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 are interested particularly in giving a voice to voices not readily heard in New Zealand fiction. We want to produce high-quality fiction, published with high production values, in both print and digital form. At present our focus is on fiction, but we expect 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 invite authors to submit manuscripts – we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. We have a broad knowledge of many manuscripts completed by former students. Staff and former students are also contacting us about manuscripts.
For 2014 we invited 7 authors to submit manuscripts. We had five readers. We accepted three manuscripts, and have already been working with the author of a fourth manuscript, which we think will be ready for 2015.
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. We believe the Escalator Fund needs to have $12,000 in it. At present it has $6,400. By the end of 2014 we want to reach the target of $12,000. Then the Press will be self-sufficient and the fund will slowly grow from part-profits of each publication.
The Escalator Fund lends money to Escalator Press for the production and marketing costs of each book. All production and marketing costs are agreed on between the Press and the author. The first print run will normally be 300 books. From the sales of the book, Escalator Press pays the loan back to the Escalator Fund. Once the loan is paid, the profits from the book are split 50/50 between the author and the Press. If the loan cannot be repaid by sales of the book, the author will make up the shortfall. This means there is a strong incentive for the author to be very active in promoting the book – the contract specifically requires this.
It is a requirement of Escalator Press that there is a sales and distribution agent for each book. At present the agent is Paul Greenberg, of Greene Phoenix.
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 administers the press. It runs on the basis that every member has a specific job. Key roles are that of advocate – each author whose book is being published has an advocate. In 2014, two new people have joined the group, with specific knowledge in publishing and administration. Also in 2014, three current writing students have joined the Escalator group. Two are mature students, with a background in Media Studies and professional editing, and one is a young student with a particular interest in social media. Being part of Escalator Press is an excellent training opportunity for them, while they bring new ideas and expertise to the group.
In 2014, Escalator Press is publishing two novels. A further two novels have been approved for publication. A reading process is already in place to consider manuscripts for 2015. We intend to review the entire process after 2 years.