We’ve talked frequently on this blog about paradigm shifts and one of the biggest shifts is occurring in the publishing industry. The days of Max Perkins are definitely gone. As technology opens up all sorts of exciting new venues, authors whose works may never have seen the light of day now have options that weren’t available just a few years ago. Already, there are success stories.
Recently, our writer friend Ed Gorman told us to check out Crossroad Press. Ed isn’t an easy guy to impress, but he was so excited by what Crossroad was doing with his backlist titles that we decided to check out the company. As you’ll see, this outfit is markedly different from the competition. They don’t charge authors anything, and that in itself is astonishing. As founder David Wilson says, the company is “one big synchronicity machine.”
How did Crossroad Press come into being? What synchronicities were involved?
I have always said that Crossroad Press is a pleasant accident. I set out a few years ago to try and get my own backlist onto the Kindle. That was how it started. I learned (very slowly and painfully at first) how to format an eBook, how to convert it to various formats, what worked, and what did not. My day job is as an IT Manager, and I’ve been a web designer for many years, so the initial skills necessary for the task were already in place.
As things came together, and I started to look like I knew what I was doing, a couple of friends asked me if I could help with their books. Very quickly I realized that to do so for free was a bad idea, because eventually all I’d have been doing was helping people with eBooks and never writing, or working on my own material.
That is the point where I started to develop my business model – very heavily weighted in favor of authors. Not greedy, in other words, and not impatient for overnight riches.
Every stage of growth has come about because of chance encounters, spur-of-the-moment decisions that turned out to be accidentally brilliant, and the simple, honest approach. We started out approaching authors with big back lists of books, and soon found that authors were referring friends, others were searching us out, and before long the numbers swelled dramatically. At this point it’s a constant flow of material in, and out of the system, and very nearly every day we add something… either a new book to be worked, a new author to get to know and work with, or a new book to publish and promote.
The simple fact is that the entire company is like one great synchronicity engine. I even have the face-up penny on a chain around my neck that I found one day when a particularly large number of good things happened all at once, and with no effort on my part.
What is Crossroad’s philosophy?
Authors first. That’s the basic philosophy, and it’s worked well for us. We are quick and honest in responses. We fight to keep our overhead as low as possible so we can maintain the 80 percent to the author model that we started with. We don’t believe authors should work in the suburbs, while agents and publishers maintain offices in expensive NYC complexes. No words left behind would fit in as well…anything an author has written should be available to readers. Old, new, off-the beaten path, whatever. The boundaries on “shelf-life” simply don’t exist any longer, and words moldering away on a hard drive make me sad.
How is your company different from some of the other e-book publishers and distributors, like Smashwords, Argo-Navis, or Lulu?
It’s important to remember that we ARE a publisher. None of those that you mention are publishers. Lulu is a POD print service. Smashwords is a distributor (and we still work with them to reach a number of retail outlets). We are a publisher in a “newer” sense of the word.
While we specialize in bringing back the back-list books and stories, we also have developed several original series – as well as publishing new novels by the established authors we work with. We have moved into print, and audio, and we recently got our first Publisher’s Weekly review on one of those original titles. It’s a slowly growing machine.
It is a common misconception that Crossroad Press is in any way similar to a publishing “service.” There are a lot of those out there, willing to convert, scan, edit, and even publish and distribute books – but almost always for a price. Even Smashwords, which pays pretty well for the books they distribute, leaves the conversion, formatting, cover art, etc. to the author. There are a number of agents and “publishers” out there now asking authors to pay a set-up fee, or buy their cover art – things an actual publisher would never do. We are an actual publisher.
We never charge an author for anything – that’s not how it works. If I’m your publisher, I pay you. I get cover art for the book. I get the manuscripts formatted and edited. If they need to be scanned, we scan them, reformat them, and get them back into shape. That’s our job. One of the biggest mistakes a lot of authors make, I believe, is in trying to do all of those things themselves for all of their books. If you aren’t very good at it, it takes a lot of time, and the more time you spend doing frustrating work or trying to find and pay someone to do it – the less time you are writing.
So…while we are not a traditional publisher, we are starting our own NEW tradition. I believe it’s catching on.
What genres do you publish? Do you publish non-fiction?
We publish a little of everything. Since my own background is in Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror, my contacts tend to be stronger in those areas, and so it has taken longer to build our lists in other genres. Now we have thrillers, mainstream, new age, mystery, young adult, children’s books – and hope to move into other genres soon
How is the landscape of publishing changing? Where do you see the industry five or ten years from now?
Pretty obviously, the New York City publishing machine is shrinking. There are still a number of big-name authors, and big houses that continue to churn out the books and sell in the millions, and they aren’t going anywhere immediately. But I see little evidence that those houses are working in the way they used to to build the next generation of talent. There are simply too many options for a talented new author for them to wait two, maybe three years to hear from an agent who will send their book to a dozen places that will take from six months to another year or two to respond. The world is moving more rapidly – it’s possible to compete from a more independent platform – things are crumbling and shifting all over.
Places like Amazon, who have moved into more traditional publishing, are vying for slots and status that previously only the big few in NYC could muster. Some independent authors are rivaling or besting traditionally published best-sellers. While I don’t buy into the “anyone can do it now” philosophy that seems to have spread across the Internet, I do believe that companies such as Crossroad Press, where we embrace new technology, pay attention to what is going on, and treat people with honesty and respect (both authors and customers alike) will set a new standard for what publishing actually means. Some people are comfortable doing everything themselves, others like structure – we fall somewhere in the middle
What’s your long-term vision for Crossroad?
I can say that I actually have one now, which was not always the case. I think we are poised right on the brink of becoming a force to be reckoned with in the digital publishing world. The more we grow, the bigger the names we’ve been able to associate ourselves with, and all of our books gain from those new associations and contacts. I’d like to see Crossroad Press become my retirement in a few years…the thing I’ll do until I’m too old and crotchety to manage it. The love of my life, Patricia Lee Macomber, has been invaluable in building this – being an award-winning writer and editor in her own right. Dave Dodd, my business partner has made the business side of things workable and helped me build this into something real. Everywhere I’ve turned I’ve found talented people ready and willing to help build something new and special. That, then, is the long term goal. To remain something fresh, new, and special.
How are e-books changing the market not only for what the populace reads, but for authors?
I’ve been going on a long time here, so I’ll make this answer short and to the point.
For authors, doors have opened. All my career I have run into two blocks. Agents and publishers want you to write what you’ve always written, or they want you to write what they perceive as the “hot” market. If you are a successful mystery writer and have a mainstream novel you want to sell, the odds are that traditional agent/publisher team will discourage you, and, failing that, will simply tell you they don’t know how to market it – or make you use a different pen name. That barrier is gone now. In fact, at Crossroad Press I ENCOURAGE people to bring out those books, ideas, etc. that have not been published for the above-stated reasons. How ridiculous is it to force an author to write something other than what they really WANT to write? How much better will the books get when that freedom is returned?
For readers, I don’t know that it will change things so much, except that the lower pricing might bring back more spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment book buying, and the variety is greater. That, of course, is a two-edged sword. There is still the question of quality – and that is why I believe that a new-model publisher like Crossroad Press has a solid place in the changes to come The books we publish come from established authors in most cases, and in those where they do not – come from referrals, or carefully vetted new books.
Are you open to publishing new writers or do you want only published authors?
I mentioned earlier the wait time for traditional publishers. Crossroad Press has a very small staff, and we are constantly busy. To maintain a slush pile and try to seek out and work with new authors takes a lot of time, and a lot of manpower, that we just don’t currently have. What we do is work with established authors on their backlists. Often those same authors have unpublished works, sitting around for one reason or another, and we try to gather those in as well – and then new book, but –again – usually from our “stable” of authors. It would be unfair to new authors for us to attempt to run a slush pile at this point in time because we would then become part of the problem, holding things too long, responding too slowly. There may come a day when we can move into that world – but before it happens, we’ll have to find a business model that works better than the old one.
Are the ebooks you publish compatible with all reading devices?
Currently, we publish in ePub (Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc.) Mobi (Kindle) PRC (an older Kindle format) and PDF (readable on most devices and PC’s with free software. If another reading platform comes along that requires a new format, we’ll be quick to figure it out and make it available, because accessibility is one of our priorities. It’s also important to note that our eBooks are DRM free. What that means is that a savvy book buyer could buy our Kindle Books, use a program like “Calibre” to convert them, and read them on his Nook. There are a lot of arguments on both sides of the DRM issue, but we have chosen the one that makes books available to the most people with the least trouble
How does your audio books program work?
We do all of our audiobooks through Audible.com’s ACX program. It’s a fairly new program, about a year old, I think. What we’ve been able to do is to get a lot of books that never had a shot at audio when first published available, and to work with a lot of talented narrators along the way.
My entire program would not exist, or be possible, if it was not for Jeffrey Kafer – a very talented narrator and engineer – who has mentored me in the world of audio, and worked with me as engineer on literally all of my projects.
The ACX system is fairly simple – in theory – and any author with a book on Amazon.com can participate. Again, though, there are solid reasons to go through a publisher like Crossroad Press. For one thing, Jeffrey Kafer. We do our own mastering of final files. We know a number of very talented narrators, and have working relationships with them. We are one of the heaviest users of ACX and work as closely as possible with all of the people behind the scenes there to get as much out of the system as possible, including some world-class narrators like Dick Hill, Nick Sullivan, John Lee and Bob Walter, and some promotions that would be much more difficult to attain individually. We pay 65 percent of all money made on audiobooks back to our authors, and they have to do (pretty much literally) nothing. Since these are books that would likely never have made it to audio otherwise, it’s like found money.
We were so impressed by the company’s philosophy, that we submitted five or our backlist titles: Rob’s Edgar award-winning Prophecy Rock and Edgar nominated Hawk Moon, and three books Trish wrote as Alison Drake: Tango Key, Fevered, and High Strangeness. Tango Key is available here in different formats. Other backlist titles are in the pipeline.