Interview a Publisher 1
Do you think that publishers print books? Do you wonder if it’s easy to run a publishing company? Have you ever thought about getting into the publishing industry? Are you an author curious to see if you need a publisher?
Today, I have Cameron Thorne of Panama Hat Publishing, Ltd, here to fill us in on the real deal about publishing. I know he has mega-awesome taste because, duh, he published my book!
Being a Publisher (Part 1)
V. K. Finnish: Let’s talk about what it’s like being a publisher. First off, what’s your official job title?
Cameron Thorne: Publisher and CEO at Panama Hat Publishing, Ltd.
VKF : What’s a normal workday like for you?
CT : Well, my days are anything but normal. Because I am a new startup, I am wearing a lot of hats right now, so any given day may find me wrapped up in legal contracts, searching for editors or illustrators, working on publicity and marketing, getting out there trying to sell some books, doing graphic design, and of course working on any books in the middle of production. I am hoping things become more normal day-to-day as I begin to plan my production schedule six months in advance.
VKF : How did you prepare for your position?
CT : I have worked in various jobs in the publishing industry for about 15 years now. That experience in numerous roles has exposed me to a lot of different sides of the publishing industry. That exposure to a wide variety of disciplines – instead of specializing in one area my whole career – has helped me tremendously. But I would never have known if I was truly prepared to be a publisher until I decided to go for it and start this company. I still learn something new every single day!
VKF : Do you have any advice for someone interested in publishing?
CT : More than anything else, I would tell people to understand the difference between being a publisher and being an author. There are some really great authors out there, but publishing requires a lot of work in areas that even the best writers may not be good at, or may not find interesting. We are seeing this played out with the huge explosion of self-publishing, and this has caused self-published books to earn a bad rap.
VKF : Tell me about your own publishing business. What kind of publishing do you do?
CT : I have published in both print and ebook. While ebooks are transforming the industry, print is still a very important market, and I believe it will continue to be for a very long time, especially in the genres I focus on.
VKF : What types of genres do you publish?
CT : Fiction. Right now I am focusing on middle grade readers (ages 8-12). That age group has a natural enthusiasm for reading that is so exciting to see! So I focus on books that are fun to read so they will engage right away, but will give them a little stretch outside their comfort zone – slightly challenging vocabulary, multi-cultural awareness, etc – feeding their fantastical imaginations. When the right manuscript comes in, I would love to expand my focus to younger and older kids, easy readers or picture books for the younger kids and YA novels for the older kids.
As a side note, one of the really interesting things about publishing in the Juvenile Fiction book market is that most of the time the readers (kids) are not the same people as the book buyers (parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians). Connecting with both the readers and the buyers is double the challenge that you have in most adult genres.
VKF : Let’s go over a few terms of the industry. I hear a lot of words for publishers — micro-publisher, self-publisher, indie-publisher, vanity press, “the big six” — can you explain the main differences that distinguish one from the other?
CT : A micro-publisher like my company is just what it sounds like: a publishing company at a micro- scale. We take on authors and handle all aspects of book design, production, manufacturing, publicity, etc. Obviously we don’t publish nearly as many titles as the Big Publishers, but being a micro-publisher has its advantages. It allows us to focus our efforts on fulfilling our mission, specializing in a specific genre. Micro-publishers like us are generally looking to fill in market gaps that the Big 6 overlook with quality titles. We can give individualized attention to each project, and we treat authors like partners not vendors.
A vanity press like Lulu.com operates quite differently. Vanity presses basically just provide some basic production services to self-publishing authors. The self-published author does all the work, pays all the fees, and takes all of the risks. The author must be prepared to take on all of the non-writing publishing tasks. Because book publishing can be quite complex, I feel strongly that writer’s should focus on what they do best: writing, and partner with a publisher to handle the details.
You’ll also hear “POD Publisher” used to refer to vanity presses, but confusing the two terms is not quite accurate. Print-on-demand (POD) is a printing process that allows printers to print as many or as few books – even just one at a time – as needed using digital printing technology. The quality has improved vastly in recent years so that for many books produced for trade distribution, a POD book is nearly indistinguishable from a traditionally printed book to most readers. It is important to understand that nearly every publisher – big or small – uses print-on-demand as part of their production process. Printing is just printing, and is only one small part of the overall publishing process. I look at a combination of factors to decide whether digital print-on-demand, traditional offset printing, or a combination of both is right for each edition of a book I publish.
Indie-publisher is a tough one. I don’t think I have ever seen that term used the same way twice. As far as I am concerned, unless the author is an employee of the publishing company, all publishers — even the Big 6 — are independent.
VKF : What do “rights” mean in this industry?
CT : Rights refers to an extremely complicated area of the law called Intellectual Property law. I think most people understand the basics of Copyrights: the author of some work has the exclusive right to copy that work, sell it, etc. Nobody else can legally do those things. Where it gets complicated is that copyrights can be split into infinitely small chunks and the author can transfer each chunk to someone else (such as a publisher).
In publishing, we refer to primary publishing rights and subsidiary (i.e. secondary) rights. A primary right refers to producing and publishing a book. Your publishing contract will specify which rights you are transferring to the publisher in order for them to legally be able to publish your book, and how much you will get paid when the publisher exercises that right (royalties). An example of a primary right would be granting your publisher the exclusive right to publish your book in print format in the English language in all countries of the world. See what I did there? I split the author’s rights two ways: (1) The publisher gets the right to make print (paperback, hardcover) books but the author can still publish the ebook on her own. (2) The publisher can only publish in English. If the author wants to partner with a translator and a different publisher to sell the book in France, she kept that right to herself and can do that without consulting the English publisher.
CT : Subsidiary rights are for non-publishing activities that the publisher doesn’t do themselves, such as adapting a book to make a movie or making action figures (merchandising rights). Sometimes authors will keep their subsidiary rights, other times they will transfer those to their publisher in hopes the publisher will act as an agent in an attempt to sublicense them again to someone else (like a movie studio). Just like primary rights, if the author transfers her subsidiary rights to her publisher, the publishing contract will specify how much of a cut the author gets when the publisher exercises that right.
That’s it for Part 1 of this interview. Look for Part 2 next week, and we’ll find out how a book actually gets published, how a publisher helps an author, and — extra! extra! — get to know the real guy behind Panama Hat Publishing.