By Ryan Miller
Photos by David Uhrin
Köehler Books’ North End studio space in Virginia Beach, at the home of President and Publisher John Köehler, would make for an engrossing page-turner within itself. It’s teeming with stranger-than-fiction anomalies and novelties—boomerangs, tribal masks, a disco ball and model hang glider hover overhead. Köehler keeps a miniature megaphone and judge’s gavel on his desk underneath a compilation poster of Virginia Beach Oktoberfest events from over the years, which is a complementary footnote to the idiosyncratic umlaut found in the company’s name.
Köehler’s past is its own gripping subplot; in 1991 he won the Boomerang World Championship in Perth, Australia and toured with Foster’s Boomerang 2000 team, hence the Foster’s Lager bright blue boomerang neon sign glowing over the workplace microwave. When he penned his own paperback book in 2005, Bipolar by Köehler, on how he coped with bipolar disorder beginning at the age of 30, he forewent the acquisition of an agent to publish his story, opting instead to self-publish the book. While overseeing his own graphic design studio, he studiously researched different models of publishing, distribution and printing before self-publishing more of his own books and friends’ memoirs in rapid succession.
By 2010 Köehler sold his graphic design studio and established Köehler Books as an independent boutique publisher. “The company was pretty fledgling at the time; he was only doing a few books a year but had hopes of growing it,” remarks Joe Coccaro, vice president and executive editor at Köehler Publishing, and a former editor at The Virginian-Pilot who has brought along his experience from his 22-year tenure at the newspaper. The company integrated a staff of editors, authors and publicity and design experts to provide a holistic publishing experience involving collaboration and coaching in its Emerging Authors Program; book design; marketing with conventional and social media; and distribution channels for more than 350 authors around the world using Ingram Content Group.
The company has been ascending while ushering in a new chapter for the industry with the emergence of electronic publishing. Previously, authors had to resort exclusively to a monopoly of large publishers in order to have their work printed, meaning they had to first try and obtain an agent and then hopefully they could sell their work. The development of Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing as well as IngramSpark for self-publishing altered the industry’s accessibility. “Everything changed,” Köehler asserts, “the literati, the hoity-toity, the reviewers, they were horrified.” Some were appalled with just reason, as some authors forewent necessary editing and released books with atrocious printing and covers, while others thrived while producing quality books, from editing to creative development, prompting the change as their material sold. “It took the power away from the reviewers and the few publishers and agents, and put the power, some of the power, into the hands of authors and then indie publishers like us and then self-publishing companies as well.”