Escalator Press was set up in 2013, after some years of consideration of the concept. It was set up by a group of 5 writers – a mix of experienced and new writers – Mary-Jane Duffy, Adrienne Jansen, Mandy Hager, Janet Colson, and Evan Cody. We set up Escalator Press to publish work by present and past tutors, mentors, assessors and students of the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, but the press was to be entirely independent of the polytechnic, in its working and financial structure.
We were interested particularly in giving a voice to voices not readily heard in New Zealand fiction. We wanted to produce high-quality fiction, published with high production values, in both print and digital form. Our focus was on fiction, but we expected to also consider non-fiction work.
In an era of uncertainty in mainstream publishing, and retrenchment of some publishing companies, we believed that:
There were excellent manuscripts in existence that might not find a publisher, and we could create some opportunities for those authors.
We could develop a new small-scale publishing model that could work cooperatively with writers and did not require large upfront expenditure.
We began by asking what writers needed from a publisher. We believe they need:
Marketing and personal support – an ‘advocate’.
An agreed standard of excellence in both the manuscript and the production values of the book.
The Publishing Programme
We had discussions with the Publishing Programme at Whitireia. They are strongly committed to supporting the publishing industry throughout New Zealand, and at the same time were willing to support a small publisher that might provide a ‘kick start’ to some new writers who might move onto larger publishers. The Publishing Programme was willing to take on the production of books for Escalator Press as part of their programme of projects in any one year.
We invited authors to submit manuscripts – we did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. We also had a broad knowledge of many manuscripts completed by former students. Staff and former students also contacted us about manuscripts.
The financial model
We decided to set up an ‘Escalator Fund’. We didn’t want to be constantly involved in raising money for every book we published. We wanted to set up a permanent fund that would then lend Escalator Press the money for each book.
The Escalator Fund lent money to Escalator Press for the production and marketing costs of each book. All production and marketing costs were agreed on between the Press and the author. The first print run was normally 300 books. From the sales of the book, Escalator Press paid the loan back to the Escalator Fund. Once the loan was paid, the profits from the book were split 50/50 between the author and the Press. If the loan couldn’t be repaid by sales of the book, the author would make up the shortfall. This meant there was a strong incentive for the author to be very active in promoting the book – the contract specifically required this.
It was a requirement of Escalator Press that there was a sales and distribution agent for each book.
For example, for Escalator Press’s first book, The Score, published in September 2013, production and marketing costs for 450 books were $4796.72. Income from sales has so far been $7193.43, so the loan has been paid back to the Fund and there is a profit of $2399.71 to be split between the author and the Press.
The Escalator Press contract is based on a standard contract, with modifications. The contract was sent to the NZSA Members Consultancy Service, who raised some issues that have since been addressed.
Escalator Press group
The Escalator Press group administered the press. It ran on the basis that every member had a specific job. Key roles were that of advocate – each author whose book was being published had an advocate.
The Whitireia Creative Writing Programme was disestablished in 2019. it was clear that it would be difficult to maintain Escalator Press without the structure and resources that the programme provided. So a decision was made to wind down the Press. No new books are being published, but the Press is maintaining an online presence through its website, individual authors are now handling sales of their books, and some books are being reprinted.