There’s an old joke among publishers. Question: “How do you make a small fortune in publishing?” Answer: “Start with a large fortune.”
We didn’t have a large fortune when we launched Per Aspera back in 2003. We started with time and determination, but not much else. We funded our lives and our nascent press on credit cards and the belief that what we were doing was worthwhile. We wanted to publish books that were overlooked by traditional publishing for one reason or another, and prove that they could succeed both artistically and commercially.
We also maintained hope that one of our books would break out and float the whole operation.
By any objective analysis of our business back then, we failed. After releasing two books as print-on-demand trade paperbacks, we placed a huge bet by launching a line of cloth-bound editions, first with Singularity by Bill DeSmedt and later Steel Sky by Andrew C. Murphy. These were beautiful books with gorgeous interior design and great covers.
They sold well, but not well enough, and we had to close down. We laid off staff (some of whom were already working for free) and went into a state of torpor. That was in 2008.
Even though our books did not make enough to keep the business running, we did end up with some degree of creative and professional success. Singularity in particular was so well-received that I now believe all the effort and debt was worth publishing that one book. Several big-name hard SF writers gave it glowing blurbs. The novel garnered several awards, a number of ‘best-of’ mentions, and a whole slew of favorable reviews.
It’s still somewhat of a mystery why no larger publishers decided to buy Singularity. Thousands of mediocre books are published every year, and hundreds of good books are published that are not as good as Singularity and Steel Sky. They are published because enough of them sell. For the most part, publishing is a business and not an exercise in artistic integrity.
My intention when we shut down was always for the company to restart at some point when things were less busy and more financially stable. Karawynn and I were able to pay off the business debt a while ago, but the economy has been less than ideal and it’s emotionally hard to step back into a situation that has burned us in the past. No matter how much we loved doing it.
But the environment is different now. Publishing is changing. What was once a business quite hostile to small players is now one in which they can potentially thrive. A small press like ours might be able to sustain itself, and we might even have fun in the process.
Per Aspera Today
We’re starting out small—putting out an ebook of Singularity first. Next we’ll do another ebook, either Liferock or Steel Sky. I’m also reading manuscripts and talking very selectively with writers and editors and other publishing folks who may potentially be interested in working with talented people to create ebooks that are well written, thoroughly edited, and beautifully designed (with professional quality cover art and typography).
We won’t be doing any traditional, off-set print runs in the foreseeable future. And we will not be going into debt. We do plan to create physical books as well as ebooks, and plan to get books reviewed and blurbed and into a traditional distribution channel so that bookstores and libraries can order them. But not for all our titles; frankly, I think we’ll make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.
We remain closed to unsolicited submissions for the moment. We’re still forming a team, still refining our business model. If you send a query or a manuscript without having been asked to send it, nobody will read it.
I am building a list of interested publishing professionals who would like to be considered for freelance work or just want to stay abreast of Per Aspera news—editors, publicists, proofreaders, artists, designers, marketers, reviewers, booksellers, other publishers, agents, etc. And yes, writers too—professional writers. If you would like to be on this list, post a comment or send me email.