When we came across “Central Reservation”, loved it, and couldn’t understand how it hadn’t made it through the agency/publisher gauntlet, we were in a position, helped by a glass or two of wine, to make a serious offer to publish it ourselves. We had thought, given the book was already written, that it was only a small step or two to publication. How wrong we were! And there is a post on our website titled “Naive optimism” which talks more about this and what we learnt along the way.
In the beginning, we had been offering media buying services to Will if he took the decision to go down the self-published eBook route. As our conversation turned towards Xelsion becoming a publisher we started to examine the question of format and decided to lead with hardback supported by eBook. There were several reasons for this decision ranging from personal to commercial.
Firstly, we all love books. Of the team involved in the publishing side of the business, I studied English at university, as did Will and Natalia, and Fiona’s Clapham flat is stuffed with books. It’s not just a love of story. It is a love of the physical objects themselves. The look, the feel and even the smell of books trigger deep emotional reactions. Libraries are semi-sacred places not unlike churches. Bookshops are havens of tranquillity offering refuge from the bustle of the high street. We wanted to put out a physical book that would sit on our shelves and furnish our rooms.
Once we’d decided we had a personal desire to publish a book in print we looked for commercial reasons to justify it. These weren’t difficult to find. The book industry, and crucially its gatekeepers, often feel the same way we do about books in physical form. There is a credibility to the concrete object that an eBook, with the difficulty of even making it appear the same on different readers, cannot have. This credibility increases the likelihood of the book being reviewed. Some reviewers will only review books which can be sent through the post.
And of course, without a physical book, it cannot be stocked by high street retailers at all. And while the high street has been having a challenging time of late, it’s still a major presence and has the ability to display books to their key audience in a way which is difficult to achieve elsewhere without expensive media campaigns.
The issue of getting stocked by retailers leads to the question of the physical quality of the book. This is another opportunity to increase credibility in contrast to the traditionally, though not necessarily, lower quality of self-published products. We worked hard to produce an object that is a joy to hold and to own without departing from what is ordinarily expected of a hard cover book. This took us through a journey of learning and discovery which involved two designers, two typesetters, as many printers and a lot of research before the finished product was delivered.
We now know a lot more than we did about widows and orphans, bar codes, paper types, and print processes. We’ve iterated and changed tack as we’ve learnt and continue to do so now that the book is on the shelves. In this we’re taking leaves out of the lean start up movement’s book which, while directly applying to technology, holds valuable lessons for any kind of business aiming to succeed in a world where rapid change is now the norm.
Lastly, we opted to lead with hardback versus paperback as we see the paperback as an opportunity to focus publicity around another launch event in the future. In this respect, it is almost another product.
I don’t know whether we got the best printing price. I’m sure we’re at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge and clout compared to an established publisher here. We chose to get the book printed in the UK for time to delivery reasons as much as anything else. I am sure it would be cheaper in China but we’d have waited many weeks for it to arrive. And we like the idea of supporting expertise locally where we can. It’s more likely to have a positive feedback effect into our network.
Distribution is an on-going battle. And like the printing, is where established publishers have the advantage over the start up. In hindsight we would have taken delivery of the books three months before official publication date. This would have helped us have stock with Amazon and the key wholesalers by the launch.
As it was, Amazon ordered 5 copies for the launch date despite having 24 pre-orders. They took over a month to hold a decent level of inventory so the book was in and out of stock constantly in the beginning.
Gardners and Bertram are simply passing orders through from bookshops without holding any stock themselves. This undoubtedly affects sales as customers and retailers are put off by the long lead times. We hope for positive news on this front and to announce the book being stocked by a major retail chain early in the New Year.
Once the book is stocked widely we’ll be putting more budget behind PPC and some innovative use of digital media space, while focusing on reviews, prizes and events. The combination of a supply chain with fewer hiccups, media and PR will hopefully have us considering the question of the second edition format early in 2012. Will it be hardback in line with James Daunt’s recent comments, trade paperback, or mass market paperback? Until recently we wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the differences were, certainly between the paperback formats, now we’re anticipating the decision with excitement.
Xelsion Publishing is an independent press set up in early 2011. “Central Reservation” by Will le Fleming is its first novel. We caught up with its founder, John Were, to learn more about starting a publishing house and the decision to lead with a combination of hardback and eBook.