Publishing in the Round - Untimely Books

Updated: Mar 13

One of the reasons my book Plenum has taken such a long time to bring forward into print is that, along with other members of the Infinite Conversations/Metapsychosis community, we have also been busy launching the book publishing agency itself. Called Untimely Books, this has involved drawing up incorporation papers for the larger entity as a cooperative (Cosmos Coop) endeavour, within which Untimely Books, Metapsychosis and other projects are sub-activities. The group has been operating for several years effectively as a cooperative venture but outside any legal structures, simply on the basis of good will involvement of a core group of people. In order to publish, however, it was necessary to formalize these arrangements so that a legal structure exists for drawing up book contracts and so forth.

The larger organization is itself an effort to create a shared space for creative endeavours of which publishing is just one possible output. However, the vision for the publishing house is itself interesting, above and beyond the larger goals fo the group. Indeed, the world of publishing is still sharply polarized between traditional publishing which handles most aspects of book production but only gives a return on investment to its authors of 10% to 15% of total sales, and so-called independent publishing ("indie") where authors publish their books directly onto distribution platforms such as Amazon Kindle, and may recover up to 70% of sales. The difference sounds huge, and, indeed, for an author who sells thousands of books, this amounts to a large difference in real dollars. However, it is generally acknowledged that most new authors will be lucky to sell more than a few hundred books on their own, and at this level, with the outlay needed to produce good quality books, the indie route may result in debt rather than revenues.

The idea of a cooperative publisher therefore offers a middle solution that is not only exciting, but potentially meets a real need. The cooperative shares the production process with other creative individuals - other authors, illustrators, designers, actors, readers, editors, and so on - so that individual authors are not required to do all the legwork on their own. In exchange, revenues are shared to other members of the coop. The total amount pocketed by an individual author is therefore closer to 40 or 50%, considerably less than if they did the whole process themselves, but they will recover some of the other costs via the cooperative venture, as well as functioning within a community of people excited by the process of publishing and creating. A cooperative is also markedly different from other offerings in the middle ground between traditional publishers and Indies. Hence, for example, a number of business offer "help" with the publishing process for prospective indie writers, but separating well-intentioned help from the many scam offerings that exist makes the whole production area a mine field. It is our hope that a cooperative venture can offer a safer haven to writers going the non-traditional route than most of the existing choices.

That said, our project is not simply a publishing venture, but publishing as a part of a wider community focused on diversity, visionary thinking, and creative sharing. Our model seeks to create incentives for participation within the larger community, hence the title of this posting, "publishing in the round", in the sense that everything we do circulates within our community. We do not wish to attract writers who will come primarily in order to "get published", that is, take advantage of the resources available without giving back to the larger community. This poses its own challenges.

Another way this is "in the round" is that the cooperative venture is in the process of organizing around principles of sociocracy/holacracy, hence a horizontal governance structure organized into networked circles. Decisions are carried out within domains and not necessarily propagated up through a hierarchy. Untimely Books is therefore itself a circle connected to the wider circles of the coop. We are still untangling how this all works, but in principle it should encourage more sharing of power.

Proposed holacracy circle diagram for the Cosmos Cooperative

Holacracy structure for Publishing within the coop; note that The Ido Chronicles will have its own circle

Also, as a new publishing venture, there is so much to learn. As I keep saying to friends, "them is us". There is no "they will do it for us", rather we have to discover all the myriad efforts to be undertaken ourselves. There are guidelines for this, and lots of information on the net, but there is still a lot to learn. The effort should yield rewards, however, in a process whereby we ourselves are masters of the publishing process and are part of a dynamic community of writers and other creatives working together. Indeed, Plenum would never have gotten this far without not only the help of this community, but also their enthusiasm for the project.

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