Behind the Scenes & HTMLGIANT Features


$20,333.08. That’s how much money I’ve spent on Publishing Genius since January 17, 2008. This includes printing books, marketing, shipping, and numerous miscellaneous fees. (To give an idea of operating costs, deduct the cost of printing from that number. Printing spend is $12,916.51.)

$13,640.24. That’s how much I’ve taken in from direct sales, Amazon payments, bookstores, sale of rights and so on. Both of these numbers astound me.

$6692.84 is the difference.

For that much money, I could have made the movie “Clerks.”

This isn’t going to be one of those announcements that ends, “We’ve had a great run, and are eternally grateful to everyone who has supported us over the years.” I plan to keep plugging away because doing PG is rewarding and fun. The point of this post, which is going to be long, is just to provide some more glimpses behind the scenes. I figure I’m interested in this so everyone else must be, too.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know jack-shit about running a business, or how other small presses do it. I think you can figure a 5% margin of error in my numbers here, which I suspect is unacceptable for any level of management. And I don’t know how those numbers line up with other small presses, either. I’m curious about how much Hobart spends when they make a book like Adam Novy’s, which is mad wow like a Bible, or Mary Miller’s, which has red stuff on the sides.

Other people’s presses are interesting. I’m not sure what is most interesting to me about PG, which aspects of the job I like the best. When I start to think about what I like, I wonder why I do this in the first place. That’s crisis-inducing. Here’s a question for the other people who run a press: why?

Personally, I’ve never been able to think of an answer besides: I’ve always wanted to. I made comic books in 5th grade. I made zines in high shool. In 1999 I ran a hopeless online journal. If pressed, I would say I publish books because I want to influence culture.

Because that’s possible. But which part of the business do I like best?

Editorial work? To define the position, I think of the editor as the person in charge of tying all the other jobs together — from selecting a manuscript, to editing and revising it with the author, to determining a marketing strategy, to overseeing the design.

Or do I like the administrative end best? (Actually, maybe.) This would include sales, budgeting and accounting (of course), decisions about company structure, working with bookstores and printers, and “staffing” like how to use interns or how to pay artists or proofreaders. Oh, and also that loathsome thing: the post office.

Or is it marketing? Talking to the media, trying to get reviews, being engaged in the scene.

It’s like what Jesus said about the body — every part of the business is as important as the others. I want to say the marketing is of primary importance, but it’s really just the hardest part (for me). Once a book has been produced, that’s when the work begins. Making the book is the easiest step in the process (for me).

There’s always a little window that’s open when a book is released or announced, and it’s going to sell a handful of copies then. But once that window closes — and it closes quickly — sales drop off. It’s the publicist’s job to keep getting attention for the book. Eye level is buy level.

In the PG “model,” though, I’m the publicist and I suck at it. No really, I’m the worst. So, knowing that, I came up with the brilliant idea to just publish a lot of books, and they will promote each other. Right? Like, so you’ve heard of A Jello Horse? Well, that publisher also put out MLKNG SCKLS by Justin Sirois. I figured I could put out 2-4 books a year and devote a lot of time to promoting them, or put out 8-10 books and spend almost no energy promoting them. I chose the latter, but still I seem to be focusing mostly on marketing.

But really I’m just floundering around in that regard. I do things when I think of them, and sometimes they are effective in terms of getting a book reviewed or a writer interviewed or something, but I have no unified plan. And I have no plan to get a plan, except to switch gears from obsessing about “how do you put out a book,” to “how do you sell things?”

I often feel like my strategy is an asshole strategy, because what has ended up happening is that Mike Young is out in the world saying, “Check out my book on Publishing Genius” and Mairéad Byrne is doing likewise and yesterday Stephanie Barber sent out an email to all her friends saying, “Buy my book at” — so what is happening is that all these writers are making ME famous, not the other way around. The thing is that I have a limited number of contacts, and when there’s a book coming out every few weeks, it seems questionable to make the rounds through my friends-slash-colleagues asking them to support another PG book. But ignore me. Journalists aren’t the story, and publishers shouldn’t be either.

Except — when I look at other publishers’ websites, I am often filled with envy. So many people are doing so much right in their technology integration, or the simplicity of their business structure. I wonder — how many books are they selling? How are they using their distributors? What’s their advertising budget?

The thing is, I fund PG myself, from my paychecks. (I have never used credit cards because I am bad with money so I won’t allow myself to have credit cards.) I have a pretty good job and I make more than I did in any job I ever had before, back when I was working front desk at a hotel or doing data entry as a temp. Publishing stories that are only read by other people who want to publish stories is a weird way to spend money, but I wouldn’t give it up for a nicer car.

And there’s another way to look at this, anyway — maybe I’m not funding this myself, after all. Rather, I’m given the privilege, by readers, of doing this. There are some names that appear in my Paypal account several times. I sincerely feel that these people, many of whom I’ve never heard of or heard from outside of their purchases, have done as much for PG as I have.

Still, my ambition is not to be a small press. I don’t recognize small presses as inherently more interesting than big presses. In the asset management world, brokers look at the personality of funds managers and funds managers look at the personality of corporate CEOs. The guy in charge of a fund has people following him around to determine what he’s eating and what his mood is like so they can decide early how he’s going to manage BlackRock’s 3 trillion dollars. These are the real taste makers, and they are astute, and they recognize it’s the people who make the decisions, not the corporate name.

My ambition is be bigger than Random House. To make Rachel Glaser’s book sell a million copies. I honestly am not interested in literacy. It doesn’t bother me that Wittgenstein’s Mistress doesn’t appeal to a wider audience, or that executives add suffixes to words to invent new verbs. I want to sell a lot of books. I don’t know why I got into publishing, but now that I’m in, I know why I’ll keep doing it – to earn back the $6693 I’m in the red.

Tags: ,