The other day Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books wrote an impassioned piece in The Bookseller venting her frustration at the ‘poaching culture’ whereby Big 5 publishers swoop in and ‘steal’ talented authors after indie presses have done a lot of the heavy lifting.
First off let me say that I have massive respect for Karen and for what she and her team have built at Orenda Books. Of all the independent publishers out there I’d say that Orenda is probably the only one I keep my eye on. They’ve built an amazing list based on Karen’s awesome curation skills and her ability to spot talent where others have overlooked it.
It takes guts and smarts to create a successful indie publisher - Karen and Orenda have that in spades.
That said, although I understand her annoyance at the perceived unfairness of bigger publishers luring away talent that she has discovered, nurtured and invested in - I’m not altogether sure I share her frustration.
The authors we publish at Fahrenheit break roughly into 4 groups;
1) Authors who've been traditionally published and have become disenchanted by their experiences with the Big 5.
2) Authors who are still very successfully published by Big 5 publishers but who prefer the freedom and fun that publishing some of their work with us provides.
3) Indie authors who have self-published but haven’t reached the audience their talent deserves.
4) Debut authors who despite being talented little fuckers couldn't get laid in a whorehouse before they met us.
The one thing these 4 groups have in common is that they’ve bought into the idea of Fahrenheit and everything we stand for. They know we only publish books we believe in and they know we'll work our balls off to bring those books to the widest possible audience.
We know for a fact that some of our authors are being courted by much bigger publishers right now. We know this because we encourage our authors to be frank and open with us when such approaches are made. We've got 25 years under our belts and we’re pretty sure we can use that experience to help them cut a better deal if that's what they want.
Fahrenheit is profitable and we have a sustainable and scalable business model but I'm pretty straight with everyone when I explain that they're unlikely to be able to buy a yacht with the money they make from us.
Realistically we could never offer our authors the sort of advances that a keen acquisitions editor from one of the Big 5 might be able to dangle under their noses. For our part we totally understand why an author (especially one of our previously unpublished authors) might want to trouser the cash on offer and have a punt in the big leagues.
For what it's worth I suspect that most of them who did take the plunge would very quickly end up disillusioned. It's fairly well known that I think the business models of Big 5 publishing companies suck and are fundamentally unaligned with authors interests - but that doesn't mean I'd stand in anyone's way if they wanted to take their books out for a spin on a bigger stage.
So far no-one has actually taken the plunge but we know for sure it’s only a matter of time and when that time comes we’ll take it as a compliment and it’ll be beers and smiles all round.
The whole point of Fahrenheit was to take chances, to do things differently, to make money and have fun while we're doing it.
We're risk takers and we're taste-makers and just like all taste-makers we live and die on our curation skills. The simple truth is that Big 5 publishers just can't compete with us when it comes to either risk or curation. Their business models just don't allow it anymore. It's no surprise that they end up relying on indie presses to find their next big hit - we're so much cooler than them and much much better at spotting talent.
We run Fahrenheit like a record label. Where Factory had Wilson and Creation had McGee - Fahrenheit has me. And just like Factory and Creation, Fahrenheit adds something that the majors almost always end up killing stone dead - go figure.
Maybe it's our background in the music industry that makes us more relaxed about this stuff. Major record labels have a long history of stealing the silverware from their cooler indie cousins. The result is very seldom satisfying for either the bands or the fans but it keeps the industry wheels turning and the suits get their cut same as always.
Is it fair. Well no, of course not - is it inevitable - yeah probably.
We've published 40 books in our first year and there's not a single dud among them - everything from ghost dogs to restoration detectives to dystopian noir. There are a whole tribe of people out there who read every single book that Fahrenheit publish because they trust that we'll never let them down. If we publish it you can be guaranteed it's worth spending your money on. The Big 5 publishers haven't a hope in hell of competing with that - all they can do is try and jump on the bandwagon once we get it rolling.
Should we be upset by that?
I'll wear that as a badge of pride every day of the week and I'll look forward to spending weekends in the south of France on the yachts our authors buy courtesy of Big 5 cash.
At Fahrenheit we offer all our authors rolling 12 month contracts. The perceived wisdom in the industry is that we're nuts not tying our authors into longer contracts. Like always the perceived wisdom is mainly horseshit. We only want committed happy authors in the Fahrenheit gang and if someone wants to walk (for any reason) we're always gonna shake hands and throw them a party on the way out.
Every single time a Big 5 publisher signs one of our authors we'll kick back, enjoy the sweet smell of vindication and then sign up another awesome author that they'd never have had the balls to publish in the first place.
When authors publish with Fahrenheit they join a family and if one of our little birds wants to stretch their wings and take flight we’ll do what all families do – we’ll support them, we’ll wish them every success, we’ll cross our fingers for them and we’ll wait silently ready to throw our arms around them and welcome them home if things don’t work out the way they hoped.