Another small press closes its doors. One that has been run sensibly, with a good business head and great books. One that hasn’t madly over reached or got itself into trouble in anyway. So why has it closed?
Well I guess it’s time to speak frankly about the realities of running a small press.
We have over 50 titles out. One has made a profit. A non fiction one. Two others have come close to covering their costs. Then Nun & Dragon counts as profitable because it was done on pure profit share right at the start. It has probably paid for the first couple of years of the URL.
Creating and producing books costs money. In the case of FS, we’re working with people who are willing to take mates’ rates and token payments, but that’s still money. More if it’s an anthology, or has extra artwork. Add to that the costs of author copies and postage, my gods the postage The books are print on demand for us, so that’s printing and shipping in the US to the UK, around £60+ to get the books here, then I post them all on.
So a paperback, of which we sell more, takes roughly £1.00 per copy sold. 70p to the author in most cases. 30p to us. So, to cover costs of the average anthology we need to sell around 1,350 copies. Of each book. And again, these are at the greatly reduced rates for work that we’ve negotiated with friends and people who want us to do well!
This is before we look at the costs of going to events, web hosting, marketing materials, launch events – even an accountant because we are a Ltd company now so we need to do formal business accounts. The annual return to Companies house. It all adds up. We don’t offer many hard copies for review because of the cost. We don’t submit to many awards because, even if you only have to send copies, it’s a cost. Every time we try an advert somewhere new… it’s a cost and a massive risk.
The funds come mostly from what the accountant charmingly calls ‘director loans’. Those come out of our day job wages. If we can’t afford to go a friend’s birthday it’s because the money is sunk into getting a book out.
And none of the accounting includes the time myself and my business partner and Mr Fox put in. There is neither the time nor the money for holidays, and much of my time is spent on the verge of burnout. If I seem to nap a lot it’s because I haven’t slept well since Nun & Dragon came out.
Running a small press occupies most of my free time and most of my disposable income. It’s a labour of love and boundless hope and optimism and waking up at 3am worrying about the costs of the latest thing and the lack of sales for my authors and whether the last book went out with typos we’d missed and a million other small things.
If I am saying NO a lot more often it’s because it’s the only way we can survive. I still need to get better at it.
More presses are looking to Patreon to help keep them going, or Kickstarter so books are effectively no or low risk. Many people running small presses have other jobs which either subsidise the press or subsidise the bill paying or both. Some small presses are folding, it just doesn’t pay. Brexit and the uncertainty and additional costs it brought with it – another nail in the small press shaped coffin.
Thing is, as a business, few small independent presses really make sense. We don’t. Oh, we believe we can get there but it’s a long way and we tell ourselves that we have to survive that little bit longer to start to see that upswing.
In a time when large publishers are tightening belts and taking fewer chances on those quirky projects and cross genre works, small press is a life line for a lot of writers. Authors who don’t want to do it all alone, who want editing support, professional cover art, and the business aspect managed by a trusted partner. It’s a lifeline for readers who want something a little different, a way of discovering new voices and new stories, of trying something that fills a peculiar niche or appetite.
If you want to help, if you want to keep your favourite presses open, if you want those unusual little projects to be published… the simple truth is they need more sales. You don’t have to buy all the books yourself – there are other ways you can help. Tell people about them! Review the books! 50 is a magic number on amazon, but 10 is the minimum for any kind of impact, or to even be considered for a lot of marketing systems. Share posts and retweet. Help build word of mouth. Come to their events and their tables and enthuse because honestly just seeing people there and hearing that we are loved can help get through the next month of bleak sales. Put them forward for fan awards, many of us are too dignified to sneakily do this ourselves, but those nominations and long lists mean the world, they mean someone is paying attention. Tweet nice things to the authors because when they get their sales figures and meagre royalties your words help them believe it’s still worth it (like Tinkerbell and the clapping thing).
Small presses may not always be as professional and business-like as larger ones. They may not always go into it knowing everything they should. But the hard truth of it is, if it weren’t for our naïve passion, most of us wouldn’t exist at all.