What a grand understatement it is, as I stand (well, actually I’m sitting in a ladder back chair) at the end of the first year of Second Wind Publishing, LLC, to say I have learned a few lessons.
In the fall of 2007, a group of writers I knew got tired of hearing me bellyache about the injustice of the publishing industry as it exists today. They challenged me: “If that’s the way you feel about it, why don’t you start your own publishing company.” I began to research the idea. By the spring thaw of 2008, I was committed to starting the company. Simultaneously I acquired equipment, software, authors and the rights to publish novels. By June 1, 2008, the company was officially formed. We had begun finalizing manuscripts for print by mid summer and the first book, Carpet Ride by Norm Brown was published on August 21. By September 1, half a dozen books were being printed. One year later, nearly thirty books are in print and a total of forty probably will be available by Christmas, 2009. Lots of exciting things are happening quietly behind the scenes as well, as we continue to work on promotion, acquiring fine new authors and creating our own bricks-and-mortar bookstore.
Rather than lingering on the numerical realities of what happened in the first business year of 2W, I think it’s more worthwhile to talk about the important lessons I’ve learned in my role as publisher. I made a list and decided to stick just to the top ten:
- There are a great number of fine writers who aren’t getting read because of the current state of the publishing industry. This was something we suspected before we started and it was the real reason 2W was founded. The publishing industry as it exists today is essentially focused on making money for publishing companies, distributors and big box bookstores and outlets. The greatest injustice this perpetrates is forcing worthy writers to spend their time and energy begging for agents, who in turn must beg publishers on their behalf. Our little outfit, along with many other small, independent publishers, is all about giving writers the chance to be read.
- Stories are like children. It’s truly amazing that writer can send you a marvelous novel, sign a contract to give you the right to publish it, and then back up and rewrite the whole damn thing twice before you finally get it. Novels have minds of their own. They write themselves and then deconstruct themselves. They haunt their authors and fill them with anxiety, causing their writers to beg their friends for advice (that is almost never taken). Even a published novel is like a late adolescent child—it’s parent is still not quite satisfied and never will be. The only salvation comes from focusing on other kids (writing more books).
- No two writers are alike. There are truisms about writers we all know: they are drunken louts who pour themselves full of liquor and then pour their creativity into the work, apart from which they’re pretty much useless; they are tortured artists, using their creative angst to deal with the improper potty training that scarred them for life; they are oversensitive neurotics who create worlds in books because they can’t live in the real one; they are poetic schizoids whose only contact with reality is literary expression; they are romantic souls, hopelessly trapped in fantasy relationships because they cannot sustain real ones. Okay, all that is bunk. I remember our first Second Wind National Book Signing, sitting around the table with seven or eight authors and thinking to myself, “No two of these people are remotely alike.” I’ve learned that their writing customs, creative processes and reasons for writing are all equally unique.
- Real writers are in it to write. All the authors we’ve signed have read over their contracts very closely—not because they think 2W is going to steal their money, but because they want to preserve their ownership of their stories. I bring this up because, in our greedy, venal little world, the authors I’ve come to know are as a group the least greedy, least financially motivated people around. That’s not to say they don’t like their royalty checks or that we’re not trying to sell their books. Selling books for our authors is a way of buying them more time and freedom to write; that’s the only thing they’re greedy for.
- Everything takes longer than you think. In general, no one is more impatient than an author 1) waiting to hear if a publisher is interested in buying her/his book, 2) waiting for the contract/editing/proofing/etc. to get finished, 3) waiting for the proof copy, or 4) waiting for that first order of books. Another general observation I’d make is that, the more impatient an author is, the more likely something is going to delay the awaited book. On the other hand, the corollary to this rule is: authors tend to be tremendously forgiving and understanding when publication schedules get delayed repeatedly; and grateful when they final get published.
- Ask for help. One of the reasons things get delayed is because an old timer like me can only get so much done in a twenty-four hour period, not to mention the fact that I have a day job and a family. As work piled up more and more, I began to accept the offers of authors to help with various parts of the publishing process. Surprise, many of them were much better at the work I was doing than I was. Many of them discovered talents they did not know they possessed. How thankful I am for the skilled, generous people who have made the progress of 2W possible—and you all know who you are!
- Play by the rules. It’s easy, especially in an expanding market and an expanding business, to take short cuts. We’ve learned not to shortchange our authors, our customers, the publishing process or the legal rules. Not long ago we had an incident in which a person tried to post a stolen story in one of our contests. It was a reminder to us of the financial and legal pitfalls that await if we don’t proceed properly.
- Ride the flow. Julia Cameron calls it “synchronicity.” Bill Strickland calls it “flow.” One of my favorite writers calls it the “creative avalanche.” Of course I’m referring to the amazingly serendipitous fashion in which things tend to fall into place when you’re doing what you love and trying to respond to the opportunities you have. Forty books published in eighteen months is pretty astounding. So many things had to fall into place for all this to occur. Shakespeare famously wrote in Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” I think I only understood that proverb when 2W came into my life.
- The publishing industry is in a state of foment. This learning is particularly important in light of the one that proceeds it. Between the financial difficulties of large publishers and large book chains, the explosion of digital printing, the universal communication facilitated by the internet and coming ebook revolution, this is a wonderful, frightening, exhilarating moment to be an alternative publisher.
- Take the dare. Who is to say that 2W will exist next year at this time? Who is to say that it will not exist twenty-five years from now? Regardless, so many profound, transforming, delightful things have happened as a result of the founding of this publishing company that I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I would take the dare to start 2W all over again tomorrow! And thanks to all who have been a part of it. —Mike Simpson, Publisher, Second Wind