Published in April by Greenpoint Press, Heather Siegel’s memoir Out From the Underworld is a good example of how a small nonprofit publishing house partners with its authors by offering a 50% royalty (and sometimes more), editorial control, and creative promotional support.
The press was founded in 2004 when novelists Charles Salzberg and Jonathan Kravetz, editors of the literary webzine Ducts, decided to create a five year anniversary essay collection of the online zine’s contributors. They printed 500 copies of How Not to Greet Famous People and sold every copy with the help of colleagues through the New York Writers Workshop, a nonprofit collective devoted to helping writers. After the collection turned a profit, Salzberg decided they should start a publishing company.
Greenpoint Press, a nonprofit press focused on nonfiction, is the publishing arm of New York Writers Resources and the New York Writers Workshop. Salzberg is editor-in-chief with Bob Lascaro serving as business manager and design director and Gini Kopecky Wallace as editor. Greenpoint looks for compelling personal narratives (and some fiction) that may have been overlooked by bigger publishers. Fiction is published under GP’s Trumpet Fiction Books imprint.
The house publishes roughly two to three titles a year and has published 24 titles since its launch, using Lightning Source for POD and distribution. Almost all of the press’s work is done by its three-person staff—Salzberg is not paid, and he jokes that Lascaro and Wallace are “way under” paid—in partnership with its authors. Salzberg acknowledges that Greenpoint embraced e-books a little late, and while nine of the press’s titles are available as e-books, six more are going digital in the next month. He said eventually the house plans to release all its titles in e-book formats for all platforms.
Salzberg estimated Greenpoint can publish a book for between $3,000-$4,000 (many times the money will come from donations). After the press breaks even with costs and salaries, profits are split 50/50 with the author. This 50% royalty can actually increase if the author has already used their own funds for design work, hiring a publicist or other expenses. “We consider ourselves an ‘author’s publisher,’” Salzberg told PW. “Technically we don’t need a profit, just enough for book costs and salaries,” he said.
Greenpoint’s top selling book, We're Not Leaving by Dr. Benjamin J. Luft, a collection of interviews with 9/11 first responders, has sold nearly 7,000 copies, which includes e-books though most of sales are physical copies. The press gave Luft a generous royalty deal because of his investment in a publicist. Luft's appearance on 60 Minutes gave the book a big boost and it continues to sell.
Salzberg believes the best way to sell books is through the authors themselves. In the case of Seigel’s memoir Out from the Underworld, Salzberg said the book was so good (it sports blurbs form Phillip Lopate and Vivian Gornick), that he tried to convince her to go to a more commercial publisher and get better distribution. But bigger publishers were uncertain how to market the book. Siegel convinced Salzberg to publish the book, bought 400 copies of her own book from the press at half-price and sold them for full price at bookstore readings and other events.
Over the last 11 years the press has published Long Gone, Richard Willis’s critically acclaimed 2007 memoir of growing up on a farm in the 1930s and GP has also released Ross Klavan’s 2014 novel Schmuck which, Salzberg said, received a “great” review on NPR. The house has begun re-publishing out-of-print books that they consider “of special interest,” most recently re-publishing John Bowers' classic novel Love in Tennessee and his memoir The Colony.
With its authors focused on promotion, Greenpoint Press dedicates its attention to publishing and distribution.“We want to please the author. I don’t think we’ve had an unhappy author,” Salzberg said.