Small Press Publishing for Profit, Part 5: ‘The Long Tail’ & Part 6: ‘Scaling Up’

The long-awaited fifth and sixth installments of a series in which Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry reveals his tried-and-tested formula for making a living as a self-employed literary publisher. This week: what to do after you’ve broken even, and how to re-invest the results.

A prosperous-looking young publisher speaking on a panel at the Northern Short Story Festival. (Photo: Raj Passy)
  • Put the book on ‘print on demand’. POD books used to be too ugly and too expensive; the whole thing used to seem like a pipe dream, but the situation has moved on a lot. In ten years, POD might be the only sensible way to do any kind of printing (but we’re not there just yet). I passed a personal watershed on this a few weeks ago — I had an email from a happy customer that went as follows: “I received my first Valley Press books today, and I wanted to tell you how impressed I am … very nice paper and print quality … as a book lover I appreciate the care you take of the books as objects.” I checked her order to see what she’d gone for, and nearly spat out my tea: she’d ordered two of my print-on-demand titles. My supplier Ingram deserve a shout-out for that one (paperback, matt lamination, cream paper, if you’re wondering).
  • Make an ebook. Okay, this is cheating really, but ebooks are always worth a shot. It’s free to upload titles to most services, and then they sit there forever; so what if they only sell one copy a month? That’s £2 in your pocket with zero effort. (I say £2, as you need to price them semi-competitively: £3.99 is sensible, but after VAT, the seller’s cut and author royalties you’ll be on your way back down to £2.) You could also try doing a digital audiobook: but that is a pool I’ve only just dipped my toe into, so I won’t speak on that subject today.
  • Offer bigger discounts. As you start selling 300 copies or more of each title, you no longer need to cling onto your £3 segment like your life depends on it. You could consider offering the ‘trade’ a larger discount (50% for example), which will put you in the same game as the big corporate publishers. To that end, you could also think about sale-or-return: if your 300 initial sales are secure, the fate of the other copies you print becomes less crucial.
  • Think about a sales agency. If you can afford to give up 10% of the income from your existing sales to the trade, you could think about joining a sales agency (or at least having some kind of ‘reps’). For literary publishers in the UK, Inpress is the most sensible starting point; there are others, though there was a major closure last year. They won’t work miracles, but they will definitely sell more copies of your books; and it’s nice to sit in your armchair with a cup of tea, knowing someone else is out there sweating over how to put your publications in bookshops.
  • Hire freelancers. Of the nine days I described in part two, are there any which really drag for you — which you’d rather avoid? You can bring in someone else to do those parts; you could already, paying them £7.50 an hour, but with sales up to 300 you can offer a decent rate and bring in some top people. Alternatively, if you’re not too personally attached to your brand, you could hire someone to do the entire process; a whole extra stream of titles coming from your label. You need someone with a degree in literature and a passion for graphic design (or the other way around), but these people are out there and can be trained. (Hi Rosa!)
  • Spend on promotion. At the start of part 3, I listed some sure-fire ways to sell a lot of books; if you have excess cash, you can invest in those and keep tweaking until you find something that works.

Founder @valleypress. Have mostly written here about small press publishing, but am starting to branch out. Stay with me, people!

Founder @valleypress. Have mostly written here about small press publishing, but am starting to branch out. Stay with me, people!