1. You're a writer and a publisher, which do you find more satisfying?
It’s apples and oranges. I’m a writer at heart. I get huge satisfaction out of my words reaching others, and hearing that they enjoyed them, or ‘got’ what I was saying. Publishing is a different sort of animal. I like to see others happy and succeeding, and my reasons for becoming a publisher are probably different than those of most others. I am bone-tired from the years and years watching the old traditional publishing model screw people. I don’t understand the very American notion that making more and more money at whatever cost is the only way to go… that you can’t treat people fairly and honestly and grow a business slowly…
I like to work with other authors. I like the interaction, the inspiration, and the feeling of satisfaction when we publish something and it does well. It will never quite match the sensation of your own work doing well, but it’s a very close second.
2. How did you manage to get into publishing from writing, anyway?
I published a small press magazine called The Tome back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was in the US Navy. I always enjoyed reading and editing, but never took it any further. We got so successful we killed ourselves, distributors ordering huge numbers, but not paying until like 6 months after so they could account for returns. I thought that would be my last such endeavor, until eBooks came along.
One day I did some research, figured out that early eBooks were just HTML coded, and decided to publish some of my backlist titles. Turned out, I was okay at it. Along the way, a couple of folks asked if I could do theirs as well… I said not for free, and it sort of steamrolled from there. Probably the best thing that happened in all the time since that moment was meeting David Dodd, who is now my business partner at Crossroad Press. He has a huge library of old paperbacks, and he helped me track down tons of obscure, out of print books and authors. Dave is also a database guy, and much better with numbers than I am. It seems like there has been nothing but growth since then.
3. You've had quite a writing career. If you could recommend three of your books or series, which would you? Please give a short description of them.
I’m going to mention more than three, and only describe the three, because that’s a loaded question. There are different sorts of readers, and I like what I’ve done for different reasons… My three standalone novels I would most recommend would be This is My Blood (my first) Deep Blue (My most popular) and Gideon’s Curse – my newest.I guess I write in three “series” worlds, but really, and you know this from reading my books, all of my works converge eventually. The DeChance Chronicles is by far my most popular series work – there are four books so far, with a fifth in the works. The Omnibus volume covers all four (which includes extra novellas and the origin story). The Cletus J. Diggs Mysteries are set in Old Mill, NC – where (of course) Donovan DeChance has come once… and the Agents of the O.C.L.T. (the third series) have also interacted with Cletus, and with Donovan.
Quick intros: Donovan DeChance is a magician, book collector, and occult investigator. He has been alive since the 1860s, and his lifelong purpose has been gathering and safeguarding occult texts, spells, etc. He does investigative work for the other-than-human populace of San Valencez, California (as well as other places).
Cletus J. Diggs is a jack of all trades. He’s a journalist, investigator, mail-order minister, common-law lawyer and just about anything else he can do to turn a buck. Old Mill, NC – based loosely on my old home town of Hertford, is tucked up near The Great Dismal Swamp, and there are a lot of things “beyond the pale” to be discovered there. Most of them discover Cletus before he gets a chance.
The O.C.L.T. I share with Aaron Rosenberg, who helped create it. There are novels by others in the series now, David Bischoff, Sidney Williams and first-timer Kurt Criscione. The Orphic Crisis LiaisonTeam handles things for a variety of world governments and powers when the problem is beyond the knowledge, belief, or capacity of normal military or police operations.
Of the three stand-alone novels I mentioned (and there are a lot of others I COULD mention) This is My Blood is a retelling of the gospel through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, who is a fallen angel cursed to walk the earth as a vampire. Deep Blue was my “big book” novel – similar in structure to the King, Koontz, McCammon books I read and loved in those years, and beyond. Good vs. Evil – Scooby-gang of characters against darkness. I love that book the most, I think… it’s never gotten a bade review. The last - Gideon’s Curse – took me from 2011 to 2017 to sort out. It has a lot of history –it’s not an easy read, because I was brutally honest in writing the sections about North Carolina just after the Civil War, and the way that prejudice and bigotry morphed into a more modern version of itself. Of course…there ARE zombies.
4. Do you have a favorite character you've created? If so, why?
Again, this is too hard to shave down to one. I’m going to bring it to two, though, and they don’t appear in any of the books I’ve mentioned. When I wrote for White Wolf’s World of Darkness, I wrote The Grails Covenant Trilogy. In those three books, I wrote about a vampire named Montrovant (Clan Lasombra) and an ancient vampire named “Kli Kodesh” (which in Hebrew, I was told, means something along the lines of Holy Vessel).
I choose these two because – despite the fact I forced Montrovant out of the standard mold of the game, and his clan, he was intriguing – powerful. There were loopholes in the books – one said a vampire could learn powers normally delegated to another clan. I gave Montrovant shapeshifting, and he was a rebel – against his clan, the game – and a focused creature. He sought one thing… the Holy Grail. Kli Kodesh was ancient. He did what he did to relive the boredom of a life far too long… he also took advantage of some obscure rules (The Order of the Bitter Ash, for instance) and he was actually Judas, though they would not let me actually SAY that. He WAS the Holy Grail, because he fed off of Jesus (which is what also happened in my novel This is My Blood, along with Mary Magdalene)… he was a daywalker… and crazy as a fruitbat. I still love those characters.
5. What are some of the challenges of being a mid-tier publisher in today's market?
The biggest challenge we’ve faced as we’ve grown has been getting people to trust us. So many publishers have died off, ripped people off, faded into the sunset. Promises are made. I tell people we pay them most of the money, and monthly, and on time, and no one believes it.
Another problem is just capital. We keep very little of what we make, and often we reinvest the money that we do keep in promotions, or art, or something… big companies have the advantage of a staff to handle marketing, a budget to buy promotions – and warehouses so they can play the evil games with the distributors who want 55% discounts and the ability to return books… those two things have probably put more publishers out of business than all other things … We stick to our model as closely as we can, and it works… we grow slowly, but we grow, we learn as we go.
I’ll make a pitch here… we could use some people who would like to work with us on posting blog posts, newsletters, and the new Youtube channel I’m planning. Currently these would not be paying positions, but could involve as many free books as a person could read… and if things work out, who knows?
6. Some big names have come to Crossroad Press over the years: Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Brian Keene for example. What draws them to you over larger publishers?
We have the best royalty structure in the business. We pay on time. We have made a lot of money for folks like Clive Barker, and are finding that authors from the horror and fantasy boom days appreciate honesty, the input on covers, it’s a different world. I am honored that these guys have trusted us with their words, and hopefully we are proving to be the right decision. We try to be very author-centric.
7. Do you have any smaller authors you'd like to give a shout-out to?
Other than you [C.T. Phipps]? (hah!) Yes. We work with a lot of authors I think are under-appreciated. Brian Pinkerton (who had a book out from Leisure that we republished in eBook and made the USA Today Bestseller list on our reprint, not the original) is a brilliant writer. T. J. MacGregor’s mysteries are layered, supernatural, and fun.
Melissa Scott and Jo Graham don’t need me to shout them out, but their series “The Order of the Air” is truly remarkable and has not gotten the mileage it should. Nerine Dorman, writing out of South Africa, has a very unique voice… and personal favorites, Stephen Mark Rainey, Elizabeth Massie, and Wayne Allen Sallee… OH… and a great GREAT short story writer in Jeffrey Osier.
8. What is your writing method?
It’s changed over the years. I used to be a “pantser” but have shifted to a hybrid method. I like to outline a book. I like to have a good general idea where it’s going. I generally start out following that outline and by the halfway point, it’s out the window, though I usually head toward the same ending. I write in binges…once I get going on something, it is hard for me to let it go, and often other life-things suffer as I power through. The best method, I think, is just to write regularly.
9. Any advice for independent authors out there?
I will keep it simple, I think. There are a lot of services, gurus, etc. out there promising to show you how to be a bestseller, and most of them are either crap, rip-offs, or people who don’t really know WHY they were successful, but like to tell others how to do it. There are two types of independent writers. There are popular go-getters who are able to build an audience, market their work, handle all the aspects of publishing and marketing and still find time to write… and there are most of the rest.
The rest would be better off writing, and working with someone like Crossroad Press – I call what we do hybrid publishing, because there are aspects of traditional AND independent publishing. Not everyone is good at everything. We’re experienced and reasonably good at the parts we do… and we can remove a lot of that stress, allowing our authors to spend their time writing. Don’t let the business bog you down and squash creativity. Write what you want, don’t try to copy others success.
To qualify what I just said… we work mostly with published authors with backlists, either from a while back, or from publishers who are either dying, or have broken ties with the authors who come to us. We very seldom take work by a brand new author – we just don’t have the staff to do justice to that kind of project, nor do we have readers to go through slush… but if you have books and some success… but would really rather NOT try to be publisher, distributor, formatter, etc… and would like to just write, you should contact us.
10. What can we expect from you as a writer in the future?
I’m working on a number of projects that I am excited about. I have a Donovan DeChance novel, A Midnight Dreary. This book ties together Donovan, Cletus J. Diggs, the O.C.L.T. series, and my stand-alone novels Nevermore – A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe and Darkness Falling. Probably one of the most ambitious things I’ve ever tackled. I am also writing a serial killer novel, Tattered Remnants, that I believe will be one of the best things I’ve ever written.
The first part of it will be published in Shivers VIII by Cemetery Dance Publications this year (along with work by Stephen King and others) … and I am a good ways into the second “Alternative History” novel – Jurassic Ark – a book that explores a reality where the world is 6000 years old, and Noah lived in the same time as dinosaurs while he tried to build that Ark… I am also working on a short story for the anthology Freedom of Screech, edited by Craig Spector. Always busy.