No Way to Run a Railroad

SkepFinal_black_linesWe receive frequent letters from readers who are frustrated with the way we publish books. Our deadlines sometimes slip. Projects that we think will take a year end up taking two or three years. Some projects disappear off the radar and reappear later.

One frustrated reader suggested we should change our company’s logo to a marijuana plant because that is surely what we are smoking.

When John and I started Lost Art Press in 2007 we decided that our internal corporate motto would be: “It’s done when it’s done. No sooner.”

This is important to me because I came from the corporate world where deadlines were more important than quality. A book took exactly two years from concept to delivery. Exceptions were rare.

While this is a great way to keep your revenue predictable, your employees paid and your lights on, it is my opinion that quality can suffer in this system.

When I explain this, some respond with this logical retort: Why don’t you stop writing and focus all your energies on getting other author’s books published?

My answer is two-fold: If I did this it would damage my mental health, and many times I’m not the problem. When a manuscript comes in, I drop my personal projects and work on the outside author’s project. So when you ask, “Why isn’t the Felebien translation done?” my answer is, “Because the translator is still working on it.”

We don’t pressure our authors to turn over a manuscript until they are happy.

So it might surprise you to find out that the only book I have in my hands to edit is Andrew Lunn’s book on sawmaking. Everything else is at some other stage of the process. So if you’ll please excuse me, I really need to read about setting saws.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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42 Responses to No Way to Run a Railroad

  1. Chris, and staff — It’s your railroad! Run it as you see fit and as best you can. I enjoy BOOKS and reading. (and woodworking)
    I would hope that you never rush through either. Keep up the good works!

  2. therealdanh says:

    Chris,
    The amazing quality of Lost Art books is always worth the wait. If people complain that they want such-and-such right now, so what! If they are at loose ends they might try doing some woodworking.

    Dan H.

  3. dslee58 says:

    Quality work never needs an excuse. Don’t change a thing about your approach … it’s a lost art (smile).

  4. Richard King says:

    Good for you! I agree completely.

    And besides, there is the old saying, “If they can’t talk a joke, f__k ‘em!”

    Richard King

    Aurora, ON

  5. Andy in Germany says:

    Fine by me. And if you ever need stuff translating from German to English…

  6. hgordon4 says:

    The negative voices always seem to be the loudest. I’ll add my voice to those that say the books are first-rate (physically and content-wise) and also that I think it’s great that you & John are committed to quality first and foremost. Thank you and keep up the great work.

  7. Bob Easton says:

    How soon will the Lunn book be done? 🙂

  8. rondennis303 says:

    Do what you love, love what you do. Politely suggest to the critics that they may feel free to find another source while achieving carnal self-knowledge all along the way!.

  9. Randall says:

    Quality before quantity.

  10. abtuser says:

    I don’t rush through reading your books, you shouldn’t rush through making them. It lowers the anxiety level knowing that I don’t have a stack of books I haven’t gotten to, lowering the risk I might miss something important in the current book I’m reading. I finish one, you may or may not have a new one published. Sounds good to me.

  11. tesla77 says:

    Lost Art Press is tantamount to a fine wine. Don’t change a thing. I appreciate the longer than normal fermentation, having tasted its fruits. Appreciate all that you guys do.

    JD

  12. Adam Palmer says:

    Sat ci sat bene.

  13. Better done right than on time in my book.

  14. I wonder if Henry O.Studley was on a deadline????

  15. beshriver says:

    there’s one off my wishlist … looking forward to it

  16. sides1960 says:

    Tomorrow is another day. Leonardo Da Vinici carried the Mona Lisa around for half his life, he never really finished it. He was never happy with it. Don’t settle, the quality of your work is worth the wait.

  17. I love your little company don’t change a thing

  18. Your initial post was spot on and the responses speak my mind. The complainers are surely a minority. Project managers have an old maxim… “Good, cheap and fast, pick any two.” The book you publish are high quality and a great value. Thanks.

  19. woodworkerme says:

    Scotty once said, I tell the captain the repair will take twice as long as necessary. then when you finish in half the time your a hero and a genies

  20. luce32 says:

    I like it just fine. You are doing a great job. I have something to look forward to

  21. nealm44 says:

    Lost Art Press is one of a very few remaining publishers of quality books done the old fashioned way. Hurrying to “catch up” is what started the downward spiral at some of those I miss the most, and your willingness to resist it is laudable. Whilst waiting, I’ll go back and re-read something.

  22. Tom Moore says:

    There’s two phrases in the world of manufacturing quality control, depending on who’s talking:
    A) Do it right the first time. (Management – time focused)
    B) Do it right eventually. (Labor – quality focused)
    Document review is a reality – and a necessary effort – in producing the excellent documents that you do. Publish it eventually, but publish it.

  23. John Sisler says:

    For several years I’ve watched the volume of activity you accomplish at a level of quality few can achieve. I seriously began to think you were actually identical twins posing as one person. I truly value your book quality,your woodworking skill,and am amazed at your productivity.
    To those who criticize Lost Art’s publication schedule-remember that in (anarchy-style) capitalism if you think someones’ business model is faulty,or if you think their productivity is less than it should be, you are free to jump in and show them how it should be done.

  24. Chris,
    You, John, and the other artist involved there at Lost Art do amazing stuff. I am in awe of all you do. I’ve seen you in person three time, I’ve 8 books from Lost Art all are top quality, a font of knowledge. Thank you for all that you have done and are doing for the woodworking world. You have made a difference in my woodworking life. Thanks

  25. Deniseg says:

    I’ll keep buying what you publish, when you publish it.

  26. robmelby says:

    Take your time, but hurry up.

  27. skywalker011 says:

    If you can make it happen at your pace. Do it! Just do it!

  28. mrz0420 says:

    keep doing it right, the first time. Awesome corporate motto, sad more companies don’t see it that way too.

  29. hikerob says:

    Thank God there is someone left with integrity. Do it your way. Your books are excellent and Ill buy as many as I can afford.

  30. mctoons555 says:

    If not already dead, patience is dying faster in our society than just about anything else. I tend to blame consumerism and the marketing strategists who are constantly bombarding us with the idea that we need everything yesterday, even though we have barely touched what we bought the day before. When I was still working, schedule was king, no matter what, and it seemed to me that there was a tremendous cost to working that way. However, by controlling how budgets were reported and how different kinds of costs were tracked, the powers that be could always put a spin on things so that those “hidden” costs were never reviewed, let alone discussed. I figure the raises I was always promised but never received helped pay for that warped mindset. I can’t argue with all the “do it your way” comments but I really believe you guys are basically just doing it the smart way, which means you won’t have to become a slave to the idea that continuous growth is the only way to stay in business. I think your business model can sustain your business for the long term, whether you stay just as you are or you decide to grow it. Good job and keep up the great work. There are way more people who appreciate what you guys do than those who don’t have the patience or the intelligence to know enough to wait for quality. It takes time. Period.

  31. kfreyermuth2014 says:

    Back in the days when I was a project manager, one of the guiding principles was: “Schedule, Cost, Quality: You can control only two”. Sadly in modern day corporations quality is the one sacrificed. Chris, I applaud your diversion from this in choosing quality and cost.

  32. ctregan says:

    Do you sell books to community libraries that lend it out? We have a great little library in town and would love to see your books there, but, could rack up the overdue fines with LAP books.

  33. Dan Zehner says:

    Don’t change a thing! I wish more companies would have the guts to follow your steadfast commitment to quality work.

  34. Brian Ashton says:

    Never change. You are a breath of fresh air.

  35. rushbycraig says:

    I really like your new logo. You’re a hit in the Beehive State!

  36. terrygday says:

    LAP is not Microsoft, good. I would hate to but LAP 8 and have it full of errors, bad grammar and skewed print to only have to buy LAP 8.1 six months later to get the correct information. Keep up the good work.

  37. Alex A. says:

    Your books are always worth the wait 🙂

  38. I love high quality. I hate deadlines. Keep on truckin’ the way you’re goin’.

  39. helleraknes says:

    You can’t please every one. We wait and meanwhile we make some saw dust and noise.

  40. Scott Taylor says:

    I seriously doubt any of us here make our living working wood with hand tools. This is our avocation and one we tend to be slightly obsessed with. LAP fills a very important niche for us and just like the process of slowly working the material you MUST keep to your ideals and do what you do. I do not own a Shopbot and never will, I do not use Sketchup and never will. A No.7 jointer and a Blackwing pencil (and thanks to you lots of dividers..) thank you very much…

    Keep doing things as you do them and I will keep buying them.

    • tsstahl says:

      Napkin drawings are great at connecting neurons in your head; Sketchup is great at connecting neurons on everyone else’s head.

      Agreed that you can get along just fine without Sketchup, even if it is a great (free) tool.

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