Interview by Liza Perrat
For the seventh in our author collective series, we are happy to welcome Maggie Lynch from Windtree Press.
LP: Who had the idea to set up Windtree Press, why and when?
ML: I founded Windtree Press in February 2011 when I decided to simultaneously publish a traditionally contracted novel and a self-published novel. By June I had invited two other authors, Melissa Yuan-Innes and Usha Menon, to join me. I had met both of them at different writing workshops and found we had the same goals and the same work ethic. Similar to me, both were highly successful career women who had published extensively in non-fiction and in short fiction. They were also entering the genre fiction novel market. In early 2012, Paty Jager joined us as the first full-time career author. At the same time Usha left the cooperative, deciding she would prefer to focus on her career as a cancer researcher.
By summer of 2012, the three of us formalized the organization with operating procedures, a member agreement, and a quarterly meeting and voting practice. We all agreed that we wanted/needed to grow. To do it in a way that was sustainable, we needed to be organized and have a clear focus as to our expectations for the future. We devised a type of three year roadmap. In 2013 and 2014 we expanded to 16 authors, and we are now at 19.
LP: Can you tell us a bit about how the author cooperative functions?
ML: Windtree Press is an author PUBLISHING cooperative. A publishing cooperative acts as a publisher for the members of the cooperative. This means that the cooperative is responsible for guaranteeing all those aspects of publishing that any commercial publisher would take on: quality of story; professional editing; good cover design; getting reviews; vetting new markets and opportunities; as well as continuous marketing and cross-promotion. In a cooperative, the members together determine how those publishing tasks are accomplished.
Our cooperative approach differs from other cooperatives in that we operate primarily by member agreement to accomplish the primary publishing tasks on their own (professional editing, cover design, formatting, uploading the book to the major retailers). Other cooperatives have members trade or barter with each other to accomplish these tasks. Because we began Windtree Press with only three of us—all of us in 60+ hour per week executive positions in day jobs—we didn’t have time for the barter model. Instead we did what we could and paid for the rest. Consequently, we stayed with that model making new members also responsible for the professionalism of their products. In this model, each member is independent, maintains her own accounts, and consequently gets 100% of her net sales.
Each member also agrees to take on a task for all members that will benefit the press as a whole. For example, I manage most technical aspects of the press—website, loading to an aggregator, building squeeze pages, running paid marketing campaigns, etc. Paty does our newsletter every month. Anna manages our Facebook page, Diana manages our Twitter page, Cathryn manages our Pinterest page, etc. These efforts provide all members with a broader social media exposure than perhaps any one person is able to manage on her own. When we do an anthology, a certain number of members volunteer to edit, coordinate, do formatting, cover design, etc. We also have members who coordinate events, ranging from book signings to radio interviews to blog tours, Facebook and twitter parties. There are always more potential jobs than the number of people we have. I suspect we’d have to get to 50 members or more to cover all the needs we’ve defined. J
To help our members accomplish their publishing tasks we do offer training, share resources with each other, provide referrals to professionals at reasonable prices, and work together on launches and ongoing cross-promotion. The other thing Windtree Press is able to do, that an indie author alone can rarely afford, is to contract a publisher for larger budget items. Because we have over 100 books in our catalog (more than many small commercial presses), we have some negotiating power with vendors. We can get books into new markets and try new technologies at a small prorated member cost. For example, this year we are doing an aggregator contract for Windtree Press with a company that distributes for many major New York publishers. This aggregator gets our books into 55,000 libraries and more than 1,000 additional retailers around the world. These are markets beyond what Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Apple, Google, and Createspace reach. Many of these markets are country-specific and culture-specific. Again, the monthly and annual cost for this contract would be unbearable for most individuals who are not already bestsellers. For our authors, the cost is only $10 per month because of our combined power as a publisher and the number of members we have makes the pro-rated price affordable.
LP: How many members do you currently have and what must each member bring to the table? How do you know if someone is a good “fit” for Windtree Press?
ML: We currently have 19 members, and over 125 titles in our catalog. Many of our members write in more than one genre, and several write both fiction and non-fiction. When a member joins, she usually brings her backlist with her (assuming she has rights to the books). Consequently, some of our members joined with ten or more books. Others came to us with one or two but are increasing their catalog by putting out titles every year.
We have three primary criteria for membership.
The individual is a career author. This means the person has plans to do a minimum of two titles per year. We understand that sometimes things happen and only one title is released. We don’t kick someone out because she isn’t able to get more than one title out. The point is that the individual looks at writing as a career, not a hobby. The member is in this for long-term gain and realizes that the shortest path to significant income is to write good books and in quantity.
The individual’s work is of high quality—equal to traditional publishing—and is presented in a complete professional package. This is judged by the members themselves based on reading the author’s work or seeing a number of good reviews that speak to the story quality. A candidate is nominated by an existing member who is a guarantor of the quality and professionalism of the book. At least one other member needs to also have agreed as to the quality of the work. If someone approaches us who we don’t know, they we require them to send us a completed work to vett. When someone joins the press they sign an agreement to maintain and/or improve on that writing/story quality and professionalism with subsequent books.
The individual gets along well with others and has a philosophy of helping others. Because we make decisions together and rely on everyone helping out the press as a whole, we cannot afford to have drama queens or individuals who are “too big/important to help out.” Good cooperative members continuously demonstrate the philosophy that helping others to succeed also helps them to succeed. Or as I like to say: “Karma always wins.”
We also evaluate how a potential member’s work will integrate with our catalog. Because our members tend to write cross-genre, and many write in multiple genres, our catalog is diverse. However, we would not take on a member’s work that has no corollary in our catalog. For example, if some one came to us today with children’s picture books, we would have to really evaluate our ability to market those and what type of cross-promotion those novels would have within our catalog. We do have three writers who write children’s books, but they tend to be for the 7-10 year old group not for small children. That means we would be unlikely to take on that person—no matter how much we loved their work—unless we had a second person who also did picture books. We don’t want to have an author in a genre alone.
LP: What do you see as the key benefits of being in a cooperative? Any disadvantages?
ML: I’ve spoken at length above about some of the tangible benefits with additional exposure and markets. However, I think the primary benefit is more personal. Being with a group of authors who understand what it is like to toil day in and day out in a writing career is key to the cooperative experience. The member support on that journey can be invaluable. It is a powerful motivator to realize that a group of authors are working as hard to help you succeed as they do for their own success.
There are also disadvantages. One of the reasons authors choose to self-publish is because they thrive in an environment where they make all the decisions and have no one looking over their shoulder. In the Windtree Press cooperative, our authors still have significant autonomy in their decision-making. They decide in what genres to write—both fiction and non-fiction, the length of their titles, whether to write in series or not, what publication schedule they want, what the presentation of their work will be, and in what markets they believe are best for their books.
However, they also must consider the other members of the cooperative with every decision. The cooperative depends on a certain quality level of writing and presentation. Members agree to maintain that and will call you on it if you get in a hurry and let it slide. As a fully independent author you may decide you are going to concentrate only on your work, your marketing, your immediate needs for your book(s). In a cooperative—at least in ours—you have signed an agreement to also market other member books, help them to be successful, and to work together toward common goals. You need to do that whether you feel you have the time or not.
It takes a certain type of personality to thrive in a cooperative. That is why we add people slowly and discuss our process with a potential new member at length. Our new-member packet is fourteen pages long. J Even with the cooperative descriptions, the agreement, the cautionary discussion and caveats around realistic expectations, sometimes a person realizes after joining that this is not for them. When that happens our agreement provides an easy way to separate as well. We do not want someone in the cooperative who doesn’t want to be there, or feels they simply don’t have the time to contribute to the whole.
LP: How do you see the future of publishing generally?
ML: Goodness, this could be a whole book and my personal crystal ball is not always right. J Based on other industries that have been disrupted by technological change (music and software are good comparisons), I believe we are on the front end of a highly diversified market that will see shifts in both the big players and in technology as new innovations come into the marketplace. A large part of that change is really going to be dictated by countries outside of North America. North America has had their big push and made a decision, as usual, to go with the guy who appears to be winning (Amazon). However, when Europe comes into its full ebook acceptance I suspect it will choose differently—it will choose more diversification. And who knows where Asia and Southeast Asia will end up? Those who ignore worldwide trends in favor of their narrow one country view will be left behind.
I’ve been a part of the software industry since the early 1980’s, and my husband is an independent musician who has been playing for nearly 40 years. I’ve seen many large companies become small or disappear and small companies become large based purely on keeping ahead of the technology curve and embracing global markets. Will this be Kobo or some new, not yet conceived player? I personally don’t believe it will be Amazon unless they change their winner-take-all exclusive approach.
Unlike some pundits, I do not believe that print will disappear. However, I believe it will become a specialty item for certain genres and markets, much like vinyl records are making a comeback for audiophiles today. I also believe that readers will become less tied to ebook purchases based on devices. We are living in an app-based world now, and it is more likely that apps will be the way books are consumed. This is good for market diversity and, I believe, for indies who want to do better in their direct sales.
I also don’t think traditional publishing will disappear. Book publishing is a small part of huge conglomerate entertainment companies—corporations that control televisions, movie studios, audio and video of all kind, along with the books in their catalogs. To them it is all content that can be re-purposed many times over. Yes, big companies change slowly, but they also have the money, will, and ability to wait for a technology that they want and then simply purchase it and be number one again. I see big publishing becoming the packager in the future. Once a book proves itself in the indie or small press world, they will acquire it for multimedia packaging—a combination of ebook, audio, gaming, video. Not sure how that will look but I can see that future.
Authors really do have the power to control their own destinies. Options for publishing abound. It all depends on what we want, what we are willing to pay for it, and how hard we are willing to work. It has always been that way, though in the past we didn’t have the access to technology we do today. One thing I can say for sure. That is that things will continue to change. The author who can embrace change, evaluate it in terms of her goals, and act decisively on those things that show promise, will be the one to get ahead.
LP: Thanks so much for answering our questions, Maggie, and we wish you all continuing success with your writing, and with Windtree Press.
ML: Thank you for having me. I love talking about Windtree Press and the amazing cadre of talent we have.
Windtree Press Bio: Founded in 2011, Windtree Press was designed as an author publishing cooperative to fill the gap between traditional and independent publishing with promotion, distribution, shared expertise and a supportive environment for publication among proven authors. We are an author cooperative with the belief that good people, of like minds and career goals, help each other to be better, to improve, and in cooperating will rise together.
Contact: Maggie Lynch via Contact Page
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Current Members: Mercer Addison, Judith Ashley, Jamie Brazil, Anna Brentwood, Cathryn Cade, Collette Cameron, Kathy Coatney, Pamela Cowan, Wahula Gonzo, Paty Jager, Linda Lovely, Maggie Lynch, Diana McCollum, Courtney Pierce, Sarah Raplee, Susie Slanina, Robin Weaver, Melissa Yuan-Innes