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Why Form or Join an Author Cooperative? …By Maggie Jaimeson

maggiejaimeson-smallprofileFrom the beginning of my self-publishing journey in summer of 2011, I knew I wanted to publish under a press name. At the time I did it purely to keep people guessing as to if my books were self-published or not. I didn’t hide it from anyone who asked. But I also didn’t advertise it. I wanted people to approach my books as they would any press book. So, I chose a press name, Windtree Press, designed a logo, put up a website and filed a DBA.

Being involved with technology for the past 30 years, both in Academia and in the software industry, I also knew that the self-publishing world was going to change rapidly. Technology was already changing on an almost daily basis. We were just beginning to look at the roles of social media, metadata, and marketing/branding. Software tools for creating and formatting are getting easier every day.

However, I did not want to traverse those changing waters alone. I wanted to find like-minded authors who would be willing to share their expertise and knowledge, banding together and moving forward together. That’s when Windtree Press became an author cooperative. We are an author cooperative with the belief that good people, of like minds and career goals, can help each other to be better, to do better, and in cooperating we will all rise together.

What I will share with you are the choices we have made so that others who wish to follow this path—whether creating your own cooperative or joining one that exists—will have at least one point of comparison. So far there are three members of Windtree Press: myself, Melissa Yuan-Innes, and Paty Jager. We are not bound by geography (Melissa is in Canada), nor are we bound by genre. We are only bound by philosophy and goals. We anticipate there will be others in the near future.

What does being part of an author cooperative really mean?

It means that the authors are all fully independent and self-sustaining in their work, their choices of genre, timing of publication, design of interiors and covers, and all aspects of their career. However, member authors have chosen to publish under a single press name, to gain the benefit of cross-promotion and sales, additional metadata development, and share the costs of highly complex technical implementations like e-commerce and direct sales. Other benefits accrue that only a press and multiple authors sharing expenses can garner (e.g., purchasing of multiple ISBNs at discount, uploads to Overdrive for Library lending, joint marketing and promotion).

Any decisions about the press, in terms of new members to take on, changes to operating principles or expenses, are discussed and voted on by all the author members of the press.

The press expenses are shared equally by all authors.  For Windtree Press those expenses are currently a monthly hosting fee which pays for the database backend processing of the e-commerce site, including book selling, credit card processing, PayPal merchant integration, customer management, and marketing. As each new member joins, that cost gets divided again equally. If the members decide they wish to hire a part-time digital assistant, or a marketing person or a technical programmer, then the cost is shared by all the members.

The concept of a Coop is that all authors share the burden of the work, giving of the skills they have, as well as the costs to run the press. Costs are paid up front, or monthly, whether a member is selling anything or not. The press does not take any royalty percentages at this time. Note: Other options one might choose in their own press is to take a small percent (say 1% and reinvest it into marketing, an assistant, a consistent presence in some venue, etc.). Windtree currently takes no percentage of author sales.

How does someone join a cooperative and who decides which books will be sold?

The inclusion of a new member author is by agreement of the current members.  It is important to the brand of the press that the quality of writing and presentation is very good. It is also important that all members can participate fully in running the press and making decisions. Because a coop member has complete autonomy, the current members need to believe that they can trust that person to have a well-edited book with a quality story and presentation moving forward. No one has the time or desire to be checking every book an author writes to approve or disapprove. Once in, we trust that everything the person writes is acceptable. We also don’t want to be in a position of constantly begging a member to participate in quarterly meetings or to do her fair share of the work in moving things forward. 
The key is “..good people, of like minds and career goals…

Each author is responsible for her own books in terms of writing, editing, cover designs, formatting and which vendors, in addition to Windtree Press, she wants to carry her books (i.e., Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks etc.). Note: If the author needs assistance in any of these areas, the press members can recommend people and/or tools to perform these services. The Press does NOT offer any of these services, and all such book development costs are paid by the individual author.

Each author includes Windtree Press as the publisher in all metadata, front matter, and distribution venues.  Because of the way Windtree Press started, we’ve also made the decision that a member author may simultaneously do business under her own press name (my Canadian friend does this as Olo Press). However, for any books also distributed by Windtree Press, the front matter must say something like “partnering with Windtree Press” or “distributed by Windtree Press.”  The press provides a logo that can also be used for print books and any reference to Windtree Press in front or back matter.

Each author creates her own accounts at other vendors (Amazon, B&N, Kobo etc.) so that money from those vendors comes directly to her. Each author simultaneously provides ebook formatted files to Windtree Press for direct sales.  (i.e., ePub, Mobi, PDF), as well as all descriptions, keywords, blurbs, and metadata information for every book and format intended to be distributed by Windtree Press.  All press ebook sales are automated to be immediately distributed to the customer upon receipt of payment.

All print sales through the press are the responsibility of the author for fulfillment. Orders are automated and emails are sent to the author regarding print fulfillment. We suggest doing drop-shipments from the print sales vendor (i.e., CreateSpace or Lightning Source) and perhaps maintaining a small amount of personal inventory so the author can autograph print copies for readers on request, and at an additional shipping/handling cost.

All press sales come through a single merchant account.  Payments to authors are made monthly, no matter what amount has come in ($1 or thousands of dollars).  The credit card fees for each transaction are automatically deducted from all payments.

Why would any indie author want to do direct sales?

The short answer is because only with direct sales can an author see exactly who is buying their books. When you sale through Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. you have no idea who is buying your books. You only know how many units were sold. When you run a contest and get all those emails to add to your newsletter, you never know if anyone on that list ever actually buys a book of yours. That means you have no way to mine that reader data and market to those readers who already like your books and know your books. With direct sales, you get all that data to use as best meets your marketing plan.

Windtree Press shares customer data with all author members of the press, and uses a mailing list and newsletter to highlight all member releases. This means that if you write a Science Fiction with romantic elements, you also get the benefit of seeing who bought MY book Eternity and marketing to those specific readers. In return, I also get to see who buys your SF romance and market to them. In other words, it builds out your potential market of real readers much faster than one person can do alone.

Finally, with direct marketing you now have more control than ever over the metadata that is indexed and put out on the web. This increases discoverability. The press website provides metadata not only for your book, but also for its relationship to other book on the press. Unlike Amazon or B&N where you are only discovered once you’ve sold lots of books, at a direct sales press you can build those relationships with all other coop members. Taking the same SF Romance mentioned above, every time someone looks at ETERNITY at Windtree Press they also see other member’s books as recommendations. They see other SF and Fantasy and Adventure and Romance. This same metadata is then also passed to web bot indexers, which then associates those books in other general searches.

So, should you create an author cooperative or find one to join?

Obviously I think the answer is yes. I believed a year and a half ago the wave of the future in successful self-publishing was to control the technology and to use the data to benefit authors. Though it is early days, I am exceptionally pleased in the development of the Windtree Press author cooperative and all the hard work Melissa and Paty have already done to make the e-commerce direct sales part come to fruition. I hope you will stop by and take a look at http://windtreepress.com . I also hope that if you decide to create your own press that you will benefit from learning what we have done, and you will share back with us anything you learn. There are many paths to success and I believe we can all benefit when we cooperate.

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