BY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER
Publishing a celebrity author is like backing a horse that has a head start in the race. It’s a pretty safe bet.
That may explain why mouth piece Rush Limbaugh and rolling stoner Keith Richards both landed children’s book deals. Limbaugh’s picture book features a time-traveling character who looks like a bobble-head version of the author and meets up with exceptional Americans of yore. It’s a best seller. Count on Richards’ upcoming book to take the kids on different kind of trip. And sell as well.
Another surefire publishing move; reprint a book based on a popular movie based on a popular book. That’s the circle of life, book biz style.
Portland writer Cheryl Strayed is bound to enjoy second wind sales of her already best selling memoir Wild when the movie version with Reese Witherspoon comes out later this year, and we couldn’t be happier for her.
For a writer to set in motion the multimillion-dollar machinery with a start-up consisting mostly of a keyboard and imagination is manufacturing of the most exquisite kind.
Oregon is home not only to many fine writers but also several accomplished small publishers,
including Calyx Press, Hawthorne Books, Oregon State University Press and Woodcraft of Oregon. Hawthorne Books was behind the memoir Wedlocked by Jay Ponteri that recently was recognized at the 2014 Oregon Book Awards.
Hawthorne is a small shop. Publisher/editor Rhonda Hughes says they employ three full-time staff and two freelancers, and have “two to three” unpaid interns at any given time. The literary press established in 2001 is, according to its online manifesto, dedicated to “finding superb writing and giving it the attention it deserves.” And they are pretty good at it judging from the many literary accolades and awards garnered.
They receive about 100 manuscript submissions per year, says Hughes, and accept six. Coincidentally, those odds are similar to student applicants accepted each year to Harvard.
“Our first print runs vary depending on pre-sales figures,” Hughes wrote in email exchange. It seemed fitting to communicate with a publisher via written word. “When a book sells through its first run, we reprint.” Hawthorne Books must sell 5,000 copies of a title, Hughes estimates, for it to be economically feasible. They achieve that in part with what she calls, “a kick-ass publicity campaign” through social media and other venues.
“We send out at least 200 (review) copies to print, air, and television media,” said Hughes. “Our coverage is extensive. We also set up national book tours that can include anywhere from 3 to 17 cities.”
Their top seller to date is The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips, a literary novel set in a small Alabama coal mining town that explores the importance of community and hope in hard times. “We sold 38,000 copies,” says Hughes. “It was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award Winner, and then we sold the rights to Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin Group) and they sold another 38,000 copies.”
According to Publishers Weekly less than one percent of books published become best sellers. In other words, if you are looking to make a quick buck you may have better luck flipping ocean front property in Iowa. Small presses are often more willing to risk publishing work that may never make big bank but enriches readers in other incalculable ways.
That is a story with a happy ending.
Vivian McInerny blogs on popular culture for Oregon Business.