamison Odone, the first book in the Stickfiguratively Speaking series. The latter is being released to coincide with the opening of Tim Burton’s film based on the Lewis Carroll classic.
Exeter bookseller Dan Chartrand, owner of Water Street Books, said unabashedly, “I love PublishingWorks; Jeremy brings New York publishing chops to the North Country of New England. We’ve turned our bookstore into a laboratory for their books, and they’re really an extension of our store.” When PW authors, many of whom live within a 100-mile radius of Exeter, appear at the store, PW staffers help promote the events. In turn, they give PW a chance to see how their authors handle public speaking and fine-tune their presentations. To date, Water Street’s PW bestsellers include Landis’s Cars on Mars and Michael Sullivan’s Escapade Johnson series in children's and Brooks Sigler’s cross-over YA novel, Five Finger Fiction.
Landis, whose books have been published by Knopf and FSG, among others, is equally enthusiastic about the press. “I received at PublishingWorks the same kind and level of input I had come to expect at the commercial houses by whom I’ve been lucky enough to have been published,” he said.
But going traditional isn’t the only change afoot at PW. The press is considering dividing its eclectic list into several imprints, so that it can separate out children’s books and fiction. “We specialize in not having a specialty,” said Corbett. “We publish whatever seems interesting to us.” PW is also looking to sign with a major trade distributor in the first quarter of next year.