The advent of POD has given authors who have been bypassed by traditional publishers or who are interested in keeping control over their work more options than ever for getting into print. Now, a number of publishers that provide more services than traditional vanity presses or their POD counterparts have sprung up. Literary Architects, based in Indianapolis, and Syren Book Co., based in Minneapolis, are just two examples of these new companies that charge a range of fees to publish a book.
Renee Wilmeth, the acquisitions director for Literary Architects who has worked for both Simon & Schuster and Penguin, described her company's business model as that of a full-service publisher selectively partnering with authors to produce, market and sell trade-quality books. Literary Architects has accepted about 25% of the proposals submitted thus far, but expects that number to decrease as word spreads about their services.
Literary Architects and Syren provide editing, design, production, fulfillment and marketing services, much like a traditional publisher does. Both companies also pay royalties, but unlike traditional publishers, Syren and Literary Architects authors have the final say in crafting the book and they retain all rights to that book. Both companies focus on publishing nonfiction, but will do some fiction.
There are a few major differences between the two as well: Syren provides all of its services in-house, while Literary Architects outsources everything but acquisitions, editorial and marketing. For instance, Bookmobile, owned by Prism Publishing Center, Syren's parent company, prints both POD and offset books and galleys for print runs that range between 500 and 10,000 copies for Syren. Itasca Books, also owned by Prism, provides fulfillment to the trade. Literary Architects books are printed and shipped by BookSurge. Neither company has sales reps.
Because their titles are available from Ingram and Baker & Taylor, both companies maintain that their lack of a sales force does not mean their books will not find buyers. "If books are in [wholesalers] databases, if they're in demand, if they're getting good reviews, if the authors are out there, bookstores will order books," declared Maria Manske, Syren's associate publisher, previously a marketing manager for Consortium Distribution. She emphasized, however, that authors must be willing to promote their works.
Catherine Watson's experience bears out Manske's assertion. Watson, travel editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for more than 25 years, paid Syren $6,300 after the publisher agreed to publish her collection of travel essays, Roads Less Traveled, this past fall. The book received a glowing review in Booklist and is garnering reviews and off-the-book-page feature articles in major consumer media like the St. Petersburg Times and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Watson also participated in the "author's feast" at MBA in October.
According to Manske, not only do all the bookstores in the Twin Cities metro area carry the book, but after she contacted the small press buyer at B&N in New York, the book was placed in 150 B&N stores nationally. Roads Less Traveled has sold approximately 2,500 copies.
Watson was impressed enough by Syren that she intends to publish a second collection of travel essays with the company next year. "They produced a professional product for relatively little expense, and they did it so fast," Watson reported. "They were really open to everything I wanted, and they gave me a lot of guidance."
Although Watson's experience with Syren was a positive one, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, expressed reservations about Syren and Literary Architects' hybrid business model. He cautioned that such an arrangement could evolve into a traditional vanity publishing model if the publisher does not fully invest in marketing and selling the book.
"You're putting a lot of faith in the publisher doing the right thing by your book. It's something you should go into with your eyes wide open and have reasonable expectations about what you're getting into," Aiken warned.
Literary agents contacted by PW, however, sounded more positive than Aiken about the hybrid alternative. While all agents agreed that paying a fee to publish always poses both tangible and intangible risks for an author, they also considered that, if Syren and Literary Architects actually deliver the services they promise, they represent a viable alternative to vanity publishing or self-publishing.
"The Internet and new ways of promoting and distributing books have made it possible for a company like this to succeed," noted Michael Snell of the Michael Snell Agency in Cape Cod, Mass. Snell has referred three authors to Literary Architects, two of whom were accepted for publication.
"With the big publishers being so slow, so bureaucratic, so focused on celebrities—there's a reason companies like this are coming along now," he added.