Lethe Press interview: March 2008

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Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:30

HH wrote:Meet LETHE PRESS, a small press I'm delighted to have the opportunity to spotlight, and whose owner, Steve Berman, has been kind enough to agree to join us on the forum for a spot of Q & A.

Lethe Press publishes both fiction and non-fiction, specialising in gay and speculative works. They're fast becoming the small press for GLBT anthologies and collections in the speculative genre. As noted elsewhere, Lethe Press is publishing Hard Road, Easy Riding: Lesbian Biker Erotica (editor, Sacchi Green); Time Well Bent: Queer Alternate History (editor, Sacchi Green); Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures (editor, Lynn Jamneck); and Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades (editor, Catherine Lundoff)

:welcome: Steve, and thanks for being willing to answer our questions.
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:30

skhagin wrote:Thanks, HH and Steve, for the chance to find out a bit about Lethe Press. I'm curious about several things:

Can you say/do you know what percentage of your readers are lesbians?

Do you publish novels as well as collections and anthologies?

How do you feel about mixed-genre fiction?

Do you accept unsolicited manuscripts?

Thanks....................
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:31

HH wrote:Steve, Lethe Press has published an eclectic assortment of books. Can you give us the potted version of Lethe -- where it's been, where it's going, what is its niche in the marketplace?

Does Lethe accept general submissions, or do you team up privately with authors/editors as interesting propositions come along?
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:31

sacchigreen wrote:I'll also point out that Lethe Press has published Catherine Lundoff's collection Crave: Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing, in which many of the stories are science fiction or fantasy.
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:31

LethePress wrote:Thank you for inviting me to the forum. It's nice to be so welcome.

HH wrote:Steve, Lethe Press has published an eclectic assortment of books. Can you give us the potted version of Lethe -- where it's been, where it's going, what is its niche in the marketplace?


Well, Lethe started in 2001 on a whim. I self-published a collection of my own short stories, most of which were queer and speculative fiction. One of which was the lesbian urban fantasy "The Anvoke" from Strange Horizons.

Originally, the press was going to specialize in public domain titles, but every print-on-demand publisher seemed to be taking that route.

Then, I met Toby Johnson, one of the leading figures in gay men's spirituality and I started reprinting his old work. That lead to connections with White Crane Magazine and steamrolled into several inspirational titles.

But, my favorite fiction is spec fic. By attending conferences and writing erotica, I've met many wonderful and talented women who found difficulty interesting traditional queer presses in their projects. Or they were authors who wanted to release a collection, which is a financially risky affair.

So I began releasing some terrific work, such as Catherine Lundoff's Crave, her second erotic collection (I hope to reprint her first soon).

Then, with Haworth's demise, I picked up some of their languishing titles. And now I hope to do more original work.


HH wrote:Does Lethe accept general submissions, or do you team up privately with authors/editors as interesting propositions come along?


Honestly, most of the projects come to me from people I know well. Either they submit ideas, recommend authors, or we sit down and come up with something new. In New Orleans last year, at Saints & Sinners, a queer literary conference I recommend to all, Catherine and I discussed a lesbian ghost anthology. It's releasing late Spring of this year.

That said, I'm not adverse to working with new voices.
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:31

LethePress wrote:
skhagin wrote::
Can you say/do you know what percentage of your readers are lesbians?
Do you publish novels as well as collections and anthologies?
How do you feel about mixed-genre fiction?
Do you accept unsolicited manuscripts?


SKHagin:

I would say that most of our readers are gay men because we've only released 2 lesbian titles to date. But, Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures has been a terrific seller for us, so I expect the number of lesbian readers will be growing fast with that title and the forthcoming books that are coming out this year. If I had to guess at a %, I would say 10% currently.

Lethe does publish novels. Right now, I would say half of our fiction line is novels and half short story collections/anthologies. We also release poetry titles.

Mixed genre as in slipstream? I love it. We've done several gay historical fiction and fantasy works that have been well-received.

I prefer a submission to be made by an author I know or recommended by one I trust. But, I am not adverse to queries and book pitches.
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:31

jisun wrote:Welcome, Steve! Thank you for your time and generosity. A big thanks to HH, too, for coordinating this for us.

I am very impressed by the commitment and courage it must have taken for you to start your publishing company. Would you mind sharing some of the business aspects of publishing with us as well? I'd appreciate any information you could provide on what some of your costs and revenue streams look like. For example:
    1. What kinds of assets (revenues, inventories, profits) do you carry, and what are your liabilities (debts, unpaid accounts, etc.)?

    2. How much cost, profit, and revenue do you project for a book, and what information do you base that projection on? (Assuming it's book-specific.) What percentage of that goes to the editor and/or creators of the work?

    3. How much cash on hand/credit did you require to start, and how much do you need to operate? Are cash flow concerns a significant problem?

    4. I am concerned about the shrinking profit margins for publishers, which squeeze publishers and may force book prices to rise. Can you shed some insight into how Lethe has coped with that, assuming it's been an issue for Lethe?
Note: I know financial information can be close hold sometimes, so if you prefer not to share, I completely understand.

Thank you, again!
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:32

LethePress wrote:I'll answer as best I can.

1) Right now Lethe has a catalog of over 40 titles. Our net sales vary by month and release but has been increase steadily. On average, we sell 2-5 copies of older titles a month. Periphery, our erotic SF title, has sold 36 copies this month direct, in addition to prior month sales and wholesaler sales (which amount to over 100 copies). Our debt is to the printer.

Of course, like all publishers, our main concern is cash flow. We must pay our printer within net 30 days. Our customers pay us in net 90+ days (some wholesalers take 150 days). So, sometimes the more successful a title, the more our cash flow is affected.

2. Our standard contract offers royalties at 10% of cover price for sales at 50% discount and below. A few customers require 55% discount and we pay anywhere from 7-10% on such sales depending on our prior relationship with the author. We split subrights based on the same relationship.

Ideally, we would like to sell 250 copies in the first year. We're a POD press, so we don't have traditional print-run. I know POD has acquired a bad reputation in many circles. Certainly, as a writer, I always recommend an author try and get the best deal possible. POD is great for reprinting older titles (Lethe is named for bringing back 'forgotten' work). However, niche markets are often ignored by mainstream and larger presses.

At 250 copies a year @ 15.00 a book @ 10% royalty would net the author or editor 375 dollars. No doubt, some of our authors make far more by selling copies themselves. With prepayment, they may purchase copies at 50% off the cover price. I don't mind if they hand-sell. If they bought a carton, say 40 copies at 7.50 (plus shipping) and sold all 40, they made almost 300 there. That would be in addition to any direct sales.

Certainly the profit margins on books are low. Some POD presses establish low discount %s for their books. On all our GLBT-themed fiction, we sell at 50-55% to wholesalers. This allows brick-and-mortar stores to order with confidence. The books are also returnable. Many POD titles aren't. But we do this to encourage book sales.

I never went into Lethe to make $. My goal was, originally, to have a means for releasing some of my work and that of close friends. Since then, I've given some forgotten gay authors a chance to find new readers. It's an ethical mission of mine.
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:32

HH wrote:Thanks, Steve, for being so open and honest. And for being such a good sport!

So, if an author came to you and said "My last two books each sold a thousand copies (or whatever)", would you do a print run on the same copy-number assumption, or stick with POD? As I understand it, a print run requires more cash up front for the publisher, but also nets a bigger gain as the profit margin is higher than for POD.

Is Lethe looking to grow, to get investors, etc? Or do you prefer being a one-man small press without the headaches?

Who does Lethe distribute with? Where are most of your titles sold through?

Looking to the future, do you have a preference for what proportion of Lethe titles will be gay vs lesbian vs trans vs bi versus mixed-sexuality?
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Re: Lethe Press interview: March 2008

Postby FranW » 28 Mar 2010, 09:32

LethePress wrote:Well, right now there aren't plans to do off-set/traditional books for Lethe. As you know, I also write, and I have a day job as well and Lethe is financed by these two and my time is split. If I want to ever find a date, it seems like I can't publish a book that month, lol.

I've toyed with the idea of investors. No one has approached me with any offers. I've partnered with the White Crane Institute to release an imprint of spirituality and wisdom titles, about one or two a year.

Lethe is distributed through the usual wholesalers. Ingram and Baker & Taylor. We also have a good relationship with Alamo Square and Bookazine, who both specialize in the GLBT market. Starcrossed carries Periphery and I'll hope we'll do more with them.

I would say many of our books are sold via Amazon and in gay booksellers, online and brick-and-mortar.

As for future proportions, I doubt I'll ever release less than 33% gay male titles. I think there will be more niche successes in the future, such as ethnic fiction lines in the GLBT spectrum (gay African-American titles are starting to explod, so Latino and Asian should soon catch up). I would like to see some trans titles that weren't necessarily about coming out as trans.
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