Monday, October 3, 2011

As My Smashwords Page Lies a-Mouldering…

On July 29, 2011, with very little fanfare, I launched Kvaad Press. The launch was not unexpected. The timing was. And I've learned (and am learning) a few things in the process.

Full-time writing has always been my goal. Up until a year or so ago I saw traditional publishing as the only professional route to that objective. That was until I noticed the publishing industry doing its impression of Michael Landon turning into a teenage werewolf. I began to think seriously about publishing independently at that time and began exploring options in earnest around the first of this year – anticipating a mid-January, 2012, launch. The writers to whom I was looking as role models fell into two broad groups: A) Those with established reputations, loyal followings, and a significant stockpile of stories and/or novels published years ago to which they had the rights; and 2) Those who were easing into the marketplace, were building their inventory and their reader base, and had other sources of income to support their project until it was self-supporting.

I'm not a member of Group A. Because I've been a writer-for-hire fully half my published words have appeared without my name anywhere near them. And those works with my name attached are the property of BBC, Paramount, Catalyst Game Labs, Smith & Tinker, and others. I don't have an inventory I can call my own – or in some cases even mention. For that reason, my plan was modeled on Group 2.

Dealing with deadlines has taught me to write both quickly and well and to juggle projects; using that skill set I intended to produce inventory through the summer and fall. Kvaad Press would launch with two original novels and a dozen short stories. The Press would have PoD capability (with the physical printing contracted out), an interactive web site, and a stock of thoughtful essays on the art and craft of writing (to be posted as blog entries every week or so). From that point I was confident I could maintain a schedule of one new short story a week and a new novel each quarter (that's the pace I maintained while writing To Ride the Chimera).

From the beginning I did not intend Kvaad Press to be the Kevin K show. I knew I would need an editor (knowing what one meant to say limits one's ability to see what one actually wrote) and had a short list of editors with whom I'd like to contract. I also knew that keeping PoD cost-effective meant handling art, layout, and mss prep in-house: sending the PoD provider a file ready for the presses rather than a word processor doc saves an average of $400. Professional grade software is expensive and learning how to use it takes money and time, but the investment takes only four novels to pay for itself. Kvaad Press would thus be in a position to work with other writers who were as leery of traditional houses as I but didn't have the resources/inclination to do a professional job of going independent.

Projecting sales was pretty much blind guessing, but expenses and business plan milestones were easy to map. All things considered, I thought Kvaad Press could be in the black in twelve months. My accountant was in qualified agreement. She and my mentor at SCORE were particularly excited about the commercial possibilities of editing, formatting, and midwifing publication for other writers. As a menu service they thought it would be the quickest way to earn back the expenses of software, training, and dedicated computer I needed.

So with all this nifty groundwork and planning, why did Kvaad Press launch six months early? Why leap from the precipice without the computer, software, training, interactive site, inventory of novels and short stories, or even an arsenal of pithy blog entries? Medicaid. With regulations changing almost weekly and funding spiraling downward there is less and less money available for community mental health providers. Twice in 2010 agencies I was with went under; both times I had a position with a new agency within the month. But when something similar happened in 2011, Valerie and I took a look at our options and our dreams and decided the risks in launching our dream early were worth it.

We decided Kvaad Press would begin by marketing short stories and novels in e-formats on the web while getting all the other necessary components in place and would adjust plans and timetables as we learned. A soft launch in preparation for the hard launch in January, to misuse some of the business jargon I'd learned in my research. To that end I formed a duly licensed company, complete with tax number and bank and PayPal accounts; established a presence on Smashwords and elsewhere, (including a Kvaad Press blog that is currently empty); studied up on social media/marketing; and began making contacts with other publishers and ancillary services to lay the groundwork for establishing a network.

With less than a month to create inventory, Kvaad Press launched on Smashwords with six short stories and no novels. I backed away from my initial plan to upload a new story every week when I learned there are other markets for short fiction that pay as well or better. I'm giving some thought to putting short fiction on Smashwords only as promotional tie-ins to my novels (a model many novelists use effectively). I've storyboarded two novels (a mystery and a fantasy), the first should be ready for an editor around December 1. I've also taken on a couple of write-for-hire projects, which don't help my inventory issues but are rendering cash more quickly than other options. Beyond that I have popcorn kittens – so many ideas and options it's taking extraordinary measures to keep them all moving in the same direction.

Where I am now is not where I planned on being at this point. However, given the options I was handed in June, I think I've made the wiser choice. Certainly the more exciting one. I'll keep you posted.


Liane Spicer said...

I second the excitement here. You, DWS, Lynn and Chicki are making the independent option seem more and more attractive to me - and that's saying a lot.

Charles Gramlich said...

It seems as if you have the energy to maintain this and I hope it works well for you. It might have been something I could have tried when I was in my 30s or 40s, but given aging and health issues at the moment I don't think I'd have the strength.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Congratulations KeVin, you have certainly inspired me to go out on a limb. It is a risk, like anything else, but it is a risk well worth taking. I wish you muck success with Kvaad press, and I do hope that it is not restricted to publishing fantasy and scifi.

Good Luck.

Lynn Emery said...

Thanks for the interesting description on how your plan is evolving! Please do keep us posted.

And you know the old saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". :o)

KeVin K. said...

Lynn, my purpose is to pay forward, let others contemplating this path see what others have tried. I figure periodic updates as things evolve will be more useful than a memoir after the fact.
(For the non-USofA-ers among us, the essay title is an allusion to John Brown's Body. John Brown was an abolitionist who took up arms against slavery before the Civil War and was killed. Though his effort was unsuccessful, his example was inspirational. John Brown's Body was a Union Army marching song.)

Jewel, so far I have one slipstream, one fantasy, one noir, two science fiction, and two mainstream stories up on Smashwords. I'm not going to write erotica and I'm too cheerful to do horror well, but I will be writing in all genres. As a publisher Kvaad Press will work with all genres as well. HOW the publishing side will relate to other writers is something I'm still working through.

Charles, I'll be sixty before best projection model says Kvaad Press will make a profit. I wish the technology to do this had been in place 20 or 30 years ago. I'd have a really nice office with a view of the river by now. Or maybe the ocean...

Liane, come 2020 I will be very surprised if professional publishing looks like anything we're seeing or doing today. And what works for some of us will not work for others. Do what Lynn said the other day and spread your (inter)net wide. Research the options and figure out what feels best to you.

(And I'm surprised no one called me on the ancient Group A/Group 2 joke.)