Book lovers may not realize how large and monolithic the traditional publishing industry has become in recent decades. Dozens of publishing houses and publishers have closed, merged or been taken over by what has become New York’s “Big Five” – Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – to the detriment , according to some critics, of both authors and readers. In November, the federal government filed a lawsuit to prevent the Big Five from becoming the Big Four after Penguin Random House made a bid to acquire Simon & Schuster. The lawsuit claimed the sale would give what is already the world’s largest publisher “outsized influence” over authors’ pay and what the rest of us can read.
Meanwhile, more and more authors have turned to smaller independent presses or to self-publishing, both of which involve their own freedoms and limitations. It’s a trajectory Kristin Mitchell is aware of now, but didn’t really think about when she started her own small business over the past 25 years – a small, eponymous design boutique nestled on the edge of a stream in the valley of his Mineral Point home.
“I stumbled upon it at the perfect time,” the Verona native says of deciding to start Little Creek Press in 2011 as an extension of Kristin Mitchell Designs, which she founded in 1997 so she could work in home while raising her four children. Although she had designed many books over the years, publishing never crossed her mind until Al Felly, founder of Felly’s Flowers and famous woodcarver, hired her to design a children’s book he wrote in retirement – then asked her to help him figure out how to publish it himself. This launched Mitchell on a crash course that would change his career path.
Over the next 11 years, Little Creek Press published over 150 books. Some have won regional, national or international awards, including a 2014 International Book Award for Coleman’s “Spoke” and five Gold and Silver Midwest Book Awards in 2021.
“I get a lot of people who have been burned,” Mitchell says. “I have people who have been rejected by big publishers, and then I have people who have started self-publishing and are like, ‘I can’t, it’s impossible, I want a be human that I can talk to, that I trust.’ And that’s how I get most of the books.
It’s this relationship building that has helped Mitchell’s model stand out from the rest of the industry. Similar to online-only and so-called “vanity press” businesses in which any author can pay to publish, authors also pay Mitchell to publish their books instead of the other way around. But unlike many of these other companies, Mitchell doesn’t take just any manuscript. The story has to be “really good” and the writers have to be as invested as she knows it is – she knows it will become a close, collaborative relationship. Mitchell also offers extensive support to authors, who would otherwise need to navigate things like obtaining an ISBN barcode, page formatting, design, and determining publishing, printing and of distribution. Mitchell contracts out professional publishers and works with printers and distributors like Ingram and Small Press United to handle all of that stuff, plus design it all herself – all for a one-time, one-time fee that isn’t charged. until the books are in hand.
“I feel like I kind of created my own model based on the best parts of everything,” says Mitchell, who also provides an online platform for authors to sell their books. Depending on whether books are sold through Little Creek’s website, local booksellers, or online retailers like Amazon, authors earn 60-80% of each book’s retail price, compared to 8-15% for traditional publishers. all sizes. Other than HenschelHAUS Publishing, another small, woman-owned press in Milwaukee (which chooses to print fewer titles each year than Mitchell and will therefore send her referrals), Mitchell doesn’t know of any other publisher like Little Creek. As a result, the word spread.
“People are calling from all over the country,” says Mitchell. “But I don’t take all the books – if I did, I’d probably publish 200 books a year.”
Little Creek authors include Trek founder John Burke, Manna Cafe’s Barb Pratzel, Jeff Nania (whose ‘Spider Lake’ won honors from the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards and Midwest Book Awards) ,
Mary Lang Sollinger (whose memoir working on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign won the Chicago Writers Association’s 2020 Book of the Year), and even Madison Magazine’s own columnist John Roach. “People know I’ve put out some really great books,” Mitchell says.
Not bad for someone who never intended to publish books – but not that far off from everything she ever wanted either.
“It may sound corny, but that’s how I see it: I can make people’s dreams come true,” Mitchell says. “How many people can say that about their work? »
Maggie Ginsberg is associate editor of Madison Magazine.
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