In my opinion this industry is in a shambles. I am a huge lover of the written word, and what I see happening makes me very sad. As with the rest of the Main Stream Media, the book industry has become a very fractured and tiered place. Takeovers and consolidations have created several ‘whales’, unfortunately unless your name is Tom Clancy or John Grisham they will not entertain the idea of publishing a book.
At the other end of the food chain are the likes of Lulu, an offshoot of Amazon, they will publish whatever rubbish the author wants, no questions asked, just whip out the Visa credit card!
As a reviewer I take some things into account before I actually read the book, I know I should not, but I do it anyway. My mothers favorite saying is â€œYou can’t judge a book by its coverâ€, and in someways that is true. Alas, ‘the cover’ is important, and you can gain a lot of insight just by the way the book is packaged, and the factual details surrounding it.
Somewhere in the middle are the maybe dying breed of small publishing houses. They have limited budgets, and very high standards. One such house is History Publishing Company, they are small, they have very high standards, and attract great authors. They hit my radar several weeks ago when I reviewed Terry Turchie’s excellent book Hunting The American Terrorist, subsequently I have peeked at Legerdemain and Words Of War. All are excellent reads. I contacted History Publishing Company and asked ‘hands on’ owner and creator Don Bracken if he would like be interested in talking about the publishing industry.
When and why did you start History Publishing Company?
I started History Publishing Company a few years ago. I came out of retirement to get back in the action. I am essentially an entrepreneur who is good at business, is a capable writer, likes history and loves books. Publishing was a natural pursuit. It is an industry I was considering entering when I was in college but life took me in a different direction. Because of the tremendous changes in technology I realized I could not only enter the industry at this later stage of my life, I could start a real publishing company.
The company was originally started with the intention of using modern sound and computer technology to interpret history. It resulted in some very interesting and successful projects but the idea of publishing books was always with me and it wasnâ€™t long before it became my primary focus.
Obviously you are a theme based publisher. Why did you decide to select this niche rather than go for a broader spectrum?
It was a very important factor in our business plan. HPC (History Publishing Company) is theme based but interestingly enough we focus on a niche within a niche and that is original source material (OSM). By focusing on OSM, two things emerge, a good, even great story which brings the reader into an adventure while providing entertainment, excitement and information. Books such as Legerdemain by Jim Heaphey and Hunting The American Terrorist by Terry Turchie and Dr. Kathleen Puckett are not only first rate adventures but a remarkable font of information one could not otherwise find about their subjects, the Cold War and Theodore Kascynski respectively. There is also another benefit to focusing on OSM: the abundance of qualified authors. History is made up of thousands upon thousands of stories. There are authors and potential authors everywhere. The supply can be never ending. And we have another imprint too , Todayâ€™s Books which focuses on contemporary issues. Occasionally a manuscript comes to us offering a contribution to better understanding an issue or even offering remedy to that issue. We will certainly publish that.
How do you select titles? Do you prefer solicited or unsolicited?
We have no hard fast rules. Ideally a completed manuscript comes our way via an agent but not always. We are open to looking at unsolicited manuscripts. Often people who have made history or been a first hand, involved witness, donâ€™t always realize the magnitude of their experience. We will help them with their manuscript. In a sense, it is uncovering history that would other- wise go unreported. It is very exciting for us.
I would imagine that you get many manuscripts. What sort of volume do you deal with?
We are experiencing exponential growth. When we first went into publishing we were concerned about getting manuscripts. Now it seems never ending. Every day there is a given quantity to bring into the sorting office. It doesnâ€™t take long though to know if we have something. Often we get manuscripts that are really good but donâ€™t fit within the parameters we have established. It is difficult turning them away but turn them away we must.
I read that in 2006 over 290,000 new titles were released in the US alone.(Bowker data.)That clearly means that there is a battle royal for shelf space in the book store. What is your strategy for getting books in front of eyeballs?
Distribution is critical. Without it we would not be in the game. Our strategy for a book of well-written, well edited, interesting content is based on interior and exterior design and engaging a distributor with an aggressive sales philosophy. The design standard we have established must match or exceed that of the major publishers. Our Senior Editor Tom Cameron has a wealth of top- flight experience and the interiors of our books reflect that. The standard for the cover is exceptionally high. We are developing a polished, sophisticated look to our covers. They have to stand alongside the high quality of Random House, Harper Collins and all the rest so they can be no less.
All of this makes it an acceptable product for the sales people at our distributor, Midpoint Trade Books, to sit down with the buyers at the chains. Midpoint has in-house sales personnel and does not rely on the seasonal catalogue so books can get into the marketplace much more quickly. Our business plan calls for controlled, consistent growth and this requires the aggressive sales perspective of a Midpoint.
The Internet, through operations like Amazon, may have gone some way to resolving the shelf space issue. Is the Internet important to organizations like yours?
At this time, its importance to a company like ours is visibility but the movement of books is growing every day. I donâ€™t do predictions but I sense, as older people get into the use of computers more, the movement of books may explode and it might become the single major outlet for selling books.
POD has arrived with a vengeance, and in my opinion has further saturated an already saturated market. Is there a place for POD and what are your general thoughts on POD?
At this time, there is a place for it in limited production runs. POD can be brought in to revive out-of-print books, and a host of reasons exist why someone or some company might need one, ten or fifty books. I understand too, the subsidy houses like Booksurge and Authorhouse use it because they often have a book printed one at a time but it doesnâ€™t factor into what History Publishing Company does or any other mainstream traditional publisher.
You are in a unique position as you wear not only the publisherâ€™s hat, but also the authorâ€™s hat. My personal biggest gripe with POD is the often lack of using a professional editor. How important is an editor?
The use of an editor is vital to the success of any book Every writer needs that overview. We humans are too imperfect to produce a perfect book on our own.
I wish to state that the authorâ€™s hat is hanging on the hat rack. The only hat I am wearing now is that of publisher but speaking from the authorâ€™s experience, I can say that I speak from first hand experience.
What can we look for in the foreseeable future from History Publishing Company?
Look for a continuous flow of good books and some great new writers. Iâ€™m beating the drum now:
The emergence of a gifted â€œnewâ€ writer named James J. Heaphey. Jim is special and he is also seventy- seven years old. He has writing skills that, I do not hesitate to say, places him in the upper tier of the writing fraternity. He has two books coming out: Legerdemain: The Presidentâ€™s Secret Plan, the Bomb and What the French Never Knew. and How To Survive In An Organization. Both titles give you ideas of the books.
Homeland Insecurity by Terry Turchie and Dr. Kathleen Puckett. These two authors are retired FBI people who are focusing on the fourteen Washington politicians who, over the last several years, have compromised our national security for the sake of political advantage. A lot of FBI input on this one.
A Lovely Little War by Angus Lorenzen. A ten year old boyâ€™s view of life in a Japanese internment camp in Manila during World War II.
Custer Survivor by historian John Koster. A startling revelation of an actual U.S. Army survivor at Custerâ€™s Last Stand. Concrete proof established and the story behind it. Foreword by noted historian. James McPherson
As a new relatively new publishing house, how did you get these interesting authors?
I was given a variety of reasons and the one that comes up most was that they were turned down by agents and publishers because their stories were â€œold news.â€
At History Publishing Company thatâ€™s our stock in trade.
Thanks for spending time talking to us about the book industry and History Publishing Company, we wish you every success with what seems to be a very active publishing concern.