Editor’s Note: The MY JOB team has worked diligently to identify a publisher that aligns with our values and goals. We are proud to announce a partnership with TitleTown Publishing for the release of the MY JOB book this October. Here’s how we got there . . .
Publishing: It’s Complicated
The world of books changes as rapidly as the world that books reflects.
Here’s what we discovered when we set out to procure a publisher for MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World.
The number of books Americans read is in decline; yet the phenomenal surge in online book publishing has made readership more accessible. These days:
- 350,000 new titles are released each year;
- 78% of these titles sell fewer than 99 copies;
- Just .003% of new books sell more than 100,000 copies1; and
- 5 million books are active (in print).2
How to break into such a flooded field? Our MY JOB community spent a full year researching our options:
- Traditional publishers: There are 63,000 publishing companies now in the U.S., of which “The Big 5” dominate: Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan and account for 60% of the entire industry’s production.3
- Three other types: Subsidy, Vanity, and Self.4 Within these genres, Lulu.com dominates the self-publishing field with almost 2 million titles published.
- Self-publishing: Many friends in the social sector advised us to self-publish. Yet we lacked the expertise in design, printing, and distribution that we wanted for MY JOB. Also, as a fundraising project of the Skees Family Foundation (SFF), MY JOB does not have a dollar to spare from our investments in education and job-creation as respectful paths out of poverty.
What We Have Going for Us
The good news: Adult nonfiction, MY JOB’s genre, is the fastest-growing segment of the market.5 Our content spans the following subgenres that are among the top-sellers today:
- Narrative nonfiction
- Popular business
- Politics, social sciences, sociology, anthropology
- Career studies
- Customs & traditions, cultural studies
- Urban studies
- Human geography
- Travel literature
MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World, is a collection of vivid first-person accounts of real people in unique jobs, in the U.S. and the world. Never before has such a collection of stories been gathered. Building upon the legacy of Studs Terkel’s 1970s bestseller Working, MY JOB goes global and updated, reflecting the daily struggles and successes of working storytellers in their own distinctive voices.
MY JOB explores the dignity, identity, economic viability, and inherent challenges of each occupation. How has the definition and notion of a job shifted in recent years? How does one land in a particular job, and what causes one to flourish or flounder in it? How does our job shape our sense of identity? And how does an identity built around work impact other facets of our lives?
As communications and social media transform our world into a global village, readers are exposed to life and work in other places. Our awareness of countries and cultures far beyond home leads to a natural interest in them. This is a pivotal moment in which geography still greatly impacts employment; yet the experiences of others, even in distant countries, are more accessible today than ever before.
How MY JOB Is Different
Global context: Differentiating itself from existing job-related books such as the ones listed above, MY JOB addresses jobs in the global landscape that has become our reality, putting the reader squarely within the international job market and the socioeconomic and cultural context unique to each of the book’s myriad locales and professions.
Human connection and experience: MY JOB provides a unique lens into the highly diverse but inherently common experience of what it means to “work” today. It reveals what we have in common as human beings with shared experiences of ambitions and setbacks, trauma and dreams; and what sets us apart due to our spot on the map, our gender and sexuality, religion and socioeconomic level, experiences and worldview. Our narrators outline the facts about their jobs—skills needed, salaries earned, pros and cons—but also share on a far deeper level how their personal lives influence their work and how their hours logged inspire a sense of accomplishment or leave them utterly depleted—oftentimes, both.
Jobs are intimate: Talking about a job, it turns out, opens up the conversation to include values and vision, pain and loss, hope and tenacity—all the grit of life and all the glory of the spirit that make us human. The choice (or lack of choice) related to job-seeking opens up conversations about access to freedom, economic power and justice. A job can show the values that an individual or an entire society places on money, power, family, education, and more.
Browsable quality: MY JOB offers a unique value to the industry, bringing a “browsable” component, in that each chapter reads independently of any other chapter, allowing readers to more easily pick up and engage in the chapters that most interest them. Nonfiction readers are drawn to books that touch on their personal interests. As the book touches on so many different topics (sex workers, athletes, musicians, midwives, etc.), it will appeal to a wider audience than that of a single-voice, narrative nonfiction.
We hope to connect people through their stories: Think Humans of New York, but through the lens of work and with the tangible outcome of creating prosperity through jobs.
The Path To Our Publisher
As we produced and then circulated our book proposal, we thought initially that we’d be super lucky to land a contract with a “Big 5.” In fact, we received an offer from one of them—a very lukewarm, conditional offer that made us so nervous, I got on the phone and started calling several “Big 5” authors I knew.
I heard horror stories about authors working around the clock only to be required to purchase thousands of copies of their own book (to establish a sales base or inflate bestseller lists); authors working for years without ever making more than a few thousand dollars on their initial advance; and authors receiving absolutely zero support on quality, marketing, and sales.
“What a nightmare,” I thought. No one can produce the impeccable quality we strive to provide for our MY JOB narrators in a vacuum. And, while marketing and sales may be the last thing I’m good at, they’re critical for success because of our two major goals:
- To share the stories of unique people at work around the world in a way that empowers our narrators and connects readers with them and each other; and
- To sell thousands and millions of copies to raise funds for U.S. and global nonprofit programs that end poverty through job creation.
Our New Partner: TitleTown
Ultimately, happily, we chose to sign with a small, social-mission publisher called TitleTown. A young, scrappy publisher, their mission is to publish:
Stories That Change Lives
TitleTown strives to bring engaging, impacting author voices to the marketplace to inspire and entertain while providing authors and agents a safe, dynamic, and personal publishing experience.
Like SFF, they’re a family-based business; and like us, they work remotely from disparate geographic bases, from New York to Green Bay to Los Angeles.
From my first conversation with their founder and CEO, Tracy Ertl, it was clear to me that TitleTown “gets” our goals and will support us holistically and whole-heartedly. Their elegantly designed, meticulously edited books embody the veracity of voice and purity of product that we want for MY JOB.
“I see in MY JOB, literally, a collection of survivors and thrivers and the sweet impact I have sought in every project taken on by TitleTown Publishing,” said TitleTown Publisher Tracy Ertl.
“The Skees Family Foundation and their work to eradicate poverty and nurture job development is the type of mission TitleTown and its’ distributor, Midpoint Trade Books, believe in. Both companies were created to compete in the marketplace but to also distribute critical thought and impact. This is a dream project,” beamed Ertl.
“Everything we have learned as a freshman house of 8 years has culminated in taking the literary helm with this project. We have forged a unique relationship with Midpoint out of Manhattan. Midpoint is led by publishing industry leader Eric Kampmann, who understood the mission orientation of TitleTown and infused our young house with talent. This partnership resulted in Amazon, New York Times, and Barnes & Noble bestsellers, film options, and international deals to TitleTown’s credit.
TitleTown plans to donate a share of their proceeds, along with SFF’s 100% share of earnings, to the nonprofit job-creation programs represented in the book. They will be our partner in much more than editing, production, and sales: They will strive alongside us to elucidate the striking stories of real people at work around the world, and through story, to connect people to one another and—for those who need it—to the dignity of a poverty-alleviating job.
We’re thrilled to welcome TitleTown to the SFF family and the MY JOB dream team!
What About You, Too? Join Our MY JOB Dream Team
Sign up: Be the first to get news updates, hear about events, or even join our exclusive group of MY JOB market-warriors to review material pre-publication.
Share: Connect our narrators with readers by passing it on—share our JobTalk stories with your aunt in Kansas, your cousin in India, your friends back in Mexico, your coworkers in California. Far beyond sales, it’s the sharing of stories that we want to see in the world.
Connect: Talk about your job. Send us your story. Or, nominate a famous, infamous, or fascinating person you know who’d be a perfect narrator for MY JOB. Contact us here.
- McIlroy, Thad. “The Future of Publishing,” August 2013. As found online at http://thefutureofpublishing.com/industries/the-future-of-book-publishing/.
- Bercovici, Jeff. “Amazon vs. Book Publishers, By the Numbers,” Forbes, February 2014. As found online at http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2014/02/10/amazon-vs-book-publishers-by-the-numbers/.
- Brighton Publishing website, available online at http://brightonpublishing.com/Pubtypes.html.
- Association of American Publishers.
Many thanks to Jonathan Kaufman of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies for his research into the publishing marketplace, and to Andrea Atkinson of OneSquareWorld for her editing and circulating of the MY JOB proposal.