Innovation’s Momentum: A Digital-Only Publisher In Oz

iStockphoto / zetter
iStockphoto / zetter

“I Got Acquired”

Over the weekend, an Australian author, Steve P. Vincent, was a guest blogger at Writer Unboxed, one of the  best-read daily blog sites around.

In his piece, Advice To My Newbie Self , Vincent made some perfectly cogent points familiar to many writers. Among them:

After submitting your manuscript, it will take longer than you’d like to hear back…You shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions throughout the publishing process…Your editor is smart and respectful, loves your book, and is working their behind off to make it better…

He started his post with this: “I never thought I’d make it. After sending off my manuscript, I waited for the ‘Thanks, but…’ response. Instead, I got acquired.”

And he wrote that he’d done this without an agent.

Steve P. Vincent
Steve P. Vincent

What Vincent didn’t say in this article was that his debut, The Foundation, has been published by Momentum, a publisher with a difference.

It’s a division of the Australian arm of Holtzbrinck’s Macmillan Publishers group, one of the world’s biggest publishing conglomerates.

In New York, you may relate MacMillan to the Flatiron Building and a familiar family of publishing divisions — St. Martin’s Press, Tor/Forge, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), Henry Holt, Picador.

In London, Pan Macmillan’s Picador has published Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which was just longlisted in the States for a National Book Award in fiction. We wrote about Picador’s work with that book here.

But Macmillan’s Momentum is digital-only.

In fact, it’s “print-rarely,” if you’ll allow me to coin a phrase. The company makes it clear that only in some cases is it interested in making print editions of ebooks available as print-on-demand (POD). But it’s not unheard-of. And there’s an option to publish in a traditional arrangement with Pan Macmillan Australia “if both parties decide it’s worth doing.”

Three more key points that may have some authors sitting right up:

  • Momentum takes unagented submissions from all over the world.
  • It covers all the costs of production.
  • Its output is DRM-free except where retailers require DRM.

Based in Sydney, Momentum was launched about two-and-a-half years ago, on February 1, 2012, with 22 ebooks for sale. Today, a glance at its catalog pages shows you some 25o or more titles.

In comments on Vincent’s post from Writer Unboxed readers (most of whom are authors at various stages in their careers), it became evident that Momentum is not well known and that Vincent’s path to publication wasn’t clear to everyone.

So it’s definitely worth going over Momentum’s very helpful About page to get a clear picture of what’s offered here. This is a case of a major publishing force innovating in a way that meets both its own needs and those of many authors. Some might think of it as a hybrid form of publishing, in that a manuscript is handled with the same editorial support that another Macmillan MS might get, but the book isn’t headed for paper, boxes, trucks, and physical store racks.

“No Freaking Print Distribution”

Only about 10 days earlier, I’d heard from a New York Times-bestselling author — of more than 100 romance titles, mind you — that her new trilogy was being signed by her own major publisher…”as ebook only.” She was distressed. This was basically a WTF moment for her. After many years and books, her publisher had come in with a no-print contract.

“I’m not the Lone Ranger,” she told me. “This is happening more and more. My publisher is another print house making shifts. No freaking print distribution worth anything anymore in the U.S.”

Notice that she calls her publisher a “print house.” The expectation in such a strong mid-lister’s mind is that when her books hit the shelves they hit tangible shelves, good displays IRL, in real live, at brick-and-mortar stores.

Not anymore.

The Foundation by Steve P. VincentAgents have been telling us this, too. They’re seeing some contracts arrive from publishers without print runs at all — digital only.

There’s a lot of talk of “flattening” ebook sales, which generally indicates that the early-adoption stage of e-reading has peaked in the US and UK markets, not that ebooks themselves aren’t selling well. As Michael Cader has reported the Association of American Publishers’ newly released figures for April and May confirm “a trend of flat overall trade sales propped up by a few children’s/YA market hits.”

Cader goes on:

Total adult sales of $363 million in April were down $20 million from a year ago, and May adult sales of $371 were down further, by $37 million. (Adult sales had been down by $24 million in March.) The gaps were almost entirely due to weaker hardcover sales, off $28 million in April and $27 million in May…eBook sales rose in April — when the [price-fixing] settlement credits landed — at $138.5 million up $16 million from last year — and were more modest in May, up $3 million to $120 million.

While ebooks in the US market are far from a runaway sure thing over print, Pan Macmillan Australia’s Momentum site has some good reasoning to offer for its digital-only posture. Under an explanatory section called “What is digital-only publishing?” you read:

Momentum publishes books first and foremost as ebooks. Our ability to make your book available to paying customers is not limited by print bookstore shelf space, which means we can accept more diverse titles from our authors, including forms that traditionally do not work in print such as short fiction and long-form journalism. Publishing digitally also means that Momentum can publish books much faster than a traditional publisher.

The company’s info says it has published authors not only from Australia, but also from the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

And bear in mind that this is not self-publishing and it is not what some might call a vanity press: the author does not pay to be published. While there are no advances, there are higher royalty rates to be had, according to the company. And it assumes the financial risk if it acquires a book:

Momentum accepts all production costs associated with editing, marketing and publishing its authors’ books.

“The Team At Momentum Is Fabulous”

In a note to me at the Writer Unboxed site, Melbourne-based Vincent wrote of how pleased he was with his experience of being published by Momentum.

The team at Momentum is fabulous. I took the decision to sign with them because of global distribution and DRM-free formats. The Foundation received the same editing, cover design etc as any other Pan Mac AU title. Only real difference has been the marketing approach and the speed to market.

The global digital rights in a Momentum contract make the publisher’s books available at Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iBookstore, Google Play, Kobo, eBooks.com, Booki.sh, and others.

Get your contract looked at, negotiate, understand the steps, have your say. Steve P. Vincent

And it’s clear from how Vincent describes that “advice to his newbie self” in his Writer Unboxed piece that Momentum put him through some very standard paces from developmental edits to contact with designers and corporate team members.

On the other hand, an arrangement like this is going to have its unusual points and one of them shows up in when submissions can be made. From the site:

Momentum accepts submissions weekly on Mondays between 12.00 midnight and 11.59 pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time)…Outside of these hours, submissions received will be automatically deleted, so please do not send your manuscript outside of this time.

And what about a book you’ve already self-published? Momentum says bring it on:

We do not consider self-published books to have been previously published. We’re very happy to consider self-published novels, but please submit them via the Momentum Monday guidelines above.

There’s much more info at the Momentum site.

And this approach could be something for a would-be self-publishing author, for example, to consider if he or she isn’t as interested in handling the details of publication, would like a relationship with a professional house, and is happy with a digital-only approach.

In any case, one of Vincent’s best pieces of advice pertains to anyone working with a publishing company without an agent:

It’s your book and you have a right to understand what’s going on. Get your contract looked at, negotiate, understand the steps, have your say. Your publisher won’t resent you for asking any question. They’re professionals. TC mark

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