Peru, N.Y., a small town on Lake Champlain with a population of 6,400, might seem like an unlikely spot for a publisher to set up shop. But it didn't deter Lawrence Gooley and his partner, Jill McKee. Seven years ago they founded Bloated Toe Enterprises there, which includes Bloated Toe Publishing and North Country Store (www.bloatedtoe.com/store), an online outlet for Bloated Toe titles and 400 products by North Country and Adirondack authors, artists, and artisans. Through Bloated Toe (the name was inspired by the downside of working the Adirondack terrain), Gooley not only publishes his own work, eight books to date, but helps others self-publish—he forms a partnership with authors by editing their work and taking a percentage of the sales, which makes BTP one of the few hybrid self-publishers.
Most of the books Gooley has published are about the North Country region, starting with his very first, a Silver Anniversay edition of The History of Altona Flat Rock, first self-published in 1980 but updated and republished under the Bloated Toe imprint in 2005. Gooley has tried to publish at least one of his own books a year since the press's founding. His 2009 work on serial killer Robert Garrow, Terror in the Adirondacks—a riveting, well-told tale of deception, escape, and capture—continues to resonate with Adirondack residents and visitors almost 40 years after Garrow terrorized the region. The case is still used in law schools to study privileged information—Garrow's lawyers made that claim in their refusal to reveal the whereabouts of two of his victims' bodies. "It's been a store bestseller for the past two years," says Susan Fox, co-owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., which does especially well with regional titles.
In addition to partnering with other authors, Bloated Toe distinguishes itself from many independent presses by its emphasis on marketing and sales. "A lot of publishers will tell you that your book will be in every store in the country. But you have to sell it," says Gooley. "And the book has to be good; word of mouth is critical." Because of high printing costs for short runs of a thousand copies, Gooley can't afford to offer large enough discounts for wholesalers, so he sells nearly all his books himself. His discount to resellers is typically 20%, but the terms are double the 30-day industry standard. A typical Bloated Toe book is printed as a 6 in. × 9 in. paperback original with a color cover and a black-and-white interior.
"I learned early on that the standards—40% for retailers, 55% for distributors—may work for an author dealing with high-volume sales, but for regional interest, those deep discounts reduce writing to a hobby," says Gooley, who estimates that at that rate a book that takes two to four years to write and produce would earn somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000 dollars at most. "Instead, I work with numbers that allow me to continue writing and be self-supporting."
Because of BTP's pricing and discount structure, few bricks-and-mortar bookstores carry its books. Instead the press relies primarily on special markets and its own Web site. Gooley loads his car with inventory for convenience stores, delis, framing shops, gift stores, pharmacies, and several bookstores within a 30-mile radius. He makes about 20–25 loops a year to visit customers, sometimes returning every two weeks during the two busiest seasons, summer and Christmas. Gooley also works with stores to create displays that build traffic, like standing up his books at pharmacies between the window where customers drop off their prescriptions and the one where they pick them up. For stores that are farther away, he finds it more economical to mail books and offer customers free shipping.
"I like the contact with the people you get to meet who are buying your book," he says. "I'm more in control, and I don't need to do returns. One thing I really hate is debt." Not that Gooley is getting rich by self-publishing. "It's a tough way to make a living," he says. And like most authors, he'd rather be writing than marketing, editing, and designing the covers, all tasks that he handles himself. Currently, Gooley's working on four of his own projects; one or two could be published this year. He is also readying five projects from others for publication in 2011, including a hardcover for parents and children to read together to prepare for the first day of school.
As for e-books, Gooley is toying with offering some titles soon. "But that trend has left me wondering," he says, "how the independent author will survive. If e-books sell at 50% of the price of a printed book, there will be little incentive for anyone to produce books unless it's done for fame or personal satisfaction. Sales at those prices would require a volume unattainable for most authors."