Leaders of three of Seattle’s top independent book publishers joined forces with moderator Christy Karras to fill us in on their newest titles and imprints; their plans for the year ahead; how they’re adapting to the changing publishing climate; and what all this could mean for independent editors.
Introduction and Editors Guild Business
The Guild has recently added five new board members: Amanda Vail, Kate Rogers, Vicki Grayland, Rich Isaac, and Andie Ptak. Welcome!
The next coffee hour is Thursday, March 28, at 11:30 a.m. at the Issaquah Coffee Company.
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Three panelists were introduced by moderator Christy Karras, journalist, author, editor, and Guild member:
Kate Rogers, Editor in Chief, Mountaineers Books
Gary Luke, President, Sasquatch Books
Nicole Mitchell, Director, University of Washington Press
Each panelist gave a brief personal history, then described their company’s focus of production and exhibited representative titles from their best sellers and soon-to-be-released line-up for spring 2013. The speakers were then asked to respond to the following questions:
- What is your publishing house up to these days?
- Tell us something about yourself outside of work.
- What is your editorial pet peeve?
Nicole: University of Washington Press, founded in 1915, is the largest and oldest university press west of Chicago and north of California. Every project that goes to publication is first vetted by nine faculty members. The press now has three full-time acquiring editors and one quarter-time freelancer scouting new projects. The number of staff totals 19, and the press operates on an annual budget of about $3 million. Operating income is derived primarily from book sales, with additional income from rights and permissions income and endowed funds; the press relies heavily on grants and subsidies, plus a modest amount of state support. UW Press is a non-profit organization and is the leading publisher of books in the area of environmental history. New UW Press titles from fall 2012 and spring 2013 include:
- The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (bestseller for 2012)
- Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon
- Four Thousand Hooks: A True Story of Fishing and Coming of Age on the High Seas of Alaska
- Penguins: History and Conservation
- Daylighting Design in the Pacific Northwest
Nicole has roots in other academic presses, including the University of Georgia Press and Cambridge University Press. She likes to paint and dance (not at the same time). Her editorial pet peeve is poor grammar and misspellings on applications for editorial positions.
Gary: Sasquatch Books has been around since the mid-1980s. (Gary added that Sasquatch is the largest independent publisher north of Stewart Street and west of Fourth Avenue!) It produces about 30 titles a year—mostly guidebooks, cookbooks, local history, memoirs, and children’s books. All proofreading and copyediting is done freelance and is contracted out through managing editors.
Contacts: Nancy Cortelyou (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Michelle Anderson (email@example.com).
He reports his editorial pet peeve as those who write in present tense. Also, he mentioned that his editors particularly dislike when a copyeditor or proofreader is given a particular scope of work, and then they “query the hell out of it”– this in turn quadruples the editor’s time. Gary says they look for people who know how to work in Sasquatch’s areas of specialty. For each project they create a budget; the average wage for copyeditors is $25-30/hour.
He is a firm believer in making beautiful books. He says: “They earn their keep in the world and aren’t easily replaced by e-books.” Having said that, most of their titles are available electronically. Sasquatch’s website is currently under construction/redesign.
Sasquatch publications are distributed by Random House, Inc. through trade and retail outlets. Their growth area (largely because of their relationship with Random House) is in stores outside of the bookstore realm (he mentioned Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie as examples). Gary remarked, “It helps a beautiful book to be merchandised with other things.”
Gary was raised in Seattle, graduated from Western Washington University, was for a time a senior editor with Simon & Schuster, and has been at Sasquatch since 1994. Personal tidbit: He learned to skate-ski two years ago, and is “obsessed” with it.
Kate: Mountaineers Books is an “outdoor publisher,” owned by The Mountaineers, and has been around for 50 years. Its core identity is with climbing and mountaineering books, detailed guide books, informational/inspirational books on topics of any human-powered sport, and historical adventure narratives. Titles she mentioned were
- Cold Wars: Climbing the Fine Line Between Risk and Reality
- Rowing into the Son: Four Young Men Crossing the North Atlantic
- Cairns: Messengers in Stone
Mountaineers Books has a long history of promoting regional conservation titles such as their newest (due out in Spring 2013), Elwha: A River Reborn, a title by local author Lynda Mapes that is a co-publication with the Seattle Times. In 2007 Mountaineers Books created a new imprint named Skipstone. Its focus is on lifestyle/food/gardening/sustainable living themes, always with a connection to conservation. New titles for this spring are Cool Season Gardener by the Guild’s own Bill Thorness, and Backyard Roots, which profiles 35 regional farmers who are using more organic practices, while keeping a small footprint.
Mountaineers Books also has an imprint called Braided River; it produces coffee-table books that “use imagery to inspire conservation.” Mountaineers Books produces about 30-35 books per year, with a staff of approximately 15.
Personal tidbit: Kate lives in Ballard and is very interested in food production issues. Her pet peeve is overquerying, or editors just doing things and hoping the writer doesn’t notice (!)
Discussion (led by Christy Karras)
What are the challenges and rewards of your work?
Nicole: It is in keeping up with the changes in producing e-books, dealing with different vendors, library aggregators, and e-marketers. Also, we need to overhaul our website and devote more energy to social media issues.
Gary: Similar concerns. He worries about the state of bookstores and bemoans the loss of even large retailers like Borders, and the closing, for example, of Barnes & Noble in the U-Village. It speaks to the pressures in the business climate. He doesn’t have an answer to this. Sasquatch just recently produced a cookbook for Plum, a Capitol Hill vegan restaurant, that he believes will do very well online because it’s beautifully designed, and because of the phenomenon of Amazon, where buyers can search for very specific topics or titles and go right to them. He says that until they were connected to Random House for distribution their marketing was “very hit and miss.”
Kate: She is more optimistic. The challenge with e-books is in keeping up with technology. Converting their backlists (older titles that may be out of print) to e-readers that use different platforms has taken a concerted effort and is an ongoing learning process. She mentioned an old title, Across the Olympic Mountains; there is renewed interest in it, and it may be kept going now. Thanks to the advent of POD (print-on-demand), niche books and out-of-print books can be re-invented–get a second life, so to speak. However, she notes, random orders for books such as these won’t make up for the loss of outlets like Borders.
The skills needed for editing e-books include using tag codes for manuscripts; accuracy is very important, because mistakes are difficult to fix. Noted formats for e-books are: ePub, MOBI, and PDF. Mountaineers Books proofs their e-books in-house, using e-readers. There is a third-party app called Genius Scan that allows mark-up on e-books. However, they “flow” differently and you have to know how embedded stuff works. PDF proofing is done in later rounds of editing (like the third round), and it is still labor intensive.
Gary: He agreed with Kate and added that their e-book prep is done by a third party. They also agreed that they appreciate freelancers who can bring this type of knowledge and skills to a publisher.
Nicole: She adds that UW Press currently has a grant to experiment with various self- and e-publishing formats. They’re collaborating with several other university presses on this project.
What do you look for when hiring copyeditors and proofreaders?
Nicole: Regarding hiring at UW Press, Nicole mentioned that she had just hired Jacqueline Volin as her new Editorial, Design, and Production Manager and that Assistant Managing Editor, Mary Ribesky, was in the audience. Mary mentioned that UW Press is seeking editors who are fluent in both Chinese and English. Experience is the most important quality, and they prefer that it’s specific to academic book editing. They have a fairly stable group of copyeditors but still seek independent proofreaders for some projects. She states that all of their titles are “rooted in scholarship,” even when their audience is more general.
Gary: He echoes these statements, emphasizing overall experience and familiarity with Sasquatch topics.
Kate: She doesn’t personally hire copyeditors, but she does sometimes hire and work with developmental editors. She also is looking for experience, book-related expertise, knowledge of how to edit maps, and knowledge of specialties such as food, gardening, mountaineering, etc. A strong reference from another editor she trusts is perhaps the best reference.
Have you ever approached a self-published author for a possible book deal?
Gary: Yes. It’s a great way to see an author’s potential, particularly if they haven’t published anything previously.
Nicole: It’s a great way to help develop your writing and show what you can do.
What were some of your best moments or learning experiences in your career?
All of the panelists mentioned that while it may take a very long time to finish a project, it is often very worthwhile in the end–even when the author is late meeting deadlines. Gary cited Daniel Yergin’s The Prize [winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction], which took eight years to go to print.
Kate mentioned her involvement as a young editor (working for Gary Luke at Sasquatch Books!) with Gift of the Whale by Bill Hess (now out of print) as being the first time she was emotionally involved in the outcome of a project.
Gary mentioned a bed-and-breakfast series of publications where one volume had a typo: “absolutey.” It’s been a running joke ever since.
Q & A from Audience
What is the value of advance reader copies?
Internet galleys offer an online PDF delivery system that gives group access via password protection. Gary thinks that getting an early read is better. The advance is good. Kate says some prefer the PDF galley. The usual timeframe window for publicity is three months. So much media is internet-based now that “you’re no longer limited to that window.”
How can you quantify that?
How has Amazon affected publishers?
Kate: “You can’t live with ’em, and can’t live without ’em.” It’s a complicated relationship (with publishers—somewhat easier for authors).
Gary says they excel at search-generated sales. Sometimes he’s surprised at how a book will zoom up on Amazon, maybe even before it’s literally hit the shelves. You have to be strategic and title it correctly and be sure to use keywording effectively.
Nicole feels that Amazon is not a “friend of ours”; they are not publisher-friendly, but they’re also UW Press’s biggest customer.
What do you see as the balance between e-books and print books, say in the next five years?
Everyone agreed that e-book sales will continue to grow, but that print is not dead and that e-books sales will not necessarily dominate. Kate states that there has been a plateau of e-book sales in the past six months or so. Gary says that their best sellers are available in both e-books and print, and that managing physical inventory is “a pain in the neck”—a problem e-books solve.
The meeting adjourned at 8:20 p.m. for cake and champagne! Elizabeth Johnson thanked all the Guild members who volunteered, over the last several years, to completely reinvent the Editors Guild website: Brie Gyncild, Sherri Schultz, Anne Moreau, Michele Whitehead, Beth Chapple, Bill Thorness, Helen Townsend, Amanda Vail, Toddie Downs, Adel Brown, Susan Hodges, Karalynn Ott, Carrie Wicks, Rich Isaac, Janet Epstein, Mi Ae Lipe, Kathy Bradley, Mary Jane Anderson, Marge MacKinnon, and Nancy Wick.
THANK YOU ALL FOR THE GORGEOUS NEW WEBSITE!!
Meeting organizer and facilitator: Elizabeth Johnson
Notetakers: Lisa Gordanier and Marcella Van Oel
Location: iLEAP East Hall, Good Shepherd Center