Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lost in Lexicon's Publishing Path. II. Starting Tumblehome Press.

Once I decided to self-publish, I looked around for help. A friend introduced me to the creative team at FableVision, a wonderful multimedia storytelling company located above the Children's Museum in the Boston. I had a vague notion that like The Number Devil, Lexicon could support accompanying activities, and perhaps an entire computer game. (Of course, the whole notion was ironic, because of the underlying theme in the book that too much screen time is robbing our children of childhood, but I set that concern momentarily aside.)

The FableVision staff were excited by the book, and we met for a half-day team brainstorming about how we could make it into something big and exciting, with games, music, art, and even perhaps a couple of chapters in graphic novel form. In the end, though, the price tag was too high, and we couldn't really come up with a marketing plan to support it.

FableVision's ideas had kindled dreams, and I knew I wasn't going to be satisfied with simply handing my manuscript over to an outfit like Lulu or CreateSpace (reputable and perfectly respectable though they are). I wanted high quality art and design and a printing job that would look like a trade publisher's. I had only the vaguest idea of what a reasonable budget might be, but I read about Brunonia Barry's $50,000 investment in producing her book The Lace Reader which subsequently sold for high dollars to Harper Collins. That seemed like a good benchmark.

My husband, the founder of a small biotech company, certainly thought so. "In biotech, that's nothing," he said. With his unflagging support, that was how I thought of the project: it was a start-up. Biotech companies don't make money until years and millions of dollars have been invested, and most of them fail, though a few make it big. But Leo was trying to discover a treatment for Lou Gehrig's disease: it was worth the expense and the risk. I was trying to create fun, intellectually stimulating fiction for kids. He urged me not to look at the much smaller expense as a barrier.

At this point, my friend Rebecca Raibley stepped in. She has a strong business background and a talent for organization, and she wanted to learn more about online and viral marketing. She signed on as my voluntary business partner, working for free on top of her regular high-power job. We consulted with my agent about what members we would need for our virtual team: a project manager/art director, an artist, a designer, a copy editor, and a printer. We sketched out a budget, including printing and publicity.

My agent introduced me to her friend and colleague, an experienced editor and art director, now working freelance, named Karen Klockner. I sent Karen the book and went to meet her at the Cornell Club the next time I had to be in New York. In the hushed and paneled dining room, where one is not supposed to do any business, Karen taught me more about the steps we would need to go through and the timeline required to produce a book. Meanwhile, I incorporated my new publishing company, the Tumblehome Press, named after my mother's boat.

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