To continue with the topic of writers getting published somehow, anyhow – there are other ways of doing it. For example there is the do-it-yourself way, and writers have taken to indie-publishing in ever-increasing numbers – more of that elsewhere. Then there is the co-operative way.
Co-operative publishing is an appealing idea. And in the digital age it’s also simple enough: a few writers get together, sort out some ground rules, create a brand and a website, and wait for customers (writers and book buyers) to find it. No staff, no warehousing, no overheads. How does it work?
First, decisions have to be made about whose books to accept. Members only? Any and all submissions, of whatever quality, without consideration of the market, the content, style, presentation? If so, then the imprint would rapidly become debased because, as any publisher can tell you, barely one submission in a hundred is good enough to publish. That way lies heartache and damaged reputations, including that of the brand, the co-operative itself. (We have to get away from the idea that just because we write something, we have a God-given right to have it published, appreciated, and paid for. That’s not how the real world works.)
So, select and publish the best? That requires an editorial panel to filter out the one good book out of a hundred not so good. Assessing the viability of books takes expertise and experience of the trade as well as a sound understanding of the market. And it takes a lot of reading. Who has the time when they have their own writing to do?
Co-operative publishing can still be done, but I suggest that it is more likely to be successful for books that can be clearly targeted towards a specific readership: rose growers, spaniel breeders, vegetarians, mountain climbers – anyone with special interests. The advertising can be narrowly focussed and therefore effective. The market is specific and keen, even obsessed. Aficionados never have too many books about their particular interests.
General books, poetry, short stories and novels are much harder to sell. The market for fiction has many divisions and sub-divisions, and a knowledge of the current climate and trends is essential for successful promotions. Marketing involves all kinds of specialised techniques including the very basic one of presentation of the book itself. It has to attract the browsing book buyer, which at least means quality bindings, colourful jackets and eye-catching titles. Self-published books tend to look more modest and distributors and booksellers are not easily impressed.
Plunging into the general books market is therefore probably not a wise move for a co-operative venture. But I’m all for the niche groups because they offer more options in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Indie authors need indie publishers – it’s another way to go.