The Interview Continues

My heart is broken after the shootings at the Clackamas mall and in Connecticut. Both hit close to home–as an Oregon resident and an elementary school parent. I know people who were affected by the Oregon tragedy. And I know how I feel every day picking my kiddo up from school and how much we all trust that our children will be there, safe and eager to tell us what they’ve learned.

I thought about not posting this week, but Anthony Lee Collins over at U-town recently offered me two questions about my new publishing venture, Forest Avenue Press. Instead of responding to them directly, I asked if he’d mind me turning the answers into a blog post. So here’s the original interview I did with Anthony, in case you missed it, and here are the two bonus questions. And special thanks to Anthony for giving me a project this week when I really didn’t feel like writing.

1) When you first thought about doing Brave on the Page, did you think then of the great opportunities to use public performances by the authors as a promotional tool? Or did that evolve as the idea developed? Because it is a vehicle that most authors/publishers don’t have.

When I chose to feature Oregon authors in this book, I knew I’d put together an event or two celebrating them. I didn’t expect that public performances would be my primary method of selling books.

I’ve done four general book sales events since the October launch–one contributors’ party at the Espresso Book Machine, a two-day appearance at Wordstock, a publishing fair at the EBM and the Oregon Historical Society’s Holiday Cheer event. I also organized two readings in November–a launch party, where I rented the hall and provided food, and a reading at the hip cafe Backspace.

Next month, we’re going to be at Powell’s City of Books at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 7, for a reading and panel discussion on the creative process. And some of us will be reading and answering questions at a salon at Lori Ryland’s art gallery from 1 to 4 on Sunday, Jan. 27. I expect to line up events in February and March and maybe even April, since I have a lot of writers who have expressed interest.

It seems very old-fashioned to put authors up in front of an audience and have them read as a way to showcase a book. But it’s fun! A reading gives the audience something for free–entertainment. I’d much rather sell books by offering tastes of the content, and letting people shake the hands of the writers, versus hitting people over the head with “buy this book” announcements. It’s also exciting to feature the people who contributed their time and talents to Brave on the Page and watch the audience members’ faces as those authors deliver a particularly witty or poignant line.

And it’s especially fun to have autograph sessions.

Our Backspace event earned this mention in the Portland Mercury.

Our Backspace event earned this mention in the Portland Mercury.

I’m not on Facebook or Twitter; publicity for these events means contacting my network of writers, hoping they’ll tell their friends, plus sending releases out to local papers. Writing and submitting press releases takes a lot of work. So does grouping readers so the event feels cohesive. Updating the readers on how the event will work, when they need to show up, etc., keeps me busy, too.

So yes, events are not as easy as picking a date and bringing a box of books. There are tons of tiny moving pieces. That being said, I love connecting directly with readers. Especially aspiring writers looking for inspiration within the pages of a book that I put together. I also love giving authors a chance to share their own work, on stage, in front of a large crowd. In fact, I love the old-fashioned feeling of this business model so much that when I open my press to submissions in January, I’ll be seeking Oregon writers so I can continue using public events as a primary way to get the word out about the book.

Forest Avenue Press is a micro press. While the novels we publish will absolutely have national reach, our publicity efforts will continue to heavily feature in-person promotional events. That’s one of the things a tiny press can do–and do well.  And, I think, it’s especially gratifying to the author who might otherwise be sitting home wondering if anyone has noticed his or her book has muscled its way into the world.

2) What if the author of the novel you plan to publish next year wants to do an e-book as well as print (as I think many authors would these days). Is the print-only policy only for books which you edit, or is it a policy of Forest Avenue Press overall (or would they have to do the e-book on their own)?

Anthony, you have been making interesting e-book comments ever since I announced I wouldn’t be offering one for Brave on the Page. Some of the original content is available online (in an older form), plus many writers enjoy having craft books that are physical objects on their shelves. So I stand by that decision. But I also recognize that many people might be willing to spend 99 cents on a book but not $14 on a hard copy.

My primary intention is to keep Forest Avenue Press focused on paperbacks, using the Espresso Book Machine as the primary distributor, plus approaching local bookstores and doing event-based sales. That being said, with the hopes of national reach for the novels we publish, I am considering a two-fold approach, beginning with the paperback and then having an e-book release several months later (depending on our editorial calendar). Sort of like books starting in hardcover and going to paperback.

With my Oregon writing book, the target audience is very specific: writers and people who enjoy reading about the creative process. With novels, it’ll be exciting to target wider audiences, and e-books are one way to do that successfully.

Steve Almond, in the self-publishing class I took with him this summer at the Writers’ Dojo, said publishing an e-book and a paperback means you’re competing with yourself. I suppose my event-based model would still work if I released an e-book and paperback at the same time, since audience members would still likely buy some physical copies, but I don’t want to chance undermining that personal writer-to-reader experience. Especially when the health of my business and the dreams of my author are on the line.

Thanks again for the interesting questions, Anthony!

If you’re a publisher 0r self-publisher, do you focus on e-books and paperbacks or just one or the other? I look forward to any advice about putting together e-books, too, since I’m unfamiliar with that.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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9 Responses to The Interview Continues

  1. jmmcdowell says:

    Very interesting take on the paper-only vs. paper and e-book publishing. If I do go indie, I haven’t yet decided whether to go entirely “e” or to also do a POD version. It looks like there are pros and cons to both, like everything else in life, I suppose. 😉

    • Very true, jm! At least if you need to make that choice in the future, there will be lots of us who have chosen one path or the other and can tell you about our experiences. I’m really resistant to e-books as a craft/artisanal publisher, where the object is sacred (or at least in my mind it’s sacred). On the other hand, I can’t be entirely old-fashioned, as Anthony reminds me, because there’s a demand and an expectation surrounding e-books. And I think many people like to read e-books from unknown authors because the investment is so minimal.

  2. I’m glad my questions were helpful. And it’s kind of funny that I’ve ended up as the e-book advocate here since, like you, so far I’ve published one paperback and no e-books. 🙂 But it is true that I read far more e-books than hard copy (other than Brave on the Page), and I mostly don’t consider the format sacred, as I talked about on my blog:

    It is so cool that the events have taken off the way they have. And now you know a feeling that many writers and editors never experience; you know what it’s like to come home tired and happy after a really good gig. 🙂 (Except, you know, without your clothes reeking of cigarettes and alcohol.)

    • I always forget you haven’t published e-books, Anthony, because you’re an expert in my mind. You’re definitely the only author I know who publishes serially online, which I imagine taps into the same sort of audience who appreciates e-books. Content available on a media device, intended primarily for reading on a screen. In fact now I have a new question for you: Do you think writing for online publication affects how you write and what decisions you make in terms of pacing, content, etc?

      Writing and audience connection as a performance–love it. We talk about writers being solitary when working, then having to go out and promote themselves. This is, possibly, the extreme of that, asking them (instead of doing online promotion) to stand up on stage, as a human being, as a real live proponent of their own work, and speak. I think it’s an incredible experience, and one that many writers dream of, but I’ll have to make sure clients are on board with that kind of performance before we sign a contract.

  3. 4amWriter says:

    What an interesting comment, that Steve Almond said “publishing an e-book and a paperback means you’re competing with yourself.” I never thought of it that way, but I suppose it makes sense. Lots of things to think about in this publishing endeavor.

    • I’m actually not sure what point he’s getting at. Isn’t it better to compete against yourself than against someone else? If you want to buy a particular novel, Amazon will sell you a paperback or they’ll sell you an e-book, but either way they make money. I think I’m not getting the point.

      • I get nervous explaining what somebody else meant by a certain phrase, so maybe I’ll find that notebook and dig it out at some point to verify. But from what I recall, he meant that if your model is focused on selling paperbacks, then sell paperbacks. You won’t sell a lot of paperbacks for $15 if you’re selling the same content in a different form for $1. Especially as a new author. As a publisher, at least for Brave on the Page, my goal was to sell paperbacks so people could keep them on their shelves with other writing reference books. They are more reference than entertainment–not intended to be consumed in a few quick settings and then deleted to make room for more content.

        • That makes sense. Most independent publishers don’t seem to do hard copy these days, and big publishers seem to price the e-books to match hard copy. Two different ways of avoiding the problem. The delayed e-book sounds like another good solution.

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