Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Alice on Self-Publishing: Hong Kong's Inkstone Books

Alice Clark-Platts writes our monthly column on self-publishing. Here she talks to Peter Gordon, who founded and runs an independent publishing house, Chameleon Press, in Hong Kong. He set up an imprint of Chameleon, Inkstone Books, to enable publication of books of niche interest, mostly from indie authors.

Peter told me that given the relatively few publishers in Hong Kong, once Chameleon was established, he was soon approached by local authors looking for a local publisher. Those authors had some interesting titles but they fell outside the focus of the larger Chameleon Press, meaning that the costs associated with marketing them could potentially outweigh the benefits of the print run.

Chameleon was the first publisher in the region to use print on demand and soon the company developed the ability to do short print runs - a service that no other business could provide in Hong Kong. Short print runs serve much the same objectives as print on demand in that they keep the upfront print costs down. The process is particularly appealing for a small market such as Hong Kong where enough copies can be printed for initial sales and marketing and then further copies can be printed from the proceeds of the first batch, as and when they are required.

Inkstone chooses the books it publishes; the work must be of a certain standard. Books published under Inkstone have the same production values as the Chameleon Press. Even for short print run books, authors are encouraged to use editors and to work to professional design standards. If a book needs to be produced in larger volumes Inkstone takes on more of the production tasks, helping with editorial and design consultation and project management.

Given its local expertise and resources, Inkstone is primarily of use to authors or organisations based in Hong Kong. As experts in the region, Inkstone’s staff can arrange distribution to book stores and assist with coordinating author events. The company is part of the fabric of Hong Kong writing life; it has worked with the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle for several years to put out their annual anthology. This local knowledge is particularly useful for books whose topics and authors are familiar to potential readers.  For example 
Mike Rowse, a Hong Kong personality who became embroiled in a local scandal, wrote up his troubles in No Minister and No, Minister: The True Story of HarbourFest. Almost all the considerable sales of this book were in Hong Kong and it well demonstrates the particular benefits of a Hong Kong-based publisher for Hong Kong-based authors.

In the world of self-publishing, success can come from unexpected quarters. In 2002 Inkstone published The Phenomenon That Was Minder, a guide to the British television series, written by Brian Hawkins. This was an example of a book Inkstone knew had commercial potential but it fell into a tricky place from a marketing perspective. The book has sold well for more than a decade and has, in fact, just been reissued as The Complete Minder.  Brian Hawkins used the success of the book to negotiate a deal with the actor from the series, George Cole, to ghost his autobiography, The World Was My Lobster.

Inkstone has shown that significant sales are possible for self-published books and for books that might be considered niche and fall outside a traditional marketing strategy. Authors should take heart from this and do their research into publishers that can support their work in a particular market. The quality of the work is obviously key, along with a rigorous editing eye and a proper layout. But the moral of the story is that your self-published short print run title could become a best seller – with the support and knowledge of a publishing house such as Inkstone Books.