Episode 29: The Prospect of Small Press Publishing with Colleen Dunn Bates

July 19, 2016

Today on the show we have Colleen Dunn Bates, publisher, founder, and editor of Prospect Park books (the Pasadena company, not the NYC one). Here’s a bio from www.prospectparkbooks.com

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Publisher, founder, and editor Colleen Dunn Bates started her career by studying journalism at USC. She’s worked as a writer and editor in radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. It’s the book business that stuck. She started Prospect Park Books in 2006 with the publication of the first edition of Hometown Pasadena. A sixth-generation Southern Californian (yes, that means she surfs), Colleen takes great offense when New Yorkers mock Angelenos as airheads who don’t read. The mother of two adult daughters and the wife of the editor/producer of the TV comediesThe Comeback and 2 Broke Girls, the longtime Pasadena resident is an emeritus board member of PubWest and the LA restaurant critic forWestways magazine. Here she is on LinkedIn, here’s an amusing profile of her in Booklist, here’s a Q&A with her on novelist Caroline Leavitt’s blog, and here’s a Black Hill Press podcast interview in which she rambles on about publishing.

Colleen is celebrating her 10 year anniversary of Prospect Park this year, and in that time they’ve published over 50 books, and grown a small press into a viable business. I love the voice that comes through on Prospect Park’s website. Here’s a really awesome passage on why they do what they do:


— We love creating great books and finding them the audience they deserve. It’s just plain fun.

— We also love being businesspeople, so we take the business part seriously. We’re showing that book publishing can be a strong, successful business.

— Our writers, designers, booksellers, sales reps, and marketing folks are just plain good people. Smart, funny, generous, and a joy to work with.

— We get to deduct the cost of buying books from our income taxes.

Do you see that? Even though this can be a stuffy section, Colleen added depth, humor, and a unique voice to her park. When you read these words you really hear their unique voice.

I really dug talking to Colleen. This is the kind of ideal interview that merges creativity and business perfectly. My favorite part of this interview was when we talked about how she promotes all her books. It’s around 30 minutes in and its pure gold. She lays out everything from advance galley copies all the way through second and third galleys, getting blurbs, and building an audience.

What I really love about Colleen is how she broke everything down to its smallest bits. We talked about why it’s important for an author to have an audience, how authors can be more appealing to publishers, and why book covers are so important.

This is one of the biggest problems with books from self and small publishers. They have no attention to what makes the book unique, and why anybody should buy it. At its core, the cover of a book should speak to the audience that will buy the book. If your book is a cozy mystery, it should feel like a cozy mystery. If your book is a literary masterpiece the cover should feel like that. The judge a book by its cover cliché is so true because what you see on the cover is what you should expect inside the book. The cover should speak to the intended audience for a book.

More importantly, when you see a good book cover, it shows that the author cares about the quality of what they are presenting and gives a good indication that the book inside will be quality. Maybe it’s crap, but there is no other visual way to decide if you like a book on the spot.

Does a good book cover guarantee sales? No. But if you have a bad book cover you have to fight so much in order to make sales. You want people to easily buy your book. It’s hard enough to get somebody to part with their money. If you have a bad cover design, or poor editing, or no social media presence, you have to fight uphill so hard in order to make the sale.

And social media and marketing is something we touched on a lot with Colleen. While having no social doesn’t mean you won’t get a publisher, having one definitely helps. Here’s the thing. You have to fight against my existing publishing slate, plus all the books I want to publish, plus all the books I’m determined to publish just to get onto my stack. That’s a lot of fighting. When you come to me, or Colleen, you need to have everything in a nice little bow. Colleen doesn’t know you. All she can see if the merits of the book.

It’s hard enough to make a good book. If you’ve made a great book you are now in the game. In fact, the great book is the baseline for everything. So if you have a great book, then we can talk about publishing. However, I need to know a lot more before I make that commitment. We need to know how you’ll sell it and whether it can sell…because this is a business to us.

Just remember as you fight through this wild world of publishing, make it once and you can sell it forever.

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One comment on “Episode 29: The Prospect of Small Press Publishing with Colleen Dunn Bates

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