Category: On publishing


On book returns & book tours

By Midge Raymond,

Most people outside of publishing don’t know anything about the concept of book returns, but for those of us in the industry, it’s a constant topic of conversation. Either we’re bemoaning the number of books that are returned (usually not in salable condition), or we’re wondering whether we’re missing opportunities by not allowing returns.

So, what does the term “returns” actually mean in publishing?

Thanks to a Depression-era tradition that encouraged booksellers to take books on credit and return any unsold copies, books can still be returned to publishers by booksellers, unlike nearly every other consumer product out there. Despite the fact that we’re no longer in the midst of the Great Depression, the tradition continues. For the booksellers, it means they can take a chance on books without having to sell them; if they don’t sell, they can simply return the books and not have to pay for them.

For publishers, particularly small presses, it’s a bit more complicated. While the Big Five publishers are better able to absorb the losses incurred by book returns, it’s not as easy for the little guys. Publishers are expected to cover the return shipping, and books often arrive in damaged, unsalable condition, which means not only a tremendous amount of waste but losses for both publisher and author. It’s especially difficult for small presses to stay in business with such losses, which is why so many small presses (like us) can’t afford to take returns.

Yet we’ve found ways to work with both authors and booksellers to make sure that our titles are visible and available to readers. Sometimes it means offering free shipping; sometimes it means asking authors to take extra copies because the bookseller prefers to under-order; sometimes it means selling our books to bookstores one book at a time. While most booksellers initially do balk at the idea of no returns, we’ve found that many are also happily willing to work within our parameters to support the authors in their communities.

As more authors publish with small presses (as well as self-publish), there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to bookstore events. After all, the goal for both author and bookseller is to sell out — so whether you’re with a small press, a Big Five publisher, or self-published, these are good tips for authors to keep in mind.

  • Work with indie bookstores to gauge the number of books you’ll need for an event. Ask the events manager to collect names for a free registration, and sent out e-invitations with RSVPs so that the bookseller can try to order just the right amount (studies have shown that one in four attendees buy books at author events). Always bring extras of your own in case.
  • Promote your event! Many authors are under the mistaken notion that it’s a bookstore’s job to bring in the crowds — yet many booksellers don’t do as much promotion as a new author may need (also, they can simply return any unsold stock without losing a penny). So if you want to avoid returns — and especially if you want to avoid facing an empty room — be sure to go the extra mile to promote the event: in addition to alerting friends and family and sharing it on all your social networks, send announcements to local media, get your event into community calendar listings, create a flyer that the bookstore can post — and most important, ask the bookstore how you can work with them to make the event as big and successful as possible.
  • Hold your events in cities in which you’re confident you can draw a crowd, either via friends, family, and colleagues or by the topic of your presentation.
  • If the bookseller over-orders your book, offer to sign them and ask if the store will hold onto those extra copies and work on selling them rather than packing them up and shipping them back the next day (which is often exactly what happens). If your publisher doesn’t take returns, you can buy back the books at the publisher’s discount and sell them at another event.

Managing returns is helpful for everyone involved — not only does it behoove authors and publishers, but it limits the vast amount of waste in publishing (the carbon footprint involved in shipping books back and forth, the destroying of unsalable copies) is good for the planet, and it’s worth everyone’s time in the long run.

Your Author Website: Build or Rent?

By John Yunker,

Your author website is your virtual home on the Internet.

Every author should have one, even if you also have homes on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

That’s because you need a home that is truly your own. A home that Google can index and make easily findable. A home that you control separate from platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

You might be thinking: “But Facebook makes it so easy to make yourself at home! Why bother with a website?”

It’s not an easy question to answer because so much depends on the author. The path you take is going to be largely determined by the following:

  • Your technical ability (or desire to learn)
  • Your budget
  • Your desire to go beyond website templates to create a completely customized author website

With these criteria in mind, I find that there are two general paths one can take regarding their website: Building vs. Renting.

Building a custom home (website)

When you build your home, you will probably need to hire an architect (web designer) to create the home according to your needs. The designer can often also host your website and manage it on an ongoing basis, charging an ongoing fee. This is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed, particularly if you have no technical ability and no desire to bother with web pages and HTML code. But you also need a budget — some web designers will charge $3,000 to $5,000 to create a website. And you’ll also need to pay an hourly rate for text changes down the road. If you want to have your own blog, for example, you will need to think about whether or not you want to pay someone to do this for you instead of you learning how to use WordPress and doing it yourself (it’s not as difficult as it may seem).

What does a custom website look like? Check out this one.

I should stress that even custom websites are often built on standard templates or design frameworks. So a web designer is still often using an underlying template, even though you may not notice it.

Renting a semi-customized home (website)

Now let’s say you don’t want to spend a lot of money. I first urge you to see what’s available for you to use cheaply. You would rely on a web hosting company that provides a template for you to use. You might want to check out:

SquareSpace
SquareSpace offers templates. Here is one that I think can work as an author website. You can start a free trail with no credit card.

Wix
You can create a free account on Wix as well — I’m not a huge fan of the templates.

My advice, whichever way you go:

  • Use photos selectively. Keep the focus on text; photos can add to download times.
  • Make sure the design is “responsive” — so it will adapt to mobile phone screens easily.
  • You’ll probably want a blog included, so you can easily add “news/events.” You could even have your news/event links simply go to the blog. This is a big question: How active do you want to update the site?
  • Finally, if you hire a designer, make sure it’s “work for hire.” You want to own that website so you’re able to update it, change it, etc. Designers sometimes will charge quite a lot for minimal updates or changes.

An interview with Roger Thompson, author of NO WORD FOR WILDERNESS

By Midge Raymond,

Roger Thompson is an award-winning nonfiction writer and director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. A former wilderness canoe guide for a Minnesota camp and the founder and director of an environmental program in Banff, AB, he currently lives in New York with his wife and son. No Word for Wilderness is now available; visit Roger’s website and Facebook page for tour dates and events.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book, and how long did it take you to write it? Did you have a special routine or place in which you wrote?

A: The initial idea for the book came after I first visited Abruzzo to find out about the bears. After being in Italy and hearing their story from people there, I felt the story needed to be told. The book, though, has changed during the process of researching and writing it. It has been a project that has shifted and changed over a six-year period, but the actual first draft I wrote in six months. I’ve done most of the writing at home, but I did do a fair bit in Italy as well as in Minnesota at a cabin where my family has vacationed since I was a child.

Q: Why should we care about these particular bears?

A: We should care because unlike most grizzlies, these particular brown bears have evolved alongside people, growing with communities over a millennia, and thus have adapted to life with man — and locals in Italy have adapted to the bears as well. The result is a remarkably symbiotic and peaceful relationship — a thousand years and no attacks.

Q: How many are there, and why are you concerned about them?

A: The best estimate is between 40 and 50. Some say it may be down to 30. Others say it may be higher. One former park director insists that until recently, there were at least 100, but there is no credible evidence of that. It’s clear that these bears are at a pivotal juncture because of new pressure on their habitat.

Q: What kind of pressure?

A: It’s mixed, but at the heart of it is organized criminal activity — some believe (and I think it likely) that it is mob activity. The bears live in a region that is highly valued for its agricultural potential — specifically, it’s valued because it presents great opportunity for cattle grazing. While that may not seem important, cattle grazing in Italy enjoys significant subsidies from the EU. Those subsidies are what organized crime is interested in. The bears, though, are in the way.

Q: How are they in the way?

A: The bear population lives primarily in Italy’s national parks in Abruzzo. Those parks have prime grazing lands. They also have almost no resources for enforcement of park rules and regulations. So, mafia can essentially underwrite people to come in and graze cattle on the parkland. As they do so, they come into contact with the bears.

Q: What happens with that contact? Is it dangerous?

A: No. Hardly, anyway. There are few, if any credible, reports of bears attacking cattle. There are no attacks on humans. These bears have an almost 100 percent vegetarian diet. And yet, the new land grazing interests have a habit of poaching and poisoning the bears.

Q: How is this being combatted?

A: Well, the key thing right now is that scientists are amassing huge volumes of data to demonstrate definitively how special these bears are and why they should be protected more aggressively. That data is the foundation of activism by a group of conservationists and scientists. It is, however, a race against time. Without international pressure, these peaceful bears and their local advocates have little chance in preserving the animals.

Learn more about No Word for Wilderness here

Announcing the 2017 Siskiyou Prize winner & finalists

By Midge Raymond,

Many congratulations to the winner of the 2017 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: Diana Hartel, for her essay collection Watershed Redemption: Journey in Time on Five U.S. Watersheds.

Judge Jonathan Balcombe writes of Diana’s book: “In Watershed Redemption, Diana Hartel’s sweeping, richly researched account conjures up a Bierstadt landscape. With elegant, crystal-clear prose, she weaves a dire yet hopeful tapestry of ecological ignorance, genocide, and tenacious activism. There is something for everyone—environmentalist, policy-maker, ethnologist, historian, biologist, epidemiologist, artist—in this powerful piece of advocacy.”

Diana Hartel writes on public health and ecosystem health issues. She graduated from Columbia University with a doctorate in epidemiology and concentrations in environment-related chronic diseases and infectious diseases. She has held faculty positions at Columbia University and Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and has published widely for biomedical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine. Additionally, she served at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, for three years, chairing inter-agency projects with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She created two non-profit organizations, Bronx Community Works in New York in 1993 and Madrona Arts in Oregon in 2006. Both organizations addressed issues of social and environmental issues. The Oregon-based Madrona Arts primarily employed visual and written arts to raise awareness of ecosystems and efforts to restore them to vibrant health.

[Photo by David Winston]

Diana will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA and a $1,000 cash prize. 

We are also delighted to announce the prize finalists and semi-finalists:

Finalists
  • Crusoe, Can You Hear Me?: A novel by Deborah Tomkins
  • Lost Coast: A young-adult novel by Geneen Marie Haugen
Semi-finalists
  • Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal-Consuming Culture by Robert Grillo
  • Xylotheque: Essays by Yelizaveta Renfro
  • Junk Raft: An ocean voyage and rising tide of activism to fight plastic pollution by Marcus Eriksen

 

A very special thanks to all writers who entered the contest … your support makes this prize possible!

The Siskiyou Prize closes on December 31

By Midge Raymond,

If you’re planning to submit to our fourth annual Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, the window is closing fast … submissions close on December 31, 2017.

Our 2017 judge is New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Balcombe. Jonathan’s most recent book is What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins, an extraordinary journey underwater that reveals the vast capabilities of fishes. He is also the author of the books The Exultant Ark, Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and The Use of Animals in Higher Education. Jonathan has three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, and has published more than 50 scientific papers on animal behavior and animal protection. Learn more at jonathan-balcombe.com.

The 2017 prize is open to unpublished manuscripts and books published within the last five years. The winner will receive $1,000 and a four-week residency at PLAYAAll Siskiyou Prize submissions will be considered for publication from Ashland Creek Press. Visit the Siskiyou Prize website for complete details and to submit.

The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2017.

Please feel free to share this announcement with fellow writers! We look forward to reading your work.

New environmental literature refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award isn’t for books about hunting, fishing, or eating animals — unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, the prize will be open to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with environmental and animal themes.

For more information, visit the Siskiyou Prize website, and if you have any questions that aren’t covered in the guidelines or FAQ, feel free to contact us.