The Upstart Path: 10 Questions for Fin Press’s Jacob Arnold

by Ron Hayes

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Jacob Arnold is a poet and a writing teacher living with his young family in Denton, Texas. About a year ago, Jake melded his passion for teaching with his passion for writing and lo, a Press was born. Partnering with his father-in-law Ron, and with his wife Cassie as the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Jake Arnold formed Fin Press with the express intention of offering a path to publication for young people, school-age writers for whom traditional/mainstream paths are typically still out of reach. “What it takes to publish work is dedication to that work,” he explained in our conversation. “We are passionate about young adult writing because we are teachers. We know the power of creation and the pure joy sharing of what we’ve done. That is what we want to allow young people to feel.”

As we round out our month dedicated to Pathways to Publication, I thought it would be interesting to tap Jake for his insights on DIY publishing, entrepreneurship, and what to do when your passions persist in bumping into each other…

5Writers:        How did YOUR path to publication begin? Guide me through your initial first steps—whose idea was it, what was your initial goal, etc. How did Fin Press start?

Jake Arnold:  Two years ago I began looking for publishing companies who solely focused on young adult work. I couldn’t find any! So, I started asking around and surrounding myself with people who were smarter and more experienced than me and questioned them to no end. That’s when I decided that a company would have to be created to accomplish the goals that I had set for myself and, most importantly, my students and their work.

The first step was simply an idea and a fearlessness to pursue something completely unknown. I recruited my wife and my father-in-law and the brainstorming ensued. Two ideas/goals emerged: a school-wide collection of work and a literary magazine for young adult creations.

Once the ideas were set in place, we began the business side of things. We filed with the state and set up FIN Press LLC. We trademarked the names The Anthology Project and The Soapbox Review. We bought domain names. We set up tax ID numbers and filled out the copious amounts of paperwork involved in starting up a legitimate company. Again, I found people with experience in publishing and bled them dry of their knowledge.

Our original goal was to establish The Anthology Project at McMath, the middle school where I worked, and then move it to three schools the following year. The literary magazine was a five-year goal.

5W:        Once it went from just an idea to an actual plan, what were some of the first big decisions you had to make? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

JA:         The biggest decisions we had to make involved the assignment of roles and responsibilities in the company. I was named CEO and put in charge of draft creation, revision and editing. I was also responsible for gathering and compiling all of the work to be published. My wife was named CFO and put in charge of design work for the publications and monetary decisions. My father-in-law was in charge of setting up the business with the state. All of these decisions were made in our first shareholders’ meeting. These are mandatory and required by law. Notes had to be taken and recorded, and we all signed off on our responsibilities.

5W:        It may be crass, but it’s an important component to the process; let’s talk money. What kinds of expenses did you incur along the way? What can our readers expect and how did you manage that particular minefield?

JA:         It took us a little over $600.00 to start the company. This included: filing with the state, trademarking names, purchasing domain names and rights, setting up tax ID numbers, and general needs. We then had start-up costs when it came to the production of the first book. None of us received any reimbursement for our time spent creating/working. We purchased reader copies and sent them to be critiqued. We also bought copies of the finished draft for people who helped make the book possible. We allotted $1000.00 to see if the boat would float. We are getting close to that number after a year of business.

As far as time goes, I spent around a month gathering all of the materials to be published. It took me close to twenty hours to build the first book. My wife spent ten hours creating the cover of The Anthology Project. She started with an original watercolor painting and then used Photoshop for the rest. My father-in-law spent two months setting up the company. Time is the biggest investment when starting a company and passion fuels the drive to keep going.

5W:        Tell me a little about the makeup of Fin Press and some of your partners. Who does what? Who’s in charge and who deserves the biggest shout-outs?

JA:            The biggest shout-outs go to Ron Glaser and Cassie Arnold. Without Ron, we would have no company. He believed in us when it was just an idea and became our benefactor when early costs arose. Cassie has also supported our company from its inception. We would have no legitimacy without her. She designed and built our logo, our website, and our covers! She has literally created the face of FIN Press. You must surround yourself with brilliant, supportive people to succeed as a publishing house.

5W:        And maybe a little about process… Who decided what to include in the book and what to leave out? How did that process work?

JA:         Each of our projects has been different. For the collections of work, all who apply are published within normal reason. We want the voices of young people to be heard. That is our main goal and directs most of the decisions we make. We just picked up our third publication and it also includes all work that was submitted. The change will come with the literary journal. That will run like any other journal must. Not all of the submissions will be able to make it to print. We want to establish an arena of publication for young adults which mimics that for older writers. A big part of writing is rejection and revision. We will gently encourage students who don’t make it into the literary magazine to take another look at their work, evaluate what they see, and attack it once again fearlessly.

5W:        I’m curious about the end product as well, the actual physical manifestation of the book itself. If you would, talk a little bit about how you went about finding someone/someplace to physically manufacture the book. Any pitfalls or practical advice for our readers to consider?

JA:         We use lulu.com as our printer. They are easy to work with and have a wonderful staff ready to help at any avenue. They are a print-on-demand company and they dedicate a webpage to each of their publications. Consider what level of publication you want. The higher you go with quality, the higher your book price becomes. We want to keep costs low and readily accessible to all of our creators involved. That is why we use lulu.com!

5W:        One of the things I love about The Anthology Project is that it includes artwork alongside its stories and poems. Did including these non-textual elements hinder the process in any way? Are there unique kinds of issues should people be aware of when deciding to publish art?

JA:         If you publish art in color on photo paper, be ready to invest and have an expensive book. If you order 5000 copies and expect to sell them all, the cost goes WAY down, but for a small house like us that is not an option. We are working through the art issue as I write actually. We want to increase the quality and make it more valid in the collections. It did not hinder the actual creation of the book however. It enhanced it. We want all creations to have a place and art is a big part of what we do.

5W:        As an inaugural issue, The Anthology Project is beautiful, which, I would think, bodes well for the future. What’s on the horizon for Fin Press? Now that the ship is in the water, where do you see the tradewinds taking you?

JA:         In three years we would like The Anthology Project to be involved with fifteen schools. We want to continue to grow and spread across the nation. This will increase our notability when we begin the literary journal. The more states/schools involved in the anthologies, the more writers we have to apply to the journal while we find our feet.

5W:        How about marketing your press? I know that it’s early on, but have you done any kind of advertising in the Denton area yet (or anywhere else)? What’s on your mind as far as promoting your product?

JA:         We have not invested in advertising yet. We have our website for now and business cards are next. We have not incurred enough profit to justify advertisement at the time. We are relying completely on word of mouth to spread what we do across Denton. The advantage I have is being a teacher in Denton ISD. I have colleagues at all seven of our middle schools. We are looking to continue The Anthology Project at McMath and spread it to two more in-town schools to work out the difficulties of off-site publication. Eventually we would like to have an email list, a Facebook page, a blog, and a base of addresses to fill a mail-out list. There has also been talk of starting up summer writer camps.

5W:        Finally, distribution: How can people get books from Fin Press right now and how do you plan to tackle distribution as you grow?

JA:          All of our distribution is through our website at this point: http://www.finpresspublications.com

Online distribution has been very good to us so far. We love working with a print-on-demand company for our shipping needs because they take care of it entirely. We send all of our purchases straight to lulu.com and they handle our creation cost and distribution costs for us. As we grow, we would like to establish ISSN/ISBNs for all of our books and make them available on Amazon and through Barnes and Noble. That will be our next step.

We at 5Writers wish Jake and Cassie all the best as they move forward with Fin Press. If you’re a teacher or someone with a young writer (or writers) in your life, please check out The Anthology Project and Fin Press at the websites listed here. Better still, buy a copy and support deserving young writers!

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