Nonvella aiming to get writers paid “what they should be paid”

Trinity 2

 Nonvella’s publisher, Vancouver writer Tyee Bridge

by Rachel Sanders


Tyee Bridge remembers the moment he first had the idea for Nonvella.

“I was sitting at my kitchen table toiling away on a book proposal project for what was going to be a fairly long book about the end of the world – our fascination, obsession with it,” the Vancouver-based freelance writer told Story Board via phone this week.

“And I realized that I didn’t really want to write that book. I had allowed myself to go in a direction that I didn’t totally want to go in because I needed to fit a certain length that the book publishers were after. And I felt it would be nice to do 15,000 words. It would have been quite good at that length. And there really was nowhere to publish that,” he said.

Around the same time, back in 2011, Bridge was also starting to hear about innovative digital publishing projects like Byliner and the Atavist. He realized he wanted to try something similar.

Thus was born Nonvella, a digital publisher that produces works of non-fiction between 5000 and 20,000 words long. A partnership with Vancouver science writer Anne Casselman helped get the idea off the ground.

“Anne had already had experience in publishing a science zine and an online publication that she’d started with some friends. And she was keen and she said ‘let’s actually make this happen.’ It really wouldn’t have happened without Anne,” said Bridge.

“And for me, at that point, being a freelancer for so long, I was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to do anything if it wasn’t collaborative. I’ve had quite enough of the lone wolf sort of thing.”


Fundraising and challenges

Bridge and Casselman launched a Kickstarter in April of this year to raise funds. They exceeded their $12,500 goal. But learning how to be publishers wasn’t easy.

“The challenges for us are the amazing number of hurdles that you have to do to actually get a book out, whether it’s in digital or in print. So perhaps some naivete that we both had is now gone,” he said.

The main challenge that remains is a financial one.

“We’re still trying to see how this works financially for writers. We haven’t got a sense yet of what kind of sales we’re going to be getting,” said Bridge.

Writers earn 50% of net receipts from work published through Nonvella. Digital copies cost $2.99 or you can get print-on-demand books through Amazon for $9.99. Bridge says they’ve been watching and learning from other digital publishing start-ups.

“Byliner hasn’t done too well, but we think there are some reasons that maybe we can circumvent,” he said.

“I mean look at the content they had, look at the authors they had. But at the same time, look at how they started, as a VC-funded entity with almost a million dollars in capital. With investors who were looking to get a return over a fairly short timeline, I’m sure, probably three to five years,” he said.

“That puts a lot of pressure on an organization. And think of the overhead that it takes to pay all these people that are the main executives, that are manning this giant ship that they’ve created,” he said.

In contrast, Bridge says Nonvella is taking things slowly.

“We are really an example of a micropublisher that’s starting grassroots up. We don’t have a lot of equity funding or VC funding at this point. We will be looking for investor capital but not at anywhere near that scale. We want to grow ourselves little by little,” he said.


Innovative approaches

They’ve also learned some lessons about promotion and marketing.

“I think what we’ve learned quite keenly is skepticism. You can’t just assume that if you just pump it out on social media and if you create a subscription platform they will flock to you,” said Bridge.

“I think the only way we’re going to make it work, to get writers back to getting paid what they should be paid, is by taking similarly innovative approaches to Atavist. Not necessarily by selling software, but we’re going to have to find ways that our books get in front of as many eyeballs as possible and not just by building a Twitter feed over ten years.”

Over the next nine months, Bridge said, Nonvella hopes to start announcing some partnerships.

“We’re going to be rolling out some possible distribution partnerships. We have what we hope are some aces up our sleeve in terms of finding innovative ways of promoting our stuff,” he said.

One thing Nonvella has never lacked is support from the writing community.

“I think a lot of people, ourselves included, are excited to see experiments, innovations, ways to try to move beyond the kind of gridlock that we as writers and publishers seem to be in. We’re all dealing with a multiplicity of forces in the market and in technology right now. And I’m cheering along anybody who’s trying new things,” he said.


The stories so far

So far, Nonvellas has published three books: The Silicon Rapture by Adam Pez, Timothy Taylor’s Foodville, and an anthology called Far From Home. They’re hoping to publish three more before the end of the year, all of which are still in the negotiating stages.

And Bridge and Casselman are both hoping to eventually use their new platform to publish their own work.

“I have covetous ideas of somehow using that end-of-the-world material and turning that into a nonvella. That was the impetus for this thing in the first place. I’m not sure if that’s ever going to happen but I do hope one day to write for this platform. Anne’s got a couple of great ideas too,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll start getting some momentum going and then maybe both of us can each turn to why we love doing this in the first place.”

Check out Nonvella’s website for details about their published works or to pitch them your ideas. You can follow them on Twitter at @Nonvella.

And if you’re interested in Tyee Bridge’s end-of-the-world research, check out his website at


Posted on July 25, 2014 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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