In a perfect world, says Beth Steidl, from McNally Jackson Books, indie authors “would succeed and receive recognition, and indie bookstores would flourish like rabbits (without the problematic overpopulation part).”
An independent bookstore in New York City, McNally Jackson is at the center of Manhattan’s literary culture helping authors self publish and helping customers seek out the perfect traditional or indie read.
“Carefully stocked to represent a wide variety of literature across cultures,” fellow bookworms can browse everything from nonfiction to graphic novels to poetry. IndieReader got the opportunity to chat with Beth and colleagues from McNally Jackson about their self-publishing program, what they’re putting on their shelves, and their role in the indie author community.
Loren Kleinman: Talk about being an independent bookstore. How do you define “independent”?
LK: What can you do that commercial bookstores can’t?
BS/MJB: We can establish a trust-based relationship with readers and lead them to books they would otherwise miss. Our store is carefully stocked to represent a wide variety of literature across cultures.
LK: Why should readers shop independent?
BS/MJB: Monopoly in the book industry seems in-arguably like a terrible idea. Plus, we often do a better job of some things (marketing and displays, unique events, personalized recommendations and customer service).
LK: Why should readers care about independent bookstores?
BS/MJB: A plurality of credible booksellers and reviewers is imperative for readers to discover new authors and for unknown authors to break out.
LK: Talk about aspiring to be the “center of Manhattan’s literary culture.” How much do indie writers come into play?
MJB: The bookstore is a meeting place, a community center, an events space, and a curator of the literary arts. Our self-publishing program deepens our relationship with our community.
LK: Why should writers choose to publish independent? What’s so great about self-publishing today?
BS/MJB: As it becomes a greater financial risk for large publishers to take on unknown authors, it becomes harder for emerging authors to be accepted for publication and to develop positive author-publisher relationships. By choosing to self-publish, authors retain absolute control over their work, from editing to design to medium.
LK: How do you help indie authors take the publishing “world by storm”? What’s the edge?
MJB: In many ways, we are simply the printer. It’s truly the author’s responsibility to take the world by storm. Our primary goal is to offer self-publishers as many tools as possible to make that happen–a point of sale, a professional product, a beautiful design, freelance references, and, of course, emotional support!
LK: You’ve published lots of cool books like The Manhattan of Fashion Insiders: A Private and Friendly Guide and Foodies NY Diary. Talk about the coolness factor of self-publishing?
BS/MJB: A self-publisher maintains the rights to their work and control over its aesthetic appearance. They control the marketing campaign, the production timeline and, often, the distribution. By having a hand in all of these elements, the author’s vision remains un-compromised and the book is given attention and devotion. We have been incredibly fortunate to work on a wonderful variety of books with authors from all over the world. It’s exciting to meet with an author and to then help them bring their project to physical fruition, whether the book is being sold all over the world or given out as favors at a 100th birthday party.
LK: You publish a variety of books: everything from fashion to travel to poetry to suspense. What does the variety of self-published books suggest about the indie industry (so to speak)?
BS/MJB: The indie industry is clearly growing and branching out into every genre. As self-publishing technology becomes more economical and accessible, more authors recognize it as a viable publishing solution. We’ve worked with authors who’ve turned down more traditional publishing contracts in favor of self-publishing simply because they want to maintain control over their price points and give their book the best life possible.
LK: What should the variety of books being self-pubbed today suggest to indies? Do they take a chance on publishing their book in spite of what’s trending?
BS/MJB: Self-publishing authors seem to have a personal investment in their work that trumps any trends. For most self-publishers, the goal is to get the work into the hands of readers, not financial gain. Because self-publishing can now be done as a print-on-demand endeavor, initial financial investments are typically low, allowing authors to “take the plunge” without incurring significant risk.
LK: Should indie’s concern themselves with what’s trending before publishing?
MJB: Because bringing a book to physical fruition is faster when self-published than traditionally published, it certainly may be easier to jump in on a trend as a self-publisher. Ultimately, however, one of the greatest aspects of self-publishing is the indie authors’ personal investment and devotion to their work. Self-published books are most often works of passion, commitment, and fun, not trend-hopping.
LK: Do you think more independent bookstores will choose to also offer self-publishing services? What’s the benefit?
BS/MJB: Sure. Independent bookstores are committed to bringing a wide variety of new and exciting books to their customers. As the technology grows and becomes more economically feasible, I would imagine not only bookstores but also libraries and universities introducing self-publishing programs.
LK: What’s your view on public domain? How can indie authors use pub domain to their advantage?
BS/MJB: Who doesn’t love the public domain? There’s something so wonderful about having free access to reproductions of original, old publications. Indie authors can use these works for reference—as both content resources and design inspirations.
LK: What are the struggles of the independent business? Talk about both the struggles of being an independent writer and bookstore. Are the two synonymous?
BS/MJB: Time and money, same as most people’s struggles.
LK: Talk about your staff picks. Are the picks mostly indie or a mix?
BS/MJB: Our staff picks are a broad mix—from large publishers to small presses, in all genres.
LK: What are the criteria for staff picks?
MJB: Nothing short of love.
LK: What’s the most bizarre indie book you ever published?
MJB: I couldn’t really say—what counts as bizarre? We’ve had just about a bit of everything—novels, poetry, memoirs, conspiracy theory, photographs of bicycles and packs of cigarettes, a 5-year diary, guidebooks, a true-life tale of a man being eaten by a snake, a manual for playing pool…it’s something of a surprise every time we begin working with someone! And we certainly can’t complain; it keeps our job interesting.
LK: Have you ever said no to publishing an indie book? If so, for what reason?
MJB: We’ve not had to refuse publication to anyone and, of course, we hope never to have to do so. We would only refuse publication for the obvious reasons—highly offensive content, illegal content, or anything that may violate copyrights.
LK: What advice would you give writers who want to self publish?
BS/MJB: Give your work the time and devotion needed to make it as good as possible before introducing it to the world at large. Given the accessibility of self-publishing technology today, it’s easy to jump the gun and put your work out as quickly as possible. But you should always stop, breathe, think rationally and examine objectively. Work with an editor, a proofreader, and a designer. Everyone appreciates a typo-free, beautifully designed book. The love and care that you put into your book inevitably transfers to the reader.
LK: What’s the benefit of choosing to publish with an independent bookstore?
MJB: It’s always best to support your local, independent bookstore. We can provide the personal attention and investment necessary to get your book off the ground. We never blindly push the “print” button, but carefully review all manuscripts to help them look their very best. Plus, when you support your independent bookstore you are also supporting personalized bookselling, public events, and your literary community.
LK: Fill in the blanks. In a perfect world, indie authors ____________ & and indie bookstores ______________
MJB: Would succeed and receive recognition, would flourish like rabbits (without the problematic overpopulation part).