Publishing, the Cooperative Way (Part 3 of 3)

You’re here, at Book View Café.  That means that you love great books, at great prices, written by great authors.  But do you really know about Book View Café?  Do you understand who we are, how we started, how we get great books to you?  This three-part series (originally published in Romance Writers Report, explains publishing, the co-operative way!  Part 1 described our history — how we came to be the publisher we are today.  Part 2 described our current book production process, explaining how we create the professional books we love sharing with you.  Part 3 describes how we divide up the work and what waits for us in the future.

But Really, Who Does the Work?

Book View Café could not function without thousands of hours of volunteer service from its members.  Of course, we need a volunteer to manage the volunteers.  That task falls to me.  I keep a list of all volunteer positions within the organization.  On a monthly basis, I note which are currently empty, and I circulate the list of our needs to our members.  I also monitor which members seem likely to be “burning out” through over-commitment, and I query them to determine whether they need relief.

Most of our members handle multiple volunteer positions.  Frequently, members serve both in book production capacities (editors, proofreaders, ebook formatters, etc.) and in “service” capacities (directors or officers of the co-op, administrators of various types).  New members are encouraged to participate in the group discussion lists and forum for a couple of months before they’re asked to assume official volunteer responsibilities.

Chris Dolley, one of directors and our first New York Times bestselling author with his memoir French Fried, describes our cooperative venture this way:  “We find that cooperation works surprisingly well.  Part of this comes down to our selection procedure where ‘plays well with others’ is seen as an essential prerequisite to membership.  Plus, volunteering is catching.”

To date, we’ve never experienced the uncomfortable situation of a member “free-loading”, consuming services without offering something in exchange.  In fact, our members are more likely to express the opposite concern.  Sherwood Smith speaks for many when she describes her greatest challenge with regard to Book View Café is “making sure that I do my bit, and don’t keep someone waiting.  That can mean my own work taking a backseat.”

We’ve likely avoided free-loaders because we take great care to explain our model to new applicants, detailing the group’s needs and expectations.  Many authors who initially express interest in joining the co-op choose not to do so once they realize the group’s high expectations.

Of course, we recognize that members’ ability to contribute fluctuate, due to outside stresses.  We have had various members go on hiatus as they grapple with illness, divorce, or other major life upheaval.  For less dire time restrictions, we all take advantage of the forum topic “On The Road Again”, where we record when we’ll be unavailable for co-op work, due to travel for pleasure or business.

What Waits in the Future?

Five years ago, no one in Book View Café could have predicted the current size of our organization or our penetration into various markets as a publisher of quality books.  It’s exciting to imagine where we might be in another five years.

We’re already expanding into print publication, recognizing that not all readers have made the leap to electronic publications.  At the moment, some individual members are publishing print versions of their Book View Café electronic books.  In the near future, we intend to have preferred formats and a production process to streamline the generation of print books.

We are currently debating how much we want to grow (in number of members), recognizing that administrative burdens might expand more rapidly than resources if we grow too large too fast.  Our consensus model of self-governance is particularly sensitive to group size, particularly because all of our communication is conducted electronically.  We continue to refine our use of Yahoo groups and the forum, and we frequently discuss other modes of communication that might serve our group even better.

We are also memorializing our long-standing agreements, placing them in writing to best preserve all members’ rights.  Typically, these contracts result in many long discussions, where members hash out their specific understandings of the general practices we’ve undertaken for years.  In the future, we’re likely to rely on even more written agreements, because of our increase in size and our obligations as a formal corporation.

Perhaps Patricia Rice (Notorious Atherton) sums up our aspirations best, when asked what she sees the group doing in five years:  “Publishing and distributing print books, doing more extensive promotion, and expanding to an even wider group of authors with immense backlists that deserve to see the light of day again.  We’re on the ground floor of creating a publishing house as so many brilliant writers and editors did at the beginning of the 20th century.  Publishing, 21st century style, is here.”

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Publishing, the Cooperative Way (Part 3 of 3) — 1 Comment

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