On the heels of his success as an author, Dave Eggers wanted to share more of his sort of writing with the world. After all, the average publisher was looking for sales, not artistry, and he wanted to bring more artistry to readers whose brains were not being stimulated by the likes of THE DA VINCI CODE or other such drivel. It was a diet of cake when a reader needed more substantial verbal nutrition.
He started McSweeney's, a small house publisher that provided an outlet for the writerly writers who crafted beautiful prose or had something to say that wasn't being heard.
Mr. Eggers discovered something along the way.
There is no money in publishing.
McSweeney's has just gone from being a small publisher to a small non-profit.
We here at Newcastlewest Books can sympathize.
We started our small publishing company because we weren't finding the kinds of books that we liked to read coming out of the major houses. Knowing that we were not alone, we organized around the realization that we would not make money in providing books for a small niche market. We did not go into the publishng game to turn a profit because it is next to impossible.
Operating a firm with volunteers has its limits, and McSweeney's grew too big to be operated by dedicated individuals working for love alone. You need a few editors if you're cranking out more than three books per year, and fair play to you if you find quality editors who will work for free. There are not all that many indepedently wealthy individuals in the world, and not enough to create a full staff.
Mr. Eggers had the added burden of additional staff to put out a quarterly journal. If you are familiar with literary rags, you know that they are generally published by universities who are offering students some practical experience in publishing and creative writing as part of a degree-granting program. The costs are met by the school, which does not have to turn a profit. Its mission is to turn out competent professionals, and that is a far different mission than anything Mr. Eggers set out to do when he launched McSweeney's.
He found that he was operating on a shoestring that was normally frayed. Meeting salaries can be a nightmare when sales are down, and with not enough spare change in the average reader's pocket to buy a book, sales are down these days. Digital publishing is less costly, to an extent, but then there is the marketing expense and a publisher just can't make ends meet.
Instead of relying on income from sales, McSweeney's will rely on donations from people who want to become members. Those who believe in what Mr. Eggers is doing can donate to the new non-profit McSweeney's, and he hopes to see the publisher's finances turn around so that he can complete some projects that are languishing for lack of funding.
Without the pressure to generate capital, Mr. Eggers can return to what he does best, and what he wants to do more than chase dollars. He can concentrate on his writing, instead of fretting about the empty cupboard and the employees expecting to get paid at the end of the week.
Some of us at Newcastlewest Books know exactly what he means. But we're not ready to turn into a non-profit. We know we're non-profit already, but sometimes it isn't about the money.