Intimate university print venture produces genre-bending works on the cheap
Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω
You might know that TRU is home to a meat store, lavish botanical gardens and a place to adopt a furry friend. You also may have read about the possibility of a brewery on campus. But you may not have known that Old Main has quietly been playing host a small publishing company.
In 2012, Ashok Mathur started the Centre for Innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada Press (CiCAC Press). Described as an innovative, progressive, author-driven publishing company, CiCAC has helped five authors (so far) see their work professionally printed.
This isn’t the first time Mathur has been involved with the world of publishing.
“I have organized various publishing ventures over the years, poetry and art-based alike, always small ventures that attempted to fill niches left vacant by larger presses,” he said.
“I see CiCAC Press as less of a company, [and more of] a series of publishing projects.”
CiCAC Press, like many start-up companies, is funded by a credit card. TRU has not contributed any money to the business, but Mathur notes he hasn’t asked for funding, either. The university has, however, given him the space to support his business.
“There is mutual support since TRU can benefit from having such an imprint within its structure,” Mathur said.
Mathur makes no profit from running the company, he simply wanted to launch a small press venture that would be helpful and productive for authors.
“I love working closely with [the author] to make things happen.”
Mathur enjoys being part of the publishing process. He said the multiple dimensions, of editing and designing and seeing the final product, are what keeps this project interesting to him.
For authors looking to try something new, and maybe put out an attractive book and get paid relatively well for their efforts, working with a small publisher seems to be the way to go.
“In traditional publishing, the author is usually given a contract that pays royalties of 10 per cent of the list price,” Mathur said. “A trade paperback often lists for around $20. At 10 per cent of list, each sold copy nets the author about $2.
“If the books sells 1,000 copies in a year, which would be considered a remarkable success, as average fiction sales in Canada are much lower, the author earns $2000. If the book is a runaway success and sells 10,000 copies, the author earns $20,000. Sounds good until you factor in that many authors might work several years for that one book.”
Because CiCAC doesn’t require the office space, staff or supplies a larger publishing company does, Mathur is able to offer higher royalties to his authors.
“I can print as few as 100 copies with unit prices as low as $2 per book. I’ve been doing print runs of 200 and managing all sales through the author, which is the best way to get a book out to a public. If we do a run of 200 at $3 per book the run costs me $600. We retail the book for $15 a copy, so we have to sell 40 copies to break even. That leaves us with 160 copies to generate revenue. If the author can sell even just 100 copies, then the author makes $1,500.
Mathur didn’t intend to get rich when he started CiCAC Press. In fact, by the time labour and time is factored into the work he does, he’s in the red.
“But that’s okay. This was a way to bring new authors into publication,” he said.
TRU professor of English and modern languages Karen Hofmann was one of CiCAC’s first three authors (all of whom were students and staff of TRU). Hofmann published a children’s book with the help of Mathur and CiCAC Press.
“Mathur and his team, who did the production at CiCAC, were very good to work with. There was a lot of interaction on editing and design, which is great for an author. I found meticulous attention to detail and aesthetics.”
Part of the appeal was that it wouldn’t cost her an arm and a leg to get her book printed.
“A small, local company has the advantage of being able to do things outside of the mainstream, and that can be good for an author who has something that doesn’t fit a subgenre precisely. There have always been small, independent publishers, but the possibilities have opened up with desktop publishing platforms and online marketing. Authors with something out of the ordinary should investigate the smaller presses.”
“I wanted to experiment with genre, and they were looking to experiment as well, and the overhead costs were low enough that we could do that.”
Mathur said he’s looked at a variety of genres, but he’s really interested in works of any kind with some sort of social justice agenda.
“I’m not interested in entering the fray of going through unsolicited manuscripts,” Mathur said.
“I talk to folks, see what’s out there and see how this particularly niche press might be useful.”
Mathur admits that for those looking to get into (or already seriously involved in) the book industry, this business model may not be as useful. For those who are looking for a new project and are inclined to do some self-promoting, CiCAC may be a perfect fit.