We didn’t start an indie press because we thought it would be easy; we did it because we love books, we have training in editing and marketing, and we wanted to create a welcoming space for writers. We wanted to create a transparent, fair, and safe company for authors to work with. When Mythos & Ink opened its doors in 2018, we began to accomplish what we set out to do.
We published our first books, working with some amazing authors. As we began to grow, my business partner and I brought on two more fabulous partners, and they were ecstatic about our vision for excellence and community. Slowly, writers and readers became familiar with our name, and people seemed to like what we were doing.
But publishing books is difficult, because profit margins are slim. Most of our authors split royalties 50/50 with us, which is much higher than you’d get with a traditional press. This sounds great, but here’s an idea of what those numbers look like in reality—
For a $20 paperback, the total profit is about $1. That means $0.50 to us, $0.50 to the author. Producing the book (the costs of cover art, copy editing, and proofreading) costs between $1500 and $3000. So in order for this book to make a profit (not even considering marketing and my time in content editing and art directing), we need to sell anywhere between 1500 and 3000 copies. For an indie press, that’s a lot.
Considering the above numbers, you can understand why many small publishers compromise on quality, such as using mediocre cover art, or why they rush out 50 books per year so those dollars start adding up.
However, we refused to sacrifice quality, and instead, my editorial assistant and I started to do all the rounds of editing ourselves (normally, I would just do developmental/line editing, because that’s my specialty, and we would hire a copy editor and proofreader). I also did some cover art and design myself. We sacrificed our time instead of the quality of our products and published two to four books per year.
At the end of 2021, we started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We had some money in the bank—not much, but enough to acquire two new authors (who we were really excited about) and continue to market our current list. Our podcast was gaining listeners. Books were slowly selling. The staff, who had been working our butts off for years, might even be able to draw small salaries in a couple more years.
However, I was getting burnt out from doing seven jobs at once. Literally—I was editorial director (plus acquisitions editor, developmental editor, copy editor, and proofreader), art director, administrator, layout artist, graphic designer, social media manager, and podcast co-host). This is the reality of running a small business, and the other staff were also doing multiple things plus working full time jobs to pay their bills. But I couldn’t go on with the amount I was doing. Something needed to change. So we began discussing bringing more people on board to share the load.
Then, WHAM. An unexpected email from IngramSpark, our distributor, arrived. “You owe us $5000, because someone ordered a bunch of your books and then returned them,” they said (paraphrased).
Here’s some background on what that means: When you upload a book to IngramSpark, you have the option to set your book to returnable. If a book is returnable, bookstores are more likely to stock physical copies of it; because, if the copies don’t sell, they can just return them to the publisher. We wanted the opportunity for our authors’ books to be in physical stores, so we had decided to take the risk of setting our books to return. We set books in Canada and US to be shipped back to us, and books in other countries to be destroyed if they were returned, because we didn’t want to pay exorbitant amounts of shipping. What we didn’t notice (and this is our bad) is that returns to non-US addresses cost $20 per book, plus the wholesale price of each book. We’re located in Canada, so we’d be paying more than its retail price to ship it back to us.
Here’s something else we didn’t know: Amazon sometimes does this thing where they look at a book that is about to published and say, “Hmm, this book might sell a lot and we want to keep on top of orders, so we’ll order a bunch of copies from IngramSpark just in case and then return them if they don’t sell.” If a book is uploaded to Amazon KDP (which ours are), Amazon prints their own books when orders are made on their website. Thus, they have no real need to do this (that I’m aware of), and this is an incredibly predatory practice where indie presses are concerned.
We suspect that’s what happened with a couple of our books. Fifty-eight copies of one of our graphic novels and fifteen copies of one of our anthologies were returned, resulting in that giant bill.
So, to indie authors and publishers, a word of advice: don’t set your books to return on IngramSpark.
$5000 might not seem like much, but it was a pretty big blow to our little company and set us back years. Because we didn’t have that, we asked IngramSpark if we could pay them back in installments. Sure, they said; but they would freeze our account until it had been paid back in full. Since that was not going to work for us and our authors, we borrowed the money to pay them back.
Drawing salaries in a couple years was now a pipe dream. It would be at least five, possibly ten, more years before any of us staff would be paid for our work. And now we had no money to take on new books or even market our current ones.
After a few months of thinking it over, I decided I couldn’t continue with Mythos. I couldn’t work more than full time for free anymore, and certainly not for 5-10 more years. My husband and I were buying a house, so our financial situation was about to become tighter. I was also just burnt out; I had set aside my own writing and creative projects for years, because I didn’t have time for both them and Mythos.
After much thought and discussion, my business partners made the same decision to leave. Stretched so thin, we just couldn’t do our authors’ books justice. It didn’t seem fair to them or to ourselves to continue. So, with heavy hearts, we’re closing our doors.
I feel like I’m letting our wonderful authors down. I feel like I’m letting myself down. But maybe failure isn’t the terrible thing our society makes it out to be. You could just not try at all and wouldn’t risk anything, but where’s the adventure in that? I hope our publishing journey, our commitment to excellence, quality, and community, has inspired others. We’ve made some mistakes and, hopefully, if you’re an indie author or press reading this, now you won’t make the same ones.
All the well wishes to our authors; you have been fabulous to work with, I will miss editing your creative projects, and I hope your books find great homes and become bestsellers, because, seriously, they rock.
I’m not leaving publishing completely, because books, especially sci-fi and fantasy, have my heart. I’ll still be writing, co-hosting the podcast, and leaning a bit more into my art background by providing cover design and other services for indie authors; you can find me at my website here. Kyle will be spending more time with his family and pursuing new opportunities in marketing and software development. Emma will be continuing her work as a makeup artist, hosting the the podcast, and writing fantasy novels. Christiana will be continuing in their personal career and with the podcast, but can be reached at @christiana_x on Instagram and is always open to chat marketing!
You can hear us talking more in detail about the closure and what we learned running an indie press on the Season 2 finale of the podcast. The podcast will be relaunching with Season 3 on January 4, 2023, and our Discord community for SFF writers will be continuing as well. We are beaten but not destroyed, and our love for stories and the people who make them is undying. I hope to see you there.