Editor’s Note: A significant part of the GWA Grows blog mission is to help members know and appreciate each other. In addition to the writers, speakers, and other freelance communicators, GWA is fortunate to have a variety of trade members who are also financial sponsors. Occasionally we will be featuring one of those organizations to learn how GWA members can benefit from this mutual relationship. First up is St. Lynn’s Press.
By Katie Elzer-Peters
Last month I had a candid chat with Paul Kelly, publisher of St. Lynn’s Press. We talked about what it means to be an author in the current book landscape. Paul has worked in the publishing industry for 35 years. He began his career working for a large, big-name publisher in San Francisco. “Our process was very laborious. There were many, many layers to the projects,” he noted. The unwieldy bureaucracy he saw made a lasting impression on him. “I thought ‘If I ever start a publishing house, I want to make everything as simple as possible.’ That’s what we do at St. Lynn’s.”
St. Lynn’s produces books with distinctive topics targeted to highlight specific audiences. The books they publish are designed in terms of trim size/design and content to be equally at home in bookstores as they are in a botanical garden or gift shop. This forethought for marketing potential means St. Lynn’s distribution opportunities are greater than for a typical gardening book.
The process of making a book, from the idea to the hard copy in readers’ hands, takes an enormous amount of work by the author and the publisher. “I like to think of St. Lynn’s press as a service business. Our job is to help people and serve our authors.”
But it takes more than a good physical design to make a best-selling garden book. Authors are expected to be hands-on participants working actively with St. Lynn’s staff when it comes to marketing. Paul and his staff prefer to “work with people who are really jazzed about wanting to write a book. [We want] writers who are interested in expanding their business.” A significant part of this is being in the public eye. Their most successful garden authors are speaking more than 50 times a year and have social media platforms followers in the tens of thousands.
Like all publishers in today’s digital world, Paul acknowledged that sales of the book,
itself, rarely add up to a fortune. It’s a reality for someone who isn’t a big-name author like best-selling suspense writer James Patterson. Unless sales are spectacular, the initial advance garden writers receive may be the only direct compensation they see.
Recognizing this, Paul urges potential writers to look beyond the immediate compensation. “A book is a calling card and it helps to grow a person’s identity. It helps to position them as more of an expert in the field,” he explained. “To me, writing a book today opens up doors that you never would have thought would open. Someone will see your book and talk to you about a cable television show or will ask you to be a regular contributor to their program.” This is how a book can provide secondary income opportunities. “Through speaking,” Paul noted, “an author can really make a nice piece of change to supplement their income.”
What most writers want to know from publishers like St. Lynn’s is, “How do I pitch?” and “What are you looking for?” Paul replied, “What we’re looking for from GWA members is just a good idea. We’re always looking for a good idea.” That’s where the process starts. He noted that people are fitting gardening into their whole lifestyle – they’re foodies so they garden, or they craft so they garden. It’s something they want to integrate into their way of living. “Obviously, content is still king, so copy is important. The writing has to be strong.” Those aspects of pitching a book have been the same forever.
What has changed in recent decades in the publishing world is that the potential author must be an active participant in the marketing of the book. It’s important for people pitching to St. Lynn’s to understand this. He said, “Give us a brief outline of what the book is about and tell us about your background. We have to know that there is an audience for your book that might have heard of you.”
Whenever I get the chance to speak with someone who runs a business, I always want to hear their philosophy about how to be successful. I was really interested in Paul’s answer. “I started thinking about how lawyers have ‘law practices,’ a doctor has a ‘medical practice.’ The word ‘practice’ means you’re trying to get better at something. I’ve had that mindset that as a publisher—we’re practicing. We’re a practicing publisher. We have made mistakes and we’ve had growing pains, and we’re looking to try to do better every single day.”
There’s no doubt that GWA members, whether freelance or trade, are all just trying to make their way in the complex, changing world of communications. Paul concluded by saying, “Things are going to happen that you don’t expect, and you learn from it, you grow from it, realize there’s a gift in it, and just move on.” Wise words for us all.
Meet the Author
GWA member Katie Elzer-Peters is a freelance writer, editor, and marketer. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she reads literary fiction and trash, paddleboards,
gardens, and takes her dogs for walks. Her website suffers from “cobbler’s son has no shoes” syndrome, but if you want to talk business, you can reach her at Katie@thegardenofwords.com.