March 12 , 2014
Meet Sunbury Press' Owner Lawrence Knorr! by Tammy Burke
How delightful having you back at the "Write Stuff" conference again! And wow! Is it coming up fast. Anything new and exciting you can share regarding you and/or the Sunbury Press?
Lawrence Knorr: Yes! It is an honor to be asked back. It is hard to believe two years have passed since the last time! Sunbury Press just completed its best year ever from a sales perspective. We continue to grow and succeed in a very tough, competitive environment. We are celebrating our tenth year in business in 2014 -- but I can tell you it feels like 100 years! We've transformed ourselves twice in that span -- caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly --- what's next? Most recently, we have seen ebooks peak, their growth rate slowing, while independent bookstore sales have picked up. While our Amazon business has continued to grow, other channels are growing faster. We have dubbed 2014 our "Year of Collaboration" focusing on ways our 120+ authors can experience better results by helping each other and by working together in teams. So far, there has been a lot of positive energy. We also opened, February 1, our first company bookstore in Mechanicsburg, PA, where our headquarters is located. Our goal was to provide a storefront for all of our books -- and a venue for our authors to meet the public. We really want to be an important part of the local community for our local and regional authors -- and provide another option to our more far flung partners. It's a great place to meet prospective authors and to talk about books with the general public.
Based on your webpage, I understand the your company holds a "Continue the Enlightenment" mentality from the 18th century and the "Age of Reason." Could you expand more what that means to you and to the Sunbury Press?
Lawrence Knorr: "Continue the Enlightenment" is a motto that represents our mission statement. Simply put, we are a publisher of diverse categories, but we are always seeking to bring new perspectives and voices to the marketplace. The Enlightenment was about a new order of things -- not unlike what is happening in publishing today. The old order governed by a strong center of control is being challenged by more democratic ideals. This is what the independent publishing movement is all about -- whether doing it yourself or with an independent publisher. We are experiencing an era of rapid democratization of the publishing industry. If only Hugh Fox had lived a little longer! I'll never forget the day he called me - Hugh Fox - one of the founders of the Pushcart Prize. He revealed he was dying of cancer and offered me the opportunity to publish his remaining works. He said Sunbury Press was exactly the kind of publisher he was looking for. I was very grateful for his offer, and encouraged him to spread the dozen or so works around to other presses, keeping two of them for ourselves. Hugh liked the motto, and we think it is very appropriate at this time.
What was the motivation to start the Sunbury Press? What makes it different than other publishing companies?
Lawrence Knorr: I started the company in 2004 because I wanted to publish some family histories. I didn't want to pay someone else to do it, so I embarked on figuring out how. While this was only ten years ago, it was when vanity presses were a cottage industry and print on demand and ebooks were in their infancy. I just wanted to sell some books at cost to family members. But, I really enjoyed it and realized I could publish other books -- not just my own. Two hundred and twenty titles and one hundred and twenty authors later, we have really grown thanks to our business model and our philosophy. We are different for several reasons:
1) We are very tech-savvy. My wife and I both have long careers in IT and understand the Age of Content and the importance of search engines, ecommerce and mobile commerce.
2) We do NOT charge for services. Many publishers are experimenting with vanity, hybrid or subsidy models. We refuse to go in this direction, instead making our money by selling books.
3) We have editors working for us as employees of our company. We take quality very seriously.
4) My wife and I are also photographers and digital artists, able to design book covers, marketing materials, graphic designs, web content, etc.
5) We are "generalist opportunists" -- working in a broad number of categories. We understand the advantages of breadth and scale to the economic sustainability of an enterprise.
6) We love what we do. I really enjoy working with authors to bring their work to the marketplace. It tickles the soul.
I was wondering...Is there anything in particular you are looking for in an author and his or her manuscript?
Lawrence Knorr: Quality Manuscript + Motivated Author + Publisher = Success
We are always looking for high quality manuscripts -- in a variety of fiction and nonfiction categories. Quality is more than just well-written / grammatically correct. Quality is about fresh ideas, new found truths and entertainment. We like material that brings value to our readers.
We like to gauge an author's motivations. Gone are the days of sitting at a typewriter, mailing a box of paper to a publisher and then waiting by the door for the checks to arrive. Authors need to be involved in their success. While we provide editing, design, formatting, ebook creation, printing, distribution, marketing, etc., we do best when authors are out and about advocating their work and promoting themselves. We are an ideal option for authors whose work is good enough not to have to pay to publish -- who want to be writers and not start their own publishing businesses. Most writers are not business savvy. We bring the business expertise to the mix.
Anything you'd like to see more of? Anything you'd like to see less of?
Lawrence Knorr: Thankfully, the vampire craze has past. There's probably a metaphor somewhere in that regarding the publishing industry! We are always looking for more history and historical fiction -- more clever YA and more entertaining police procedurals and mysteries. We like good literary fiction too! We've had a lot of inquiries about poetry -- something we rarely publish.
Do you work with authors to help them increase sales? Or do you allow them to do that for themselves?
Lawrence Knorr: We generate our revenue exclusively from selling books. So, we are ALWAYS looking for ways to sell more books -- whether a new channel to open, a new retailer to call upon, a new country to access, or an author's activities. As I stated in the opening, we have dubbed 2014 the "Year of Collaboration" and are seeking new ways to collectively leverage our scale. There are opportunities for Sunbury Press authors to go beyond our activities and their individual efforts -- to work together within a category or region.
I understand you have authored eight books on regional history. Could you tell us more about them? What were their inspiration.
Lawrence Knorr: Where did I ever find the time? My early books: "The Descendants of Hans Peter Knorr," "The Relations of Milton Snavely Hershey," "The Relations of Isaac F Stiehly," "General John Fulton Reynolds," "The Relations of Dwight D Eisenhower" and "The Hackman Story" were family history / genealogy focused. I wanted to write about my relations -- a very deep and rich history linked to important people and events in Pennsylvania and the nation. While researching at the Lancaster County Historical Society, I also stumbled upon the journal and letters of my great uncle David Bear Hackman, describing his adventure to California for the Gold Rush. I edited and contextualized this treasure into the book "A Pennsylvania Mennonite and the California Gold Rush." My more recent works have been collaborations: "Keystone Tombstones Civil War" with Joe Farrell and Joe Farley -- about famous people buried in Pennsylvania who played a part in the Civil War and "There is Something About Rough and Ready" about the village in the heart of the Mahantongo Valley at the center of that region's Pennsylvania Dutch culture. I have several other projects under way for release in the coming years: "The Visiting Physician of Red Cross" - about the career of Dr. Reuben Muth of Red Cross, PA (I have his collection of visiting doctor records from 1850 to 1890), "Palmetto Tombstones" -- about famous people buried in South Carolina, "Scheib of Shibe Park" -- a biography of the former Philadelphia A's pitcher -- and youngest American Leaguer ever -- Carl Scheib of Gratz, PA.
Being born and raised in the Susquehanna Valley myself I was wondering if you've done anything regarding Sunbury, particularly the Hotel Edison or Lewisburg?
Lawrence Knorr: We borrowed the name Sunbury from the town in Pennsylvania because it was near the Mahantongo Valley -- and I liked the name. But, that's about as far as it goes. We have yet to publish anything about Sunbury, the town in Pennsylvania or nearby Lewisburg. However, our book "Digging Dusky Diamonds" by John Lindermuth is about Shamokin, PA and the nearby coal regions. Our best-selling "Prohibition's Prince" is about the famous moonshiner Prince Farrington from Williamsport, PA. Our "Keystone Tombstones" series spans the entire state and often touches on historical figures from the Susquehanna Valley.
Do you have favorite time period and place regarding history?
Lawrence Knorr: I teach Comparative Economic and Political Systems at Wilson College once a year. I really enjoy teaching this class because it allows me to span economic history from classical times to present. My favorite time periods / places are the Roman Empire in the first few centuries AD and 19th and early 20th century America. I am intrigued by our industrialization in the early 1800s -- and the entrepreneurship and personal responsibility that was present. Most of the people living today would feel very insecure without their comforts, insurances and government safety nets. I long for that time when individual hard work and creativity could amount to something tangible -- and when we relied on ourselves, our families, our religious institutions and our communities.
What did you like best about holding the office of president for MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association (MBPA)?
Lawrence Knorr: I was honored to be elected the President of MBPA for one year. I met a lot of great people, including my predecessor Mary Shafer. My goal was to make sure our organization survived the struggles it was going through and could become sustainable. The new team that formed was very motivated to do so, and they continue on without me. Unfortunately, the demands of my growing business prevent me from volunteering at this time.
Your digital photography is quite beautiful. I particularly enjoy your vibrant use of color. How long have you been practicing this art and I'm curious...how many book covers have you designed?
Lawrence Knorr: Thank you! I've been a photographer since I was 12 years old. I began showing my work in 2006, after a local gallery liked my attempts at "Photo Impressionism." I was one of the pioneer artists who was trying to make photographs look like paintings. My work has been shown around the country and has won awards -- and is in collections and even a museum or two. While I have not been as active at showing my work, I have designed over 100 book covers over the last three years. My wife says they are getting better! I really enjoy doing it, and most of the authors are very pleased with the results.
What are your thoughts on selling internationally? Do you find that foreign bookstores cater to the same reading choices as here in our area?
Lawrence Knorr: We sell our books in at least a dozen other countries -- UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Australia, India, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan ... even Lebanon! We're developing expertise in foreign rights as well as foreign distribution. We have found the rest of the world lags the US in eBook adoption -- and still have a very strong book retailers. We've had the most success in the UK, for obvious reasons - but have also broken through where our titles touch on target markets.
I want to thank you for taking time out for this interview, Lawrence. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Lawrence Knorr has been involved with book publishing for fourteen years. His company, Sunbury Press, Inc., headquartered in Mechanicsburg, PA, is a publisher of trade paperback and digital books featuring established and emerging authors in many fiction and nonfiction categories. Sunbury's books are printed in the USA and sold through leading booksellers worldwide. Sunbury currently has over 120 authors and 200 titles under management. Lawrence has taught business and project management courses for ten years, and is the author of eight books. He is also an award-winning digital artist, and has designed dozens of book covers . Lawrence is the former President of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association (MBPA) Most interested in U.S. & World history and other nonfiction (sports, professional, hobbies) -- also historical fiction, mystery/thriller. Will consider YA fiction, contemporary and historical romance, horror (no vampires), literary fiction. Not looking for children's picture books and poetry at this time.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).