Cold Tree Publishing – R.I.P. (Reflection & Celebration)

Cold Tree Press was one of the earliest American POD publishers starting out way back in 2001. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, they were guided by the commitment of its entrepreneurial owner and president, Peter Honsberger. Cold Tree Press emerged into a changing world of publishing and quickly developed a reputation for nurturing new writers and still maintaining high quality book design and production more associated with commercial publishers.

“The company engenders a nurturing relationship with authors that now extends to underwriting the annual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, as well as the recent launch of one of publishing’s richest writing competitions. The Parthenon Prize for Fiction includes an $8,000 cash award and a traditional publishing contract.”

Honsberger saw Cold Tree Press as a kind of ‘Hybrid’ publisher, offering author solution services, at a fee, as well as traditional contracts to authors with deserving books. He insisted on high standards of content which resulted in many an author with manuscript and chequebook in hand receiving a rejection from Cold Tree Press. Honsberger’s approach was to maintain the high standard of books for the company’s three imprints, content as well as form, and the process of author rejection was used as medium for authors to equally revise/rewrite and improve their submitted work. In some ways this approach to constructive rejection—Cold Tree Press always provided notes and explanations—is a practice of commercial publishing houses of a bygone era when publishers welcomed unsolicited submissions and were not prone to huge slush piles of manuscripts warranting the level of protection now afforded to them by literary agents. Yes, frustrated authors may say it’s all a racket, but the unfortunate agent seems to have inherited the thankless task of acting as the publishers’ literary version of the Cray Brothers.
In an interview with author Don Meyer last year, Honsberger very acutely pinpointed where he saw the serious business of self-publishing going. He was referring to the business savvy author rather than the ‘Aunt Maple’ of the self-publishing world who wanted simply to print a few books on home cooking recipes for family and friends and had no aspiring dream of world literary domination.

“This new version of self-publishing is ringing true with authors out there that want the highest quality possible in the publication of their work. We have seen that proven this year as we have strategically moved in that direction. The manuscripts we now receive, for the most part, are well written and have been well edited.”

In 2008, Cold Tree Press changed their name to Cold Tree Publishing to group their three distinct imprints under Cold Tree Press for trade paperbacks, Hooded Friar for literary fiction, and Moorsgate became their author solutions service.

They also commenced with a process of assessing their current list of self-published authors who were submitting new books, with a view to moving them across to the traditional publishing imprint. They assessed each author by looking at the author’s own commitment, sales success and track record to assess their viability for the traditional imprint. By the start of 2009, Cold Tree Publishing had greatly strengthened their promotional and marketing packages for both their traditional and self-published authors, an area they identified needed more work.
It would have given me great pleasure to tell you more about the publishing ethos of Peter Honsberger and their commitment to authors, the fact that they always offered return of books to retailers—something Honsberger knew Cold Tree had to offer if they were to be any way competitive in the book publishing industry—keeping retail book prices competitive, returning all book files to departing authors, offering royalties based on retail prices, and all round giving value for money through quality, commitment and client support particularly on their publishing packages priced $1400, $1600 and $2100. I may have baulked in my review at their top-end package at $9800, but it did feature complete editing and a full public relations marketing campaign through an agency.
Alas, the review of Cold Tree Publishing will never be.

“After almost ten years in the publishing industry, Cold Tree Publishing is closing its doors. We have enjoyed the relationship we have had with all our authors, and the trust they placed in us. It was a fun and rewarding run. We wish them nothing but the best in their future endeavors!

To contact us prior to June 30th please call: 615-309-4984
After June 30th please call: 615-263-7771”

My own opinion—it is simply that—Cold Tree Publishing was either two to three years too early or too late to attempt the brave decision to become a traditionally-driven publishing house. Two or three years ago, they may have just about had the time to grow as a traditional publisher and consolidate their deserved position in what has been an extremely difficult time for publishing. There are many questions being asked of publishers at the moment and they are all faced with many changes and challenges ahead—recession aside. Some might easily quip that Cold Tree Publishing, in their decision to concentrate their business on more traditional models of business rather than entirely on author services, in effect, cut off the very life blood of finance they had grown to rely upon. It was this finance which helped Cold Tree Publishing enjoy the comforts and ability to be independent and selective about the books they published, and furthermore, allowed them to perhaps be a little more generous in helping and guiding authors. The same argument can also be applied to publishers who claim it is the JK Rowlings and James Pattersons of this world who provide the finance for publishers to take risks with so-called lesser authors. In two or three years time, I can see the larger author solution services further try to legitimise their business by offering traditional publishing contracts, and likewise, I see struggling, smaller commercial publishers decide to finance their continued existence by offering forms of partnership publishing.
Whatever our opinions about publishing and where it currently is—the simple fact remains—the centre cannot hold, and we must accept that varying forms of publishing; from digital publishing, fee-paying services and even commercial publishers; they are all going to merge in one form or another. It is as much about economics as it is about technology. The debate about it is merely a side issue and will change nothing.
For Peter Honsberger, a passionate, honest and committed entrepreneur, this will not be the end of his own personal adventure. A talented and award winning graphic designer he may be by profession—the authors of Cold Tree Publishing knew him as something more than that. There may be some Cold Tree Publishing authors who feel disappointed, even aggrieved at the demise of their publisher, but like Honsberger, the passion and lure of literature and publishing will see them all return.

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