Saturday, October 15, 2016

Publishing As A Labor Of Love

There is no money to be made in publishing when you want to publish books that you love.

Those of us going at it as independent publishers know this well. The cost of advertising and promotion are out of reach for the average indie, and generating buzz on a small budget is no easy task. How do you make yourself heard over the noise of all the other entertainment venues out there? And how do you make yourself heard when your readers can hear little more than the rattle of the empty bank account?

Not enough money to go around for the readers, and not enough money to throw around for the publishers.

Liberties Press has discovered this sad fact, although it took complaining authors to bring the issue to some notice. The small Irish publishers is far behind on paying its authors their full royalties, and some staff members left the company because they weren't getting paid.

Working for love, you see, does not pay the bills and there has to be a salary coming in from somewhere.

Sean O'Keefe didn't go into the publishing business with a plan to defraud authors. He wanted to publish good books that the major houses were ignoring because all they're after is the blockbuster best seller. When you see books as works of art, rather than widgets, you want to share your little jewels with others, but displaying those precious gems takes more of an investment than Mr. O'Keefe was able to make.

It's grand to receive a little stipend from the government to promote Irish writing, but there are more pressing needs for taxpayer money these days and you can't run a business based on donations that are spotty at best. Then there's the price of the book itself, which has to remain in a competitive range or it won't get purchased.

Editors and such like talented folk expect to be paid in euro, not love. If Liberties Press was staffed by independently wealthy book lovers who took no salary, it would have managed to pay its authors. That, however, is not reality. Reality is a staff that demands income and there simply is not enough coming in to Liberties Press to meet all its financial obligations.

The owner has tried juggling funds, robbing Peter to pay Paul as the hackneyed phrase goes. Borrowing works if there is a boost in profits to pay off the loan, but that sort of thing doesn't happen in publishing. The great books published by Liberties Press were sold to a small audience and there has never been enough sales to cover all operating expenses.

Authors won't want to publish through Liberties Press because they know they won't get paid. Literary agents won't submit manuscripts because they know they won't get their percentage, and they aren't working for love either.

In the near future, Mr. O'Keefe will be facing some legal problems as disgruntled and out-of-pocket authors chase down money owed. Can you squeeze blood out of a turnip? The courts will have to answer that question.

The dream remains for Sean O'Keefe, but he will have to carry on with a shattered reputation and little more than his own drive to acquire, edit and publish what he sees as great pieces of prose. You have to wonder if he will give in to the temptation of becoming a vanity publisher, if only to keep his struggling house from collapsing altogether.

All those authors didn't expect to receive little more than love when they signed contracts with Liberties Press, even if they wrote the books out of love for words in the first place. They were hoping for a little bigger return on their investment of time than the pleasure of seeing their book in a Dublin bookshop. That may be about their only profit once all this is done.

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