Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Q & A with Independent Publisher Michele Orwin, Founding Editor of Bacon Press Books

A new independent publisher
As some of you may know, I wear another chapeau as editor / publisher of Dancing Chiva (which specializes in publishing works by Yours Truly and, shall we say, denizens of the Afterlife). In that guise, I attended last weekend's excellent two day seminar in Austin, Texas, "Publishing U," the annual conference of the Independent Book Publishers Association, where I ran into my Washington DC writing friend, novelist and poet Michele Orwin. Turns out she's started up Bacon Press Books

Check out the Bacon Press Books's beautiful website and the latest book, the first paperback edition of Kate Blackwell's superb short story collection, You Won't Remember This, which was originally published in hardcoverand to glowing reviews by Southern Methodist University Press.

Herewith some Q & A:

C.M. MAYO: What prompted you to start the press?

MICHELE ORWIN: I knew if I wanted to keep working, I’d have to have my own business. Since I’d spent my whole professional life working as a writer and teaching others about writing, I wanted to do something where I could use my experience. Then I read about digital publishing. It made so much sense. 

We know so many writers who had published books that are only available in hardcover. I thought once I learned how to publish, I could either release their books in paperback and Ebook or else teach them how to do it. 

The first paperback edition
of Kate Black's splendid book of short fiction
Bacon Press Books, 2015
C.M. MAYO: I for one am delighted to see what I would call a "hybrid press." (Would you agree with that term?) It seems authors such as myselfpreviously published with various small and commercial presses, a track record of reviews have been caught between, shall we say, less than attractive deals, or self-publishing, with zip in between. Self-publishing has usually meant that one's book gets lost in the haystack, next to Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes, which is set in some horrible font with a blecch cover. (Though now that I think about it, Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes could be the title for a delicious comic novel...)

MICHELE ORWIN: There’s been a lot of discussion in the indie community about terms. I’ll be very happy when we all finally come up with ones we can use. People still confuse what used to be called "vanity publishing" with "self-publishing."  Vanity publishing in the past meant all you had to do was pay a (usually) exorbitant fee and you’d get a book. No vetting and not great editing. Self-publishers today are a lot more sophisticated and they have access to a wide range of talented free-lancers, so the quality of self-publishing can be pretty high. 

Plus there are a lot of what’s now called "hybrid authors." Authors who publish both with traditional publishers and with independents or else self-publish. For some it’s a question of economics, they can make more money publishing on their own. For others, it’s a matter of control. We have one author who was published traditionally but wanted to go in a different direction from what his publisher wanted, so he chose to work with us. 

I call myself an independent publisher. We don’t take on most of the books we’re sent. We have high editorial and production standards. People can’t pay us to publish bad books or even mediocre ones.  Not sure what we’d do with Suzy's Memories of Cupcake Recipes. 

I call the business model I use "partnership publishing." That comes closest. We've tried to make it as author friendly as possible and still be in business. While we can’t offer advances, and we do ask authors to cover production costs, we share other expenses. And while they may provide the capital, I put in way more time than our authors do once the book is published. We offer a generous split on revenues, a two-year contract so authors can go elsewhere if they get a better offer or aren’t happy, and the author keeps all rights and all files. 

C.M. MAYO: You've been around a long time and seen many other small presses. Not to name names, but what are some of the things that you've seen as common practice in the small press world that you think would be best to avoid?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not sure I can answer that. We published our first book in January 2013 and we’re still learning. What I have seen is that the indie community is incredibly generous in helping newcomers. Giving out information, sharing  contacts. I’ve learned so much from conferences, online groups, and other small presses.  The really awful things are done mostly by the larger companies that charge authors a fortune and don’t do much more than produce a book and make the author buy hundreds of copies. 

C.M. MAYO: What are some of the common misconceptions first time authors have that make it difficult for their press?

MICHELE ORWIN: There are five misconceptions that I’ve run into and have heard other publishers talk about too. First, that the book is fine as is and doesn’t need an editor. Second, just because a book is good, it’ll be a best seller or maybe even sell at all. Third, that they don’t have to do any marketing or promotion to help their books get discovered. Fourth, that they’ll make money. Fifth, that it’ll happen quickly. 

With more than 600,000 books expected to be published this year, it’s a very tough business. 

C.M. MAYO: Your website is one of the best I've ever seen. Tell, tell!

MICHELE ORWIN: Thank you! I tried about half a dozen different providers. But I’m not very adept and they just didn’t come out right. My daughter knows coding, she told me about SquareSpace. I needed something easy to use that would look good and SquareSpace was it. 

C.M. MAYO: How about book stores? Does Bacon Books Press work with sales reps?

MICHELE ORWIN: Not all the books we publish would do well in book stores. But for the few that would, we haven’t had much luck. The books can all be special ordered or ordered online from the stores. From what I’ve heard, that’s how many stores would prefer to deal with most small presses. 

We’re not working with distributors yet. But at some point we will be when it makes economic sense for us to do it. A big part of this new publishing landscape is having access to a global market by making the books available online. That’s where we’ll find most of our readers. 

C.M. MAYO: Can you talk about your background as a writer and poet and how that informs what you're doing now?

MICHELE ORWIN: I’m a fiction writer, my husband is a poet. It’s been a real eye-opener for both of us. Though probably more for me. I now understand why agents/publishers don’t want to see a whole book, or won’t read past the first 10-20 pages. You really can tell pretty quickly if you’re going to like something. I understand how subjective it all is. One book I turned down now has 25 5-star reader reviews on Amazon. It just wasn’t right for us, but I’m sure the author is wondering why I passed.

And I understand why it’s not a good idea to give too much feedback if you’re going to reject a book. Just because I see flaws doesn’t mean someone else will. It’s better to let the author try elsewhere. 

I also understand better why authors need to be involved in marketing. I used to cringe at the idea of self-promotion. But now I can see that the author really is the best person to connect with readers.