The Seven Towers Agency is a different type of publisher – a not for profit company with their focus firmly on their authors. All profits are recycled back into producing their great books and launching and furthering the careers of writers and artists. In this first article from Sarah Lundberg, one of the founding directors of The Seven Towers, she tells writing.ie how it all came about and how important co-operation and publicity are for new authors….
The Seven Towers Agency was specifically born out of the experience we and many friends had had of not being able to place good art and literature in the market because the originators had no profile. They, and we, couldn’t get a profile, because we couldn’t get a foothold in the market. All of us were also were trying to break literature into a market that was chasing the big buck. As one publishing house told us, if it was a choice between a really good literary fiction manuscript and two not so good genre books, the genre books would win hands down, as they meant instant money with very little marketing – they just slotted into the genre market, and would return big money quickly.
The vision of the friends founding Seven Towers was that we would create the profile for new, really good writers by featuring them at events and by publishing limited editions of their work. And we decided from the outset that we would be a not-for-profit and would fund ourselves through the sales of our books. Seven Towers publishes small runs of books, organises literary events – for the events themselves and for sales purposes – and represents some texts and some writers as an agent, selling their work to other publishing houses.
Although we are a not-for-profit company, we believe and are committed to the belief that people should and can make money from publishing literature – both writers and publishers. It is true that very few people will make a living from writing. In fact, of all literary works completed, only a fraction of these will be published, and an even smaller fraction will enable the author to make a living from writing. However, it is possible, right and necessary for a writer to be able to point to something – physical or experiential, and say ‘my book paid for this’, whether it is a new laptop, a holiday or even a new car. And it is appropriate that a publishing house be able to survive and continue to publish based on revenue raised from sales of books and manuscripts.
This belief helped to define the Seven Towers Agency. We are a small publisher, but do not take grants of any kind, as we believe that we should be able to make sufficient money from the books we publish. We receive no funding and fund ourselves solely through sale of our publications. In fact, if we do not believe that a book can be sold and bought and read, we will not publish it, so when we do publish a book we get behind it completely and work very hard to ensure that the book is available to the public to encourage the public to purchase the book.
We do not take any contribution from authors to publish the books, as we believe that it is the publisher’ responsibility to take this risk – although we believe that the author has a significant role in the publicising of their book. We pay royalties to our authors and enable them to purchase books from us at author discount to sell on.
We also like to think of ourselves and our writers as a kind of stable, and we do expect a certain amount of mutual co-operation from our writers – with us as they take part in readings and publicity events and with each other as they read in pairs or groups, and co-operate in the publication of each others’ books, which thankfully is a feature of the Irish literary world.
Each of our authors is a significant part of any marketing campaign for a book, and we expect authors to work with us closely in the area of publicity and on an on-going basis too. We never pulp books, but continue at all times to sell publications, until they are completely out of print.
As an extension of the co-operation and mutuality within our publishing house, we see the Irish market, especially for literary fiction and poetry, to be too small for publishing houses to compete with each other. We don’t mean that we shouldn’t be competing for sales and for each of our books to be on best seller lists, but that we should also co-operate with each other, sharing markets, readings, sales opportunities. In a market as small as Ireland, a boon for one publishing house is a boon for another, and working together and sharing opportunities, can only benefit everyone.
A publishing house of any type is and should be defined by its lists, which reflect the direction, beliefs, opinions and preferences of the editors, so in a market like Ireland, competition is unnecessary. Definition and mutuality should be a byword, a mutuality wherein readings can be shared and authors from different houses can support and purchase books from other houses. This is also something we try to foster within our reading series.
State of the Market:
A number of things were happening in the book market when we came into being, in 2006:
The market was being flooded with cheap, and cheaply produced trade paperbacks; the gradual merging of publishing houses into a few extremely large multinationals with huge marketing departments and budgets was more or less complete (as complete as these things can ever be!)
The internet was making it increasingly easy for people to buy books from their sitting room armchair, or even their office chair.
And as a corollary to the above, the ease of buying books online contributed to a lack of browsing of books – rather than going through tens of thousands of titles in an online list (presuming it loaded properly) people tended to opt to purchase the book they had chosen only – and this choice was frequently through need or advertising.
The advent of eBooks was also bright on the horizon and publishing houses, like record companies before them, seemed to have been taken by surprise and to be unsure what to do.
In Ireland also, the market for Irish books seemed to have diminished or disappeared altogether and we could see a number of reasons for this:
- The practice of pre-funding publications meant that books were paid for before they hit the shelves, and so there was no hunger for sales;
- A direct result of this meant that publishing books was seen, it seemed, by some publishing houses and authors, a little like an honorary degree – nice to talk and boast about, good as a feather in the cap, but not anything really real, and definitely not anything you were going to make money from;
- It is also true that the small print runs of Irish publishing houses and lack of financial backing meant that it was, and is, frequently difficult for Irish publishing houses to compete in the market that is flooded with trade paperbacks, or dominated by multinationals.
Also, and possible as a result of some of the above, the concept of selling books at all in Ireland seemed to be considered to be in bad taste; you were supposed to seek funding, publish the book, display it, achieve modest, kudos sales, and forever bask in having your name and your house’s name associated with the publication.
So, when we started out, we quickly realised a number of things:
Publishing, and particularly publishing in a small market like in Ireland, was going to have to change, in fact was changing, and in some ways was reverting to an earlier time.
We knew we had a difficult battle ahead of us to stay afloat, as we had set ourselves the task of having to sell our books in order to keep going – and incidentally, we also felt that if we did not believe the book was worth selling and worth getting people to buy and read, then there was no point in our getting behind the book.
And – selling books is really hard work.
The changes that were needed and that were occurring in publishing were something that we fitted into our business plan.
It was obvious that in Ireland that we were never going to compete with the large scale publishers with large print runs of trade paperbacks, so for us, the era of short hard copy print runs was here and here to stay.
It was equally obvious that, if we couldn’t market our works on the same level as multinationals, we nevertheless had to come up with a marketing strategy to make people aware of our books.
The attitude to selling books was going to have to change – or we were going to have to change with regard to our books, and marketing opportunities were going to have to be created, as part of the changing of attitude, but also to enable us to sell our books.
To find out exactly how we sell our books and what our strategies are for success, call back to writing.ie next week!