Ten Lessons I Learned (The Hard Way): A Publisher’s Reflections on the First Year

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:

  1. There are a great number of fine writers who aren’t getting read because of the current state of the publishing industryThis 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

31 Comments

Filed under books, life, Mike Simpson, writing

31 responses to “Ten Lessons I Learned (The Hard Way): A Publisher’s Reflections on the First Year

  1. Mike,
    I’m so glad you took the dare. I’m sure you will have ten more revelations next year (and have dozens more that you didn’t write down)
    I’ll cop to being one of those impatient writers but also one of the understanding ones.
    Here’s to years more success and thanks for letting me be a part of it!
    Eric Beetner
    co-author of One Too Many Blows To The Head

    • Mo Pigeon

      Great title for your co-authored book Eric! The title tickled the humor synapse in my cerebelum and aroused my interest-bone! MP

  2. Congrats on your anniversary! It sounds like it has been a momentous year!

  3. Congratulations, Mike, and thanks for helping make my dream come true. Wishing you many successful years ahead.

    You’ve truly done a truly wonderful thing by giving your authors voices a chance to be heard. I appreciate it greatly, and hope Night and Day has lived up to your expectations!

    Keep up the good work! I appreciate you and all you do.

  4. Congratulations, Mike! You’ve got an enormous task but you keep at it, learning as you go, and helping all of us poor scribblers to birth stories in the process. Best Luck to you and to Second Wind. May we all finally make a lasting imprint in the 40 foot sponge of publishing which we’ve been kicking for all these years! 🙂

  5. Pingback: A Birthday Party! « Claire Collins

  6. That day when I pulled the first proof copy of my novel out of the box will always be one of the most memorable of my life. What a rush! Thanks for making it possible, Mike and Second Wind.

  7. Very Happy Birthday, and just like children, the first year is always the hardest and the one where they grow and change the most. Here’s looking forward to the “terrible two”, which really aren’t that terrible, your sweet sixteen, (throw in a Bat Mitzvah there if you’d like), and graduation!

    Can’t wait to see my book up there on the list!

    Raven West

  8. I have been badgered here by Claire Collins cos I banter with her elsewhere.

    Firstly, many congrats on your anniversary and achievements in that time.

    Secondly, may I humbly endorse all of your 10 points, but highlight 9. There are so many new avenues of epublishing opening up, but I suspect that none will compare to the thrill of holding a printed copy of one’s OWN works.

  9. Congratz Mike and to all the other SW authors. Your endeavor has given so many great writers a chance in a business that seems rigged to overlook almost everyone except folks who have had fifteen notorious minutes of fame, done jail time, or already have been in the public eye for years. I’m sure we all want to say Woo Hoo and thank you!

  10. Mike, congratulations on the first anniversary of Second Wind. I’ve enjoyed reading several of these writers and I hope fair breezes bring Second Wind continued success.

  11. Congratulations on the anniversary, and on a fine list of good books by good authors.

  12. MuchAdoAboutSomething

    Well first congrats on your anniversary. Second, don’t know where we are supposed to put which book we would like to read so I’m putting it here. I have read several of the authors but I have never read anything of Lazarus Barnhill (although he is on my list of authors to check out), so I would like to read “The Medicine People”.

  13. I have no doubts of the success of Second Wind. Mike Simpson has the uncanny ability of getting his authors involved in the business, challenging us to expand our abilities beyond the scope of writing. He’s gotten die-hard thriller writers to edit romances. He’s gotten shy authors to do book signings. And somehow (still don’t know how) he’s gotten me to become Second Wind’s promotion co-ordinator. Okay, I do know how. He genuinely likes the books he publishes, and says the most wonderful things about them. In an introduction to my 100-word stories that were included in the romance anthology, Love is on the Wind, Mike wrote: “Pat Bertram, author of the newly released duo of suspense novels, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, is a writer who defies categories, a literary maverick whose stories transcend genre and transport readers to beguiling worlds filled with compelling characters.”

    Congratulations on your first year, Mike. It’s been wonderful for all of us.

  14. Amy De Trempe

    Wow, a year already. Seems just like yesterday (you will be saying that years from now). Thanks for the opportunity to let my stories be told. It has been a joy to be a part of 2W.

  15. Wanda Hughes

    Happy Birthday to everyone at Second Wind! May this be only the first of many more birthday celebrations to come.

    You’ve published so many fine authors in your first year the mind boggles at the prospect of reading your author list in five years time.

    I hope one day to see my own name on that list!

    Congratulations!

  16. Dear Second Wind and Mike Simpson,

    Congratulations in your first anniversary! Last month was my publishing company, Book Garden Publishing, LLC’s first as well. Great to see you doing so well with so many wonderful authors.

    Sincerely
    Your publishing Friend,
    Jan
    JD Holiday

  17. Kat Sheridan

    Congrats, Mike, to you and all the fine writers at Second Wind. May you all have long and successful careers!

  18. when I read your 10 points, Mike, my first reaction was ‘this man is so good at publishing because he’s a closet writer’… my next response was mushy – you are just so sweeeet. How can your authors not love you & want to help? I am one of the ‘in the wings’ category &, even if I may never enter the hallowed portals of 2W, I can still say what you do is unique; how you did it (40 books in 18 mo) it beyond belief & keep on keeping on. Bless you

  19. Congratulations on your first year and Happy Anniversary!

    I hope you celebrate many more and continue to shower us with new books.

  20. June Bourgo

    Congrats on your first year Second Wind. I am so happy I found you. Although I am not one of your authors (yet), your positive feed back and constructive criticisms bolstered my confidence and will to rewrite. And I know you will be back next year (me too).

    I know you have helped many other writers and soon-to-be writers, keep on keeping on.

  21. Mike–Thank you for sharing your insights. Fascinating to read not only what you have learned, but also what you must go through on a daily basis.

    I have no doubt you are writing the new template for how to run the ideal publishing company. You are who the major houses should be studying. Your respect and gratitude for all of your authors is evident and please know we appreciate all you do for us.

  22. Congrats on making it the first year and best wishes for the second.

  23. dellanioakes

    Happy Birthday Second Wind AND “Carpet Ride”! Congratulations, Norm, on a year’s worth of being a published author!

    Congratulations, Second Wind, on being a quality company with a lot to offer the readers of the world.

  24. Mike,

    I think you’re going to learn a lot more as you move forward and grow. I’m proud to be part of this endeavor.

  25. Excellent insight and common sense. I only know you via a friend but I will read more.

    Happy Birthday!

  26. sherilynwinrose

    Mike, I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. Thanks for letting me tag along, it’s been a blast.

  27. Lucy Balch

    Mike, happy birthday and thanks so much for letting me be a part of 2W!
    The learning curve has been steep, but so wonderful and worth it.
    I hope to be wishing you many more happy birthdays in the years to come.

  28. Congratulations and happy birthday, Mike and 2W. Ten valuable lessons learned in twelve months. Only goes to show you’re never to old to teach an old dog new tricks.

  29. Pingback: Snow White and the Seven Old Fogies « Bertram’s Blog

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