Sharing Suits a Specialized Publisher: The Cooperative Press Story
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If you have an attitude, Cooperative Press’s books will help you express it. With titles including Doomsday Knits (“Everything you need for battling zombies and foraging the ozone-depleted forests for provisions …”) and Subversive Socks (“For those times when you have something snarky to say and—well—why not say it on your feet?”), publisher Shannon Okey has developed loyalty among audiences that may be small, but are clearly devoted.
And if you’re a little more conventional, this “knitgrrl” has books such as Head to Toe: Kids’ Knit Accessories and Frozen: Aurora Borealis Mittens for you. [these are 2 separate titles]
Okey, who was a writer before she became a publisher, has run Cooperative Press since 2009. Based in Lakewood, Ohio, the company was named to reflect the way publisher and authors finance publications and share sales revenue.
“We divide profits with our authors after printing costs are covered,” she explains. “If a book retails for $25 and costs $5 to print, we each make $10 when it sells direct. If it’s wholesaled, we each make $3.75, because the cost of printing is subtracted before dividing the revenue from the sale. So even at wholesale rates, authors are making more per book than I ever did when writing for big publishers.”
One of the reasons Cooperative Press can be so generous with author compensation is its overhead. Or lack thereof: Okey is a one-person show, with everyone else working from different locations on a freelance, as-needed basis. “We are very Dropbox-heavy,” she says, referring to the cloud-based program used for sharing access to huge files.
Files are large because most of Cooperative’s 50-plus titles are about knitting and crocheting, and include detailed patterns and illustrations. They are issued POD and in digital format. For knitting and crocheting guides, that means PDF, which Okey says is the most popular format with her crafter readers.
New fiction titles are also being offered in EPUB and Kindle formats.
Cooperative Press is in the black because Okey runs, figuratively speaking, all over the real and virtual worlds to promote books. One week she’s in a fairgrounds tent for a yarn festival, the next week she’s speaking at a fiber arts event, and then she’s packing up for a library show. In between, she exhibits her own fiber arts pieces and continues to teach through her Knitgrrl Studio, where workshops cover topics such as dishwasher dyeing, spinning, thrift store knitting, felting, and “alt-fibers” such as bamboo and soy.
She estimates that 85 percent of the company sales are direct, with another 10 percent through yarn shops, especially through such specialty distributors as Unicorn Books & Crafts. The rest of the sales result from author events. Today there’s no distribution through booksellers, but Okey says she’s striving for broader distribution.
The networking that Okey and her authors do at events helps Cooperative acquire most of its new titles these days. “Thanks to the submissions that come from friends and fans, we have more than enough quality projects in the queue at any given time,” she explains, and when she perceives a special need, the company does an occasional call for submissions on the knitting social media site Ravelry.
This networking is nothing new for Okey, who, as a college student, prepared for the foreign service by studying French, German, and Czech and going abroad on fellowships. “But out of college, I got invited to work for a software company because of my language skills, and then invited to work for a brokerage firm because of my tech skills,” she reports. Then a friend introduced her to someone in publishing who needed the writing skills Okey had developed as she blogged at knitgrrl.com.
That led to writing eleven books over a three-year period for such publishers as Watson-Guptill, Interweave, Potter Craft, Chronicle, Mountaineers Books, and Ten Speed Press. “Every new twist in my career has come about because of connections and my writing and editing skills,” she explains. “That I can knit is not as important as the fact that I can write about knitting so that someone else can understand.”
Perhaps even more important: Okey can talk about publishing so that others can understand. Interviewed just after this summer’s American Library Association conference, where she was able to discuss her distribution options with industry suppliers and meet with IBPA executive director Angela Bole, the Cooperative Press founder enthused, “I feel more energized than ever!”
Now a member of the IBPA board, Okey adds: “It’s no good being a hyper-opinionated person in the wilderness! I wanted to join up with like-minded colleagues to help change, promote, and otherwise evangelize for the rapidly changing and (to my mind) improving conditions in the publishing world.”
Linda Carlson writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she knits without attitude (or much aptitude).
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