When Jen Talty and I formed Cool Gus Publishing in 2010, our initial goal was to get my extensive backlist out as eBooks. But as soon as we started doing the work, we realized that we were learning a unique set of skills and decided we could expand Cool Gus and take on other authors.
We’ve learned quite a bit over the six years we’ve been in existence. Here are the good, the bad, and the interesting from our experience:
Any Startup Requires Funds
We were fortunate by having 42 titles from backlist, which started earning us income from the start. We’ve always been in the black with a nice reserve. However, if we had not had that income, it would have been a steep financial curve. Those who are pure self-publishers know there are costs to producing an ebook and an POD (print on demand). While the only thing we outsource is editing, we had startup costs and we have maintenance costs. Images, programs, attending conferences, professional expenses, supplies, etc. It all adds up.
The learning curve
At least three years. While the Internet is fast, gaining experience isn’t. It took us three years to really learn the ins and outs of the digital world and publishing overall, and we continue to learn as new things develop and things do change. I had over two decades in traditional publishing, but as an author. Jen had 5 years in digital publishing, as an author.
We also had the added benefit of my former career in the military and Jen’s former work and understanding of the technology field. That added up to a very unique skill set and since we started this journey early on, back in the good old days where eBooks made up 3% of the market, we learned as the market grew. It’s an entirely different set of circumstances now for the author who is contemplating any publishing path. Many authors are pretty unaware of all the things a publisher has to do. There’s a reason all those people have jobs.
On the flip side of that, though, we believe a big advantage we have at Cool Gus for traditional authors who want to go hybrid and don’t want to spend three years learning all those jobs (in addition to still writing) or finding the right fit with various different services for editing, formatting, cover, and even book trailers is that we provide a single point of contact for every aspect of our publishing process. Much like an editor does in a traditional publishing house, except we defer all final decisions to the author. We’ve actually rebranded Cool Gus Publishing to Cool Gus Author Centric Team.
Don’t take on too many authors
Small eBook focused publishers are failing more often than succeeding. We’ve watched a lot of startups and it broke down to two models, which I’ll call the shotgun and the sniper approaches. The shotgun approach is the way most publishers went: get lots of authors and try to make a little bit of money off each. The sniper approach is the way we went: get a handful of authors and focus on them.
The ones who are failing now mostly did the shotgun approach as they didn’t focus on the overhead for all those authors, not just in terms of money, but also time! That’s the most important asset. For example, just doing royalties from all the platforms is very time-consuming. Even thought we tried to limit the number of authors, we maxed out at around 15 and have since cut back to 7.
We say on our web site we’re not taking submissions (we never really did, every author was someone we knew). That isn’t to say we are not open to new authors, but because we are an Author Centric Team, it has to be the perfect fit for us, and more importantly, for the author. Our goal now is to find 2, or a max of 3, traditionally published authors and help them become hybrid. We believe our approach is perfect for that and we’ve already learned all the hard lessons.
Staying ahead of the technology and the business
Despite claims to the contrary, eBooks sales are not flat. They are increasing. A critical part of our job at Cool Gus is to not only stay on top of the latest developments in publishing, but to project ahead. A business that reacts is a dead business. A business that acts is a flourishing business. We’ve applied a lot of what I learned in Special Forces to publishing.
We spend a decent amount of time every day in reading blogs, articles, etc. not only about digital publishing, traditional publishing, but the overall entertainment business as transmedia is the future. We do things like Slideshare, Videos, and always are looking at various social media platforms to see how they can be used. One thing we’re really focusing on now is what we call trans-marketing where we’re searching out markets that are app-based in other fields and connecting it with our books, particularly in the romance field.
We’re very excited about this and have already started in this area with a very popular app and one of our authors. We’ve also started partnership with a few companies that are forward thinking in terms of eBooks and marketing and we are testing the waters with new technology. Jen does a lot of beta testing of software, technology and new marketing tools. We feel the vast majority of authors are trying to market the same way, and the future is looking outside the normal marketplace for unique venues.
Networking is critical and a valuable asset
We spend the time and money to often visit Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc. We utilize assets and contacts built up over two decades in traditional publishing and six years in indie publishing. This is invaluable and not something that one can just invent. Going to events like BEA, ITW, RWA, cons, etc. is expensive but essential.
Make authors the most important part
This is where we diverge from traditional publishing. My experience is that unless one is a mega-author, publishing and even agents to an extent, view midlist authors as replaceable parts. We believe in this maxim: authors create content, readers consume content. Everyone in between must support that connection or they are unnecessary.
An eBook is organic, not static
A huge expense for us in terms of time is constantly updating our product. That’s not just the book; although end matter has to be redone with each new publication. There’s also constant churning of metadata and marketing material.
Authors either “get it” or they don’t
It isn’t easy explaining to an author who has little experience in the actual operations of publishing all the things we have to do. Jen and I have the term “get it” to mean that after talking to an author, we can tell whether they grasp all that’s involved or don’t. Many don’t.
There is a perception, often propagated by self-published authors, on how ‘easy’ it is. It’s not, especially if one is coordinating with an authors traditional books. The truth of the matter is Cool Gus could not exist with out each of our skill sets. And more importantly, the authors we work with.#IAF16 Lessons learnt from Authors publishing #Authors @Bob_Mayer bit.ly/LBF172817 #selfpub Click To Tweet
Bob is giving away 5 copies of Science Fiction book “Ides of March: Time Patrol”. What does it take to change history and destroy our reality? The same date; six different years.