|The 4RV Shop-lett at Serendipity Market, Edmond, OK|
Area book publisher fills gap between major, vanity publishers
Edmond resident Vivian Zabel, a professional writer for almost five decades, loves to tell stories. Ten years ago she branched out. Today she tells other peoples’ stories, as well. Her small, award-winning publishing company, 4RV Publishing, is one of the best kept business secrets in Oklahoma.
”We are a small, traditional publisher that produces quality books for all ages,” said Zabel.
4RV looks for authors who fall through the cracks at major publishing houses, victims of a cost-cutting war being fought at those companies, Zabel said. With margins in the industry shrinking, larger publishers tend to focus solely on marquis authors. She finds gems in their throw-aways.
“There needs to be something between the major publishers who won’t accept anything and the vanity or self-publishing entities,” she said. “Ten years ago, I made the decision that maybe I could help fill that gap.”
Despite 4RV’s small size, it offers all of the services of a larger publishing house, separating it from other smaller publishers. Authors do not pay for editing, illustration, color art, formatting or other needs.
A big part of Zabel’s strategy is giving authors a lot of attention in sales and production.
“A major publisher puts a book out for six weeks,” she said, “then takes it off the shelves. We leave it out there as long as the author is with us. We don’t put a time limit on it. It may be six years or 16 years, however long they’re with us. That book will be available to be sold.”
Major publishers lock authors out of the production process, she said. It’s not uncommon for an author to be excluded from the illustrating, editing or cover art procedures. 4RV gives authors input on both, attracting writers who are tired of the way big publishers operate.
“Since we’re a traditional publishing company, we don’t request or require that manuscripts be through an agent,” Zabel said. “I think we’ve only had two that came through agents. Everything else is directly from the authors.”
4RV also anonymously evaluates manuscript submissions. Race, creed, color and gender don’t enter the equation. Neither does an author’s sales history. The process is so carefully anonymous that Zabel has had a couple of her own submissions rejected from 4RV. The company only wants quality.
“It’s the only way to keep the company honest because we want it to be universally open for anybody that meets our standards,” she said. “Good writing is good writing.”
A great-grandmother, Zabel does impose a few restrictions on submissions. Excessive violence and profanity are off limits. But her rules aren’t getting in the way of attracting — and keeping — authors.
“In 10 years we’ve released at least 115 books. Of those, we still have about 100 that are still under contract,” she said. “Our contracts aren’t long-lasting like a lot of other publishers’ contracts. Most of our authors choose to stay with us.”
Authors like the agility and speed with which 4RV books works. They also like the laser-like focus on quality.
“Like all writers, I submitted to multiple publishing houses. 4RV was very quick to respond. They do a thorough editing of every book they accept. I think it’s very critical to make sure it’s the best product that it can be,” said Wayne Harris-Wyrick, writer of four 4RV titles.
4RV keeps its production process lean by handling everything from soup to nuts in electronic communications. There are no physical offices.
“We have email. We have different ways that we can store files on Google Drive. We can put all of our files together and look at them and share them and go on,” Zabel said. “The only thing physical is when the books are actually shipped and there they are. Real, live books.”
Sales are largely electronic, as well, she said, adding that Barnes & Noble charges for shelf space, increasing sales costs with low to no promotion. But while readers might not find 4RV on the shelves of the bookselling giant, they can order titles from the stores.
4RV uses one of the industry’s largest companies — Ingram — to handle printing and distribution. Ingram ensures that titles are available on Amazon and available for order by brick and mortar stores. It also allows Zabel to print titles on an as-needed basis, wiping out warehousing costs.
Zabel’s company's small, agile size allows her to move books through the publication process faster than larger publishers. It’s a process that can take up to seven years at bigger publishing houses. Zabel has shaved that time to a matter of months, giving 4RV crucial chances to recoup its investments quickly.
“Publication happened quicker for me than other friends of mine that publish at other publishing houses. Kabam! I guess that’s because it’s a small publishing house and they focus on the authors that they have,” Harris-Wyrick said.
Zabel is not getting wildly rich, but her strategies work. She’s had four books do sales in the thousands, she said. But due to her cost-cutting efforts, it doesn’t take a best-seller to be profitable.
Her focus on quality rewards 4RV in other ways. She’s had roughly 20 books garner major awards, including Literary Classics Awards, Oklahoma Book Awards, and Mom’s Choice Awards for some of her children’s books.
Zabel is always on the hunt for new ideas. In June she published Spearfinger, a first-of-its-kind offering. A Native American legend, the story is told in both English and Cherokee. 4RV created that niche from scratch with no competitors on the field.
“What I really hope is that enough Cherokee kids will get interested in the book and get interested in the language and keep speaking Cherokee,” said author Charles Suddeth.
Zabel does make books physically available for Edmond residents. 4RV titles are available at Serendipity and The Market at Quail Springs. A book signing is scheduled at Serendipity July 29.
“We really have been one of the best kept secrets in Oklahoma and especially in Edmond. Nobody realizes who we are here and they’re surprised to find out we are not just another typical independent book publisher,” said Zabel.
Everyone within driving distance of Edmond is invited to the Meet the Authors event July 29 at Serendipity Market, 917 E. Danforth, next door to Pickles (between Boulevard and Bryant). Wayne Harris-Wyrick and Kathleen Gibbs will be autographing their books from 10 AM - 2 PM. At 2 PM, Jodi Heaton Hurst and vehoae will be signing until 5 PM.