Mango Publishing Interview – Starting an Independent Book Publisher

Mango Publishing has been listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers in the U.S. by NY Book Editors.

In their sixth year of existence, Mango Publishing is one of the fastest-growing publishers in the country, and was a finalist for Publisher of the Year at Digital Book World 2019.

So I am very grateful that they were willing to talk with me in my continuing series of articles on independent publishing. The interview below was held with Mango’s Director of Logistics, Hugo. He has been with the company since the very beginning. I would also like to give a shout out to Geena El-Haj (Mango’s Marketing Communications Coordinator) for helping me to facilitate the interview.

JBJ: Why was Mango Publishing created?

Hugo: I don’t know if we had a very intentional start. Mango Media, the original incarnation, and parent company, was formed with the idea of being a modern, data-driven media company that explored the intersection of books and smartphone apps. Through that journey of mistakes, we stumbled upon a consistent theme: Gut. “My gut tells me,” “I have a gut feeling,” “I think I should listen to my gut…”

Nearly every project we created in the media days revolved around a lot of gut instinct. Something that was diametrically opposed to the mission of being data-driven. So we reevaluated our process of creating content and identified a hole in the market: books published for consumers, ignoring the “gut” of buyers, agents and traditional public relations, and instead focusing on the analytics on consumer trends.

JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps your publishing company took starting out?

Hugo: It’ll sound repetitive, but the data was our focal point. Once we understood how outdated the publishing landscape was, we began to reinvent it by following the success of content creators. Bloggers, journalists, podcasters, YouTubers, chefs and artists who were creating content for a specific audience. We didn’t (and still don’t) care how large their audience was or even how engaged they were. We were more interested in their expertise in the field and their authentic relationship with their audience.

JBJ: What are the important services you have to pay for when running an independent publisher?

Hugo: Everything. Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books loves to tell people, “If you want to make one million dollars selling books, start with two million dollars.” You won’t find many people in publishing that are in it for the money, regardless of how Hollywood likes to present it. Publishing, indie publishing, is a world filled with constant minor expenses, thin margins and incredible people. You can’t skimp on design, or editing, or printing or sustainability and expect to have a book that delivers on the promise their author made when announcing the book.

JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?

Hugo: It’s too vague to give a number because, at least for us, we build our list on every title carrying its weight. So they all get their financial support in the same capacity (in direct marketing, advertising, design costs, editing, etc.). P&Ls play a role in our commissioning process, but more than that, it’s the mission of the book, the authenticity of the author and the potential of the data.

JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing?

Hugo: No. Everyone’s purpose for those services is different, so there’s no way to outright recommend people or services in a general sense.

JBJ: What is Mango Publishing’s greatest challenge?

Hugo: Pre-pandemic I would have said time. Mainly time for commissioning. We have endless data helping us identify authors, categories, trends and more. Yet the time that goes into building the trust and relationship with your authors is incalculable and not something that can be skipped or ignored. In a post-covid world, print production is probably our biggest hurdle. Supply chain issues, paper shortages, sustainability limitations and limited warehouse workers all add chaos to a highly delicate system.

JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what Mango Publishing does?

Hugo: Publishing under-represented voices from marginalized or ignored communities.

JBJ: You guys are listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers by NY Book Editors. What is the secret to your success?

Hugo: Getting unimaginably lucky with our hiring. Having the mission of reinventing publishing and publishing underrepresented authors is nice and all, but without the insane luck of the people we’ve been able to hire and work with buying into it, we would have folded up years ago.

JBJ: What steps would you recommend to an author who is submitting a query to you? What is the best way for a prospective author to get published at your publishing house?

Hugo: Know your audience. I don’t care if you have a massive platform with eight million subscribers or a new podcast with 3,000 downloads a month. Those are both fantastic and reaches we can work with, but in order for them to work, we need the author to understand their audience: who they are, why they follow them, what they’re looking for, and more.

JBJ: What are your plans for the future?

Hugo: Partner with incredible authors, design and print beautiful books and continue to push forward with the idea of borderless publishing.

For more information, check out Mango Publishing here.

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