The 50/50 Publisher That Never Launched

When things start going well for a self publisher, when the bills are getting paid and the bank account is growing, many of us start casting about for a new mountain to climb. Back in 2005 I decided I would take the big leap and start publishing books by other authors, but of course, I had to try a different approach. I came up with the name New Deal Press for three reasons. First, the domain was available. Second, I believed I'd be offering authors a genuine new paradigm in publishing. Third, I thought it would be professional to have themed cover art like so many successful publishers, and I wanted to base it on public domain works created by artists for the government during the Great Depression.

I designed the contract around the premise that I had to pay authors a royalty rate of 50% of the net and a modest advance on signing. I also insisted (to myself) that it was to be a paying business, rather than a charity or a write-off. Unfortunately, when I combined this model with my other cherished notion, of outsourcing the design and editorial work and giving the contractors both cash payments and points in the book (a percentage of the net), I quickly realized that without extraordinary luck, it would be a charity project. Probably a full-time charity project at that. I still might have gone ahead with it if not for some of the negative feedback I got on the web when floating the idea, namely that I was an evil person looking to rip-off authors.

A couple days ago, I put the New Deal Press domain back online because I'm planning to use it for book selling business, and I put the original website back online just as a placeholder. A couple fun quotes from that somewhat idealistic business model:

"How much money do you hope to earn if we publish your book? We want to know if you're a nut. If you believe you're going to make a million dollars, maybe you will, but not with us."

"We truly believe that anybody intelligent enough to write a good book is intelligent enough to bypass all publishers (ourselves included) and self-publish their own books. However, we also believe you have to be willing to work at it full time if you expect to succeed."

"If you've stolen parts of your book somewhere, deceive us, and we publish it, we are going to get sued. When we get sued, you get sued. Even if we don't get sued, if we find out you've been stealing, all bets are off. There's no room for plagiarism in the publishing industry, try academia if you must."

That last quote is from the expanded version of the author contract in which I tried to explain why it had to be written the way it was. I may have gotten the idea from the commentary on the O'Reilly contract, on there So You Want To Write For Us page.

The funny thing is that I still think the basic premise was a pretty good idea, I just concluded that I don't have a thick enough skin to deal with nutty authors like myself. Investing lots of my time in something that wouldn't pay nearly as well as authoring more trade books or self publishing more titles would have been worthwhile if the whole enterprise had been a modest success, which I suppose means I'm hungry for recognition. The price I was unwilling to pay was price of stress, when things go wrong and authors go ballastic. I can't control Amazon, Google, Ingram, or any of the other players in the publishing world, and I don't want to take the blame when they make mistakes or change the rules. Besides, I'm sure I'd have made enough mistakes of my own to keep me in permanent apology mode.

In the two years since I dropped the idea, I must have corresponded with at least a dozen authors who followed the POD model for self publishing that I advocate, and who immediately proceeded to publishing other authors books. All of them that I can think of did so on a subsidy publishing basis, which is interesting, since a couple of them were subsidy press refugees at the beginning of the process. I don't envy them the role of having to deal with authors who've paid to have a book published and are dissapointed by the results.

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