Whether or not we want to face it, there is a startling new reality about small press publishing: we need help. The landscape is shifting and independent publishers are realizing that we need to find new ways to stay competitive. The Big Five publishers continue to buy independent presses, repackaging their lists to give an illusion of diversity when they are, in fact, conglomerates. It is time to rethink old business models, and parternship publishing is one way for new independent presses to emerge and be successful in this competitive climate.
So where does this leave authors? Traditional publishers have long tested hybrid contracts, from custom packaging projects to requiring restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, or museums to buy back a certain amount of books as part of publishing deals. Before signing contracts, authors should weigh their priorities. Some authors may need comprehensive direction from their publisher, while others may want to break out of a traditional mold and stay true to their own visions.
Independent presses offer authors an array of options to choose from, though some models are misunderstood. There’s an assumption, for instance, that a blended model throws away any quality control, but that just isn’t the case—particularly when it comes to partnership publishing.
I founded the Collective Book Studio with a distinct model in mind: authors choose us, but we must also choose them. We accept unagented and agented submissions, with each subjected to meticulous screening, but ultimately offer a wide pool of authors access to publishing expertise. By investing in their own products, clients maintain their agency while also acquiring the services that will make their book successful; thus, we establish a partnership. Authors hold on to their IP, they receive higher royalty rates, and they’re involved in many steps of the development, production, and marketing processes.
Like other partnership publishers, the Collective Book Studio handles editorial development, proofreading, layout, design, production, marketing, and publicity. We are backed by a team of experts. Many of us have worn different hats over the years. We form teams comprising booksellers, editors, illustrators, and designers because it gives us a wide perspective.
Each creative team is bespoke, formulated to create the end result that the author helps envision, and driven by diverse experience. Plus, we can work on a much faster schedule than traditional publishers. All of this is to say that partnership publishing creates a financial environment in which authors and publishers can take advantage of their different strengths.
Why would an author choose partnership publishing over self-publishing? Self-publishing has an undeniable allure that stems from one major premise: jurisdiction. It seems to many that self-publishing grants the author the largest amount of control over important editorial, design, and marketing decisions. The self-publishing model is one that recognizes the author’s autonomy above all, but often that comes at the expense of quality control. Even if an author has a self-published book with compelling content, they likely won’t have competitive distribution.
At the Collective Book Studio we often hear from self-published authors who love their books but struggle with being shut out of most sales channels. Partnership publishing means spot gloss, foil, and embossing. It means an editor to ensure the highest-quality writing. It also creates a real path into the indie bookselling market, where handselling can make all the difference to a book’s success.
While the traditional vs. self vs. hybrid publishing debate rages on, independent booksellers are also working under enormous challenges. They’re up against Amazon, the dominant retailer that undermines pricing and shipping standards for everyone. The thing is, independent publishers are being swamped by monopolists, too. The best way for both indie publishers and indie bookstores to grow is by collaborating even more than we do now.
Indie publishers are big supporters of the regional bookselling associations—we read their marketing emails, and we commit to opportunities with indie stores. In turn, associations back us up; they take our calls and give us discounts. And our direct connections with indie booksellers allow authors an inside route to stores that they would have trouble accessing as self-published authors. Further, authors who contribute to the partnership budget allow us as a small press to afford these marketing spends with bookstores that rely on the funding.
Independent bookstores are rooted in community—booksellers know debut authors and regional titles, and importantly, they know the publishers that created them. In a partnership publishing model, small presses can afford to compete and independent stores are able to offer a high caliber of diverse titles. Let’s create an ecosystem that sustains the art of the book.