Paul Wilborn had a wish list for someone to publish his first book, Cigar City: Tales From a 1980s Creative Ghetto. Although a longtime journalist, blogger and scriptwriter, Wilborn had never put out an entire book – and this one, a collection of wildly fictionalized (and wildly entertaining) stories about Ybor City’s long-ago bohemian subculture – was expressly of local interest.
And so the list consisted of exactly one wish: A local publisher, with local connections, dedicated to getting the work in front of the local readers who would appreciate it the most.
Such a publisher did not exist.
Enter Joe Hamilton, CEO of the St. Petersburg Group (and publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst). With eyes and ears always open for a business opportunity, Hamilton considered his old friend’s frustrations. And together, they came up with what they believe is a win/win: St. Petersburg Press (tag line: “Author-centric publishing”).
Cigar City was published in early April. “Paul brought us a written manuscript, edited,” says Hamilton. “And we basically did everything after that. We took care of the cover, the layout of the book, the printing, the ISBN number, we got the Kindle formatting and the Amazon page.”
The press, Hamilton adds, “is an effort to bring together our community of authors, provide them services and support and help promote their work, so that we can put out books and work under a collective voice.”
Wilborn heads a hand-picked advisory board, which will not only review manuscripts, but develop a set of guidelines for potential authors.
Getting the word out – marketing and publicity – is always something of a crapshoot, Wilborn says. “Even with a (major) publisher, it’s mostly on your shoulders.
“Here, I’ve got a support team behind me. And I think that’s ultimately the goal, to find the best authors in town and put the support network underneath them.
“I realized that it’s such a waste to go through these small little presses that don’t do anything for you. You don’t control your rights any more. You don’t make money. So here’s a way that could be nurturing for really good writers here. And the best thing is, there’s this element of professionalism underneath it. A lot of those self-publishing imprints are one person, sitting in their room. Here, you’ve got a track record of marketing and publishing.”
Hamilton’s goal is to leverage his team and network to provide many of the St. Petersburg Press’ services – from design and printing to distribution and marketing – and add additional value through his communication channels to promote the work under an all-local umbrella.
“At the end of the day, we’re doing this to build the mythology of St Petersburg by amplifying our local talent” he explains. “We’re not giving away the services, but we’re offering them with a break-even mentality.”
“And,” adds Wilborn, “there’s a plan to do maybe one project that gets a scholarship.”
Importantly, the St. Petersburg Press brand won’t be put on every manuscript that’s accompanied by a check – the company reserves the right to reject offensive, incendiary or just plain bad material.
In addition to writers and material, Hamilton is looking for those who might want to invest in certain books.
“It’s sort of on the fringe between philanthropy and investment, but if you think there’s a good idea for a book, then someone can put some money in to support that author, and work out a deal where they split the money until some amount of return is received,” he explains. “I’ve not seen that model elsewhere, and it offers an innovative way to support authors through social enterprise.”
The split can be arranged on a project-by-project basis.
“Right now,” Hamilton says, “we’re looking for local authors or potentially St. Pete-related subject matter. But 99 percent of it is going to be local authors.”
The idea, he says, is to put out between six and 10 books annually, starting in the fall of 2019.
“I think people will start a conversation with us before they submit the book. What we’re giving to you that’s free, that’s value, is our low-cost services, and our marketing mechanism, and our guidance and advisement, and the community that we’re wrapping you in.”
Learn more about St. Petersburg Press here.