Today we wrap up our interview with Jim Pannell, publisher of Brook Street Press. Yesterday, it was erroneously stated that Brook Street was in windy Chicago. It is actually located quite further south on Saint Simons Island along the southeastern tip of Georgia. But Jim has agreed to come back anyway for another day and answer more of my eager questions.
Mick: “Yesterday, we talked about what sort of books you’re interested in. What are the significant differences between the way Brook Street operates as opposed to a traditional publisher?”
Jim: “Traditional publishers must convince themselves that a title they select has the potential to be a bestseller. Of course, they’re wrong most of the time, but if they don’t think they can sell 50,000 copies they cannot get the budgetary approval to move forward on a title.
“Although we would love to have a bestseller it is not part of our business plan. If we can sell 2,000 to 3,000 copies of an edition we will do fine. Remarkably, that is still difficult to do and we do not succeed in most cases but I would be willing to bet that we hit our targets more consistently than a large publishing house does.”
M: “Your Website seems to say you don’t pay advances. Is this true? How has this principle of ‘paying for performance’ worked so far?”
J: “There are two anchors weighing down publishing today—returns and advances. I would be willing to bet that 80% of the advances paid out by traditional houses are never ‘earned-out.’ This is especially true for the celebrity books. In fact, each year big houses write down a ridiculous amount on these advances.
“Our view is that it really doesn’t make sense, especially for a small house, to pay advances. It is asking us to gamble with house money on something notoriously difficult to control. My mantra is ‘when the distributors start paying me an advance then we can talk about Brook Street Press paying advances.’ It isn’t going to happen.”
M: “I’ll bet authors and agents are thrilled by that.”
J: “Obviously, many authors, and especially agents, do not like this policy. So be it. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of people willing to partner with us. When we make a profit they do as well. We also try to structure the royalties so that they ramp up aggressively should a book do very well.”
M: “Sounds good. Last question: Some deny it’s a problem, but Christian writers who become bestsellers write increasingly shallow books. The concern is that market forces, publisher demands, and many other new responsibilities begin to bear down on these ‘carriers of the Word’ and before long, beauty, truth, and the message of the gospel can take a back seat to popularity and wide dissemination. In your opinion, what is the solution, or simply a solution ordinary, concerned citizens can be a part of?”
J: “I think that all successful writers are pressured to simply repeat the success that they have and the simplest way to do that is to write the same book over and over again. Those who are successful probably don’t take the time they should for the next book. But, as you point out the market pressures and publishers want something and they want it now. Unfortunately, very few writers have the resources to take 10 years to write their next book.
“As a purely unbiased observer I think that if consumers can try to find their way to more of the independent publishers they will find more unusual, and I hope more gratifying writing. And by the way, the best way to find them is through the independent booksellers who actually read the books they sell. The chains order a lot of books and they return most of them. Our distributor covers the big chains but I find it largely a waste of time and so concentrate our own miniscule marketing efforts on the independent booksellers.”
M: “Jim, you’re awesome. Thank you for your candor and your willingness to go on record. You’ve earned a permanent link on my site and hopefully a bushel-load of sales from these fine people. We look forward to the day when your principled efforts emerge on the bestseller lists.”
So there you have it, folks. You want good books? Go shop at the indy bookstores and get your fluff from WalMart and amazon. Just think how much of the good stuff we’re missing by never shopping off the beaten paths.
Tomorrow we’ll have another very special interview with an industry insider here in my neck of the woods. Until then, I leave you with the same question I posed to Jim.
“What can you as a concerned carrier of the Word do to keep the pure, undiluted truth going forth?”