Today I’m going to propose a structure for Rapscallion.
I announced a few days back my plans to launch a ‘seed publishing’ operation, helping talented indie writers to work together, share resources, build credibility through association, and reach the widest possible market. A number of you posted excellent questions and responses, helping me to clarify my thoughts.
What I’m presenting today is imperfect, and will be further modified in the coming weeks – but it serves as the basis for discussion. This time I am asking for your views. Where can you see weaknesses in the approach?
Let’s start with the core skills needed for an effective team. I’ve listed on the left expertise that would have helped me as I brought my novel to the market. It’s a combination of the support I might have expected to get from an agent and a publisher, had I trodden the traditional route. The length of the list is some indication of how difficult it is to do everything alone.
As an aside, I imagine that some of you will be thinking that if I need standard agency/publisher skills, why not look for an agent and a publisher? Three reasons. I want to do it now, on a schedule that suits me, not others. Second, I want to retain as much control as possible, and have the ability to experiment and innovate. And third, some of the core skills are not currently provided by most agents and publishers – for example, guidance on web and blog design, which I’d rate amongst the most important marketing tools.
The first skills listed are self-evident, a few would only be required in some cases (such as voices and musicians – only, I imagine for audio books), but some need further explanation:
- Legal/Financial Advisors – to make sure that this international operation is properly and efficiently structured, and to help members to negotiate contracts with third parties when the time comes.
- Bloggers – to design and then maintain the Rapscallion blogs, one a dynamic shared resource for members, and the other an interactive site where we engage with (and sell to) readers.
- Researchers – all members will be expected to share and publish their research … for example, perhaps you’ve been researching POD companies, or have found a great reviewer, or a cheaper way for us to get ISBNs …
- Publicists – people who know how to manage an effective PR campaign, whether for Rapscallion or for an author.
- Marketers – in particular people who have their finger on the pulse of the latest publishing trends.
- Administrators – to make sure that sales are tracked, royalties paid on time … and for dozens of other small but important jobs.
- Specialists – as required, people who can verify specialist/technical content in a book.
- Critics – not just literary critics, but people we can trust to give a contrary (but balanced) view when we’re hopelessly optimistic.
- Influencers – people who would help to give weight and credence to the imprint; or who have significant influence with major publishers.
What else? Tell me.
Let me now show you the proposed Rapscallion structure, and explain how everything fits together.
What you see here is a very simple business structure with three layers – a strategic level, operational management, and a set of small independent cells – what management guru Tom Peters might call skunkworks operations.
Strategic Management – The Think-Tank
The role would be to set and approve strategy and (later) budgets. I envisage five or six people in the team – and between them, I would want most of the core skills to be represented. They would not necessarily be writers. Committed readers would add value in the same way that non-executive directors in a business can often provide an invaluable objective, and perhaps consumer-oriented view.
The Think-Tank would be a sounding-board for the operational manager(s) and would regularly review the performance of the management team and the organization as a whole. They might expect to contribute around 15 hours a month to Rapscallion.
I’ll move next to the bottom of the organization chart – what I’ve called writer cells (- and yes the pun is intentional).
Why Writer Cells?
Let’s use a simple example, my situation right now. I’m marketing a novel that fits broadly into an “international” category. Forget the literary fiction tag that I’m stuck with at the moment. My book is likely to appeal to people who think internationally. So where will I find readers? Probably readers of the Christian Science Monitor would like it. In paperback, it would probably be a good airport book. If I can plug into expatriate networks on the web, that’ll be helpful too.
But think how much more effectively I could make an impact if alongside mine, there were 3-4 other novels under the same imprint that would appeal to the same kind of reader. That wouldn’t be competition, but reinforcement – establishing loyalty to the brand. So if I were the leader of the ‘International’ cell, my job would be to headhunt other indie writers I admire with the same kind of market appeal, and persuade them to join Rapscallion.
What would writers get by participating?
- The experience and knowledge of the Rapscallion team.
- The strength of the brand – credibility, which will grow as we deliver more outstanding books.
- Editing and preparation of the book for publication.
- Preparation for e-publishing, if the writer chose this route to market
- Guaranteed early reviews, and assuming writers have been invited to join because our team thinks their work outstanding, they’d be good reviews.
- Positioning alongside books that attract similar readers.
- Assistance and ideas for the marketing plan.
Importantly though, final decisions on format, pricing, sample material, etc would continue to be decisions made by each individual writer. And writers would be free to leave Rapscallion at any time (following exit procedures that are clear and fair to all), if they felt they would do better elsewhere.
What would be required from the writer?
- Conformity with Rapscallion’s branding standards (although cover design decisions would be left to the writer).
- X reviews of other Rapscallion books per year.
- Participation in the Rapscallion blog.
- Constant promotion of the Rapscallion brand – through email signatures, blog and Facebook links, etc.
Above all, we’d be looking for people who are prepared to spend a few hours a week promoting their own books and, at the same time, Rapscallion. To take an analogy from basketball, we really wouldn’t be interested in players who just wanted to take all the free throws – no matter how talented they may be; we need people who are willing to play the whole match with the team.
What would it cost?
This is difficult. Nothing up-front for sure, or at least not if the writer just required the standard services listed above. But my inclination would be to suggest that a percentage of royalties should be deducted. Some of this would be paid to the leader of the cell the writer belongs to (- we’ll go into more detail later). This would have a two-fold effect. First the cell leaders would be paid for the work they do. (What work? Again, details below.) Second, this would encourage team-leaders to select their members wisely – choosing books that complement their own and which are likely to be well-received by readers.
The writer would also be able to purchase additional services from the Rapscallion store, if required. If for example, they wanted help with art-work or photography, or specific legal advice. The store would include services offered by other members, and those provided by recommended third parties. In such cases, payment would probably be required with purchase.
How would the teams be managed?
By their team-leaders, who would generally select their own team-members. Teams would be limited to 4-5 writers, and the leaders would be personally take responsibility for making the standard Rapscallion services available to team-members – editing, preparing for e-publication, assisting with marketing, etc
How would we control this? Our team leaders need to be trained, and approved … And it’s time to turn our attention to Rapscallion’s management layer …
The Creative Director(s)
Day-to-day management of the organization would be in the hands of the Creative Director, reporting to the Think-Tank and responsible for maintaining quality and stimulating innovation within the writer cells.
- Training for potential team-leaders – so that they can deliver the standard services; those who prove to us that they have the skills and qualities to maintain a Writer Cell will be authorized to do so.
- Ongoing assistance for authorized team-leaders.
- Right of veto over potential team-members whose work does not meet Rapscallion standards (- with a right of appeal by the team-leader to the Think-Tank; the Creative Director would ask the Think-Tank for a second opinion, if uncertain).
- Final approval required on any Rapscallion material to be published – whether books or blogs.
- Resource co-ordinator
- Creative ideas generator
Just as in any business, the operational manager’s success will be judged by his/her ability to make money for the enterprise, and therefore for its author-members. But even more important we’ll need to be able to measure the amount of exposure our writers are getting, and whether they are attracting the attention of the publishing majors.
Expansion of the role
In the organization chart above, I’ve included three notional Writer’s Cells. The objective of course, in order to build the imprint’s credibility, would be to stimulate the formation of far more Cells … as long as we keep identifying talented writers and find people who are prepared and qualified to be team-leaders. Even with three or four cells to support, it’s likely that the Creative Director will have a full-time job, and as more cells are formed, we’re likely to need more than one person in this position. There could then be a requirement for one more level – someone to co-ordinate the activities of all the creative directors.
And, given that theirs will be a full-time job, we’ll probably need to find a way to pay the creative directors. Where will that money come from? Well, I haven’t done the math yet, but suppose we had an arrangement along these lines? From their net royalty income, writers would pay a 20% deduction to Rapscallion. 10% would go to their team leader. The other 10% would go to a Rapscallion fighting fund, administered by the Think-Tank. From this an agreed salary would be paid to the creative director(s), always assuming that Rapscallion income was greater than the salary – if the managers failed to run the business well therefore, they’d fail to make their salary. A little different from the banks!
Where would a royalty arrangement like this leave the author? In a much better position, relatively speaking, than in an agent/publisher relationship, where after deductions, authors typically earn less than 8% of the published price.
I’d like your views on this idea of royalty sharing – and then we’ll do the math properly. I’ll also show you typical indie author royalties, for self-publishing, POD and e-publishing, so you can see the full picture.
We’re some weeks (if not months) away from cutting the tape on Rapscallion. Before we go into full operation, there are procedures to be written and agreed, and right now, a good deal of market testing. As you may have noticed, that’s already started. So next time, I’ll tell you how you could participate in the test phase.