Publish Locally, Think Globally

by Philip K. Jason

FOUNDED IN 2003 as a project of Gelinas & Wolf, Inc., a Las Vegas marketing services company, ArcheBooks Publishing was spun off as a separate company a year later. While its corporate headquarters remains in Nevada, the editorial office — Bob Gelinas’s prime responsibility — moved with Gelinas to Cape Coral. In its relatively short life, this innovative trade publishing house has had steady productivity in a difficult marketplace, with seven titles in 2003, 23 in 2004, 20 in 2005, 18 in 2006, 13 in 2007 and about the same number published or forthcoming in 2008. That early pace was probably unsustainable, but it helped to get ArcheBooks the early recognition that a start-up company must have. It won’t be long until ArcheBooks publishes its 100th title.

ArcheBooks features a life-cycle for its books that exploits three technologies: standard offset printing for high-volume titles (or the high-volume portion of a book’s life), ‘print-on-demand’ for lower volume launches or for mature titles, and e-books that can extend the ‘in print’ availability of a title indefinitely.

Bob Gelinas uses his marketing background to commit his authors to their roles in the book marketing enterprise. Gelinas offers workshops and helps build marketing plans to enhance the possibilities for success of each title. The titles published by ArcheBooks fall into traditional marketing categories. These include Mystery/Suspense, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Historical (fiction and nonfiction history), Humor, Self-Help, and Young Adult.

ArcheBooks authors come from all over the country and even from outside the U.S. However, in part because of Gelinas’s relocation to Cape Coral and his participation in local writers’ events and organizations, ArcheBooks has developed a large stable of titles by Florida authors — indeed, a significant number by Southwest Florida authors. These include Naples authors like M.B. Weston, Sandy Lender, Dr. Molly Barrow, Robert Bair, Penny Lauer, and most recently — Tina Murray. ArcheBooks authors with Fort Myers addresses include Jane Kennedy Sutton and Sara Williams, whose third ArcheBooks title is soon to appear. Prudy Taylor Board, who has had a long career as a journalist in Fort Myers, also has published with ArcheBooks. Other Southwest Florida writers with ArcheBooks titles are Linda Bilodeau and Marco Islander Tom Williams, whose Lost and Found is one of the most recent ArcheBooks publications.

I spoke with Bob Gelinas recently:

Of the titles by Southwest Florida authors, which have been the most successful?

Thus far, it has been Sara Williams, with The Don Juan Con, one of our very first titles. This is the one under contract to Paramount. However, we’re hopeful that our most recent release, Marco Island author Tom Williams’ Lost and Found, could be a bestseller. It’s getting rave reviews nationwide, and just starting to take off.

Overall, which titles have been most successful?

Our Number one bestseller of all time (of our 5 years in business) has been A Beginner’s Guide to Second Life, which is an illustrated instruction guide to the virtual world of Second Life. This title is unique in that, unlike industry norms, the eBook version of it has sold as well as the printed version. Normally, eBooks are only about 1% of the market. Since Second Life is an online virtual experience, most people looking for a help guide want it now!

How do you account for these successes?

Ultimately, the market decides what it likes and what it doesn’t. We’ve spent a lot of money promoting titles that we think are going to be the winners, only to see them do okay; some that we don’t have terribly high expectations for surprise us and do great. That’s the roller-coaster ride of the publishing world. It’s always possible to ‘move a lot of units’ via extensive marketing and promotion — but it makes no sense to do so if you never recover in book sales what you spent on promotion. The secret is profitability, not just volume — the two concepts are not synonymous.

In the end, since we’re a small house and not a major New York City media conglomerate with unlimited/massive resources, a book’s success often comes down to the direct participation of the authors themselves. They must become an integral part of the audience building process. If they are an unknown, this is a tough road. If they already have some measure of celebrity and audience, the task is much easier. As Janet Evanovich told us at the recent Naples Press Club Authors & Books Festival, she struggled for 10 years before she broke out. This is not unusual — and for most writers, breakout never comes. As Nielson-Bookscan tells us, less than 2% of all books printed ever sell over 5,000 copies.

What have been the greatest challenges in launching and building a trade publishing house from scratch?

Penetrating the dominance of major houses over the wholesale book distribution system. New players aren’t welcome in a very crowded, competitive, and mature industry. Bookstores work like giant consignment stores, where books are ordered on 120 day Net terms, meaning that the stores don’t have to pay for the books for 4 months, and can return any unsold copies. That equates to a 90 day sink-or-swim window for a new book. If it doesn’t sell, they send it back. For bestselling authors, this isn’t a major issue, but for any new voices, it can represent the difference between success and failure. Retailers, understandably, only want to stock what is guaranteed to sell. That’s hard to guarantee if the author is new and unproven.

What would you say is the main distinction of ArcheBooks?

Quality. We sought from day one to produce ‘premium’ books, which is why we do almost everything in hardcover. I founded ArcheBooks with the intention of focusing on new voices and new talent and helping our authors penetrate the industry (we offer extensive training and promotional resources), which is a nearly impossible task (less than 1% of what’s written ever makes it into print). I saw for years how the larger houses continually opted to give contracts to authors with established ‘sell through’ rates, and thus represented little to no risk projects. Again, understandable from an accountant’s perspective, but in the context of new talent, a potential show-stopper. I wanted to do something about that.

What would you like readers to know about your approach to book publishing?

That as a publisher, we can only offer talented writers an opportunity. We’re up-front about telling authors that we can’t guarantee anyone’s success. As noted, it’s up to the public/market whether or not they like the taste of their cooking. We’ll do everything we can to produce a product that can compete with anything else on the market — but ultimately it will come back to the author to connect with an audience and take responsibility to nurture and develop that audience. •

from the November-December 2008 issue

Bob Gelinas

Less than 2% of all books printed ever sell over 5,000 copies.
ArcheBooks will soon be publishing its 100th title.