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On building a publishing house

Things are very busy at Twelfth Planet Press right now. In a good way - in a contagious, productive vibe kind of way. In the last couple of weeks, it's started to really feel like a "house" for the first time. It's always been more than me behind the scenes - Tansy and Ben were there from the beginning and then Tehani came on board and it's been some combination of us collaborating on most projects.

But this year, I was a little nervous because for the first time I'm not coediting, I'm editing all the projects on my own. And that alone is a very big job - 6 projects for 2010, and not sharing that workload with anyone. I don't have anyone to doublecheck decisions. And I don't have anyone to share the driving force behind any of the projects. That makes it easy for any one project to get forgotten, or to be thought of as too hard, and procrastinated on. Especially if I'm still very busy working on others. And on top of it, being both editor and publisher is also a big workload. They are very discrete roles and both are equally time consuming. So balancing the publishing and editing is a finely tuned task in itself.

And I think maybe I thought that this would make working at Twelfth Planet Press both completely overwhelming (workloadwise) but also solitary. It turns out that it has been completely the opposite case. Firstly, my good friend Tehani has not completely abandoned me for her new FableCroft venture. She is still working at proofing and advising and reminding and marketing and promoting and throwing ideas at me. And she's still there for bouncing ideas off. And polishing all the final drafts till they shine. And Tansy is also still around for editing advice. And the awesome Amanda has come on board as the Art Department, as I like to call her. So from the production end, there is a lot of hubbub and tooing and froing.

And then there's this big jump that I'm trying to make in more of a hop, skip and a jump rather than one giant leap. I'm in the process of growing Twelfth Planet Press, taking it further in the direction that I would like for it to go. That's meant some changes in the way that I have been doing things - most importantly in terms of cash flow and timelines.

Up until now, the way I have operated is that initially we put seed money into the first projects and then when enough sales had returned enough seed money for a new project, a new project went ahead. And as more projects came online, and the long tail was still coming in for older projects (sales for a book project have preorders, the ramp up of sales on release, and then the long tail of the rest of the sales over time), more projects could come online sooner. And so it was that I did electronic projects (which never returned seed money), and then two titles in 2008, and four titles in 2009. Six titles are scheduled for 2010.

The urgency to grow at this pace comes out of wanting to produce the full vision of the press as quickly as possible. As reviews and feedback come in with each new project, the audience forms an idea of who you are based on what you have done and I want to very quickly put out as diverse an array of titles as I can within my vision for Twelfth Planet Press in order to both brand the house and also to capture the attention of readers, writers and booksellers. Additionally, the bigger the backlist you have, the more chance you have of promoting your press to booksellers and distributors, and ultimately to a greater readership.

So there are six titles scheduled for 2010, spanning anthologies, collections, our first novel and more in the novella/novella doubles series. And the plan is to use Worldcon as a launching pad for the kind of sales you'd need to generate to make six titles released in one year viable. That all works except for one little important fact I forgot until very recently - cashflow. You see, you need to pay the printer, the authors, the artists, the designer, the table space at the con, the advertising, the merchandising and so on. And you need to pay for all these things up front. And that would be where the waiting for the seed money from the last project coming forward to pay for the next one kicks in. A quick sum would show I produced 4 books last year and 4 books is less than 6. Yeah. That hurt me, too.

And that's of course where presales come in. There are all kinds of consumers out there - there are early adopters and uber-organised people who like to buy things as soon as they are available or who like to buy things as soon as they see them and then can forget about having to organise to buy them later. These people preorder books (I like to preorder books - that way when the book arrives months later, it's like a gift from the you of the past, or a book bought with someone else's money). And then there are the people who hear about books from book reviews or from your promotion, or who see you talk at a panel or were at your book launch, or wander past your table at a convention and pick up the book or who hear about it from word of mouth. These people buy your book in person. And they help bump up book sales on release of your book. (Sometimes I'm this person too - I like to see the shiny and then own it!). And then there's the longtail - this is the sale that keeps on giving. These sales come from further word of mouth, more reviews, awards shortlistings or wins, bookstores and libraries and so on. (I'm also this person - I am currently providing long tail kick in for single author collections and feminist SF published before I was involved in the scene.) I kind of hope that I have hit close to break even somewhere after the initial sales of the book release (maybe a couple of months later but still close to), which makes the long tail meaningful because it's the part of the process that pushes the book into "viable" and also brings in cashflow to support growth in the press. This is the bit that I was banking on kicking in to take me over the line and into 6 books viability territory.

Except that I forgot one important thing! Timelines! I want to put all those books out at once so the long tail of book 1 can't pay the seed for book 6. And that would be where the balancing of my cashflow comes in. That was an *interesting* lesson to learn.

The other lesson I am learning is again related to timelines. If I want to better manage my long tails, and I want to increase my initial sales, I need to do better in terms of prelaunch publicity and marketing. And to do that, I need to have book galleys ready well in advance of the book release date and out to book reviewers well ahead of time. For example, to get a review in Locus, you need to send the book for review about 3 months in advance. And the same is true for a lot of the big newspaper outlets in the US. And many will only review the book galley and ahead of the book release date. Up until now, I haven't been remotely able to deliver on that kind of timeframe.

But I have to. So this year is all about working timelines so that we can do this from now on. And that means that I am currently also working on 2011 projects whilst simultaneously working on my 2010 schedule. And if you've followed along on my maths up until now, you'll have guessed that I have more than six projects in my 2011 lineup. And the bit I haven't yet wrapped my head around is that I probably need to be starting to think about 2012 projects and be working on an 18 month ahead timeframe. If I think too hard about this, it does my head in (though to be fair, I think I have two projects already pencilled in). And it certainly is quite interesting in thinking about how you remotely stay on the cusp of the industry when working this far out from release dates.

And so this would be the bit where it's really starting to feel like a publishing house around here. I have so many writers that I am in touch with now on a daily basis that my inbox is all abuzz with writing and ideas and concepts and so on. It's so much fun! I'm looking forward to talking more about the 2011 lineup which is looking really exciting but so much of it is in the initial planning stage that I'll wait until later in the year, when I have firmer details to release. But I will say that this is one of my favourite bits - glimpsing the beginnings of books and seeing new ideas start to evolve and form and grow.

It's a lot of fun!

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
random_alex
Apr. 28th, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
You are officially nutso.

In a really great,I'm-glad-TPP-exists, kinda way.

The issue of staying on the cusp and yet planning so very far in advance is a very interesting one, and one I've not considered before. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
oldcharliebrown
Apr. 28th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
I think I was initially interested, at least one reason, in publishing because I thought it would satisfy my desire to be relatively introverted. The dream was that I could just release books from some dark and dank basement-office, and never meet anyone. Alas, it seems like it's had the opposite impact. It forces you to meet more people :p

I often refer to what I do was more like a conductor of an orchestra. You're directing so many big and little pieces, weekly, daily, hourly, that it's exhausting (but rewarding). Even my wife doesn't know how to explain, exactly, what I do, to her elementary-school students. What do we do? Well, we do it all. Though, increasingly I'm moving away from editing, and diminishing my workload there.

Lead-time is a bear. I've got to schedule at least a year in advance, and often two years, now. (The first half of 2012 is scheduled, for instance). It's something that I wish I had been better at, earlier in my career, in that I tend to bite off more than I can chew, and overschedule. It's not fun. (Eighteen months sounds about right, though). And then shit goes wrong, and cocks up the entire schedule. Fun.

But, one of the best parts of all of this is getting the books in :-)
girliejones
Apr. 28th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
The dream was that I could just release books from some dark and dank basement-office, and never meet anyone. Alas, it seems like it's had the opposite impact. It forces you to meet more people :p

I think that's true and as you well know, so much of this business is about building networks and getting out there and being the face for promotion.

I like your description of conducting. I'm trying to buy more pieces that need far less reworking/rewriting type editing so that the kind of editing I do is more conducting too. But yes, it's a constant inflow and outflow of sometimes just directions and requests and processing. Lots and lots of contacting people about and for things.

Lead-time is a bear. I've got to schedule at least a year in advance, and often two years, now. (The first half of 2012 is scheduled, for instance). It's something that I wish I had been better at, earlier in my career, in that I tend to bite off more than I can chew, and overschedule. It's not fun. (Eighteen months sounds about right, though). And then shit goes wrong, and cocks up the entire schedule. Fun.

When it was just one or two books, yeah it was really less of a deal, though it was all still too rushed and didn't really allow for things to go wrong. Which they do. It seems nicer to be able to actively plan for things that will throw spanners in the works. And when you have the flexibility, it's nice to be able to tell writers you can afford to give them more time.

One of the best bits is totally when the books come in - opening the first box and pulling out the very first copy and being the first person to see it. TOTALLY worth it!
girliejones
Apr. 28th, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
Aww I'm glad you're glad it exists. In theory at some point, I should be growing to the point that I can afford to take on help at which point this should get less workload crazy. There's a plan, at least.

I think being part of LSS and talking on the podcast and also talking with jonathanstrahan all help with the looking towards the cusp. I might do a separate post on that end of the process.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )