It has been an era of consolidation in the publishing industry, but in New England, a small press is determined to stay small and independent, and the approach is paying off. Publerati is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and publisher Caleb Mason says the Portland, Maine–based press is well positioned for a second decade of success—all by staying small.
Mason founded Publerati in 2011 with the intent of getting back to basics. For years, he had worked for Little, Brown, a large publishing house. In striking out on his own, he hoped to try a different model where he could spend as much time as possible on editorial content, but that meant coming up with a different approach to publishing.
“It was very much a decade of experimentation and learning,” Mason said. “As a start-up, we were free to set our own rules that run slightly outside the norms of the traditional publishing industry.”
Mason upped the royalty percentages for authors, compared to traditional contracts, hoping to entice literary fiction authors. He also turned to social media as a way to have authors help with publicity. With e-books, Mason was more flexible on pricing, lowering the cost even though that widened the gap between the cost of digital and print editions. Perhaps most importantly, he kept the size of the company at two employees, and eschewed office space; something that many publishers are now considering as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The approach has paid off. Mason and his authors use Twitter to reach book reviewers, NetGalley to attract bloggers, and Instagram and Facebook as author platforms. “With Don Trowden's novels, humorous posts are used to engage potential readers given the satirical nature of the works. For Lakshmi Raj Sharma, a professor in India, sharing his lectures on literature helps engage serious students of writing,” Mason said. “And, for an established author like Ellen Cooney, with her decades of success, keeping her name in our overall mix has worked well to engage readers, especially as she continues releasing new novels through other publishers.”
While the approach may sound like common sense, it was not the norm 10 years ago, and it has allowed Mason to eschew frontlist and backlist distinctions, keeping the entire catalog in front of readers at all times.
In addition to paying the bills, Mason has been able to meet another of his goals, donating a portion of proceeds to Worldreader and other nonprofits that support literacy.
Looking into his second decade, Mason looks to deepen his place in the space he is at now. In May, he is publishing Summer of Love and Evil by Michael Kinnamon and he has just acquired a novella by Canadian author Anna Blauveldt set in the opening months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Book Baby.
“My hope is to continue helping writers of interesting, and sometimes challenging fiction, find a path forward for their works that may be perceived by large publishers to be too narrow in appeal,” he said. To do it, he wants to stay small, and said that submissions during the pandemic have been of a quality to allow him to meet those goals.
“I'd like to see Publerati continue as an independent, privately-owned publisher, so we can balance the need to survive financially,” he said, “with the artistic risk-taking that has long been the fun part of publishing.”