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Riverdale Avenue Books Acquires Circlet Press: Publisher Lori Perkins Still Believes In The World Of Book Publishing, Both Print & Digital, Just In An Innovative Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher, Lori Perkins…

March 16, 2020

“The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.” … Lori Perkins

The innovative hybrid publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books, has just acquired the assets of independent publisher Circlet Press. Riverdale Avenue Books will obtain the complete backlist and republish Circlet’s catalogue under Riverdale’s new Circlet imprint.

Publisher Lori Perkins, owner of Riverdale Avenue Books said she is thrilled to be acquiring Circlet Press and can’t wait to reposition and relaunch the over 170 titles Circlet has. Cecilia Tan, founder of Circlet, will remain on staff to edit Circlet’s upcoming titles and Circlet’s entire backlist will remain in print.

I spoke with Lori recently and we talked about this bold move and how excited she is to bring Circlet under her wing:

“I’ve known Circlet and I’ve known the books. They’ve had their life and they’re good books, but they were marketed specifically to the science-fiction, fantasy and erotic reader. And some of these books have a wider audience. And we’re going to reposition and relaunch them and see if we can find that. And it’s really exciting.”

So, please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows her way around the world of publishing and is determined to prove that books and reading will never go away – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lori Perkins, publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she’s buying when many other book publishing companies are trimming down or even closing: We’re a small, boutique publishing company. We have very low costs. Every single one of our books makes back the money that we put into it, so it’s fine for us to keep on publishing. We’ve bought another company, so these books already exist. We cover and promote them, but it’s not like we’re doing it from scratch. I know these books well, Cecilia (Tan) and I have been colleagues for probably two decades.

On why she decided to buy a book publishing company in this digital age: I’ve been in publishing for 30 years. The cost for entry used to be exorbitant. And once digital books came along it was possible to start a publishing company with a tenth of what it used to cost. And because I know publishing, like I said, I’ve been in it for a long time, it’s not a new business for me. There are parts of publishing that I felt was too expensive. I had been a newspaper editor-publisher decades before and one of the changes that happened with digital was that publishing could go from being a 9-5, Mon.- Fri. business to basically being a 24 hr. business and you could do things quicker, get books out sooner, almost like newspapers.

On whether she feels publishing more niche titles is the future of print and digital book publishing: That’s part of it, but there’s now two distinct publishing markets. The big publishers really need books that will sell 25,000 copies and more in order to break even because their overhead is so high. And you can see they’re doing these big, splashy celebrity books that kind of come with an audience. And then there’s self-publishing or small publishing, easy publishing, where the cost is much less. If it costs you $2,000 to do a book, then you could sell 200 copies and break even. And that’s what’s happening.

On where the money comes from for her: Well, there’s really multiple SKU’s of revenue. We have bookstores; we have digital platforms, and it’s not just Amazon. There’s iTunes,  Smashwords, Overdrive and Hoopla are library sales, which is a completely different kind of reader. We have audio sales; there are foreign rights, film rights; there are multiple streams of revenue for a book.

On why she decided to go specifically into the science fiction, erotica, romance genre: It’s a very large selection. We do fiction and non-fiction. We are the leading LGBT publishing company in the country. We do sports, memoir and lifestyle. We have an imprint specifically for women over 35, so it’s not just genre. We have a pop culture imprint and we just started the Bingewatchers Guide in print, which is a pop culture line to guide you through binging through TV shows and movie series. And we have a mystery line too. These are things that we know does have a niche audience, that’s really what it comes down to.

On whether she feels the reading experience differs when you read a book in print, digital or hear it on audio: Not really. When I read the very large Stephen King novel, 11/22/63, it was 1,100 pages and I don’t have a lot of free time. I bought it in print; I had it on CD for driving; and I had it on my Kindle. I would go from device to device to device to get through the book. And I don’t think it changed the experience. I preferred to read it on the Kindle because the physical book was so big I couldn’t read it in bed. Actually, I would love if a publisher had a bundle with a discount where I could buy the hardcover, the Kindle and the audio for the book all at once so that I could go through the different ways of reading it.

On whether she has any concerns that certain audiences prefer material on certain platforms: Over the spectrum of the 13 imprints, certain books do better in print than other books. Romance is a very digital audience. So, we don’t sell that many copies in print, but they’re there for people who want to read them or collect them. The LGBT audience is very print oriented, so we sell more copies in print. It’s the same thing with the sports audience; it’s also a very print audience. It’s easy for us to publish both books simultaneously, both formats.

On that “wow” moment she’s had since launching her own publishing company: I don’t think it’s happened yet. (Laughs) We’re like a magazine, we publish 50 books a year. With the Me Too book, it was actually the culmination of my publishing skills, I had been speaking to various women in publishing that I knew and was encouraging them to write essays about Me Too. One of them said to me, Lori, you own a publishing company, why don’t you do a book? And it made me think. So, I contacted all of these authors I knew and I contacted people who had recently done essays and I asked my staff if they would be willing to basically work 24 hrs. to get a book out in eight days, and they said yes. So, we published a book eight days after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. And we published it for free, so it’s available for free.

On why media people aren’t as open to change as they maybe should be: Well, you have to change money. (Laughs) Look at your sales; if your sales are down you have to figure out how to change things, but the wonderful thing about this particular incarnation of publishing is you really can reinvent the wheel every 30 days. There is always a different way because there are so many different and multiple streams of revenue. You can figure out which one to work on and improve it.

On which hat she enjoys wearing the most, that of publisher, corporate head or author: Well, they’re very different skills. I love editing. I was a professor at NYU on and off for 20 years too, so that mentoring is a very important part of who I am. I love getting people published. I love taking something that’s good and making it really better and knowing that I was part of the process of getting it there. It’s a very different experience than writing something from scratch, which I also love. I haven’t been doing quite as much of that; running this company has really taken a lot of my creative energy. I’ve been writing for three decades too, I think I’ve published something like 35 books. But I haven’t published anything in the last year. I know that when I have a story that won’t let go, I’ll sit down and figure out how to make the time to write it and I’ll go to work. But not full-time. (Laughs)

On whether the current editorial environment is a plus or minus for creativity: It’s both. The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.

On how she provides an escape with the books she publishes: What kind of books can I do to make a change? What kind of books can I do to give people an escape? That’s what I do to throw myself into the pop culture. I’m very excited about the Bingewatcher’s Guide. I have wanted to do this book for 20 years. As a literary agent, I sold a lot of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy. I represent Paul Sammon, who wrote the definitive Blade Runner book called Future Noir. He’s made a fortune off of it and it’s still selling 20 years later.

On touching on many pop culture themes: No, only pop culture things that I can edit (Laughs), because if I don’t know the material or the editors that I work with can’t tell me they really know the material, I cannot market it. And marketing is so important to publishing.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: All of that. The publishing company is truly an outgrowth of things that I’m interested in. Some more passionately than others, we haven’t done a cooking book.  And art, I have an art history degree, so I love going to art museums. But all of that. I love to read, I still read for pleasure. Travel, but travel is also work-related. I go to about 13 conferences a year. I went to Cuba last year before it was closed. It was on my bucket list and I’m so glad I did, because that was such an incredible experience.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I think people know that I love books and that I’m trying to make this new way of publishing work, which it is for me, but on a small scale. Perhaps, they think the company is bigger than it is. It’s a good boutique publishing company, but yes, some people often compare me to Simon or Shuster and I’ll tell them, I’m eight years old. Yes, Simon and Shuster could do that, but Lori Perkins at Riverdale Avenue books can’t do that.

On what keeps her up at night: The economy and the changes in our democracy. Those are the things that really keep me up, especially the threats to the First Amendment and from that, if that happens, are we going to be able to continue to publish the books we want to publish or are we going to have to worry about that too.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lori Perkins, publisher, Riverdale Avenue Books.

Samir Husni: Other publishing companies are trimming down, even closing, yet you’re buying. What gives?

Lori Perkins: We’re a small, boutique publishing company. We have very low costs. Every single one of our books makes back the money that we put into it, so it’s fine for us to keep on publishing. We’ve bought another company, so these books already exist. We cover and promote them, but it’s not like we’re doing it from scratch. I know these books well, Cecilia (Tan) and I have been colleagues for probably two decades.

We’re a more traditional publishing company than Circlet was, so we’ll actually be taking these books and hopefully improving their income. It’s a very calculated business decision. And I love the books. I really feel it’s a compatible editorial joining. Our readers know this market and they kind of expect this from us.

Samir Husni: In 2012 you started Riverdale Avenue Books, which was smack dab in the middle of the digital revolution. Why did you decide to buy a book publishing company in this digital age?

Lori Perkins: I’ve been in publishing for 30 years. The cost for entry used to be exorbitant. And once digital books came along it was possible to start a publishing company with a tenth of what it used to cost. And because I know publishing, like I said, I’ve been in it for a long time, it’s not a new business for me. There are parts of publishing that I felt was too expensive. I had been a newspaper editor-publisher decades before and one of the changes that happened with digital was that publishing could go from being a 9-5, Mon.- Fri. business to basically being a 24 hr. business and you could do things quicker, get books out sooner, almost like newspapers.

Traditional publishing has a lead time of 18 months, that’s too long. To make a book relevant or trendy you need a much smaller window. Traditional publishing had too many people and too much time off to really meet the need of a reader in that way. It used to be they would tell popular authors like Nora Roberts and Stephen King just write a book a year. Well, we’ve shown that readers will read 20 books by an author if they can write 20 books during that time. Now I’m not saying Stephen King and Nora Roberts should do that, but many of these romance authors do indeed write a book a month because they also see writing as a job where they’re working 40 hours per week writing. As a journalist, if you’re good, with 40 hours a week, you’re going to produce more than one book per year.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the future of books, both in print and in digital, is going to be very niche, such as with magazines? In your case, with Riverdale, you have 13 different imprints and it would appear the more specialty titles you have, the better. Do you feel that’s a glimpse of the future?

Lori Perkins: That’s part of it, but there’s now two distinct publishing markets. The big publishers really need books that will sell 25,000 copies and more in order to break even because their overhead is so high. And you can see they’re doing these big, splashy celebrity books that kind of come with an audience. And then there’s self-publishing or small publishing, easy publishing, where the cost is much less. If it costs you $2,000 to do a book, then you could sell 200 copies and break even. And that’s what’s happening.

But I was between being a newspaper publisher and being a publisher of a small publishing company and I’ve been a literary agent. And one of the things that I’ve always told my office is if you write a book; if you feel there’s an audience for a book, it may only be 50 people, but that’s 50 people who would like what you’re doing. And that’s where self-publishing and indie publishing comes in. If you’re not trying to reach 25,000 people and if you can break even at 200, 600, or 2,000, it becomes viable.

Samir Husni: And with this age of digital printing, you can afford to print 500 or 1,000 copies.

Lori Perkins: Absolutely. Reading is never going to disappear and both fiction and non-fiction have a place in our society. It’s just how we get it and how many copies we get that’s going to change. We see fluctuation in how people read and get information. When digital came there was a big boom in digital, but we’ve seen a return to indie publishers and indie bookstores, so that part of the business has gone back up a little bit. And audio is booming because more people are listening to books that way. So, I think we’ll continue to grow and evolve, but I don’t see book publishing disappearing. I just don’t know about breaking even on 25,000 copies for everything that’s published. I think that model is hard.

Advertising is very difficult now and that used to support the newspaper and magazine business. Today, it’s evolved. And subscriptions have also evolved. There’s so much free content that people don’t want to pay if they can get it free and they expect to get it free. So, where does the money come from?

Samir Husni: Can you answer that for me? In your case, where does the money come from? Unlike the newspaper business, you have one source of revenue.

Lori Perkins: Well, there’s really multiple SKU’s of revenue. We have bookstores; we have digital platforms, and it’s not just Amazon. There’s iTunes,  Smashwords, Overdrive and Hoopla are library sales, which is a completely different kind of reader. We have audio sales; there are foreign rights, film rights; there are multiple streams of revenue for a book.

Samir Husni: When you put your newspaper career on the shelf, why did you specifically decide to go into the science fiction, erotica, romance genre?

Lori Perkins: It’s a very large selection. We do fiction and non-fiction. We are the leading LGBT publishing company in the country. We do sports, memoir and lifestyle. We have an imprint specifically for women over 35, so it’s not just genre. We have a pop culture imprint and we just started the Bingewatchers Guide in print, which is a pop culture line to guide you through binging through TV shows and movie series. And we have a mystery line too. These are things that we know does have a niche audience, that’s really what it comes down to.

And how I went from newspapers to book publishing; I’ve actually always been a word person, so I’ve explored all the different ways of getting words to the public.

Samir Husni: Do you think it differs if I read a book as a print, digital or audio experience?

Lori Perkins: Not really. When I read the very large Stephen King novel, 11/22/63, it was 1,100 pages and I don’t have a lot of free time. I bought it in print; I had it on CD for driving; and I had it on my Kindle. I would go from device to device to device to get through the book. And I don’t think it changed the experience. I preferred to read it on the Kindle because the physical book was so big I couldn’t read it in bed. Actually, I would love if a publisher had a bundle with a discount where I could buy the hardcover, the Kindle and the audio for the book all at once so that I could go through the different ways of reading it.

Samir Husni: You are a publisher; are you offering that bundle?

Lori Perkins: (Laughs) We sell the audio rights, so we’re not in charge of the audio price. We have in the past done the bundle through Amazon with the print and digital, but people don’t seem to want that. They haven’t ordered it from us that way yet.

Samir Husni: Do you have any concerns that certain audiences prefer certain platforms: print over digital or vice versa?

Lori Perkins: Over the spectrum of the 13 imprints, certain books do better in print than other books. Romance is a very digital audience. So, we don’t sell that many copies in print, but they’re there for people who want to read them or collect them. The LGBT audience is very print oriented, so we sell more copies in print. It’s the same thing with the sports audience; it’s also a very print audience. It’s easy for us to publish both books simultaneously, both formats.

Samir Husni: Since you launched your publishing company what was that “wow” moment that happened and made you sit up and take notice?

Lori Perkins: I don’t think it’s happened yet. (Laughs) We’re like a magazine, we publish 50 books a year. With the Me Too book, it was actually the culmination of my publishing skills, I had been speaking to various women in publishing that I knew and was encouraging them to write essays about Me Too. One of them said to me, Lori, you own a publishing company, why don’t you do a book? And it made me think. So, I contacted all of these authors I knew and I contacted people who had recently done essays and I asked my staff if they would be willing to basically work 24 hrs. to get a book out in eight days, and they said yes. So, we published a book eight days after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. And we published it for free, so it’s available for free.

The book has been course adopted and it has won a bunch of awards, but it’s more about being able to get a book out that quickly. I always said that one of the great things about digital publishing is that if we ever had the Pentagon papers it would be out in 24 hrs. And it was wonderful to have the Me Too book out in eight days.

Samir Husni: People in the media love to talk about change, yet they are the last folks to usually change.

Lori Perkins: Well, you have to change money. (Laughs) Look at your sales; if your sales are down you have to figure out how to change things, but the wonderful thing about this particular incarnation of publishing is you really can reinvent the wheel every 30 days. There is always a different way because there are so many different and multiple streams of revenue. You can figure out which one to work on and improve it.

Samir Husni: You are a publisher, head of a company, and an author; which hat do you enjoy wearing the most?

Lori Perkins: Well, they’re very different skills. I love editing. I was a professor at NYU on and off for 20 years too, so that mentoring is a very important part of who I am. I love getting people published. I love taking something that’s good and making it really better and knowing that I was part of the process of getting it there. It’s a very different experience than writing something from scratch, which I also love. I haven’t been doing quite as much of that; running this company has really taken a lot of my creative energy. I’ve been writing for three decades too, I think I’ve published something like 35 books. But I haven’t published anything in the last year. I know that when I have a story that won’t let go, I’ll sit down and figure out how to make the time to write it and I’ll go to work. But not full-time. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Do you think that the current climate we’re living in is a plus or a minus to the creative ability of people to sit down and write?

Lori Perkins: It’s both. The plus is that creative things come out of chaos, so we have some really great art coming out now. Complacency makes you just keep on doing the same thing and difficulties make you see things in new ways. There is some incredible print out there, but also visual, music and many other different formats, it’s an incredibly creative time. The negative is that people get distracted by things that they can’t control and a lot of creative people are depressed.

Samir Husni: How do you provide an escape with your books?

Lori Perkins: What kind of books can I do to make a change? What kind of books can I do to give people an escape? That’s what I do to throw myself into the pop culture. I’m very excited about the Bingewatcher’s Guide. I have wanted to do this book for 20 years. As a literary agent, I sold a lot of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy. I represent Paul Sammon, who wrote the definitive Blade Runner book called Future Noir. He’s made a fortune off of it and it’s still selling 20 years later.

And I would go around to the various mainstream publishers and say you should have a line of non-fiction books about science fiction and fantasy, from movies, interviews; how to write, just all sorts of stuff. And they would always say to me, oh Lori, you’re so funny, nobody wants to read that. But these books do very well. I couldn’t get anybody else to invest in it, so I did it myself for people who want to stay home and binge-watch.

Our first book was Dr. Who; we’re actually doing 11 books on Dr. Who because Dr. Who is a 50-year-old or so show and there’s a lot of material. The next book we’re doing is the films of Harry Potter; we’re doing The Addams Family, Friends, Golden Girls and Downton Abbey. If you’re going to sit home and binge these shows, here’s a book you can read before and after to see all the metaphors and gossip associated with them. And that will bring people tremendous pleasure. This is a very creative project that we’ve invested in.

Even taking on Circlet Press. As I said, I’ve known Circlet and I’ve known the books. They’ve had their life and they’re good books, but they were marketed specifically to the science-fiction, fantasy and erotic reader. And some of these books have a wider audience. And we’re going to reposition and relaunch them and see if we can find that. And it’s really exciting.

Samir Husni: It seems you have almost touched on every pop culture theme out there.

Lori Perkins: No, only pop culture things that I can edit (Laughs), because if I don’t know the material or the editors that I work with can’t tell me they really know the material, I cannot market it. And marketing is so important to publishing.

We started the mystery line and we worked with someone who had been a mystery editor and swore that he would be able to market them. And when the books came out he couldn’t market them to this new audience, and basically said you do the marketing and I told him, I don’t know the mystery market. And that was hard. That was when I realized I had to make a commitment to the material; I personally have to be able to go and sell it on the streets. (Laughs) And if I can’t do that then the book or the series isn’t for me.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Lori Perkins: All of that. The publishing company is truly an outgrowth of things that I’m interested in. Some more passionately than others, we haven’t done a cooking book.  And art, I have an art history degree, so I love going to art museums. But all of that. I love to read, I still read for pleasure. Travel, but travel is also work-related. I go to about 13 conferences a year. I went to Cuba last year before it was closed. It was on my bucket list and I’m so glad I did, because that was such an incredible experience.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Lori Perkins: I think people know that I love books and that I’m trying to make this new way of publishing work, which it is for me, but on a small scale. Perhaps, they think the company is bigger than it is. It’s a good boutique publishing company, but yes, some people often compare me to Simon or Shuster and I’ll tell them, I’m eight years old. Yes, Simon and Shuster could do that, but Lori Perkins at Riverdale Avenue books can’t do that.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Lori Perkins: The economy and the changes in our democracy. Those are the things that really keep me up, especially the threats to the First Amendment and from that, if that happens, are we going to be able to continue to publish the books we want to publish or are we going to have to worry about that too.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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