PMPress Books

Friday, May 18, 2012

Collateral Damage ...

It did not take long for me to learn of Tony G and the Living Dead Press family of imprints.
Recent challenges associated with Tony and his business practices are not really a surprise.
The response from the community was more of a surprise. But a pleasant one.

However, the balance of life suggests for every good, there is bad. In the case of Post Mortem Press (and B2Publishing) I need to take steps to ensure we are not part of the collateral damage.

What do I mean by collateral damage?  Tony G's behavior is more than a personal failure - it is a black eye for all small press. While he has (rightfully) lost his business and reputation, other small press organizations are now subject to microscopic inspection.  The world of the unfiltered, unmoderated internet allows information, whether it be true or false, to travel the world at the speed of your infrastructure.

I have no issue with the microscope. It is my intention to remain as transparent as possible. Where I have an issue is how the information is used and interpreted.

We have some issues with our earlier books, I have been up front about that. We have been diligent about fixing these issues and moving on. Learn from our mistakes. Our success has allowed us to hire editors and obtain better cover art etc.

My fear is if this information is shared, only the problem and not the solution will be promoted.

"I read a PMP book, damn it was loaded with typos. Who the hell edited this crap? I wouldn't want them touching my work."  This not so exaggerated example, if shared with an influential group or by an influential person could ruin us.

It is easy to point to the support of people like Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Jonathan Maberry, etc. as signs of our value to the community. But as politics demonstrates, common sense and critical thinking are not part of the everyday person's "tool kit".

I am probably more concerned about this than I should be - but I would be lying if I ignored it.

I don't want to start a "Gee, isn't PMP great!" campaign, as that would ring hollow and contrived. But I also don't want to be silent.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Means Convention Season: Part Two

After what seemed like a miserable start to PMPress' foray into genre conventions and book fairs, we had a bit of luck with the Pittsburgh ComiCon. It helped that a logistic error on the part of the convention organizers provided us with a prime location - but who's complaining.

After Pittsburgh it was time for a LONG trip. I was headed to Dallas to attend Texas Frightmare Weekend. On my way back I would go to NYC for Ginny Gilroy's release party (at a shi shi Manhattan restaurant no doubt).

Eric, Ginny, Larry (Ginny's Man), ans Stephanie (my Woman!)
I Trulii Restaurant 122 E 27th St Manhattan
When I was done in NYC I would head north (a little) to see Jay Downes and then into Pennsylvania where we had a couple of bookstore events for Ken Cain.  All of this (about 4,000 miles) in a 1991 Toyota van with 200k miles and a malfunctioning AC unit. 

Texas Frightmare turned out to be more of a turning point for me rather than just an event. I am not really a people person. Up to now Stephanie was with me at every event. She is fearless in the general public. She will haggle with merchants in third world countries without flinching. I, on the other hand, would rather not shop anyplace where the price was up for debate. I am terminally shy.

But now I am on my own. I have the help of Magen Toole (who I will suggest is also terminally shy) but this make or break event is firmly on my shoulders. If I can't get out of my shell on my own, PMP is doomed. To apparently to no one's surprise (but mine) I managed to break through my shyness and actually speak to people. Not just people who spoke to me first, but I was actually initiating conversations. Hell, I even had conversations with celebrities. "A-listers" like Malcolm McDowell, "B-listers" like Sid Haig and Norman Reedus, and even "who the fuck are you's" like Jason Eisener (director of Hobo with a Shotgun) and Lucky McKee (director of May, The Woods, and The Woman - more about Lucky just a little later).

Me and Malcolm McDowell from just before the PMPress days, November 2010.
 It was at this event that I decided I could actually make this whole "being the face of PMP" work. I also learned we were generating some buzz in the community. Positive buzz at that. I met a great deal of people during that event. Magen's brothers kept us entertained. The Goodwill trailer-park ladies next door were good for a laugh when they weren't annoying us and I met some folks who would later end up associated with PMPress. Felicia Tiller is now one of my go to editors.  Brad Carter is a member of the "PMP Inner Circle" and chit chat with Lucky McKee (along with an intro from Paul Anderson later in the year) provided a gateway to Jack Ketchum through their movie The Woman.

One other thing happened while I was in Texas - I got my very last severance paycheck from my job at Nielsen. From that point forward, the pressure was on. Six thousand dollars a month just disappeared.

In between these stops I did some camping. I can tell you, being alone, at night, in a deserted campground, with no cell service can bring some clarity. At some point, in the middle of the night, deep inside the Hungry Mother State Park, in nowhere Virginia, as I reflected on the events in Texas, the books in the "pipeline", and my desire to do anything to avoid corporate America, I decided PMPress was going to survive. I would continue with it 1000% and no longer think about getting a "real job". This meant my kids had to get used to the fact that Dad's ATM was broken. Eating out became a rare occurrence rather than the norm. I stopped the "one click" accumulation of books, DVDs, and music.

Camp "Damn it's cold out here"

Of course I needed to convince Stephanie of this. She was now the primary income earner. For those who haven't met her, she is a masters level clinical social worker/therapist for a small private sector social service agency. Which, in short, means she doesn't get paid very well.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to convince Stephanie that we could make a go at this, giving up TWO-THIRDS of our family income. Though I shouldn't have been surprised, as she has always been supportive of me and is a voice of reason when I have a wild assed idea (or three).

Over the past year or so it has been tough. There have been many sleepless nights. I have gained about 40 pounds. There are some home repairs that have been ignored etc. Yet though all the headaches, disappointments, and exciting moments, it was worth it.  I may not be able to have dinner out at the local chain steakhouse or cruise the Mediterranean, or fix a couple of broken windows, but I am happier than I have ever been. 

From the moment I got into the van and headed north on the NJ Turnpike to see Jay Downes I knew everything was going to be okay. This was what I wanted to do, and damn it I am going to make it work.

There have been many highs (and some lows too) since then. Some of them very significant. Yet it was that moment where I drew the line. Stephanie was okay with my plan (flying her to Manhattan for a midweek party didn't hurt) and more importantly I was okay with the plan.

To quote Senator Stuart Smalley...

I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

To be continued ...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Means Convention Season: Part One

This coming weekend Post Mortem Press begins its 2012 convention/book fest tour, PMPress the Flesh 2012: End of Days Tour, at Horror Realm Spring Break Massacre in Pittsburgh.

We are starting in Pittsburgh for a couple reasons. First, Pittsburgh loves us. I am not sure why, and I am not complaining, but we break even and then some when we visit. This year however, I am adding the hotel and travel costs into the equation to determine which events are worthwhile. 

Second, it was cheap - except for the hotel. We won't need to sell many books to "make table" as Stephanie likes to call it. Four books will cover the table cost, and another eight or so to cover the hotel. I am confident we can sell 12 or more books Saturday. 

Third, Paul Anderson will be there. No, I don't have a man crush on Paul. He is compiling/selecting/editing the stories for Torn Realities (PMP's next anthology) and it will be good to discuss his progress in person rather than phone or email. 

The start of the tour is also time for some pondering about last year and the strides we made as an organization and I made as an individual. 

Our first convention was HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis. I chose this on as the special guest was Italian giallo master, Dario Argento. I love Argento's films (well most of them) and would attend as a paying customer, why not pay a little more and sell some books too?  Well, Argento canceled and the weekend was a financial disaster. I was way to shy, we only had a few titles, and our location in the dealer room was lacking. Yet, even though we lost a great deal of money when you include hotel etc. It was well worth the trip as we met two people that would help us grow.

First, we met Carl Merritt. Carl sells DVDs, trinkets, and oh yea, stun guns. When he's not selling his wares he makes Z-Grade movies and wrote a sci-fi book. As the weekend progressed Carl spoke of how his publisher went under and he wanted to get the book back out into circulation. PMP's first science fiction title comes to life.  In fact, Carl's Fleet of Angels accounted for 24.4% of all the books we sold in 2011 and 21% of our net revenue. All of a sudden a dud convention becomes the reason we were able to grow so fast.  In 2012 the book is still selling, not nearly as many copies, but I can still count on a dozen or so Fleet of Angel sales each month. 

While Carl was across from us, Scott Ford was next to us. Scott is an interesting guy who sells props etc that were used in horror films. All of his items have a certificate of authenticity and he will even show you where during the film the prop was used. But it wasn't Scott's hyperactive behavior or his props that helped us - it was his advice. He and his wife, Lori are veterans of the convention circuit. He helped us understand what worked and what didn't. He also told us about a convention in St Louis, Contamination, that we would ultimately attend and would alter our perception about events from that point forward.

Our next event was a book festival is Arkansas. We were told there would be 15,000 people walking by our tables and 75% of those people buy 2 or more books. Awesome. These are book people, we are book publishers, a match made in heaven. Well, maybe not. Over the course of three days, less than 200 people walked by. They put the vendors in a parking lot behind the main event location. A parking lot very few people used or walked through. We sold $45 worth of books. FORTY-FIVE dollars. But, we met Tommy Hancock who runs Pulp Ark! an event we are attending as special guests in late April.  Since Pulp Ark! is free (except hotel) I am sure we will do well. 

This was so depressing I was ready to call it quits. PMPress would become a hobby and I would be forced to reenter corporate America.  But we had one more show we had paid for, the Pittsburgh ComiCon. As you may have guessed from the beginning of this long rambling post - Pittsburgh was very kind to us. We did fairly well and got to hang out with Paul Anderson and Ken Cain. All of a sudden, this was beginning to feel real. 

But even though we made some money and had a good time, we still weren't out of the wood or even close to making back any of our investment.

This would change however, after a series of events that altered our history ...

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Keeping all the ducks in a row

One of the things I didn't like about my corporate America job was having so many projects going on at once that I couldn't keep them straight.

I think I have reached that point again. But this time, I have no one but myself to blame.

However, I can't slow down now. PMP and B2P are off to a great start this year and if I want to continue with the winning streak I need to stay focused.

Right now, as of this blog post I have ...

  • Five books under contract - two with editors
  • One anthology in the works - although the Editor is  doing most of the work
  • eBook creation for Mixed Messages
  • Press Releases for who knows how many books
  • PMPress the Flesh logistics
  • Two dozen plus novels to read for possible publication 
    • two of which are looking like I will offer contracts
  • Come up with ideas for the next two/three anthologies
  • Did someone say "Young Adult"? 
  • Reformat/redit of the Manchester Trio
  • B2P promotional materials to create
  • B2P project stuck with the author somewhere (I've already been paid 50% so she can take her time)
  • I Didn't Write a Book, But if I Did, This is What I Would Do a book I am writing with Stephanie about navigating the pub world as a small fish in a giant ocean. 
Plus I need to complete a 100 page doctoral paper on Paradigms of Organizational Change
AND work on my dissertation before my student loan debt rivals the GDP of small African nation. 

So, I think I am going to make myself take one day off a week.
What day, I haven't decided - but it should be a weekday.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reviews - Part Deux

As I am sure you can imaging I come across a great deal of books. Sometimes it is the "courtesy" buy, where someone at a show buys one of our books and I turn around and use their money to buy one of theirs. Seems like we should just trade - but why not, the PMP author gets credit for a sale and the other author feels like they sold something.

But that's not what this post is about - it's about reviews.

I cannot leave reviews. Why? Well, because it puts PMPress at risk. How? It does not take a genius to figure out who owns PMPress. This community is pretty small really. If I go online and present an honest opinion about something (say the Fast Food Zombie book from earlier) I run the risk of alienating an entire group of potential customers.

Sure, there is the whole "political correctness is ruining our world" approach - but sometimes being silent is the best thing to do.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Value of Time

During the past several days I have spent countless hours reformatting a book B2P was contracted to publish. I volunteered to make the changes primarily as a carrot to get the contract. It is our first "real" job and I did not want to lose the client or the revenue.  As I worked my fingers and eyes into a blurred frenzy I began to question if it was really worth the effort.  Ultimately the business person inside me said "Hell yes! You're not turning away $700 because your eyes hurt." It's hard to argue with that logic.

The specific question about this project led to the proverbial "bigger question" just what is my time worth?  When I had my corporate job I was paid roughly $40 an hour - and I was underpaid compared to some of my peers with less experience.  So, to make it easy for me - I will use $40 an hour as my time value.

Now, let's think about a book - any book. I will pick an imaginary book so as not to provide too much information and create a stir.

The Book has arrived in my in-box. I read the summary and decide if I will send it to an intern to pre-read or pre-read it myself. A pre-read for me is a quick scan of the first few chapters to decide if it is worth reading more in-depth. I can't speak for Andrew or Elizabeth (the interns) but a pre-read, with notes, can take me about an hour to an hour and a half. Much longer than I take to read for pleasure.
(+1 hour)

I like The Book so far and will spend the next three to five hours reading the whole book.
(+5 hours)

Now, to decide if I want to publish the book. This process is hard to explain or even assign time to. So, I will leave it alone. However, the process required to work up a contract, contact the author etc is roughly two hours.
(+2 hours)

So now I have spent six hours on a project and haven't done anything yet. Let's think about editing. Does the book need a copy-editor, narrative editor, or a proofreader? I suck at these tasks - so if the budget (and bank account) allow, I outsource these. If I don't have the money, or the manuscript is pretty clean I make a copy-edit pass.
(+3 hours)

Now I need to format the interior of the book.

Fonts are always fun. The body text is New Times Roman by default, but the front matter, headers, and chapter heads need something other than plain Jane NTR. I have about 11,000 fonts at my disposal (I bought a commercial font package for WAY cheap). But they are not always easy to review. It is an arduous process and for every simple "Montreal Serial" or "Narrow Arial" (Mixed Messages) there is the search for the elusive "SF Atarian System" (Abaddon) or "Asqualt" (Completely in Blue). If I am lucky I can do this in 30 minutes - I am not very lucky.
(+1 hour)

The more chapters there are, the longer this takes. Also, did the author follow the guidelines? Some guideline breaches are easy to overcome - like tabs for paragraph indents. Others, like manual (space-space-space ...) indents, not so much. In fact, if I catch manual indents I will reject on that alone. But if I read the story on my Kindle I can't tell. This one problem can create HOURS of mess. Let's assume The Book has more chapters than The Big Man and fewer than These Trespasses.
(+8 hours)

eBook formatting is bare bones. If I remember before I start to format the book it is simple.
If not, well ...
(+2 hours)

Now for the cover. This is a tricky one. Sometimes I ask Ken Cain for some advice -ever careful not to ask too often (dude's time is money too). Between all the tweaks, sizing, image selection, etc. I would say this takes the longest of any single process.
(+8 hours).

Getting the ISBN, loading the files into the print system and setting up distribution is a bit of a pain, but its is pretty quick.
(+1 hour)

So, now I am up to 31 hours and I haven't even ordered a single book. At $40 an hour that means I am into this for over $1,200. WOW.  If the book is an anthology - add another 10 hours.

If I use that as a guideline - I am losing money like I lose time. Even with the outliers (the books that did really well) PMP earned about $500 in revenue per book. Remember, revenue is not profit. I have to pay royalties, editors, images, marketing etc, from that money. The cost of the actual books and shipping is already removed from that amount. To be fair - I did not include author copies in that number - but I earn between 75 cents and a dollar for each author copy. In 2011 PMPress sold 980 author copies.

This is first time I have written this down - or even thought this out in such detail. Shit, this is an expensive career I have chosen.

Ultimately, what this tells me is I shouldn't feel bad about the money that comes in to PMPress that doesn't leave. In 2012 (which is a whole 7 weeks old) we have already surpassed the first 13 weeks of 2011 and it looks like PMPress may actually get to keep some money this year. If our sales follow last year's trend (nothing to suggest it will or won't) 2012 will bring us more than 3 times the revenue of 2011.

I can hope can't I.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fake Reviews ...

I am baffled by the "review" process this oh so intricate world of small press.

Small press and self-pub people tend to trade reviews. I don't really see an issue with that, as long as they are honest.  But I suspect most are not.

There is a book out there, let's call it Zombie Fast Food or ZFF for short, that I am certain is a perfect example.

Many of you have seen this book touted on Facebook as the next best thing. It sells for $6 on Kindle, is less that 90 double spaced large font & margin pages in size (meaning too expensive).

On Amazon it has 23 reviews on Amazon, 17 of which are 5 star.

On Goodreads, it has 13 reviews most are 5 star there is one 2 star review.

This seems like it would be a great book, right?  Well, no. In fact it is one of the most amateur books I have seen/read in a while.

Frustrated by the review system - especially since we struggle to get reviews for many of our books - I looked a little deeper.

Four of the 23 reviews are from "verified purchasers".  The ebook has an ASR near 500k (while our first pseudo zombie novel has 7 REAL reviews and an ASR in the mid 100k range). What does this mean? Based on what I know about sales of our book - this means the four verified purchasers, are likely the ONLY purchasers.

Why does this bug me so much?  I think it is because I see really crappy books with great reviews - yet resist the urge to start a "review circle" when I ask all the PMP folks to review each others books in a giant circle jerk.

BTW - the book in question was published by the same fine folks who accepted my Public Domain submission. It is even edited by the same person who sent a resounding/desperate "yes".  Edited so well, I might add, that one of the characters, when scared, lost her composer. Yup, composer. I don't know about you, but I know where my composer is - hanging out in the Classical Music folder of my iTunes library.