"If you want to enjoy sausage or respect the law,” Otto von Bismarck reputedly said, “you should never watch either of them being made.” Much the same can be said for publishing. Everyone knows that Hollywood (be it movies or TV) is Babylon, that the record labels are corrupt and incompetent, that Broadway producers are shysters of the highest order, but few know that the primary difference between those worlds and publishing is just a few zeros at the end of every calculation. (Actually theater is in much worse shape now, but already I'm digressing far too much...)
In one sense this is not supposed to apply to independent publishing—we're supposed to be pure as the driven snow—but we're just one part of the supply chain: the agents are the agents, the distributors the distributors and so on through the wholesalers, the retailers large and small, the printers (of finished books and galleys). Not much of a % of the list price of a book published by us is any more independent than would be the case with a corporate publisher. Yet, at the end of it, I feel, in publishing Jamestown, we made a sausage I can be proud of, a sausage I can proudly show my daughter-to-be (yes, there's a SoftSkullette on the way...).
What were the mercenary/logistical ingredients of all this?
- To start with, a few weeks of creative haggling with the agent, involving a whole bunch of emails, 40-50 phonecalls, a wee bit of industrial espionage, 50-60 text messages, involving the agent and the Publisher and Editorial Director of Harcourt (who were going in with us as a paperback publisher, a la how MacAdam Cage published The Time-Travelers Wife). Over that time I invented in new way of creating a reserve against returns and a new way of defining when a bonus advance paid out—arcana for sure, but crucial stuff, let me tell you.
- A galley printer who shipped all the galleys to our distributors warehouse in Indianapolis, which caused them to be received as if they were finished books, causing them to get put into returns processing, but without a barcode that would allow them to be found...
- The tawdry hunt for a blurb, which I tried to avoid doing but, as Matt reminded me, when you don't have blurbs, people think there was something wrong with this book.
- (An incredibly smooth editorial process—but if editing were all that publishing was, everyone would want to run an indie press...)
- And, oh yes, the bankruptcy of our distributor. There aren't enough pixels on this screen to talk about how involved that was but here's what it took to get Jamestown printed:
- PGW, aforementioned distributor in Chapter 11, shifting to Net Two Day Payment by Wire Transfer weekly.
- Us crashing out five books in the first week of January so as to generate those Net Two Day payments in early/mid-February.
- Harcourt agreeing to pre-pay the on-hardcover-publication component of the advance.
- Matt's agent agreeing not to panic.
- PGW's genius inventory specialist, Jennifer Pascal, orchestrating 30+ direct shipments from the Canadian printer to chain and wholesaler warehouses across the US (drop-ships, common domestically, very uncommon when crossing borders), "dropshipping" thereby triggering same-day invoicing, allowing us to get paid by distributor on net Two Day terms for about half the Jamestown sales, (because Perseus acquires PGW out of bankruptcy in the middle of he shipping process...)
- All the above occurring the the faith that PGW won't in fact go into Chapter 7, leaving us all with nothing...
- All the above also grist for the promotional mill of poor-indie-press-does-biggest-book-in-short-life-span-will-they-save-the-day stories.
- And lots more drama that, frankly, I'm just too embarrassed to relate, even now. Some things just aren't met for the public record.
Why regale everyone with this ugly stuff on a week when one is supposed to be celebrating this wild literary achievement?
Well, one reason is that I'm a blabber mouth and Megan and Dan both know this, so they knew I'd be good for a post, and I wanted to help out with something juicy.
And another reason is that I think it is healthy to let a little light shine on the process, for what it took to publish JAMESTOWN is ultimately not that different from what it takes to publish in general. (Oh, the glory of all the pixels that could be blackened by what Charlie Winton and I went through to arrange the restructuring of Soft Skull to become part of his new Counterpoint enterprise...).
But the third reason is that there is something about that book, the glorious vulgar teeming social enterprise that is Jamestown that makes the above feel right to me. As Megan pointed out in yesterday's post, Jamestown is a deeply truthful book, it seeks to expose everything—hypocrisy, shame, delight, anuses, intestines. It felt to me that the most truthful way for me, a publisher, to do justice to Jamestown was to disclose to the reader as much of the messy shameless hustle of being a publisher as I could in a reasonably brief post...