A Peek inside Acquisition
It's Spring 2023 over here
Although the internet has sped up most businesses, it has not created a fast and nimble publishing industry. There are exceptions, of course: you can crash titles, which Belt often does, announcing and then publishing them on a shorter timeline. For the most part, though, the time between an edited manuscript and publication is unnecessarily long. It could take, say, a few weeks (assuming normal printer turnaround times), but industry—including media and bookseller — expectations are twelve months. Even independent bookstores, which one would assume would be more nimble, order their books two to six months in advance. Many have already decided which fall titles they will stock: if they don’t know about your book, it might take a customer requesting it for them to get a copy. The few review outlets remaining usually commission pieces months in advance as well, and then are booked up even if they learn of a great book they’d like to cover.
All this to say that now is that the time that I have to decide what we are going to publish in Spring 2023. By June, we need to have our covers designed and descriptive copy completed. If we don’t, as our distributor always reminds us in stern, bolded emails, we risk not having our “metadata properly fed.” (gif of hungry metadata please!)
For a variety of reasons, Spring 2023 has been harder for me to settle on than it has for the last few years. We will be publishing the next book in our 50 Maps series (Buffalo!), which I’m excited about. Sadly, though, a surprising number of planned titles have been scratched, mainly because a number of authors backed out of contracts. Is this a casualty of us not requiring as high a bar for proposals than other presses (apologies in advance for making everyone submit a fuller proposal if so)? A few others could not meet their deadlines. So I have been erasing penciled in title after penciled in title.
For a few weeks, I decided I needed to find something in really good shape, and fast, but that is a dumb way to do business, not to mention stressful. So I looked around at my staff, at the previous published titles on the shelf, and my draft docs. And we filled in the gaps with some fun in-house (“staff created”) books
The first decision we made was to revive our Revivals. It’s been years since we published one, which made me sad because I love them so. However, they didn’t sell well. We lost money on many, and broke even on the rest. The problems are several: 1.) if there are many editions of a book, especially long-ago published ones, Amazon buries them into one listing. You literally cannot find many of our revivals, even if you enter the title and Belt Publishing in the Amazon search bar, and even though they all have new introductions by cool-as-shit living authors; 2.) many of the books we are interested in are long, and printing costs means they are expensive to produce, yet people are often unwilling to pay much for these; 3.) they are old books! They are never going to sell that many copies (don’t you dare say “Stoner” to me)
So for years I’ve been looking for books that might work for the series, if we were to do more. I decided that the criteria needed to be: 1.) no or not many other editions out there; 2.) short; 3.) important or fun enough that it’s okay if we lose a bit of money on them. (Another option—which I’m hoping to explore—is to start publishing books that are not yet in the public domain. To do that, we need to start learning about estates and buying rights and all that.)
I did find one title that met criterion #1, and we decided to publish it next year as our 10th Revival. It’s super-cool, and you guys are going to love it. However, it fails to meet criterion #2. Mike (senior editor Michael Jauchen) and I are discussing how to edit, and considering publishing an abridgmed version. We’re not sure, because readers might be upset if we delete too many of Taylor’s words. I think we should, though, because if we don’t lop off about 50K words or so (or more), we run the risk of no one actually reading the damned thing. They might RT and be all “cool!” and sure, a few hundred bicyclists and fans of Black athletes and writers might buy it…but will they read it?
Mike and I will discuss and figure this out over the next few months. No matter how many pages, though, we will be bringing you a new edition of Major Taylor’s The Fastest Bicycle Rider in The World in Spring 2023, along with an introduction by an Appropriate Writer To Be Commissioned and Named Later. Watch a good introduction to Taylor in this ESPN video, and note the voice overs with his words, taken from this book (missing form the video is the large role Indiana plays in Taylor’s life, thus it being even that much more appropriate for our series).
We settled on another “in-house” book— this one by me :) I’ve been toying with the idea for about a year now. More about that in future newsletters! Subscribers will get copies!
Oh and hey speaking of book proposals and, well, me: I’m teaching my book proposal course again in May. Join me!
Notes from a Small Press is the newsletter by Anne Trubek, the founder and owner of Belt Publishing. Subscribe to receive every post, and not just free ones like this. Oh and don’t forget to grab a copy of So You Want to Publish a Book?, the book based on this newsletter that other people say good things about.