Beyond content . . . there are technical requirements that no publisher will talk about. It is up to the writer to figure these things out. When asked, publishers will just say, "It all depends on the writing." In other words, if the writing is brilliant enough, we will break our normal rules and will publish anything.
OK. If you are a native English speaker or the equivalent, and you can play the English language like the violin, and it's easy for you to sense the 12 nuances behind every word and every arrangement of words, then OK. Spend ten years getting an MFA in creative writing and then, go for it.
To meet this standard, you nearly always will need to be a woman who has the delicious precision and sense for nuance that the best women writers are known for. Just a very few guys ever reach this level, though as a guy I may be wrong about this. As I write, I am thinking of Lisa Suhair Majaj, the poet and academic writer. Her prose poem for our collection An Ear to the Ground "Tata Olga's Hands" is so good that it is basically from outer space.
Every writer with normal human powers needs to pay a lot of attention to what subjects and genres work for a given publisher and for a given series of books within a larger publishing program. If it is not a precise fit, it will not get published . . . unless (see above).
Cune Press is "young." We have been publishing for 27 years, but now we have signed a distribution agreement with Publishers Group West / Ingram Publisher Services, probably the largest distributor of independent press books. As we are digesting the new discounts and the need to organize our books into seasons, we are crafting publishing strategies that we hope will work with the new book markets, the new printing technology, the interplay of domestic and foreign sales.
What does this mean to you, a talented author of a book in our areas of interest (Middle East-Africa, Civil / Human Rights, Arab-Americans, West Coast Writers)?
With 90% of our books, we are going for breadth of distribution and larger sales, at an appealing price point, rather than more limited distribution and fewer sales at a higher price point.
For some titles where we have preorders that suggest robust sales, we will print in offset which means we can get a lot of copies at a low cost per copy. The problem, of course, is that if the large sales do not develop . . . then we are paying return fees, warehouse fees for storing books that do not move very quickly, and we ultimately end up pulping a lot of books.
Electric cars and small trucks seem to be the wave of the future in transportation. What is the emerging approach in book production to take into account: a) lower volume of book sales; b) need for a wider variety of books to be able to more widely test the market; c) higher costs to ship books back and forth; d) costs to store slow moving books in a warehouse?
The new new in book publishing is a strategy that integrates POD (Print on Demand) with traditional offset printing. For some titles, we will print in offset, "flood the market," and hope for the best. But for most titles, we will do "mid-range" printing (more copies than the normal POD print run and fewer copies than the traditional offset print run) to put books into our distributor's warehouses and into bookstores. Then, we will follow up with POD to cover demand after the initial print run has sold. At the same time, POD will be used to sell in AU (Australia), the UK / EU, and in the ME / North Africa and other locations where the cost of shipping is prohibitive.
The idea is to place books into bookstores where they are likely to sell, to have enough copies in the warehouses to respond if there is a surge of interest before Christmas or another holiday or event, and then have the book "backstopped" by POD. If a larger demand develops, we can go back to print in offset.
However, the sad normal pattern in the book industry is that at the top of the sales curve for the first printing there are some sales that are "lost" due to the lack of books in the stores. Publishers often err by producing a second printing. However, it takes time to produce this printing. And bookstores will ultimately find more unsold copies here and there on their shelves than anyone expects.
The wry observation made by publishing sages: "Publishers send the second printing to bookstores and it will pass in the mail the returns from the first printing coming the other direction."
I hope that these generalities will help. To make the picture more specific, please see the next article, My Response to Bassam."
--Scott C. Davis