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The True History of THE KEPT GIRL and Esotouric Ink, a New L.A. Imprint Launched with a 17th Century Publishing Model by Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric's popular crime bus tours, including Pasadena Confidential and the Real Black Dahlia. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons of LAVA - The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third-generation Angeleno isn't combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writers' homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves, and an oral history of the cult band Neutral Milk Hotel. The Kept Girl is her first novel.

Having reviewed
The Kept Girl last week, I'm pleased to welcome Kim back for a second blog tour stop:

Thank you, Gerald, for the opportunity to drop by on my February blog tour for The Kept Girl, a novel of 1929 starring the young Raymond Chandler, his devoted secretary and the real-life cop who is a likely model for Philip Marlowe.

With this post, I'd like to describe the unusual method that my husband Richard Schave and I used for launching our new publishing imprint, Esotouric Ink, and its debut title, The Kept Girl.

On deciding to write my first historical mystery novel, there were several viable distribution paths that could be taken. Each one had benefits and disadvantages, which Richard and I explored in heated conversations over many meals.

Of course I could work with a literary agent and submit the book to publishers of contemporary mysteries, giving the agent a 15% cut of the advance and royalties and letting the publisher shoulder the costs and risks of publication--and most of the benefits, too. If I went this route, decisions that I very much care about, such as the cover art, promotional plan, interior layout, print run and physical size of the book, would be out of my hands.

Alternatively, I could self-publish online, breaking just above even on print-on-demand paperbacks (which with luck would be decently printed), and focusing on social media promotions and a more profitable ebook edition. Many genre writers are finding success in this arena.

Or we could look to the long traditions of independent publishing as well as to the new distribution and promotional opportunities that the internet offers, and launch our own publishing company, with a first edition run printed on a real press, largely promoted online. This is the path we decided to take.

Crowd-funding is trendy these days. Kickstarter is a popular website that serves as a portal to gather financial support for artistic projects and new business ideas. Fans can contribute as little as $1 or as much as several thousands, and receive a commensurate reward if the project hits its funding goal. Kickstarter takes a cut of the money raised, and has editorial oversight of how the project is described and what rewards are offered to supporters. In return, the site markets the project to a wider audience and handles credit card transactions.

I have friends who have run successful Kickstarter campaigns and think it's a useful tool which I've recommended to others. At the same time, we knew it wasn't right for us. Why should a stranger on the other end of a computer screen decide how to market our book to existing fans and new readers? It's not difficult to build a webpage that processes credit card transactions. Kickstarter might have a larger reach, but the loss of creative control it demanded seemed too much to ask.

Besides, the idea of crowd-funding a book isn't new at all. In 1688, the fourth edition of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost was posthumously issued by the visionary English publisher Jacob Tonson. This was the first major illustrated book of poems, and the first to be sold by Subscription—more than 500 influential readers pledged their support even before the presses were inked. It was also among the bestselling publications of the time.

And in America two centuries later, Mark Twain had great success with the Subscription publishing model, with millions of his comic novels sold by door-to-door salesmen and not available in any store.

We knew that one of the biggest markets for the physical book was already at our fingertips: the passionate fans of old Los Angeles lore who take our Esotouric bus tours, attend our cultural salons, listen to our podcasts, and subscribe to our newsletter. They were already asking when the book would be available for purchase. Could we draw on our fan base to help launch Esotouric Ink?

Inspired by the moxie of those publishers who went before, and confident that there was a deep pool of goodwill just waiting to be tapped, we announced that a deluxe edition of "The Kept Girl" would be available by Subscription for a limited time. For $65 ($75 for couples), the Subscriber would see their name in every copy of the book (including the ebook), receive a decorative slipcase for their copy, an e-book on request and a ticket to an exclusive Subscriber's Appreciation event.

Subscriptions were open through the Christmas season, and they proved a popular holiday gift. Some days, I would jump up from my desk half a dozen times announcing a new Subscriber. When we closed signups just before going to press in January 2014, we were delighted with the list of 65 Subscribers, including two of the finest special collections libraries in Southern California, UCLA and The Huntington.

Now it was time to produce the book. Working with one of the oldest family-owned printers in the Los Angeles area, Tower-Lee, we produced a handsome 1940s-style paperback that does justice to illustrator Paul Rogers' stunning art deco cover design.

Once the book was printed, we turned to The Foil Works, which operates independently on site at Tower-Lee, to hand-craft a decorative linen paper cover designed by artist Phil Goldwhite for the Subscribers' edition, debossed with a low relief pattern inspired by the beautiful doors of the William Fox Building (1930) in downtown Los Angeles, with a silver foiled title and author's name on the spine.

What a thrill it's been to see this complex project through to completion.

Of course, there's something a little dark and twisted about crowd-funding a book that is all about the leader of a murderous cult of angel-worshippers who ended up in prison due to the supposedly divinely-inspired pamphlets that she sold by Subscription in the 1920s.

But then, there's also something a little dark and twisted about the community of passionate Los Angeles history fans who have rallied around this project. They love hearing stories of the bad behavior of their grandparents' generation, and I love digging those tales out of the archives and sharing them, on the Esotouric crime bus and now in The Kept Girl.

My Subscribers don't seem at all worried about the consequences of their contribution, and they're all big boys and girls. Besides, I'm too busy planning the gala party in their honor and brainstorming about a sequel to do anything too sinister.

Our situation is unique, but I hope the story of how Esotouric Ink was born will inspire other writers and publishers to tap into their local and virtual communities and create beautiful books on the Subscription model.

Even though amazing tools exist for distributing digital books to every corner of the earth, there's really nothing like watching a book's covers and signature sheet "guts" come off the press, and working with skilled craftsmen to refine the details until the book is just right. I've had four books published previously, but never felt such a thrill of accomplishment. It's something every writer should feel for themselves at least once in their career.