But What She Really Wants To Do Is Write

Mary Wolf Bought Her Publisher and Turned It Into a Huge Success

Mary Z. Wolf had her first book, The Marriage Patent published by Hard Shell Word Factory, a pioneer in the field of electronic publishing. She then turned around and did what every author dreams – she bought her publisher. While some may think that that guaranteed future publication, Hard Shell is growing so rapidly that Mary Z. Wolf, publisher, frequently has to tell Mary Z. Wolf, author, “… shut up and wait, her time will come” – and it will, just as soon as things settle down.

We have some wonderful books that I’m sure print editors practically cried at having to turn down … because they … didn’t fit comfortably enough into that publisher’s line.

The bad news, for Mary-the-author, is that Hard Shell is a bonafide success.

Hard Shell Word Factory was founded in November 1996 by Teri Lea Chandler. According to Wolf, Chandler “had the foresight to see electronic publishing as the wave of the future” and established a haven for quality authors who, for a variety of reasons, weren’t being considered by the New York publishers. Wolf, who had been exploring the prospect of starting her own publishing company, bought Hard Shell from Chandler.

Hard Shell publishes a wide range of books, including science fiction, suspense, non-fiction titles – and, of course, romance. Wolf notes that Hard Shell’s “… best sellers are probably romantic suspense and futuristic, fantasy or time travel romance.” Hard Shell has over sixty titles available for purchase and increases its catalog by 5 to 6 titles per month. This offers her customers variety. And because Hard Shell titles have the electronic version of shelf life of one year (increasing if the company and authors choose to renew), titles are readily available when readers want to purchase them.

Purchasing books from Hard Shell is as simple as visiting their website. Features such as book excerpts provide the opportunity for readers to preview a title before purchasing. The most popular delivery method for the books is a download from the publisher (the book is delivered directly to your e-mail address). Wolf notes that disk sales have dropped considerably as Hard Shell has become a name brand – most customers prefer the download option. Disk versions of Hard Shell titles are also available from Amazon.com (although the price paid to Amazon is higher than ordering directly from Hard Shell); Hard Shell titles are also available for the Rocket e-Book reader.

There are several keys to Hard Shell’s success. First, not being tied to production schedules, word counts, or strict publisher guidelines permits the publisher to rapidly respond to changes in the market or reader’s tastes. Wolf notes, that because of this flexibility, “[w]e have some wonderful books that I’m sure print editors practically cried at having to turn down, not because they weren’t written well enough, but because they were too ‘different,’ or had the hero or heroine in a supposedly unpopular career, or just didn’t fit comfortably enough into that publisher’s line.”

This flexibility also has the benefit of making Hard Shell a very attractive publisher from the perspective of authors. Wolf’s authors frequently note that their professional relationship with their publisher is ideal – and that being published electronically has let them write what Wolf calls “the book of their heart.” Authors are also more directly involved in such aspects of publication as cover art decisions and cover copy. Additionally, they retain all other rights to their work. This provides the opportunity for sales to secondary markets or even print publishers.

Wolf handles everything from designing cover art to updating the website to preparing royalty reports for authors.

And then there’s the royalty issue. Hard Shell, like most electronic publishers, offers to authors higher royalty rates than those offered by print publishers. Hard Shell’s expenses are less than those incurred by print publishers and Hard Shell, like other electronic publishers, is able to pass on its savings to authors in the form of a higher royalty rate. And on the flip side, these lower expenses also allow for lower prices to consumers. Wolf notes that the cover price for her titles run “less than a comparable paperback would cost.”

Of course, a major factor in the success of Hard Shell is the dedication and hard work of Wolf. While the publisher is not a one-woman operation, Wolf does wear many of the company’s hats. In addition to pre-screening submissions before forwarding to her editors, Wolf handles everything from designing cover art to updating the website to preparing royalty reports for authors.

Wolf notes that she owes her authors the time necessary to “make the company as successful as possible.” This means that writing takes a backseat to publishing. So it may be a while before the world gets to read the time travel romances that Mary Z. Wolf loves to write – but in the meantime, they can enjoy the benefits of the time and effort she’s put into Hard Shell!