In an increasingly challenging publishing world where authors see their prospects fading, Tim Sanders saw opportunity. So he and a team of fellow entrepreneurs recently founded Net Minds, an ambitious new Pasadena, Calif.-based startup that seeks to transform the industry by offering an entirely new model for book writers to bypass traditional and self-publishing.
Typically, an author has to secure an agent, entice a publisher to commit to their book idea, pray that it's accepted, and hope for an advance and a fair royalty, which often amounts to no more than 20%; to make matters worse, the author usually has to surrender to the publisher all rights to the book.
Sanders is flipping this paradigm on its head by introducing authors to editors, designers, publicists and other publishing professionals (either outsiders or enrolled freelancers within the company's expansive database) who will collaborate to produce and promote the tome. Net Minds provides the matchmaking network as well as the software platform for converting a document into a printed galley, helps negotiate and finalize the contracts between the professionals, and publishes the actual book (digital, print, or print-on-demand through its partners Ingram Content and BookShout) in exchange for approximately 20% of its sales.
While the author gets no advance, he or she keeps the rights to the book plus the remaining 80% share, portions of which are distributed to the professionals enlisted to create the book (in the form of cash, royalties or a combination of the two).
Net Minds posts open book projects in which the author provides a story synopsis and personal bio and indicates which professionals are needed (e.g., media relations, cover designer). With the click of a button, interested experts can contact Net Minds if they want to come aboard the project and negotiate their compensation.
"The key problem for authors today is being able to achieve quality without being acquired by a traditional publisher. It's harder than ever to get a traditional deal or an agent, due to the industry's sagging profits and consolidation," says Sanders, a best-selling writer himself and former Yahoo! executive who used to work for Mark Cuban's Broadcast.com. "We offer authors a solution to their current dilemma-quality versus autonomy. We empower authors to build an invested team around their book project by giving them 80% of the royalties and digital tools that can be shared with team partners. For entrepreneurial-minded authors, this is a much better deal."
Sanders says Net Minds' model "has been validated in Hollywood, as it's the independent movie model. Furthermore, startup culture suggests that sharing profits and ownership leads to innovation."
Since launching the business in 2011, Sanders and crew have attracted 20 book projects and completed dozens of transactions between authors and publishing services providers. One of its most high-profile clients is Nolan Bushnell, whose anticipated Finding the Next Steve Jobs paperback and ebook, published by Net Minds, streets on March 26.
Net Minds' primary competitors are self-publishing services such as Author Solutions, Lulu, and Smashwords, although, according to Sanders, "none of them offer team-building capabilities, and those that provide publishing packages, like Author Solutions and Lulu, suffer from a poor reputation."
Sanders notes that Net Minds is essentially an extension of "web 2.0 plumbing," which combines the best elements of social networking, e-commerce, and convenient technology.
"Consider marketplaces like eBay, where ratings and reviews create a buyer and seller confidence in each other, closed-loop solutions like PayPal, sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, which make it easy for people to do projects together, and the cloud, where you have a dramatically lower cost of storage and scale for business," says Sanders. "We think the convergence of all these things make it incredibly possible for something like team publishing to happen, grow and be a viable alternative to either publishing traditionally or doing it yourself."
While many authors and publishing services providers may be skeptical about Net Minds' merits, considering how different its model is and the young age of the company, "we've got a big vision," says Sanders. "We'll handhold that author if they come to us with a project, and anybody that takes a chance on us while we're young is going to get a lot of tender loving care."