Monkfish Books Bucks the Big Industry Trend




Paul Cohen

Book publishing, like many industries, has been plagued by consolidation—small companies swallowed up by big companies, and big companies merging to get even bigger. But Monkfish Book Publishing Company and Epigraph Publishing Service in Rhinebeck have bucked the trend—maybe because owner Paul Cohen is still more focused on message than on money.

Founded in 2002, Monkfish Book Publishing Company is still a traditional, small-press publisher. It specializes in spirituality and religion: spiritual memoirs, wisdom literature, fiction and scholarly works on spirituality and philosophy. Epigraph Publishing Service, launched in 2006, is a pioneer in the cross-pollination of traditional and self-publishing techniques. It edits, designs, prints, distributes, markets, publicizes and sells books for its authors. Together, the two companies offer writers an opportunity to have their message heard. That’s the critical role of a publisher, and as Cohen explained to us in this interview, he plans to keep playing it.

What inspired you to start Monkfish Publishing?

I caught the publishing bug when I was working in distribution for a company specializing in spiritual books from a diversity of traditions. Since I myself was the kind of spiritual seeker who sought wisdom across a wide range of traditions, I set Monkfish up in that same way.

Who’s the target audience for Monkfish books?

They appeal to the seasoned or novice spiritual seeker as well as members of the general public who are looking for reliable sources on spirituality. The readers I had in mind when I began Monkfish in 2002 were devoted spiritual seekers, the type whose passion for the spiritual quest would lead them to read across a dazzling array of traditions: Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Native American and more. It’s always been my intent to publish works of spiritual authenticity for the general public as well as for the specialist and scholar.

How does Epigraph distinguish itself from other self-publishing companies?

While most authors are attracted to Epigraph’s boutique style of self-publishing services, they are still sensitive to traditional publishing standards and want their books to look and read as high-quality professional. I find that authors want creative control as well as collaboration with seasoned publishing professionals.

What are the benefits of self-publishing through a small company like Epigraph rather than one of the big self-publishers?

Most, if not all, of the larger self-publishing companies were created by either bankers or tech people. It’s rare that someone from a traditional book publishing background goes into self-publishing. The large self-publishing companies are primarily interested in monetizing the entire publishing process. They charge as much as they feel they can get away with for their services and pay as little as possible in royalties. In short, they are not really looking out for the welfare of their authors.

When I created Epigraph, I wanted the economics to actually work for the authors. I set up a system whereby I could offer truly professional services, such as book design, at a discount from traditional rates in exchange for being able to make money when books sell as well. In short, Epigraph’s services are either less expensive or a better value, while its royalties are higher. In addition, Epigraph offers free marketing and publishing consultation for the lifetime of the book.

Are there any advantages to publishing local?

There’s a lot to be said still for face-to-face encounters when it comes to something as personal as book publishing. Not so long ago, editors and publishers always met in person with their authors to initiate the publishing process. Like writing, publishing itself is a creative process that greatly benefits from personal encounters.

What would you tell our readers who may want to self-publish their first (or second) book?

Do your homework and try to learn as much as you can about the process. It’s complex, and the more you understand it, the better decisions you’ll make. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dishonest purveyors who are all too willing to say things calculated to appeal to an author’s ego. Here’s my advice: If a company is trying to sell you an expensive marketing package—for example, with assurances that your book will become a bestseller—run for hills!

Any changes on the horizon?

Change has become the norm in book publishing due to constant technological breakthroughs. The latest breakthroughs have to do with international distribution. Titles in both of our companies are now available around the world.

Monkfish Book Publishing Company and Epigraph Publishing Service are located at 22 E. Market St., Ste. 304, Rhinebeck, NY. For more info, visit MonkfishPublishing.com or EpigraphPS.com, or contact Cohen at 845.876.4861 or Paul@MonkfishPublishing.com.

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