Collaborative Publishing Thoughts from Kristy

So…lately I’ve been thinking about publishing. About the business of publishing. We’ve put out two wonderful (and very different) debut novels and we’re getting ready to sign one more. But we have a very restrictive form of publishing with Blank Slate Press and I think we’re limited in what we can do with BSP’s regional focus.

In the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago, there was a piece about artists and the studio model where assistants do all the art….where pieces can sell for a gazillion dollars even when the “artist” didn’t even touch them. This is the same model that James Patterson uses…he has an idea for a book and puts his minions to work writing the actual book. The infamous James Frey is doing a similar type of thing with his studio.

I think that is inherently disingenuous…but, if no one really cares and the books and the art is still selling, then obviously the people buying the work don’t really care. The brand name is all that matters and it connotes a certain style or art or a certain style of writing.

Also, in the visual art world, there is the artists’ cooperative. Where artists band together to rent space together and show together but whose work is very different.

And in the film world, there is (was) United Artists which was founded by four film stars. Granted, I (and nobody I know) am not a film or a literary star, but the concept is the same. And because technology is breaking down barriers to publishing, the only thing that remains in the way of getting a well-written book out there is the system of gate-keepers called agents. Some agents are already responding to changes in publishing by starting their own e-imprints. But this is beside the point because you still have to jump through all the hoops to get the agent in the first place.

In the professional world, doctors, dentists, and lawyers get together to form limited liability partnerships (basically cooperatives) where partners own the company and split profits according to ownership percentages.

So, back to publishing. On the one hand there are the thousands of people who are taking advantage of Kindle/Nook/Smashwords to self-publish. Some of these writers are putting out high quality work and are having great success – including the now famous Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who were never traditionally published before they self-published. On the other hand, established authors (J.A.Konrath stands out) have turned to self-publishing (often starting with their backlist of books that never got published) after success with a traditional publisher. Now, Amazon has started its own publishing house with imprints for literary fiction, romance, mystery…all the established rules are in flux.

What I’m interested in is the idea of an author’s cooperative like an artist’s cooperative/professional limited liability partnership. I’m interested in charting a middle course between a publishing house and self-publishing. Where a group of authors gets together to curate each other’s work. Where an author can come to the group with a manuscript, have the group vet the writing and decide whether or not the author “fits” into the sensibility of the group, and then have two or three other authors help edit the work and get it in shape for publishing and then put it out there under the moniker of the single publishing house brand. When an author joins he or she invests a certain amount of money and then when the author has a title that is ready to go, so to speak, funds will be allocated to cover the cost of the book production (proofreading, cover art, printing/mailing ARCS, etc.) and then an agreed upon split of the proceeds will return to the author and to the cooperative/publishing house to support marketing efforts to promote the brand/house. There must be a consensus between the author and the author/editors as to when the book is “done” and ready for release.

It’s an author-owned and controlled publishing house. While there are/would be still lots of kinks to be thought through, I think it is an intriguing idea. What do you think?

Explore posts in the same categories: small press, the business of publishing, the future of publishing

7 Comments on “Collaborative Publishing Thoughts from Kristy”

  1. Richard Thomas Says:

    Really interesting concept, Kristy. I’m a part of some different groups and workshops (The Cult, The Velvet, Write Club) and this can definitely work. The Velvet is putting out an anthology called Warmed and Bound.

    The Cult is putting out an anthology through a workshop contest with Palahniuk. And over at Write Club we’ve had several people put together different projects such as the Thunderdome anthology, which uses photos taken by one of the members as prompts, and then the authors post up at our site (private forum) and people read and critique, but there’s nothing formal about that aspect.

    Also, at WC, while we aren’t publishing as an entity, the basic premise is that you join, and then write/edit a novel over the span of a year, while critiquing four other novels. So, that aspect of it works. Several of our authors have sold novels, and collections, landed agents.

    Your idea is possible, Kristy. You’d need somebody with vision to run it all, and a good stable of authors with the right personalities, but it’s indeed possible. With the stigma of self-publishing and POD fading, process and publishers are becoming less important, as long as the work is good. But, you still see that the top sellers are traditionally published books. But in time, who knows?

  2. Richard–Thanks so much for the insightful comment. I’m the most intrigued by the Write Club process. It sounds a little different than the idea Kristy posted above, but it still adds in a layer of structured feedback that could work really well in a collective.

  3. JMJKDulce Says:

    I’m not a fan of that first model example at all, whether artist or author. I didn’t even know bestselling authors did such a thing and I won’t be picking up any James Patterson or James Frey now.

    I do like your idea though as long as the person getting top billing on the cooperative book did the majority of the writing. Maybe I’m feeling a little utopian today, but it’s a little depressing that everything needs a business model for profits over just being done for appreciation of the act.

    • Jim Yanni Says:

      Hey, writing a story is (comparatively) easy. And then you can show it to friends, and bask in the nice compliments you get. But getting somebody who doesn’t already know you to read it? Getting it to where you can actually get people to PAY you to read it, so that you can afford to quit your day job and devote more time to writing? Now, THAT’S a challenge. And one that many people who have th eability to write well do not have the talent to manage. That’s why agents have traditionally been a necessity, but even then, it takes a certain amount of bueaucratic ability to get yourself an agent, ability that many talented writers just don’t have.

      • Jim–True, that is the true challenge: Getting people who are completely unbiased to read your work is tough. The collective idea adds a supportive bias–the people in the collective want your novel to be as strong as possible, because they benefit financially (a little bit) if your novel sells.

    • JMJK–Well, I think I should clarify Kristy’s “collective” idea. Each novel would only be written by one author. However, that author would get feedback from all other members of the collective. Thus each novel would benefit from the wisdom of the collective even though it would only contain the words and vision of the individual author.

      I hear what you’re saying about art for the sake of appreciation (and entertainment, I might add).

  4. […] As a publisher/editor, I’ve started editing Blank Slate Press’s third novel, DAYBREAK,–a historical about a love triangle set in a utopian society founded in southern Missouri just before the outbreak of the Civil War. (It’s going to be GREAT, by the way.) I’m also editing and helping a mental health consultant/writer get his book, (AN AMERICAN RESURRECTION: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY FROM CHILDHOOD ABUSE AND MENTAL ILLNESS TO REBIRTH AND LITERARY COMMUNION), on his journey through child abuse and mental illness published. And I’ve been working with a Vietnam veteran on telling his story. Plus, I’m interested in pursuing what I’m calling my Treehouse Writers Cooperative (TWC) idea. (See my BSP blog post on this here.) […]

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