Liza Stepanovich, with the machine that publishes writers’ dreams, at Shakespeare and Co. on the Upper West Side. Photo: Meredith Kurz
We are a bookish clan up here. If you’re like me, bedtime finds you drooling slightly on your pillow, fingers splayed about a book and the light on. (True Confession? I dog ear.) I’m convinced that for every rabid reader there’s a secret writer. They have perhaps a few typed pages, maybe a chapter or three. Most believe their story will never become a physical book. Well, there’s good news, hidden storytellers — Shakespeare and Co. offers a chance to be published, at a reasonable price, without undue delay.
The legendary bookseller has an East Side store, and recently expanded across the park to 2020 Broadway, between West 69th and 70th Streets. If you peek in the window you’ll see a coffee bar to the left, a huge book collection beyond the stairs, a seating area to the right, and in the middle a large device called the Expresso Book Machine.
If you’re an admitted author and keep a graveyard of publisher rejections, here’s your solution. You no longer have to order 500 copies of your great American novel from a vanity publisher, push it on innocent family members whilst the rest molder under your bed, like a forever I-Told-You-So. For $10, plus 5 cents per page for black and white, 25 cents a page for color, you can print one copy. There are bulk rates as well, promotional and design services, and other services to make publishing easier. They print so quickly, often you can come in, order a free cup of coffee while your story is framed into pages, printed, cut and turned into a book. Congratulations, you are now a published author.
I had a lot of questions for Liza Stepanovich, who operates the machine, consults with clients and assists in design. “You not only can bring in your digital file to turn into your own book, we have the right to print seven million titles on demand, with any cover you like,” she explained. She told me that most of her clients have never had a book in print.
Cover design is wide open. If you’re obsessed, say with the color aqua, you could have all your books printed with aqua covers. Imagine that bookshelf! “Typically it takes about 20 to 30 minutes,” Stepanovich said. So with your free cup of coffee in your hand, and perhaps a newly purchased book, you can wait for your creation, whether it’s yours or your favorite author, to be completed. One hundred pages can be printed in about five minutes. There’s a 28-page minimum and a 700-page maximum.
In the independent author world, creating a cover that compels the potential reader to grab your book is an art form. It’s currently a high-demand, low-supply industry, so it can hit an author’s bottom line hard. Shakespeare and Co. offers cover design templates, and by-the-hour cover design services. Having an in-house designer and the ability to print out a single book at a reasonable price gives authors the opportunity to preview their tome before ordering 100.
I wrongly assumed that digital books had the lion’s share of the market. According to Retail Dive, which does in-depth retail analysis, in the first three quarters of 2018, eBooks brought in about $771 million, while hardbacks and paperbacks brought in $4 billion. And some big-name authors have started self-publishing, like Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian, and E. L. James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Gray, removing the stigma of the “vanity press.”
I met up with Lese Dunton, a children’s book author who’s written a series called “Charlotte’s New York Adventure.” There are currently three books, with another on the way. These books are sold online as well and at Shakespeare and Co. and other bookstores throughout the city. Dunton said she uses Shakespeare and Co. to print her books because the finish of the covers is better, the colors are sharper, and the paper is higher quality than Amazon’s. It’s slightly more expensive than Amazon, but when she does readings at schools she likes to bring books with a good feel to sell in person.
“The printing ability is empowering, but also, having a neighborhood book store is so important,” Dunton told me. With a place to sit and mingle, and books to browse, it has a local feel. Independent book stores are enjoying their 10th year of bookstore growth according to the American Booksellers Association. This local movement runs alongside the artisan and maker revolution, which gives a neighborhood, a restaurant, or a bookstore a unique flavor.
Along with the printing services, of course, Shakespeare and Co. has a hefty collection of books. I was searching for a book that couldn’t be printed on the fly, so I ordered it, and they called me when it came in, which typically takes five days max. Here’s the link, for more info: www.shakeandco.com.