November was wholly consumed by what is known as “Book Project,” a seven-week crash course in publishing covering everything from the concept pitch to sales. Students in the MPUB cohort are placed in three separate groups and are given a two-sentence missive on the direction their mock publishing house should take. Each part of the project was punctuated with consults from industry guests, who graciously confirmed or rejected the ideas we had about each of our proposed titles. Due to the intensity of the project, the rest of the courses sort of faded away, so I’ll mostly be talking about the work we did leading up to the mock sales conference we had on December 4th.
The Book Project
PUB 605 started with missives being drawn out of a hat. My group selected ECW Press, which is a quirky, ambitious publisher that prints basically everything plus wrestling. Apparently the original owner is just a huge fan of the WWE, so, yeah….
I was pretty happy with the pick, since ECW’s titles were not as restrictive as Greystone Books, for example, which basically only prints nonfiction. On the other hand, we were the only group given instruction to include technology in some meaningful way. That presented several challenges, since tech in publishing is often used in gimmicky ways, and we wanted to avoid that at all costs.
The first week of the project was likely one of our hardest, simply for being thrown into it with basically just a syllabus as direction. One member of the team was out with the flu and another (an auditor) was unavailable. After being taught through all of September how important it is to take the time to refine your brand and company as carefully as possible, we were basically given two days to get that done. 😅 So, Week 1 was about finding our imprint’s name [Margin Press], starting the mission statement, pitching enough titles to make a solid list [starting with six and narrowing down to four over the course of the project], and beginning the sketch work for our logo. The logo development was probably the most exciting part of the week for me.
In the end, we settled on a design created by my teammate Bec, who is a graphic artist at heart, and way better at these things!
Week 2 was probably the hardest week of the entire program. There was so much due all at once, and working on books that haven’t technically been written, by authors we have never talked to (or made up entirely), was quite the challenge. Still, by the end of the week, we had draft Profit and Loss statements for all six of our titles, which we used to narrow down the list to the four most viable books. We had a really fun book we were all sad to see go, The Neopagan Next Door, a nonfiction on pagan practices in a contemporary society. In the end, though, we settled on these four (I’m including their final taglines, or elevator pitches):
- Urban Carnival: The Hidden Lives of Vancouver’s Street Performers (my pitch to the group!) – “Bagpipes, beatboxing, and didgeridoos: what’s left of the vaudeville carnival can be found on Vancouver streets—but there’s more to these acts than meets the eye.”
- My Chinatown: A Novel – “Lin has always felt torn between two cultures, but when a new development threatens Calgary’s Chinatown she must finally pick a side.”
- Douglas Cardinal: Indigenous Architect – “The story behind the stunning architecture that has helped revitalize Canadian Métis heritage for more than half a century.”
- Unsettled: Narratives of Syrian Refugees in Canada – “Six refugee families from Syria recount the struggles and triumphs of reconstructing their lives in Canada and rediscovering the meaning of home.”
With all of those books, we had one main goal in mind—we wanted to promote books from marginalized communities. So, while we were refining our list, we also refined our mission statement, which ended up becoming:
Margin Press publishes for readers who like to engage with literature through a kaleidoscope of multimedia. We publish voices from the margins and push the limits of content and form. Through a suite of creative and diverse media, our readers engage with stories from original voices typically underrepresented in society.
I can’t tell you how many HOURS we spent fine-tuning the words for those pitches and the mission statement. Probably too many…. but hey, in the name of a job well done. 😛
Finally, we started our Tip Sheet information, subsidiary rights research, and catalogue design. Oh, and marketing plans. Like I said…. it was a busy, busy week. Here’s what our board looked like:
The third week of the project, things began to settle into a rhythm, and while we were still insanely busy, I personally started feeling like everything was doable. Part of the reason I could feel that way is that not many of our team worked outside of class, so we could pull long meetings during the week. That meant we could relax or catch up on other coursework over the weekends. For future cohorts, make time to be away from the project or you’ll go batty by the end!
Week Three was also a bit shorter than we might have liked because three of us were attending MagsWest, a local conference for magazines (I have notes, and those will make another post!) That ended up being okay, though, since the assignments were mainly revisions. We got print quotes back from Friesens (this was such a fun part of the project… talking with an actual distributor about paper stocks and trim sizes and purchase orders. I think we were the only group that dared to haggle with the rep, haha. He gave us a 10% discount on two books’ printing though, so I guess it paid off. 😉 )
Cover developments also started that week. I threw together a cover for Urban Carnival, which ended up being its final version as well (that was cool), and also made a bunch of mock-ups for My Chinatown, which were all rejected. 😜 Here are a couple (the red envelope ended up being adopted for promotional materials though!)
Finally, I had an impromptu meeting with a member of the faculty to explain my use of Blippar, which further cemented the idea that we needed to be careful about how we were going to use the media elements in the final products.
By Week 4, all correspondence and assignments for the group were branded with our company logo, fonts, and color palette. This really started making us feel like a real company. Assignments started feeling more like deadlines that the company had to meet to be financially viable, and that made us more determined than ever to get things right. Because of that, the majority of the week was again spent refining our documents. We had to do a lot of finagling to get the P&Ls to 50%+ profit margins (which is the recommended number, btw, for any book after marketing and development costs…. a good way to see if you’re not losing a ton of money on your books over time) but we got them there!
And then it was all about the marketing plans. We actually started them from scratch again after feedback from a publicist, and got pretty creative with how and where we were going to distribute, as well as where we’d look for free publicity. I think the most interesting thing about the marketing plans is that, in the end, we didn’t put too much pressure on social media, and the publicist really encouraged that. Something for indie authors to think about, I guess… since we are encouraged to spend SO much time online, but it turns out sales are made in many different ways, and the more creative ones tend to have the most return on your efforts.
We also finalized the designs for our printed documents (the catalogue and tip sheets [I should really talk about tip sheets one day; they’re pretty interesting]). This was about the point that I was feeling the pinch. I asked for it, but my design work is under a microscope, so things like text being optically aligned instead of using the computer’s ruler, and solving rivers in the text were basically the bane of my existence, haha. But, I persevered!
This was our “reprieve” week. We’d front-loaded so many of our assignments that we sort of had a lot of free time for Week Five, which was nice. We talked about how to create the promotional materials for our books, which would be given to the sales reps on December 4th, and then basically worked on cover designs and jacket copy. It was pretty interesting, because we had a really visceral reaction to our novel’s cover from one of the panelists, who literally held the cover away from his body and said “I HATE this cover!” It shook us a bit, but we polled the entire cohort and even some of the faculty, and realized one of the biggest points of Book Project: you don’t have to take every piece of advice to heart. We kept the cover design.
The adjustments, though. They became the single most annoying and incessant aspect of this course. Change a single word. Adjust the photo contrast. Try a new font. Swap out the blurbs. Increase the margins by .25″. Crop the image. We were working on the jacket copy until literally hours before the cover got sent to the printer, and then I still found things I would have changed later. Another important lesson of the Book Project: No book is ever done… it just meets its deadline.
The fun thing we did that week, because we just needed to get our heads away from book descriptions and covers, was decorate our office for Christmas. I even Photoshopped a company Christmas card, which we put outside our door.
Last week of the project, ahhhh!!! I thought it might be fun to, instead of summarize as above, share with you all a sample of one of the real reports we had to send to the faculty every week. This was my second one:
Heading into Week 7…
I’m going to save the sales conference for another post! And when I post that, you’ll get to see our finalized covers and promotional items, catalogue and tip sheets as well! The good news is that we had ZERO problems with our print job…. shocker! 😛
Is there anything about the book process that you are particularly interested in? I have so many notes and my brain is just bursting with information now, and I’m trying to think about what would be post-worthy going forward.