How New Translation Presses Succeed [Subscriptions]

Being a youngish translation press finding its way in the rough world of publishing, we here at Two Lines Press are always interested to see how other new translation presses are doing their work. This was part of our motivation for interviewing Will Evans of new translation press Deep Vellum for our That Other Word podcast (our other motivation was to help out anyone who, like Will, has decided to just start his or her own press).

Today I see that Stefan Tobler, the man behind the incredible new translation press And Other Stories (and a great translator in his own right), has a post up at English PEN about how he has managed to make it to his press’s third birthday. Not surprisingly, grants and non-profit status play a large role in his business model. He also highlights another aspect of the business that may not get quite as much attention but sure is important:

With funding and sales uncertain, an area of support that has been invaluable to us from the start is subscriptions. We now have around 700 people subscribing in advance to each of our books. I had seen some American publishers like Open Letter Books and Ugly Duckling Presse offer subscriptions of their books and remembered subscribers’ names at the back of some very, very old library books and it seemed like something we could do and link to a community of readers, writers and translators. To show our genuine gratitude for their up-front support, we thank subscribers by name in the back of the books; send them their books in advance of the retail publication date; invite them to special social and literary events for subscribers; give them free tickets to public events (such as Villalobos’ Rich Mix event) and extra goodies now and then (for example, postcards designed by our authors). It is a club of like-minded people whose broad support allows us to take creative risks and not be reliant on investors’ agendas.

Indeed, subscriptions are an awesome thing for a young press, for so many reasons: first and foremost, it’s incredibly gratifying and inspiring to know that there are people out there who trust our literary judgment enough that they’ll read whatever we decide to publish. That endorsement is a big thing, and it certainly makes us want to publish the best books possible.

From a more business-minded perspective, it’s also incredibly important to know that X number of books have, in effect, already been sold before we publish them. That gives so much more latitude to a press that wants to do a difficult-to-sell title, simply knowing that we’ll have to sell that many books less to break even, so that we can live to publish for another year.

But perhaps the coolest thing about subscriptions is how they let us establish relationships with our core fan-base—and find interesting new ways to say “thank you” whenever we can. One thing that we at Two Lines Press are working on right now is a special bonus for our 2013 subscribers, those brave souls who have been good enough to take a chance on us in our first year of operations (hint, hint, you can still get in on this really cool item if you choose to take out a subscription). I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but it will be good, and it will be in the mail before too, too much longer . . .

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