This post arose out of a conversation with a fellow member of Northwest Independent Writers Association. She mentioned how one of the most difficult things for an indie author is the feeling of going it alone. She sometimes feels adrift and cut off from others and also from success. She knew I am a member of an indie publishing cooperative and thought I should post my thoughts on how well that aspect of my publishing life has gone.
I was not always an indie. My first book was signed in 2011 by a small publisher, based in Indianapolis. I came into contact with them through the author boards at ABNA, a contest sponsored by Amazon. I liked their online persona and was thrilled, over the moon that someone thought my work was worth publishing. I happily signed with them.
You will notice I hadn’t researched them when I signed, nor did I know anything about them, other than they were sometime very funny in the threads I frequented. I soon discovered that the company was run by an opportunistic master of smoke-and-mirrors, a man who had owned several “Gentleman’s Clubs” and a used car lot. He will henceforth be referred to as “Lord Voldemort.”
Thirty-two of us who met through the boards at this highly reputable contest signed with him. Some were lawyers, others were teachers and engineers. I was a bookkeeper at the time, which was his temporary downfall. When we finally walked away from him, he owed a chunk of money to me, but that was a drop in the bucket compared to what he owed the others. We knew how our books were selling at Amazon because in 2011 a website existed that was called "Novel Rank." It was a website that tracked Kindle book sales, reporting both the actual number of books sold and the distribution of those sales: US regular or expanded, and UK sales. Using those numbers, we were able to see what we had earned.
Fortunately, Lord Voldemort had made the mistake of leaving a clause in our contracts that
After nine months, twenty-five of us walked away, as our rights had legally reverted back to us at the point of non-payment of royalties. We did report him to Editors and Predators, and he in turn, listed our co-op with them as a childish form of punishment for leaving him. As we don’t seek new members, nor does our co-op own the rights to any of our books, it did him no good to be spiteful.
We didn’t want to go it alone, but we had no faith in small presses at that point. So, in May of 2012, we formed an indie publishing cooperative, Myrddin Publishing Group.
Membership is restricted, and any new prospective member must be voted into the group. We don’t seek new authors, and as a company, we hold no money or royalties. All funds earned by our books go directly to the author from the point of sale, i.e., Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, or Draft2Digital, or IngramSparks.
Our books are indie-published using Myrddin ISBN's and under that name, but each author has sole responsibility for their book, the royalties, and must market their own work.
The publishing co-op model we use is quite simple. We pay $25.00 a year to be a member. That money goes to pay for our website, which is our store. One of our members lives in Wales, and her husband is employed in internet security. She manages the website and he is our IT man, but each member is responsible for creating their own author page, listing their books, and keeping their author page updated.
We have a nominal leader since every group needs a person in charge. She manages our tiny bank account and pays any fees Myrddin might have accrued. She makes a full report of how the money was spent every quarter—usually on the website or for a service the group can use and benefit from.
Because we met through ABNA, we have members all across the US, the UK, and Australia. The way we communicate is through a private group page on Facebook.
When we first started in 2012, we bought 1000 ISBNs. A retired bookkeeper in Essex, England manages those for us. In 2012 those ISBNs cost us $1000.00, and we divided up the costs ($40.00 for each of us). I believe that cost has doubled since then, but don’t quote me on that. All our financial transactions are through the Myrddin PayPal account to our leader, and each Myrddin member can ransom back the requisite number of ISBNs (Kindle, Draft2Digital, and Print, etc.) for $1.00 each (two ISBNs, one 10-digit and one 13-digit number for each format). We have enough ISBN’s for all of us to create books for many years to come.
What I bring to the group is my ever-evolving editing skill. I edit or beta-read for them as needed and can do book covers. I can create digital maps, banners, bookmarks, and logos as needed.
Things to consider if you want to start your own publishing cooperative:
Remember, all of these are time-consuming services that the providers are not earning money for, so be gentle with those who are helping you. I can’t stress this enough: Even if you don’t use a service they offered you, be a good friend and give back to them when it’s their turn to seek services and help.
There are sometimes hiccups in the group’s overall Zen. As I said above, each member in our co-op is responsible for listing their own books on the website and keeping their author page updated. But at times, we have problems with people not being able to figure out how to update their books on the website. They may panic. Their frustration may boil over. One of us is always available to help.
Also, it’s easy for non-bloggers to forget to write a blogpost when it is their week. In general, people get sidetracked by life and forget what they're supposed to do for the group sometimes.
These are all minor irritations, and I wouldn’t trade my group. The wonderful people I am partnered with have become my dearest friends and collaborators, people who have made the last seven years a wonderful adventure.
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Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.