Barnes & Noble,  Borders, and thousands of small and independent book stores are struggling to pay their bills, including bills to publishers. Big commercial publishers are still in sticker shock that the old profit margins and traditional ways of doing business are gone.

But everyone loves books.   Even GE.  Their extension of credit to Barnes & Noble to keep things alive a few more months in this topsy turvey book world is encouraging news.

Books are alive and well. Publishers are struggling to find cost effective ways to put the right books in the right hands of the right readers at the right time. Readers are eager, hungry and waiting for better books.

Increasingly you see new ways of working the book business to insure high quality books make it into the marketplace of ideas in ways never before imagined. New ways of thinking about how to structure the professional responsibilities, risks, rights and returns on investment are beginning to appear everywhere in the publishing business. 

One case study involves a small, independent publisher known for their elegant book craftsmanship partnering with their co-authors who market and distribute the book.

Six Mile Creek Press of Ithaca, NY, is a small high quality press run by Harry Littelll, Chair of the Photography Dept. at Tompkins County Community College, and Ron Ostmun, Ph.D., retired Cornell University Professor of Communications. Mary Jordan and Joyce Hatch formed Jane Marie Books and are marketing and distributing their book, Dear Friend Amelia. This beautiful story based on local civil war letters from a private soldier home to his lady friend, Amelia, is illustrated with civil war artifacts and Mathew Brady photographs never published before.

The authors and publishers brought their strengths to this project in an innovative business model for getting this very significant book into circulation.[ I’ve put a link to Jane Marie Books on my blogroll.]

Authors and publishers need to brush aside the old, traditional stereotypes about the book business and begin to collaborate in new ways to partnership in the successful publication of books.

Authors can expect to financially invest in the future sucess of their publication. From copyright permission fees, to cover design and artwork, and the list goes on and on; the author is responsible for most of the up front manuscript production costs.

Frankly, there are no advances anymore unless you have already sold millions of copies of books. So it’s a whole new game of risk. The rules have changed and so have the odds.

Authors sell books. Unless an author can demonstrate they a) have a product that will sell itself b) have a marketing strategy that includes their website and blog and that they have built a platform that will turn an audience into sales and c) take some of the financial risk in production expenses it is hard to convince even a small publisher to bank on your book. Hard news for most authors to swallow. Pride gets swallowed alot in the business of publishing.

For authors whose motivations for publication are to make a small fortune and retire, I suggest they sign up for summer training at the Green Bay Packers camp because they have a better chance to make this NFL roster to achieve these driving forces. Nobody makes a fortune anymore in writing and you better be retired to afford the time it is going to take you working on getting published. And after publication. It’s really a full time gig. Hard to find the time to actually write long when an author is expected to blog, facebook, tweet, and have a writing profile on a website.

The greatest investment is your time, but don’t be a sticky wicket. To get a contract, start blogging. To get book sales, build upon your built-in reading public! Pull the readers to your book. Pull them to your website and convert them into customers.

People talk about books. And they talk about the authors. It’s part of the pleasure of reading the book is getting to know the authors.

Friends tell each other what they’ve been reading. Suggestions get passed around. Stories discussed. Ideas tossed around. There is an untapped community of dedicated readers and book buyers that will live on for generations who are not presently served by the market. Readers, writers and publishers need to work together to make this happen.

It’s inspiring to see new business ventures emerge in the book business. New ways that build upon what has come before in the successful marketing of new titles; word of mouth recommendations and social networking.

It’s inspiring to see this story from 150 years ago given its credence in an exquisite hardcover illustrated book. While based on a local boy’s observations, it’s a national treasure for understanding the meaning of this war and others. It’s local. Local story, local authors, local press, local distributor. Now locally available.