Thursday, May 26, 2011

The publishing process

While I was living in Anchorage, I dedicated a fair amount of time to shopping my Tour Divide book around in the traditional publishing industry. During my conversations with agents and queries to publishers, I learned a bit about the book industry — namely, that it was not only more difficult and more unstable, but also less profitable than the newspaper industry. An agent who tended to take on "niche" projects such as mine told me her clients were lucky to see advances of $5,000. Plus, royalties and press runs were small enough that few authors even earned out their advances — meaning that $5,000 was all they were ever going to see. And this all came after months if not years of securing a publisher, revisions, marketing, etc. This agent was just trying to be realistic, but it was discouraging. I had worked hard just to capture her attention, only to reach a point where I learned even success in the book business wasn't really that successful.

Just before I moved to Montana to return to the publishing business at Adventure Cyclist magazine, I had dinner with a friend where I lamented the bleak prospects for my current book and unwritten future books. I related the hours I had spent working on the project, and how my time spent riding my bicycle around central Alaska and hiking the Chugach Mountains was ultimately more fulfilling and productive. I told him about the school paper I penned when I was 6 years old about "Where I'll Be in the Year 2000" and how I was one of those unfortunate children whose ambition was "to be a writer and write books."

"But, geez, I made more than $5,000 in the first year of Ghost Trails," I sighed.

He just looked at me quizzically. "Then why don't you do that again?"

Independent and digital publishing. Many industry insiders say that's the future. Similar to the sputtering newspaper business, they don't like that it's the future, but they acknowledge it's the direction the industry is headed. As more bookstores shutter their doors and more publishers shed mid-list and niche authors to focus on only those with enough popularity to sell millions, independent publishing will be there to fill in the gaps. I've long believed that outdoor literature has a potential that hasn't yet been fully realized. For the handful of bestsellers like Jon Krakauer who are currently capitalizing on literary nonfiction about outdoor endeavors, there are probably hundreds of talented athletes and explorers embarking on quiet adventures. If even just a fraction of these took the time to sit down and write a book, the world would have some pretty great books.

But would these books ever find a home? In this regard, I don't feel as optimistic. It's no longer enough for a book to be well-written and contain an intriguing story. These days, publishers want books that will stand on their own in the mass market, which is dominated by people who would rather read a tell-all by Levi Johnston than Hemingway. Good outdoor literary nonfiction will always find readers, but possibly not enough to survive in this industry.

Enter this idea I had, about an independent publishing group. A place where outdoor, nature and adventure authors can reach out to a like-minded audience. Perhaps it won't be millions, but it will be comprised of dedicated readers who truly appreciate this kind of work. And the best part is, in this brave new world of indie books, there's a strong potential for writers to actually be financially rewarded for their time — unlike legacy publishing, which is a game of craps at best. I'm calling the project Arctic Glass Press. I'm only starting to get it off the ground, but I already have interest from a couple of authors — Adam Lisonbee, who recently wrote a series of essays about outdoor stoke and the four seasons, and Eric Bruntjen, who compiled two volumes of art and essays by people who have raced the Great Divide. I appreciate these guys getting on board, and hope that in the near future, Arctic Glass Press will become a great source for off-the-beaten-path armchair adventures.

I've also decided to finally release my second book so I can get on with writing my third and fourth book, and so on. The possibilities really are endless. I'm excited. My latest book, about my adventure leading up to and during the 2009 Tour Divide, is called "Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide." I'm hoping to have paperback copies ready to distribute by the second week of June (yes, in time for the start of this year's Tour Divide.) I'll write more about this in an upcoming post, but I've already received good feedback about the few copies I've distributed so far, including an insightful review from my friend, Dave.

This blog post is also a call to other outdoor-adventure-writer types. Anyone who has a book sitting on their hard drive or swirling around in their head. As an independent but full-service publisher, Arctic Glass Press can help you finish and polish your project, and release it to the world. Contact me at and I'll send you more information about getting involved with the project.