SPR has launched a publishing house, Kwill Books, to meet the demand for indie authors who want the perks of self-publishing without the hassle of doing everything for themselves. Here, Cate Baum, founder, explains to SPR reviewer Lysa Grant why she and co-founder, husband Henry Baum, embarked on this exciting venture.
How did you come up for the idea of starting your own press?
When we came up with the idea for Kwill, we were finding that our clients at SPR were asking for more and more services for their books that were not being met at a reasonable, transparent rate by any other company. I was constantly assessing providers for clients and finding that the websites – and offerings – well, they weren’t really that good, and they looked really old-fashioned.
For about two years now, we have put together custom service packages such as editing with reviews, or partnering with designers to get well-priced book cover designs for our clients, and we have been providing our BestSeller Package to great success – in fact, 100% success rate so far for every author that signed up, as guaranteed.
Because we’ve literally worked directly with authors every single day for up to twenty hours a day since 2008, sometimes even weekends (!) we realized the main thing an author that is looking for help wants is a trusted provider, and at this point I feel like I have dealt with just about every weird and wonderful request possible, in all combinations! I’d like to think that the overwhelming majority of our authors go away happy considering our repeat rates. I think it helps a lot that we are writers too, and we understand how important it is to protect your baby once it’s in existence on the screen and not just an idea in your head anymore, hours and hours, even years later.
We have so many repeat clients in fact, that given our recommendations from The Guardian and The New York Times, we know SPR is a trusted name, and I began to look into how we could price an end to end service without becoming a trad press. My tiny list of excellent suppliers has stayed tiny, and we partner with many of these fantastic folk on a regular basis. We’re offering a really modern answer to self-publishing that basically assists to market in a highly successful way, and then tiptoes away to leave the author to take all the accolades.
What’s the most common question you get asked by authors?
The most common question I get from authors is, “How can I choose reliable services for EVERYTHING without going crazy?” I get emails every day asking for a reliable designer, editor, marketing service, who does templates, does Facebook help, should authors write blog posts, why hasn’t my book sold?
The answer to all of this is, “You’re a writer! Why should you have to think about all of that?” But there’s been a bit of macho posturing in the self-publishing community: you have to do it all yourself, or you are not proper “indie.” I say phooey to that. Why limit your masterpiece? When you start looking into the main soap box critics, you find their books don’t sell. It’s a case of being a professional, and that means investing in great products to succeed.
Doesn’t signing with a press make an author non-indie?
No. Look, it’s silly. Writers are losing out on success because they are scared to contract for the services you get if you trad publish for fear of looking like a cheat. That’s just playground behavior. It’s your book, not someone you never met who made a comment on a forum. Make it the best you can and have a hit on your hands!
- If you haven’t been paid for a trad deal
- You don’t have an agent
- If you still hold the rights to your manuscript
- If you get 100% of your royalties
You’re STILL INDEPENDENT!
And Kwill is offering all of the above, so really, what we are doing is taking the best bits of both worlds and packaging all the best suppliers we know of so you don’t have to scrabble around, and then we’re dropping the price in ways that cannot be done if you are one person with a few books. Kwill Authors keep all royalties and book rights.
So this isn’t vanity publishing?
All self-publishing to a degree could be called “vanity publishing.” It’s you writing a book and publishing it because you yourself think it’s good enough to sell to readers. And hardcore self-publishing bloggers conveniently forget that self-publishing is like the new generation of blogging much of the time.
Having said that, to answer your question, “no” is the answer. This is not vanity publishing. The vanity publishing model from the 1990s would take royalties from the author, and we are not doing that at all. In fact, once the book is up and running, the author is autonomous and free to do what they wish. We don’t retain rights or royalties.
What do you say to critics of hybrid publishing models?
David Gaughran, a blogger (who used to be a friend of SPR until this morning it seems) went on a rant about how awful we are today for “trumped up vanity” but that’s completely misreading the industry shift into trad/self-publishing models. This is an out of date opinion, and seems to exist in a circle of online ranters who kneejerk about anything new. If you start looking at some of these so-called authors and their sales figures, they are in the hundred-thousands. No wonder people get bitter.
Refusing help is a real malady of self-publishing, and causes a lot of misinformation to reach the ears of would-be authors. It’s really unfair. I spend a lot of time setting people straight on how to self-publish on such tiny things that could have cost them a sale, because “they heard” something on a forum.
Steve Spatz of BookBaby (who SPR partners with) released a book on Hybrid Publishing only this morning. There are wonderful ways to use hybrid marketing and publishing techniques that will position good authors in the spotlight for trad companies. Hugh Howey uses hybrid techniques all the time. And I think I’d rather listen to what works for Hugh Howey and BookBaby.
What about your Bestseller Guarantee? How does it work?
It’s a system based on eight years of marketing lists. We work to build really strong reader lists – people who enjoy reviewing on Amazon – and we qualify each reader’s preferences. We work with a valued expert who knows everything about making mailing lists, and Amazon categories. He does this all day, every day. This means that the ratio of people we email and people who buy and review the book remains a constant. These lists are not easy to build. It takes a team of people to constantly check them and qualify them. The advantage we have are resources and experience.
I think there are people out there who think it’s somehow illegal or “shady” to use a word by one particular critic, to be offering a marketing service with this kind of guarantee. But that’s blinkered thinking. It’s myopic. I used to work with big name brands in a Google-based marketing agency in London, and my training taught me that thinking out of the box means you have to think like a conversion. How would an email convert to a review on Amazon, how can I funnel that person to buy, read, and review without touching the Amazon Guidelines? That is always the million-dollar question.What’s that motivation?
But if you think about it, many companies do funnel conversions in a very speedy and streamlined way. Amazon itself uses the “one-click” theory to encourage every visitor to think about buying something. So we have these advantages. I have had email conversations with Amazon about our services, and I am 100% sure we are maintaining high standards for sales – for everyone involved. Our clients see results and come back time and time again.
The idea is to get you a promotion period of a few days. Once you hit the Top 20 list, you get your BestSeller status, and that helps you get all these other perks, like going onto “You May Also Like…” and “Customers Also Bought…” These help aggregate your sales further.
That sounds impossible.
Nope. Nothing is impossible. Time moves forward, situations change. Ideas are conveyed and they become solutions. We’ve just dedicated a hell of a lot of our life to this, an equivalent of two PhDs in hours spent. At this point, I feel we have something new for the table. Just because nobody else came up with something before that worked, do we have to believe it’s not possible? Of course not.
So will I sell thousands of books?
The aim of the promo is to get your book seen on Amazon, so we aim for a number of sales that will get you as high up as needed to garner that list. We’ve had some authors who catch on after the first flush of success. This is where your cover, blurb, and other marketing pushes will come in. The aim is really to ground your Amazon page with enough reviews and attention to give your book a solid platform for success. We state our estimated reviews and sales figures for your promo period on the website, which can be from 10 -100 sales a day depending on what package you have and how it runs.
Can’t I figure it out by myself?
Maybe, if you know where to look. There’s a trend for authors studying charts and sales figures, like Author Earnings. A certain type of author will pore over these instead of getting on with writing their book! Frankly, there’s some key information you need to learn how to deal with Amazon’s sales algorithm, and this changes constantly – you need to be studying it carefully per day. Authors are looking for answers in the wrong places. It’s a little “Emperor’s New Clothes,” and makes people feel important to share charts and diagrams showing the success of others.
We’re not concerned with other authors’ sales. Only the authors we work with. The rest is just Black Swan Theory. If you think you can second-guess what books Amazon will promote from day to day, then you must work at Amazon and have the schedule to hand. Amazon is a shop and they have promotions that have zero to do with sales and charts. So we use methods that cut to the chase: sell books, get reviews.
So I’m not paying for reviews on Amazon?
Nope. Sorry to disappoint the naysayers. Not at all. We’ve stated this to Amazon too. All reviews will be from verified customers with an honest opinion.
So what’s the secret?
A magician never reveals his tricks. I know there are those who need to see under the conjurer’s table for the rabbit, but it’s not happening. they’ll have to figure it out themselves if they don’t want to be a Kwill Author!
So are these authors wrong to question your service?
Being thick in the tiny culture of self-publishing as an author doesn’t give you perspective. We’re in corporate marketing. We have publishing background. We deal with clients and their needs every single day for hours. There’s no way one author can know everything about what is needed to get a book into the Top 20 on Amazon for another author. It takes a team of marketing experts to form a campaign. Some authors manage it, but it takes a lot of work. Trying to double guess the needs of another author’s book and declaring it on social media as a one-size-fits-all is extremely negative and shows a lack of care for publishing books today.
For example, authors like Michael Bunker and Amanda Hocking plowed social media for 14 – 20 hours a day to get afloat. Even Bunker had help from Tim Grahl, a well-known book marketing expert. It’s fine if that’s what you want to do, and can afford the time. But why should we judge those who want a service that enables their book to be published? It’s very narrow-minded to condemn writers who need help to self-publish. We all need help with one aspect or another. Why does it have to be such an issue to pay for a service? I hope these critics pay for editing and a book cover! Why not for publishing and marketing help? It’s like high school. Art should be enabled at any cost. We have a real passion for enabling writers. Why not?
What are the advantages of becoming a Kwill Author?
You don’t have to concern yourself with Amazon algorithms, Author Earnings, long-winded blowhards going on and on about the rights of self-publishers on forums. You don’t have to worry about how you’ll get the book design done in synch with your marketing, or even what marketing to choose from a billion sites! We are very sure of our suppliers, and we can direct your book along the right path for a flawless finish. Simply, you pay once and come back in three months to admire your Bestseller status.
That means authors get to concentrate on writing.
So what has been the main problem for authors trying to get a trad deal?
Gatekeepers. Agents, solicitation, submissions where you need to send exactly 236 words on double spaced paper made from butterfly wings written only in green ink made of duck eggs or it gets thrown in the bin. Honestly, some of these so-called literary agents are so outdated trad deals start looking like they went out with typewriters, VHS tapes, and fax machines.
So what would be the answer?
No gatekeepers! So obvious, and yet, it seems to be a real issue to get it right. Most presses that offer upfront packages are just not getting under the skin of what is actually needed. It’s no good offering editing and formatting if the book covers offered look like they were made in 1991 on Word. It’s no good offering fantastic book covers if there’s no marketing except a flimsy PDF or a massively expensive seminar add-on where you learn what you could have picked up in a PDF.
We have found that a high percentage of these so-called masterclasses are out of date because they made the courses years back, and haven’t considered the changes Amazon and Google make to their algorithms and policies. So we have built in our Bestseller Package, guaranteeing Top 25 status in a book category for every Kwill Author. We start with a three-month campaign using KDP Select on Amazon. The ebook is the most important tool to begin with.
We wanted to keep authors “indie” but give them every single opportunity that trad authors get. Publishing houses get more perks on Amazon with Bowker ISBNs, and we wanted to give this to our authors.
So we decided to set up a publishing press that is pay-as-you-go, modular, flexible, but we wouldn’t use agents or submissions procedures. We would take a manuscript and polish it to excellent standards with editing, design, and marketing, whatever the book.
So authors start out with the ebook publishing campaign with Kwill?
After extensive promotions with book campaigns with partners (such as Derek Murphy at CreativIndie) over the last years, and sharing data and observations, it seemed conclusive that making a print book at the beginning of a campaign is a waste of time for most books, such as novels and non-fiction historical books. It seemed the only authors that needed print books were those creating a book for a class or seminar.
Some companies force print copies onto an author, only to then charge a pulping fee! My heart went out to one lady who was left with three kinds of print book, over 500 of them, all with editing errors. The only option? Paying over $200 for pulping. Ridiculous! That would never be us! So we divided the print distribution off as a further add-on after the ebook campaign. This then allows for on-demand print copies for signings, giveaways (on Goodreads, for example) and for gifts. Our campaign with the ebook will be so fierce, it’s a really good option to wait for the success online before starting with print.
Are Kwill Authors tied in to the contract?
Kwill Authors leave us after the ebook campaign and take the reins. You keep your “publishing press” status ISBN, but you may carry on with your book alone, completely free. You can also sign up for a print campaign for another year. All ISBNs are with the Author forever.
So what do Kwill Authors have to do once signed up?
Kwill Authors don’t have to do anything but present their manuscript – we do everything else for you. We edit your book, get your changes, proofread, format and create the ebook with a cover from a partner designer including Scarlett Rugers, for example, and then we publish on KDP Select with you. You get a Kwill ISBN, and therefore more categories than a self-published book gets.
Each new Author will fill out a questionnaire so we can design the book cover based on taste and ideas from the author.
One of the main complaints with indie press offerings seems to be quality control and lack of value for money.
We’re aware of the poor designs and other offerings being offered by many providers, and we won’t let that happen. All designers and animators are handpicked, and we’re going to maintain incredibly high standards with this. It seems like one of the major issues in self-publishing offerings. That, along with useless “PR” options. We won’t be offering things that don’t work, like book tours and adding the book a thousand times on author forums. We have a good idea of what actually works for readers, and what will just get you seen by other authors, the main issue with many so-called publicity runs out there.
We chose three tiers of pricing, starting with a more basic package that could be used for revamping a book that maybe didn’t have such a good cover, or the editing wasn’t so great. Then, we have two more tiers that offer more custom services, and give wider reach.
When authors come across an idea like this, they get leery. What we hope we have achieved with our new press site is an amassing of clean and solid information. Between us, we have decades of on-the-ground author promotion, not just some corporate process, but a real hands-on idea of what authors need.
But isn’t it easier just to do it all yourself?
Of course, there are always those authors who want to do everything themselves, and why not? That’s fine! But there are many authors who never wanted to learn marketing, design, social media, algorithms, website design, editing, Facebook etiquette, ebook formatting, and project management (phew) just to be a writer! It’s easy to forget not everyone loves the Internet or the idea of making a book a product, and not everyone has an eye for their own cover, or knows if their edit is OK or not. I am sure every writer in the world has typos.
What about if I already published my book?
If you own the rights to your manuscript we can start afresh with the Kwill Revamp Deal. This is a custom package that takes modules from across the three tiers and applies them for just your book, so you can pay for just what you need. You’ll get a fresh ISBN and new cover, edit, and format. You can keep your current Amazon page if you have a lot of reviews for the old version that you don’t want to lose.
Can you give us some examples of your typical client?
For instance, my dad has recently written a book, and he’s 85 years old. He’d love to publish it, but he can’t even begin to figure it all out. He’s had a lot of issues with formatting his text already, and the templates he got for free from an expert site may as well be in Klingon he’s had so many problems. They are just basic Word templates, but he’s not versed in Word well enough to deal with it. And he’s 85!
My friend, a mom of four kids, and a full-time nurse wrote a book, but she hasn’t had time to even consider the process and it’s been three years! When will she have time to spend hours on social media to promote it?
My husband’s mom is a great writer, and has a book done. But she’s not going to be able to find a book cover designer alone, or an editor that could edit her non-fiction text and catch the technical terms in it. She has no idea what’s going to sell, or how to promote it. She’s already floundering on where to start looking for someone decent to help her with all of it, and knowing her, will end up with some rip-off place charging her a fortune. It’s very nerve racking to find the right combination of providers, and she’s not even aware of where to get information on how to do it.
Another guy I have been working with has a great book, but the cover is awful, and he has three reviews on Amazon. And yet he paid about $8000 to a so-called publishing house for this. His editing, design, and marketing have been completely terrible. He had no idea what he was doing, really, and now a book he spent ten years or more writing is ruined. They failed him completely. But that’s the sort of book we could revamp to Bestseller status with our basic Silver package, and he could recoup some of his losses. I hope to get his editing sorted out this month at least, and set him on his way to a mightily improved book cover. It’s going to cost him about a quarter of what he paid initially.
Of course, we have the experts at SPR and Kwill to deal with all of these scenarios. It’s really easy to think nowadays everyone is “with it” and “tuned in.” They aren’t. Writers are creative hermits by nature. That’s not going to lend itself to a natural load of talent in marketing and design capabilities anyway.
There are so many fantastic books that just fall flat once they are published because the elements that it takes to sell are just not there. It’s such a huge disappointment for a writer, especially as many spend so much energy – and money – on promotion. It’s usually that the promotion is misguided, and just not right for their book.
So if you’re in any of these sorts of situation, Kwill is for you. Be a writer who publishes, not a publisher who writes!
It’s a very exciting venture, and one we are very happy to share with our clients. I think it’s going to really help many authors make a success of their writing in the future.
Come and check out our new site and products at http://www.kwillbooks.com and request a call if you’d like to discuss your options as a writer for your new book. We’re open to questions about this service!