I self-published my first novel, RealmShift, at the start of 2006 through Lulu.com. It was an interesting exercise. I learned a great deal about producing a quality book and I learned a lot about the nature of Recommended Retail Price, bookstore discounts, international postage and shipping costs and the stigma that stops people taking self-published work seriously. But the book sold modestly, got a lot of great reviews and generated a bit of buzz. I even had people randomly emailing me with praise and asking for more, which was very flattering. As it happened I was already working on the sequel. Once that was ready to publish I decided to take the whole process more seriously and, rather than use an author service POD company again, I wanted to go directly to source.
I investigated cutting out the middleman and dealing directly with Lightning Source International (LSI), the POD printer used by many author service companies. I discovered that LSI don’t deal directly with authors – they deal only with publishers. Now, the semantics of indie author/publisher aside, this actually gave me an idea. Why not become a boutique version of something like Lulu or iUniverse? Why not become a publisher? I saw an opportunity here to take the indie publishing process a step further. So I slowly put together a plan.
I would create a POD publishing company that would be essentially exactly the same as the big POD author service companies mentioned above but with the following caveats:
Genre Specific – my work is dark fantasy, sometimes classified as horror or urban fantasy. I decided to form a publisher that would specialise only in science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a preference for the darker, more adult works in those genres.
Quality Control – I wouldn’t just let anyone publish anything. While the work would need to be done largely by the author, especially all the marketing and promotion post release, I would firstly only take well written, well edited, quality stories and I would do the typesetting, formatting, layout and cover design myself (in deep consultation with the author) to ensure that the books we produced were both good writing and professionally put together. Small
Catalogue – the publisher would only have a small number of authors on board, keeping to the specifications above.
Cost Neutral – the publisher itself would not be designed to make a profit. The publisher will recover costs from the authors from their sales and subsequent sales profits then all go back to the authors – it’s up to them to market the work, so they should get the proceeds. I’ll have to make my profits from the sale of my own books.
Anthologies – some money can come back to the press by way of anthologies. I would pay for the stories included, buying first print and online rights for one year, and hopefully cover costs with anthology sales and maybe put a bit of money back into the publishing company this way. Any profits made here could be used to market the press as a whole and generate interest in all the work published. This is also an opportunity to give emerging writers another market for their work.
There are two fundamental points to this approach: As this publisher is not out to turn a profit, I could offer my books and those of anyone else I take on at a retail price very close to the cost price from the POD printer; With quality control and a limited catalogue, we could work towards shattering the indie publishing stigma – a stigma that is slowly dissolving, but that can certainly do with an injection of quality work!
Any books put out through this publisher would also have a stable of other work to stand up with. All the books would carry the logo and all would be featured on the publisher’s website. The catalogue of work as a whole could be marketed and any sales from one author would expose the other authors to those readers. This idea is basically taking the technology that we have available today, that is used so successfully and profitably by the author service POD companies, and distilling it back down to something smaller and more targeted.
Being genre specific and having a degree of quality control means that the publisher can be grown as a brand within the indie publishing world and within the greater publishing world as a whole. And so Blade Red Press was born. I started pulling in favours and getting things organised. My “day job” is as a martial arts instructor. One of my students at the time was a graphic designer. He put me onto a friend of his that designed the Blade Red Press logo for me at mate’s rates.
With the help of another friend and his IT skills I put together the Blade Red Press website. I registered the company name and set up a publisher account with LSI and I was ready to go. I started with my own books, re-issuing RealmShift along with the new book, MageSign. With everything I’d learned about cover design, promotion and so on I was able put together two excellent quality books. I had some reviews done in advance and was able to include the review comments on the cover and inside the books. I got another author friend of mine to give me a blurb. The work was all uploaded to LSI and Blade Red Press had its first two titles.
Everything is new and still growing at the moment. We’ve put out one more title, an alternate history of ancient Baghdad, called Maggots Of Heresy, by Michael Fridman. The website still needs some development. But it’s all up and running. I’ll be opening a submission window soon for short stories for our first anthology and also for novel submissions for our next title release. I intend to use the press to release one or two anthologies and one or two novels per year. It will stay small and offer a quality product at a decent price.
POD is always going to face its hardest challenge with pricing. But when I first released RealmShift through Lulu it was US$23.95 at amazon.com. Now, through Blade Red Press, it’s US$15.95, as is the sequel, MageSign. Both books are close to 400 pages. So we’re heading in the right direction.
However, a word of warning. If you choose to do something like this, it will take up a lot of your time! Using the author service companies takes a lot of time and effort as well, producing a quality book and then marketing it. But adding in the extra work of managing your own small company online is something that needs to be seriously considered before you dive in. I’m enjoying the challenge but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy. There’s nothing easy about the world of indie publishing, but it certainly is worth it if you’re prepared to take on that challenge.