Interview with Caleb Mason of Publerati
November 16, 2013 | 4:44 pm
By Juli Monroe
When I became editor of TeleRead a month ago, Caleb Mason of Publerati reached out to me on LinkedIn. I took a look at his hybrid agent/publishing company model and was intrigued. He was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. Enjoy!
TeleRead: From what I’ve seen from browsing your site, Publerati doesn’t work quite like most people expect from a publisher or literary agent. Give us a quick overview of what you do and how?
Caleb: Publerati is a hybrid ebook fiction publisher and literary agency. In many ways we are playing both sides of the street: looking to move forward into the new digital streams for books that are completely separate from the traditional publishing industry and its current business models, but also looking to sell rights to the traditional industry when and if we feel it is in the best interests of our authors, and the authors in fact want to go in that direction. Some do not, but instead want to go forward as their past publishing experiences have not been good. No one emails them back. Their books are published and declared out of print before having a reasonable chance. Editors come and go so fast the authors get lost within the mega-publishers.
TeleRead: What types of books do you publish and why?
Caleb:We only publish fiction and do so in all popular ebook formats. We actively look for novels that are unique and unlike the many genres already well represented by large publishers. In essence, we are taking the risk on titles we feel have artistic merits with the potential to also become commercially successful. Some people in the publishing industry say it is like a farm league for larger publishers, which could be the case for some titles, and this is why I wanted Publerati to be a hybrid agency and ebook publisher, at least at our start while we see how things play out.
TeleRead: What motivated you to start a company that mixes book publishing and social purpose?
Caleb: There are many excellent examples of brands that connect with their customers through the use of a socially-responsible business model. Tom’s shoes for instance where they donate a pair with every purchase. Where books and fiction are so important in helping people connect with other lifestyles, regions, and histories — in expanding empathy — I felt ebooks could open access for more people to read in ways not possible with finite print books. Partnering with the Worldreader Organization (we donate all our ebooks and a portion of every sale to them) was the perfect fit for what I wanted to do. Ideally, more people will buy our ebook fiction, priced at only $4.99 to encourage impulse purchasing, knowing that when they do so they are helping those less fortunate gain access to donated e-readers and ebooks. I’m a fan of win-win situations and think it is important we all look for them whether negotiating contracts or simply standing back and thinking about how a problem can be solved in a more elegant manner.
TeleRead: I’ve noticed that your books have a similar look to the cover design. Is that part of your branding? If so, why, and how is it working for your company and authors?
Caleb: I have three decades of experience working in packaged goods software and other consumer product categories, including the old photo and film mass market channels (remember 35mm film anyone?). That taught me the importance of brand recognition in the product selection process. Where our authors are not likely to be well-known brands themselves, I wanted to provide a brand platform that stood for something important. That something is the goal of opening access for excellent fiction that might be deemed too risky to make it through the current big publisher and retail business models, and to do so with a social purpose attached. The corporate brand look is a clearly differentiated one and the products visually relate to that identity, as does the company name. Each title then carries that brand look forward, with room for individual title expression but within a brand line look. Same as for Intuit’s software, as one example. The software and cereal aisles are great places to see this in action for other categories.
TeleRead: What forms of marketing have you found most successful for selling the books, and how much do you work with your authors on helping/teaching them book marketing skills?
Caleb: As much as I would love a huge PR hit, same as everyone else, I am slogging away in the digital marketing realms testing many measurable activities concurrently. Marketing is the publisher’s job but some authors are more interested and able to assist, which is fine. We share information. I send our authors regular updates on what is working, what is going on in the industry and technology at large, and make and discuss recommendations. One form of digital marketing I know is working well for us and will continue using is online story sampling from our authors. Publishing shorts on Readwave or Wattpad with links to their commercially available titles shows immediate sales spikes. This is not unlike the sampling in the supermarket, but technology now makes sampling much more practicable for books.
TeleRead: How about bragging rights? What are you most proud of with Publerati?
Caleb: I am very proud of the brand foundation and the brand promise. I am very proud of the calibre of the fiction we have been able to acquire, with almost nothing but 5-star reviews and excellent author blurbs, including two from recent Pulitizer-prize winners. I am very proud of staying true to our mission free from the quarterly financial pressures of a large public company. I am proud of our wide distribution around the world and our recent availability within the Overdrive library kiosk program. I am proud to see our sales picking up and word spreading among bloggers.
TeleRead: Any advice for authors who might want to work with you?
Caleb: Read our recent and timely novel Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney or any of the other works of fiction. You will notice they are unlike other books you see in bookstores. That is the point. If something is already being done well by someone else, why bother? So we do not want the next Tom Clancy, as profitable as that would be. We do not want romance or vampires or thrillers. We want excellent writing from thoughtful people who have something new to contribute. Works that are best done in the ongoing tradition of the novel, as a unique vehicle for getting inside the heads of characters while juxtaposing thoughts with actions, something that other forms of entertainment cannot do as well. They can also visit Gigaverse online where we have a document on what we look for in submissions
TeleRead: Any final thoughts?
Caleb: Will people read e-novels they might not otherwise read because something good will come from it for a less fortunate stranger? I do not yet know the answer to this question but believe if the work is genuinely good, this additional social benefit could lead to a new brand delivering ebooks in new ways to subscribers or individual copy purchasers who feel they are receiving tremendous value. We are free to do R&D as long as the lead investor will fund it. And I am that investor because I believe in what we are doing and how the convergence of new technologies is making it possible.
TeleRead: Thank you very much for taking the time to “speak” with us.