Publishing companies typically incorporate publishing and marketing departments into their business models. February Partners, however, is doing things a little differently: the Manhattan boutique book publicity and marketing firm founded in the fall of 2010 by two industry veterans has just launched a publishing division, February Books.
“We’re not trying to compete with publishers—we’re picking out projects that have fallen between the cracks,” explained Dee Dee DeBartlo, February Books’ copublisher. “We have a menu of services, and we are adding publishing to that menu. Publishing provides another option to our clients.”
DeBartlo and Gretchen Crary, her business partner, had previously worked together at HarperCollins. Crary, who had been at HarperCollins for six years, was publicity director, while DeBartlo, who had been at HarperCollins for 12 years, was senior director of publicity for the William Morrow imprint.
February Books will make its debut in August with two nonfiction hardcover releases: Obama Karma: A Self-Improvement Program Based on the 44th President of the United States by Dr. Russell Razzaque will be released with a 10,000-copy initial print run, and Getting to Bartlett Street: One Couple’s 25-Year Quest to Level the Playing Field in Education by Joe and Carol Reich will be released with a 15,000-copy initial print run. February Books titles will be distributed by Consortium.
According to DeBartlo and Crary, evolving from book publicists at one of the big six houses into publishers themselves was an “organic, not an overnight” process. Frustrated that they could not do more for authors in their previous jobs, due to time and workload constraints, the two decided to start their own firm so they could work with book projects from the beginning. One of their first clients was Sterling Publishing, which hired them to launch the press’s fiction imprint, SilverOak. Their responsibilities included promoting SilverOak’s debut release, Three Seconds, a Scandinavian thriller by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.
“We went through the whole process, talking with designers, deciding on a cover, writing cover copy, coming up with a marketing plan,” Crary recalled of Three Seconds, which landed on the New York Times bestsellers list its first week.
DeBartlo and Crary subsequently worked with a self-published author whose previous releases had been published by William Morrow and Hachette, both of which turned down his latest work. While declining to disclose the name of the author or the title that they produced and promoted, DeBartlo and Crary recalled that the book, an account of a huge 1993 E. coli outbreak, received front-page coverage in the New York Times.
“We worked with him from the beginning, even before there was a book,” DeBartlo said. “We did really well, and got the kind of publicity you can only dream of when you are a self-published author.” DeBartlo and Crary continued to be approached by potential clients, who, according to Crary, often were “smart people who couldn’t get published for one reason or another or didn’t have the patience to go through the process” of traditional publishing, such as Joe Reich, the coauthor of Getting to Bartlett Street. It was Reich, an educational reformer, who initially suggested to DeBartlo and Crary that, rather than self-publish the book he and his wife had co-written, February Partners publish it instead. After discussing the possibility with Jennifer Swihart, Consortium’s marketing manager, DeBartlo and Crary decided to move forward with February Books.
While emphasizing that they are first and foremost a publicity and marketing firm—doing work with 30 clients to date—DeBartlo and Crary intend to publish at least four titles each year under the February Books imprint. Besides DeBartlo and Crary, February Partners employs a full-time social media manager, Kimberly Cowser, previously a senior publicist with Simon & Schuster. Freelancers, including editors, are hired as needed.
While declining to disclose the financial arrangements made with authors whose books February Books will publish, Crary said that there is one constant in what she calls the company’s “flexible” contracts: February Books will not pay author advances. “Both authors and February Books are taking a financial risk,” Crary said. “We want people to be invested in it.”
“We see every book as a startup business,” DeBartlo added. “We want to find authors who think of their books as a small business, too.”