Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Penmore Press - a new landmark in artisan publishing

There is a new player in the arena of artisan publishing – Penmore Press based out of Arizona. The new venture was started by Michael James, a retired naval engineer whose adventures had taken him all over the world - Malaysia, Borneo, Iran and Europe. Integrating his love for quality literature and his knowledge of the ever-shifting industry, Michael approaches the publication process with a balance of enthusiasm and meticulous care. In a candid and constructive interview, he talks about the challenges and rewards of building a publishing landmark in the extremely fluid and temperamental market.

MJN: Many publishers, when they first start out, rake up tons of manuscripts. As result, they often end up overwhelmed by the volume of legwork that needs to get done. They are so eager to churn out product to put on their website, quality often gets sacrificed for the sake of quality. How many books do you think is reasonable for a small press like yours to produce in its inaugural year and market successfully?

MJ: Truth be known when I first started in the business I took the example of my predecessor and did just that. Over time one learns that this is expensive and unproductive. Now with Penmore Press we are being much more careful. We only accept those books which we really like and feel that we can go to the effort of marketing within our means effectively. One or two books a month is our maximum with the accent on one a month. It depends upon how 'clean' a book is when we have accepted it as the process demands quality. There are slip ups when haste and volume take the place of quality.

MJN: Do you think it's better for a small press to focus on a particular genre/topic and set it a goal to truly become an authority in this field, or to differentiate its publishing portfolio and have a little bit of everything? For instance, some highly regarded genre presses like Samhain only do horror and romance. They don't take any chances with cross-genre material. They know what they can sell successfully and they stick with that.

MJ: I think that if one is careful and very selective then books of many differing genres can be accepted. We used to focus on a more or less single genre but in fact there are some exciting books out there which are looking for a home. Once again we are being very selective. However a well written manuscript will certainly get a reading and then a thoughtful decision as to whether we will run with it or not.

MJN: When you sign up with an author, do you discuss the marketing expectations on both sides? I am sure that you deal with authors in various age brackets and of varying degrees of computer and social media savvy.

MJ: We generally have an informal discussion of the breadth and width of the marketing band we can offer our authors. Today it is often hard to figure out just where a good book will do well. The big publishers can and do throw a lot of money at what they put out and regardless of how well that book is written it will do as well as the $ invested. Indies cannot do this so we need to be very careful as to where we spend our $. We make it clear to our authors that they are part and parcel of this process and have to get out there. We do our bit with reviews, prize applications, free books and encourage book signings.

MJN: Do you ever feel like the moment you learn the rules of the publishing game and finally get a grip on the situation - the rules/trends suddenly change, and you have to re-learn everything? For instance, another publisher told me the other day that blog tours are "so 2008". Less than 10 years ago they were "the" marketing method.

MJ: This is one of the most fluid markets out there. Almost as bad as the music industry where the artists seem to have the thin edge of the wedge all the time while the producers do well and the pirates flourish.

The Indie publishers fill a niche which has been born because the Agents or "Gate Keepers” for the big publishers decide who will be let through and who will not. There are a many good writers out there who would not get a hearing without the help of Indies. That said we find that we have to be constantly aware of the changing options available for them when the book actually comes out

MJN: I applaud you on your website. It's not just a submission portal - it's a destination. It looks like an attractive luxury cafe that one ventures into and just hangs out. It's also a place for your authors to meet and connect with each other. Was that your intention, to create a friendly place for authors, reviewers and readers to meet?

MJ: Very kind words. Our Web master deserves all the credit for that. An author needs to feel welcome and that this is the right place to come with their work. It is also meant to indicate that we take our authors seriously as people who are creative and to be encouraged. They are encouraged to interact with each other and that includes being on Facebook and other mediums.

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