Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Small Press, Big Author, A BEA Story

For more commentary on Publishing University and BEA, go to or attend the BPNW meeting at Scott’s Bookstore in Mt. Vernon on June 15 at 4 pm.

Margaret Doyle, Port Gamble Publishing, submitted the following article. Doyle founded Port Gamble Publishing in 2004. She was the 2006 PMA Publishing University scholarship recipient, represented BPNW at Pub U this year, and will be the speaker at our June 15 meeting at Scott's Bookstore. More information on the meeting can be found in the newsletter. Click on the link on the right to download a PDF copy of the newsletter.

From Doyle:

One of the most inspiring conversations I heard was the lunchtime interview by Jan Nathan, Director of PMA, of Paul Coates, Publisher of Black Classic Press, and Walter Mosley, author of 19 books, among them, the “Easy Rawlins” mysteries.

Paul Coates related how he heard Walter Mosley challenge the mainstream publishing industry as being dominated by white men, racist in fact if not in intention. Coates went to a Walter Mosley reading to thank him for his brave comments to publishers, and Mosley told him he was looking for a small black press to publish his next work. Coates related that he’d identified himself for so long as a black press, that to think of his publishing company as a small, independent press, required a mental adjustment.

But Coates came to match Mosley’s integrity with his own courage in taking on a major author, whose print run would be in the hundreds of thousands. Coates’ second challenge came in figuring out the finances of publishing a well-known author and a large print run.

Where would Black Classic Press get the money for printing, staffing, and promotion of a Walter Mosley publication? When meeting with Mosley’s previous publishers, they made an offer of financial assistance, and Coates thought they should take it. But Mosley wanted the integrity of truly publishing through an independent press, so he refused their offer. Paul described it as a unique experience “of saying no to someone who’s larger than me.”

Nathan questioned, “What should an author expect, or not expect from an independent publisher?” Coates replied that the author can’t expect of lot of money up front.

From the author’s standpoint, the publisher needs to keep author “informed of everything you do,” Mosley said. “Writers don’t know anything about publishing,” and “it behooves the publishing industry to inform writers into the reality of their world,” he added. Authors must understand returns, royalties, and other intricacies of this complex industry.

When Nathan asked Coates if he’d repeat the experience with another best-selling author, his honest answer surprised me: “Probably not, the stress is not worth it. There’s millions in, millions out, and nobody’s getting paid.”

“If you want to make a lot of money, go into real estate,” Coates concluded, which is ironic for me as my day job providing internet and marketing services to a small real estate company provides the ongoing budget in support of my publishing ventures.

However, Coates described the close friendship and respect that developed between Mosley and himself; a friendship that goes beyond royalties and best-seller lists. Coates did publish Mosley’s next book, What Next, a collection of social and political essays. Mosley felt that going with a major publisher would limit his freedom to express himself, so he again chose to work with Black Classic Press in 2003.

When Mosley was asked if he was disappointed that other successful black authors didn’t choose to support smaller black publishers; his response brought applause: “I’m disappointed in the same way I’m disappointed with the United States being in Iraq.” He clarified his statement by adding that we as a nation are experiencing two ideas at war: democracy and capitalism.

I can’t remember if it was Mosley or Coates who said, “If something is true and you know it’s true, you have to take an action.” But I do know that it’s an ideal that publishers as a class aspire to communicate; and that the brotherhood that Coates and Mosley found in their publishing relationship is one that I’ve seen played out over and over as members of the publishing profession help each other achieve and succeed.