Thursday, July 22, 2010

Birth of a Small Press

A brand new press has been born and it’s being run by an experienced and enthusiastic publisher. Dystopia Press is the dream-come-to-life of Mark Long. Mark runs TSTC Publishing, which publishes the TechCareers series of books that I have been involved with. He’s now opened his own small press.

While I don’t write the genre of books he’s looking for, I was still excited to hear what he’s been doing. I’m also excited because I think there may be one or two of you out there who do write what he’s looking for.

So, I’m going to turn Straight From Hel over to Mark Long. Welcome, Mark.

Dream Big

One summer night when I was in my late thirties, my wife Melody and I were having a few beers with a friend of ours out on our back patio when she made each of us answer the question “What would you do if you had the choice to do whatever you wanted?” Melody said she wanted to be a full-time college history teacher, our friend wanted his own recording studio, and I wanted to run my own small press.

As it happens, since then my wife has become a full-time history instructor at our local community college, our old friend has been recording CDs at the home studio he put together, and I’ve been a book publisher for the last six years, first at Texas State Technical College and, simultaneously for the past year and a half, at Dystopia Press, working to get it off the ground to publish dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels.

One of my wife’s favorite quotes is from Quincy Jones about kids’ problems today stemming from the fact that they just don’t dream big enough. Thanks to her—and that night of saying out loud what we really wanted to do in our lives—we’re all actually doing what we had always secretly wanted to do.

Why Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Novels?

To really make a go of it in small press publishing you need to publish books that you love as well as ones that fit into a clearly defined market niche. My two favorite genres when growing up were mystery and science fiction. It was kind of toss-up there for a while as to which way to go—mystery or sci-fi—but the mystery market is so saturated that niche-specific sci-fi looked to be a better bet.

Plus, I had always a real interest in those kind of end-of-the-world stories whether they were the result of some calamity like Day of the Triffids or On the Beach or even just societies gone wrong like 1984 or Make Room! Make Room!. It’s one of those truisms that everybody tends to be nice when things are going their way but it’s when the chips are down that true character is revealed. So these types of novels take that conceit to a really epic scale.

How Did This All Get Started?

I’d been teaching college English for about ten years but six years ago TSTC, the school I was teaching at in Waco, was looking to start an in-house book publishing operation so I moved over to help out with that. At first it was just me sitting in an old conference room desperately reading books about publishing but since then we’ve grown to a full-time staff of five with a slew of editorial and graphics interns each semester along with a pool of freelancers who work on projects as well.

Back when I was still in the English department I figured out it was really easy to throw away a ton of money in book publishing if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing—my biggest fear has always been ending up with 5,000 copies of some book sitting in my garage for the rest of my life—so working at TSTC Publishing has been absolutely invaluable experience. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time so I’ve tried to make the most of by learning as much as possible about all the various aspects of publishing before finally starting Dystopia Press.

What’s Happening Right Now?

 Our first title coming out will be 20 Years Later by Emma Newman, a writer from England. A young adult (YA) novel set in London twenty years after a plague has wiped out most of the world’s population, it has a kind of Charles Dickens meets 28 Days Later vibe (minus the zombies). Although post-apocalyptic novels aimed specifically at the YA demographic were something new to me, it was a great story that was well told so it was an easy decision to work out a deal to publish it.

What’s the Plan for the Future?

Everyone who gets involved with small press publishing has a real love of books—usually in one particular genre—but the hardest thing is taking care of all the nitnoid details that aren’t nearly as interesting as books themselves: buying ISBNs, generating Bookland EAN barcodes, lining out effective distribution, keeping good business/financial records, and doing all those other day-to-day things that are necessary to having an effective publishing operation. So, with that in mind, with Dystopia Press I’m trying to thoughtfully set it up to last for the long haul.

In the short term, it’s all about reading manuscripts. With a small press, you need to be sure you’re publishing the best books you possibly can because the margin for error is so small. The hardest part of that is getting someone to take a chance on working with a press that doesn’t have an established track record. So I’m always on the lookout for the next great manuscript that fits into our niche and would be a crime not to publish.

Thank you Mark.

Mark is making it easy for you to find out what he’s looking for. He blogs and tweets, and Dystopia press has its own Facebook fan page and website, of course. And in case you’re wondering how to submit to Dystopia Press, go to the submission guidelines page.

Right now, you can ask questions or leave comments for Mark. He won’t mind. He’s put up with me for a long time.
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  1. I think you're absolutely right--a niche, a focus, is really important with small presses.

    Great genre that you're publishing! I do enjoy reading post-Apocalyptic books.."On the Beach" is a favorite of mine.

  2. Good morning, Elizabeth. Mark has given Dystopia Press a sharp focus, one that's a passion of his.

  3. Hi Mark. I don’t write what you’re looking for, but how do you find market shelf space competing with the bigger publishers? Niche bookstores are struggling against the bigger players. It’s a busy sand box. Also do you negotiate ebook rights with writers, and is this an area of growth you factor in to be a successful smaller press? I admire you for making your dream come true.

    Thank you, Simon.

  4. Good luck with your new venture, Mark. I also don't write what you're looking for, but anyone who has the courage to follow their dream has my vote for success!! :)

  5. Best wishes Mark. Glad to see you can say you are doing what you want to be doing!

  6. I hope you find great success, Mark! I am a fan of Emma's writing so I'll be first to buy her book.

    Thanks, Helen, for sharing with us!

  7. Great niche. I just watched The Book of Eli and couldn't help but see it fitting into this genre, Mark. Also, looks like you've picked the perfect name for the press. I haven't written in this genre either--not yet, at least--but as my friends and family know, you just can't ever tell. Lots of luck on your venture. I'll send folks your way who might fit what you're looking for.

  8. Some of my favourite books are PA (so Emma's book is YAPA. Neat.), Alas Babylon, Earth Abides, Canticle for Leibowitz etc. or shorts like Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog (made into a silly, cheesy, apt movie with Don Johnson as the "boy".)

    Pretty excited about a small press devoted to this. Permuted already has Zombie fiction covered.

  9. Best of luck. It's always great to see someone doing what they really enjoy. Looking forward to seeing the books you publish.

    Thoughts in Progress

  10. Good choice to go with science fiction! (Yes, I am biased.)
    Sounds like a lot of work - hope it pays off.

  11. Kudos to Mark for following the journey to his dream, learning and growing every step of the way, until he reached this amazing accomplishment. Raising my coffee cup in a toast ...

  12. What a great inspiration to follow your dreams and on such a large scale. I wish you all the look and though I love to read dystopia I don't write it. Good luck with it.

  13. I love the story of how you found your passion and are now living it. Wishing you much success, Mark.

  14. Very cool! I don't really write this type of stuff myself, but I know quite a few writers who will be interested in this.

    Best wishes for much success, Mark.

    Brain Droppings

  15. Woot! Woot! Woot! Go Emma! I've been following Emma Newman for quite a while and new she had a book coming out soon. So neat to find out more about the publisher behind it. Thanks for highlighting them both here, Helen.

    Good luck, Mark, in your new venture.

  16. Many thanks to all for the well wishes!


    You are correct that there is ever increasing competition for shelf space in bookstores. That's why it's important to work with a good distributor as well as having a carefully thought out pre- and post-launch marketing strategy. Happily, a lot of genre/niche fiction has a well developed and supportive fan base so if you can tap into that you're in pretty good shape.

    As for ebooks, their importance revenue-wise will only grow in the coming years, especially for smaller publishers. Most books don't make enough money from any one sales channel--direct sales, distributor sales, book club sales, sub-rights sales--to drive a project into profitability. Rather, it's the aggregate revenue from these areas that give you the best shot at turning a profit.

  17. Good luck with your new venture, Mark. I don't have any manuscripts at present that would fit your needs, but if inspiration strikes me, I'll keep you in mind. (g)

    Morgan Mandel

  18. Thanks everyone for joining in on my excitement for Mark and the authors he'll eventually sign up. I know they'll get a publisher who really knows what he's doing and will work for the author.

  19. Thanks Helen and Mark! Sounds a great new press - I think smaller presses are perfectly positioned to change fast and move with the market!

  20. Aw too bad I don't write sci fi or mystery. But always interesting to hear thoughts behind a new small press. Good luck!

  21. I am inspired by your story and wish you all the best. Interesting comment on the e-book end. I have been hearing just the opposite.

  22. I do have a question for Mark. Actually two: Does DP accept novella length manuscripts? Are you at all interested in short story collections? I don't have either in your particular genre, but some others reading this post might, so I thought it worth asking. Thanks.

  23. Congrats on being able to fulfill a long-time dream. The fact that you, your wife, and your friend have all achieved what you most wanted is truly amazing. But the key point I saw in your post is that you made a plan and stuck with it. Too many people give up.

  24. Good grief, I just posted my comment on the wrong day's post. It's there on the 21st. I must be more tired than I thought. :)

  25. fantastic post. I love to see people's dreams come true.

  26. Wonderful story that you and your wife both have achieved your dreams!

    Love the perfect name you've chosen for your press!


  27. If you're going to dream, dream big! So glad you did and you're now following your heart. Your plans sound excellent and incredibly well thought out. The manuscript I'm currently working on would fit quite well into your press's niche and so I'll be keeping tabs on your business as I work to finish it. Best of luck to you in the mean time, Mark! Thanks for taking the time to be so thoughtful in your responses as well as sharing your valuable insights.



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