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Fun With Transparency!
Pay folks. It's fun!
Lots of financial-type talk rattling around Facebook and Twitter, as is often the case when a publisher lowers their drawers and exposes their backside. If you’re new to the “indie” scene then stick around, folks, it’ll happen again and probably real soon. At this point, I’ve (this is Nicholas Day writing this, FYI)… I have lost count. Rarely surprising, always disappointing.
To authors, and I cannot stress this enough, but really and truly read your contracts, thoroughly. If you know (or have, I suppose) a lawyer, then give the contract to them and get their opinion. Don’t like something? Negotiate! You are within that right, and you should exercise it if you wish to do so. Contracts are two-way streets, and a contract received is not the final word. And I will tell you the same thing I would tell anyone: if someone is getting shitty over your questions and concerns, then you need to think real fucking hard before signing your property over.
When we (Don Noble and I) took over Rooster Republic, it was neither cheap nor easy. We did not get the company for free, in fact. The buyout lasted for a 12-month period, and we paid. We really did not own the company until late 2016. Regardless of that fact, the first thing we did was get the royalty payments in order. We not only paid the current royalties, but royalties going back a full year prior to our taking over the company. This wasn’t hard. We had a decent line of credit with the bank and we blew up some debt that first year and change. Yes, it took nearly four years to pay down that credit, but we did it. Hooray.
Generally, Rooster Republic pays people three times a year. No, we do not pay monthly. I simply do not have the time to do so. We can pay by check, and have, but only one author has ever requested we do so. We utilize PayPal as often as we can, both for payments and purchases. I do this because it keeps much of the financial ins and outs in one place and it shaves some of the headache off, come tax time. Contractually, we offer a “Right of Inspection” for single-author titles, and we have had authors take us up on this. 99.9% of our sales come through Amazon, so executing these types of inquiries isn’t terribly hard nor time consuming. I would like to think this the norm for publishers, but I don’t know how other folks run their business.
I have a varied background. I cut my teeth in publishing by working in shipping, and then the royalty department, for Samuel French, Inc in Los Angeles. I got cozy with contracts at that job, and even more so when I worked in talent management (mostly actors in commercial and TV, but a few screenwriters). As for running a business, I’ve done everything from film production management to office management (both in sales and construction) and, of course, retail management, or as I like to call it, Living Hell. To top all that off, I am a writer and artist, myself. What all these things have pressed upon me as a (micro/small press/indie/whatever-you-call-it) publisher is this: pay people.
In 2020, Rooster Republic paid about 2,000 dollars in royalties and another 2,000 for short fiction and editing. Production costs for 2020 came to about 16,000 dollars, which is unusually high for us, but these books don’t sell themselves. The reality is that you will spend money, and not an insignificant sum.
And we make no bones about who we are or what this company is: small potatoes. We are a place for up-and-comers to get a foothold, build an audience, and then move on to greener pastures. We have been beyond fortunate enough to work with some stellar authors. The bonus, for us, is seeing these people go on to bigger and better things. As they should!
As an example, here is an email I recently sent to an author (who shall remain anon):
Ok. But, real talk, if this manuscript can bounce you to another tier in the publishing sphere, then my advice would be to lean into that.
I make no bones about what Rooster Republic and Strangehouse Books are, which is very small, very indie, niche publishing.
We would be thrilled to work with you, again, but we’d also love to see you barrel on through.
We are happy to give people a platform, if possible. We love making good-looking books out of good-looking manuscripts. We love seeing these books go on to win awards, receive nominations, find support from peers, and (most importantly) make their way to their respective audience.
We are also very pragmatic. Books, by their lonesome, do not make much money. We combat this by being a company that offers diverse services, while also being able to take advantage of a passive income stream. Book sales, as of now, barely make up a quarter of our yearly gross. Yet, book sales have only grown for us from year to year. And that fact is not down to whatever business dealings we have going. No, the growth in book sales has everything, and I mean everything, to do with the people writing and the people reading and the people reviewing.
That’s the holy trinity in publishing and the only reason we exist.