The post today refers to three situations connected with publishing books. The first one is the presentation that two independent editors gave recently, to an audience mainly composed of my students, explaining how a small press works. The second is the publication of a collective book to which I have contributed an article. The third are my attempts to get an academic book in Spanish published. Actually, I’ll add a fourth point having to do with desktop publishing programmes. It all connects, you’ll see.
I have recently met Hugo Camacho, a young man with a degree in ‘Filologia Inglesa’, who runs single-handedly Orciny Press (https://www.orcinypress.com/). A week ago he offered a presentation at the bookshop Gigamesh in Barcelona together with his colleague Ricard Millán, who runs another small press, Sven Jorgensen (https://www.svenbooks.com/). I had agreed with Hugo that I could ask as many questions as I wanted on behalf of my students and so I did. The result can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pS_Nnp6vqQ, an hour full of very interesting information about how the business of publishing books looks from the side of the (small) publisher.
I could comment on what Hugo and Ricard explained point by point and never be done, which is why I’ll highlight just one issue: the mathematics. An independent publisher, they explained, self-distributes by selecting sympathetic booksellers. Small presses like theirs tend to be one-men (or one-woman) shows in which most of the tasks that occupy ten-person teams in middle-sized presses are done by just one person. The maths: they publish, generally speaking, from 7 to 10 books a year, perhaps 12 at the most. A typical print run is 150/250 books, though volumes are also offered through print-on-demand services, and as e-books. The habitual distribution of benefits works like this: 10% for the author, 30% for the distributor, 30% for the publisher, 30% for the bookseller. You need to deduce from all this taxes and costs (in the case of the publisher these include items such as translation, book design, text composition, style correction and proof reading). Small presses tend to cut the middleman off, that is to say the distributor, but even so if your 10 books sell 200 copies each at 20 euros–and that’s supposing a lot–we’re speaking about 40000 euros, of which 24000 would go to the small press. It’s not much… By the way, the author of each of the books would get 400 euros (before taxes).
At least, authors are paid by small presses but (and this covers points two and three) for reasons I have never quite understood when you publish an article in a collective volume you never get paid; I’m now finding out, besides, that when you try to publish an academic book in Spain you’re expected to pay in more and more cases.
I have recently published, as I say, an article in a collective book. I’m very pleased with the volume and with the work of the editors, particularly because they commissioned me to write a piece which has pushed my research in interesting directions which I had only half-considered before. I don’t wish to name the title of the volume, nor the publishing house because this is irrelevant for the point I’m trying to make, namely, that the volume (hardback, 250 pages) is on sale at the price of €99,00 ($128.00). This is not exceptional at all. Xavier Aldana’s excellent Body Gothic, which I have already mentioned here, is sold at £95.00 or $160.00 (both hardback and e-book!). I ended up asking for a copy to write a review and that’s how my institution’s library got it (I won’t say a word about the book being in the basement depot, out of sight).
If I, with my Senior Lecturer privileged salary, need to blink hard and think twice before spending €99,00 on a book, imagine what it’s like for undergrad students. Or is the other way round? Are publishing houses demanding these fantastic prices because students (and teachers) have stopped buying academic paperbacks? More questions: how do young researchers writing their PhDs manage? And how many people will read our exciting collective volume? Can a €99,00 book make an impact? How many copies can be sold all together? 400 world-wide at the most? Can we really ask our Departments and university libraries to spend so much public money on high-priced books? Is this all part of the general trend to re-directed academic publishing in the Humanities towards journals? At least, we’re not paying to be published in journals–or are we? A look at the Spanish market for university-produced books reveals that here the prices for volumes in the Humanities are not that high. Check https://www.unebook.es/, the bookshop of the Unión de Editoriales Universitarias Españolas, and you will see that our national university presses are still selling available paperbacks (most for under €25), some of them truly cheap in their e-book version.
I must at this point declare my incompetence, for I see colleagues announce on our AEDEAN list volumes published with major Anglo-american academic presses and I wonder why the impossible fifteen years ago has now become, if not exactly common, at least feasible. I’m mystified. We, Spanish English Studies specialists, tend to publish less in Spanish, which is why I decided to try to publish in this language a selection of works I have already published elsewhere in English. The first lesson I have learned is that when you ask for permission to reproduce articles published abroad in collective books, the publishers drag their feet. I’ve been given permision to translate myself and upload the resulting translation onto the digital repository of my university but not to use my own translated work in a Spanish book. Odd. Journals seem more flexible. The second lesson I’m learning is that publishers expect to be paid, in principle with money from research projects. I don’t know how this works in other projects, but I’ve always been in large groups with limited funding, which has gone to a great extent into the collective books published by Spanish houses but not into books by individual researchers. When I asked my previous group whether they could help me to publish my projected volume they said no, on the grounds that if everyone else made the same petition that would quickly exhaust our scant funding. I’m talking about a figure between 2500 and 6000 euros per book.
I have a bad experience of not being paid royalties for two of my books by a commercial publisher so it’s not the case that I expect to get money from any volume. I’m not, however, willing to pay for publication out of my own pocket if I can help it, not only because I already invest a good deal of my salary in my career but because if you pay, then this is a vanity publication, which should not count for our CV. Funnily, Hugo and Ricard, the small press owners, were very proud to stress that they do not charge authors. I think that the book I’m working on is attractive enough to justify that a university press publishes it but I was told by the publishers I visited yesterday that my potential audience is actually limited to just a few hundred, with luck. Naturally, they are reluctant to invest money on my book and prefer that I finance it, or co-finance it. Now, my question is whether most of the many books I see on the UNE bookshop have been published in this way. I’m mystified, more and more so.
I told my potential publishers in what was, believe me, a very friendly conversation, that if there is no market for my product then I would be very happy to self-edit my volume and upload it as a .pdf onto UAB’s repository. I already have more than 50 documents there, not including syllabi and the dissertations by my tutorees, with more than 15,000 downloads in total (talk about impact…). I was asked what my documents looked like and when I showed one example (an article) edited using Word, it was hinted to me that I would need professional services to publish an e-book. I felt so mortified that about five minutes later I was asking Hugo Camacho what do professional publishers use (Adobe InDesign) and my university whether we have a licence for that (no, too expensive, we don’t even have one for Acrobat beyond Reader). A colleague has suggested Scribus, a free desktop publishing programme; I’ll give it a try. So, there you are: now I intend to train myself in pseudo-professional desktop publishing to make my own e-books. The things we university teachers do…
So, here’s my conundrum–and, yes, I think that I’m asking my readers a direct question. What should I do?
A. Try to find a (hopefully prestige) commercial publisher outside the academic circuit and aim at a general readership (target: 800 copies?)
B. Convince my potential academic publisher that my book is worth publishing, perhaps in co-edition with another university press (target: 400 copies?)
C. Pay to be published by said academic publisher or another (target: 400 copies?)
D. Produce my own professional-looking e-book and make it available for free on DDD (target: 1500/2000 copies, judging by previous volumes)
E. Produce my own professional-looking e-book and make it available for money on Amazon.es (really?), or a specialized platform (is there one for academic work? Hugo and Ricard use Lektu and I could do so, but it’s not academic)
F. Persuade AEDEAN that we fund our own e-book platform for English Studies and that we give the books away for free as we do with the journal Atlantis
G. Fund my own online academic small press and invite colleagues to publish with me for free, provided they produce their own e-books
You tell me… (and guess which options do not count as valid academic publications for the Ministry).
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