“This is a tough, tough business. It’s virtually impossible for “unknown,” “unconnected” writers to get an agent; without an agent, it’s absolutely impossible to get to a traditional publisher. We believe that there are a lot of authors out there who deserve to be heard — and to have their work debated and discussed — and that the lack of an agent or publishing history is in no way a reflection of quality or talent. So we created Breakthrough Books to focus specifically on those who do not have agents and whose work has not been produced and released by mainstream publishers.”
Why did you become a book publisher? This is a tough, tough business. It's virtually impossible for "unknown," "unconnected" writers to get an agent; without an agent, it's absolutely impossible to get to a traditional publisher. We believe that there are a lot of authors out there who deserve to be heard -- and to have their work debated and discussed -- and that the lack of an agent or publishing history is in no way a reflection of quality or talent. So we created Breakthrough Books to focus specifically on those who do not have agents and whose work has not been produced and released by mainstream publishers.
What do you like best about publishing? Working with writers. I am an editor by training, and very much enjoy the back-and-forth that comes with the development process. The editor for our first title, Nowhere Man, which I wrote, was instrumental in improving the book at multiple levels -- from reshaping the lead character to reconstructing the backstory. That's what we want to do with our writers: Help them take their work to the next level with thoughtful, considered, constructive advice designed to make their books better and, hopefully, to make them better authors in the process.
What do you publish? We concentrate on the three most difficult genres for unknown writers to break into: mystery, suspense, and thrillers.
What is the most effective form of marketing for your press? Social media has tremendous opportunities for anyone in independent publishing -- as it is in independent music and filmmaking. It can be overwhelming at times, though; sorting through the options and determining the best fit takes a lot of time and effort. But I think if you do your homework and find the right avenues, social media is a terrific (and cost-effective) marketing vehicle. I promoted a book a few years ago (pre-Breakthrough) using only social media, and it debuted No. 1 on two of the three Amazon lists it was eligible for. So I've seen how, done right, it works. That's not to say we don't do the other things -- reviews, appearances, releases, etc. -- but we complement that with an aggressive online strategy as well.
How do you define a successful title? We're not in this to make a lot of money, so sales isn't a determinant. As far as I'm concerned, a successful title is one that enables the author to realize his or her ambitions as a writer with a book that gains a greater-than-expected degree of exposure in the market. That's not to say we don't want to move a lot of units; I'd love to make back our investment in each title, and we create a professionally designed, edited, and proofed product that aims to do just that. But having been through the cycle of publisher/agent rejection myself -- and recognizing that options for unknowns are limited in the larger publishing world -- I would define success as creating, seizing, and maximizing an opportunity that likely would not have existed otherwise.
Tell us about one of your titles about which you are especially proud. We've just published our first, Nowhere Man, a political thriller that I wrote, and are in discussions now for our next two titles. So obviously, and for a lot of reasons, Nowhere Man has been an exciting experience. I had to learn the publishing business from a non-writing perspective, and if mistakes were going to be made (and they were), I wanted them to be at my expense, not one of our authors'. But we were able to assemble of group of professionals on the project -- editors, designers, proofers, and a small circle of honest early readers -- whose input was invaluable, all of which contributed to what I think is a really outstanding final product.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving success? Marketing is always tough; finding the right people to target, in the right way, with the right message. It takes a lot of time and effort. The other biggest challenge was digital. I spent three weeks trying to master the programming for e-books, and it just wasn't coming. Finally, my "muse" said to me, "You're a writer and a publisher, not an IT guy, so do what you do best and find someone to take care of the technology for you." I did, and don't regret it for an instant.
What advice do you have for newcomers to book publishing? Be patient. Publishing a title is a marathon, not a sprint. My friends in the music and film industry have said that as independents, we can be "new" for a year, maybe longer. So don't worry about instant gratification. I'd also recommend having a solid pre-publication date schedule and strategy that starts three months before the drop date. You can lose some marketing opportunities by getting out of the gate too slowly. Also, focus on your core skills and farm out everything else. I had professionals format, design, and create digital versions of Nowhere Man, because that's just not what I do. Finally, be ready to market. I speak to independent artist audiences a good bit, and while I say there are few guarantees in this business, one thing is certain: as hard as you've worked on a project, and as good as it may be, the real work starts when it's done and ready for promotion.
How will you and your company be positioned in five years? We're not looking to be huge. I'd like to publish four more titles in the next 24 or so months. We'll see what happens then.
When you're not fully immersed in publishing, what do you do for fun? I am co-founder of an independent production company, Ransom Note Films, that will be releasing its first project later this year. We have two or three other screenplays in various stages of development as well, one of which I honesty believe will put the company (and the writer) on the map. I'm also a playwright with four New York credits and now, after birthing Nowhere Man and spending the past 15-plus years writing films scripts, I'm working on a new piece for the stage.
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