At the Write Stuff conference, we are pleased to host Lawrence Knorr, founder, and editor of Sunbury Press in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, a newcomer in the rapidly changing landscape of publishing. GLVWG’s Jerry Waxler asked Knorr to help us understand more about his company, and his observations of his relationships with authors.
Jerry: Welcome to the Write Stuff blog, Lawrence. We’re looking forward to meeting you in person. To help our members get to know you, please tell us why and how you started Sunbury Press.
Lawrence: I started the business in 2004 because I wanted to self-publish some family history books. At that time - not that long ago - print on demand and eBooks were in their infancy (I wasn't aware of them). Rather than pay a vanity press to handle my book, I decided to start my own publishing business. I have a business education and have started successful businesses in the past (I graduated summa cum laude with honors in business/economics as an undergrad and with honors as a graduate student (MBA) - and have taught business courses at the college level). So, I dove in and began learning a lot of tough lessons! Sales were meager, but I made a profit every year. A couple years later, I brought in a partner, Chris Fenwick, who had a fiction book entitled "the 100th Human." While I handled the business operation and investments, Chris developed and promoted her book with great success. For a time, this book hit #1 in Amazon's metaphysical fiction category. We were very pleased. Then came my divorce. Sunbury's operation was essentially suspended for two years while this was settled.
Early in 2010, my (new) wife Tammi and I decided to restart Sunbury Press with a new business model. We both have had long careers in information technology --- she "retired" after 20 years and I am still going strong at 29 years. Both of us have been computer programmers and consultants. We both see publishing as digital content management - evolving from a paper-based manufacturing business model to digital content creation and distribution. Each eBook is a computer program - each eReader is really a computer. In a sense, our backgrounds in information technology have prepared us well for this business at this time.
Jerry/GLVWG: I understand that Sunbury Press is built on a different model than traditional publishers. It’s hard enough for authors to completely understand the publishing industry in the first place. Now with the entire business model changing so rapidly, we need to keep up with new variations that are beginning to appear. Could you help us form a clearer picture of how you are the same as or different from other publishers?
Lawrence: Sure. Let me list a few key points.
1) We avoid dealing with struggling or failing enterprises - so we do not deal with Barnes & Noble retail or Books-A-Million. We feel both of these entities are not long for the world - at least in their current format. Instead, we embrace independents - we love to deal with other small businesses and have met a variety of bookstore owners across the country.
2) We sell "wanted" books - we do not embrace the old "push" model of print / promote / pray. We love to work with motivated authors who believe in their work and like to talk about it with others. Authors who are able to play the role of agent and publicist do well with Sunbury.
We embrace social media. It is absolutely essential to build these networks of connections and provide content to them on a regular basis. While they may not lead to a lot of direct sales, they build brand recognition and give you a "pulse."
We put no value in paid reviews or the formal review process. Many reviewers request galley copies up to 6 months ahead of release. Honestly, this is just too slow for us! Additionally, we have found paid reviews to be totally worthless.
We believe in "Free." Nothing sells better than a free book that is high quality! We have found "Free" campaigns to be very effective. Print advertising is dead. Paid advertising is too risky - it makes no sense to pay a pile of money and hope to sell enough books to cover your cost. By simply giving away the books, the consumer has no reason not to try. Customer reviews are king. This is a key objective of our free campaigns.
3) We believe the publisher role is still absolutely necessary - while some authors (myself as an example) are able to handle the business and creative sides well, most cannot or have no interest in doing so. The vast majority of authors want to research and write - and not worry about eBook formatting or foreign rights contracts or finding the lowest cost POD printer.
We believe the publisher needs to become the retailer and distributor - most books are now sold vie eCommerce - whether print or eBook.
We do not embrace the old production schedule --- that could last up to 18 months. Instead, our average new title, from time of contract signing, is on the market within 90 days. We believe in the "long tail" approach to product life cycle --- produce a quality product / introduce it to the market / promote over the long haul. The old model put all of the promotion just before release and relied on a burst of sales in the beginning.
4) We do not charge our authors for anything --- and only select about 10% of the work that is presented to us.
5) We love what we do and have fun doing it.
Jerry/GLVWG: That helps a lot. Thank you. Let me ask a couple of follow up questions about your business model. For example, traditional publishers had to print thousands of copies, warehouse them and distribute them. With new printing methods, the economics have changed drastically. Ebooks cost zero to manufacture. But Print on Demand is a different story. Even though you don’t need to load palettes of a book into a warehouse, it still costs money to print and mail. Do you expect publishers and authors will make any money at all from POD books, or is all the money in eBooks?
Lawrence Knorr: First, let's be clear about the cost of eBooks. There is a fixed cost associated with the editing, design and formatting activities plus the cost of promotion. While there is no cost to duplicate and only small fees to distribute, the lower prices associated with eBooks means (usually) a lower profit margin per unit sold - meaning a longer path to break-even. With POD books, we are able to charge more for them (than eBooks) and can cover the printing and shipping costs. We actually make more per unit sold of trade paperbacks - especially when we are the retailer.
Jerry/GLVWG: One reason that authors need publishers is because of the company’s reputation for editing excellent books. However, in recent years, traditional publishers have been cutting editing budgets, so authors can’t always rely on this service. What is Sunbury’s position on the place of editing in the publishing process? How much time and expertise do you devote to each work in order to bring it up to a polished, professional, public-worthy level?
Lawrence Knorr: We take the quality of our products very seriously. Selecting high quality manuscripts and then editing them properly achieves this - and enhances our brand name. So, to answer your question, editing is absolutely essential. Our editors are employees of our company - so while the big firms are laying them off, we are hiring. A typical 250 page novel can take 20 to 40 hours of their time to edit. Thus, we make a substantial investment out of the gate in our author's works.
Jerry/GLVWG: As the self-publishing wave explodes, the barrier to publishing has diminished. Authors now can publish books themselves. That’s fabulous news for aspiring authors who want to see their work in print, but not such great news for readers who don’t know which books are excellent, versus books that are distributed prematurely. How do you intend to convince readers that the books you publish are worth reading?
Lawrence Knorr: First and foremost, we are building our brand name and reputation. This separates us from the vanity presses and unknown self-publishers in the marketplace. You can usually tell by the cover design - the blurbs - the reviews - the first few pages - a book which has had the proper amount of attention prior to being released to the market.
Jerry/GLVWG: Many publishing companies try to establish a niche market, like children, health, religion, or self-help, or whatever. This could help build a catalog along specific topic lines. Do you see Sunbury leaning toward any niche?
Lawrence Knorr: We are trying to be a general publisher and avoid being pigeon-holed into a category or two. We have had success in a number of diverse categories. It makes the work much more interesting!
Jerry/GLVWG: What books have you published that are especially representative or successful elements of your line?
Lawrence Knorr: "The Cursed Man" by Keith Rommel is a great example of our horror/psycho-thriller line. Tom Malafarina's works also do well for us in this category. The two "Beagle Tales" books by Bob Ford are indicative of our homespun non-fiction targeted at more rural communities/readers. "The Hidden Legacy of World War II" by Dr. Carol Schultz Vento is an excellent history representative of our histories / memoirs. "Keystone Tombstones" is a good example of our Pennsylvania histories. "Fireproof Moth" is an example of our international reach.
Jerry/GLVWG: What can you share about your submission guidelines? (book proposal, query letter, first chapter, etc)
Lawrence Knorr: Please see our website for all of these details. There is a proposal form available at: http://sunburypress.com/call.html
Jerry/GLVWG: Do the new economics translate into any additional financial incentive for your authors?
Lawrence Knorr: Some costs are reduced, but others are increased. For instance, there is a lot of effort to setting up a good eBook work process that considers multiple formats as outputs. There is also a need to invest in tools for formatting eBooks - and for people skilled with these tools. The legacy publishing industry based its revenue and profit model -- and author compensation -- on a foundation of hard cover sales first - then paperback. Hardcovers were very profitable for publishers and allowing them to compensate authors well. My fear is there is a smaller pie with eBooks - but hopefully fewer players going for the pie. For instance, rather than having author-agent-publisher-wholesaler-retailer, we can reduce the chain to author-publisher-retailer. We are trying to also become an online retailer, shortening the chain even further. Highly skilled authors - near perfect writers with technical knowledge and business skills - could possibly go completely solo --- or deal with retailers themselves, skipping the publisher.
Jerry/GLVWG: What more would you like to say to a prospective conference attendee about the types of things you are looking for and the relationships you would like to establish?
Lawrence Knorr: "It has never been easier to publish a book - and it has never been harder to sell one."
The publishing industry is changing dynamically. What took centuries to evolve is unraveling in months -- even weeks. Sunbury Press is at the leading edge of this adventure into 21st Century publishing.
Many authors come to us who have tried publishing on their own - tried the vanity press route - tried handling it all themselves. They've realized how tough it is to sell books to more than friends and family. When you're ready, give us a try...
-------------------------------------------Interviewer, Jerry Waxler, M.S., blogs and conducts interviews with memoir authors at http://www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog