Apex Publications is one of the premier small press publishers of speculative fiction and horror on the market. Founded in 2005 by Jason Sizemore, Apex has grown from being a small print digest, to a pro-level online zine, to now publishing books and ebooks. Jason has graciously taken time to answer some questions about Apex magazine, the state of publishing, and small presses. Also, one commenter will be randomly selected to receive a digital subscription to Apex Magazine for one year, courtesy of the deCOMPOSE staff. Please leave a comment on this post to be entered to win. I’ll announce the winner Saturday AM. And once again, thanks to Jason for the terrific interview!
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MIKE: Jason, thanks so much for taking time to visit with us today! There’s so much debate about the state of the industry and the future of books and publishers. Is it safe to say that indie presses are booming?
JASON: I don’t see indie presses booming at present. A boom would be an explosion of growth, editors wearing (faux) fur coats, and the small press becoming the big press. On the contrary, I see the traditional publishers struggling to find their place in the new publishing paradigm, the small press enjoying a nice boost in sales due to eBooks, and big-assed technology conglomerates like Amazon and Google who are wedging their way into a position to monopolize the business if they’re allowed.
MIKE: Tell us about Apex Publications. What prompted you to start it? Are you a natural entrepreneur, did you see a void that needed filled, or do you just love books so much that you can’t be apart from them? And where are you at in your operations, staff and volume?
JASON: I started Apex Publications all because of an early mid-life crisis. In 2004, three months after the birth of my first kid, I hit an emotional wall. Perhaps it was the loss of sleep, the constant crying (the baby, not me…), or the stress of the day job, whatever the case, I started getting a feeling of “What now?” I’d pretty much wasted the first decade of my adult life on dumb shit. I could not think of a single accomplishment that I could smile about. That’s when I decided I should start a small business.
I’m not a natural entrepreneur. Publishing appealed to me because I’ve been a book nerd all my life. I can’t say I had the know how to run a publishing business, but I have both stubbornness and personal motivation in spades. I nearly have to die before I’ll give up. And if I can’t figure out how to do something, I’ll find a way to learn. These traits have treated me well running Apex. It’s a cruel, heartbreaking business. That’s what happens when the product you’re selling to your customers is created via an author’s personal and emotional investment.
Apex is technically still a single employee operation. Legally speaking. I have a group of 20-25 wonderfully talented and dedicated individuals who donate their time (or work for a monthly stipend) that make Apex possible. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the business for this reason.
MIKE: What kind of learning curve was there to starting a new press and what were some of the unexpected obstacles you encountered along the way?
JASON: This is my sixth full year of running a press… and this is the first year where I feel like I “get it.” I get the big picture and how it all fits together and all that. The first couple of years I had help from experienced mentors, plus being the new guy, my mistakes were forgiven. Years three and four I made a number of private and public blunders that still sting. Years five and six has been smoother… but at this point, when I make a mistake, it’s a bigger deal because the public is less forgiving. “He should know better.”
The biggest obstacle has been the returns system that has helped cripple the small press for the past eighty years. I underestimated the impact returns would have on the bottom line and nearly went bankrupt. I’ve since become even more disgusted by the returns system that I’m loath to sign with a distributor. The returns system feels like a cheat to me, and a cheat decidedly not in my favor.
MIKE: In a recent blog post entitled “Marginalizing Your Work,” you wrote, “As a writer, I worry that authors are walking on a slippery slope. We’re training these millions of new digital book readers into believing that 99 cents will become the norm and EXPECTED price of all titles. By selling at 99 cents, we’re devaluing your work to an insulting level.” Some would argue just the opposite: that this empowers the “little guy” and is the ultimate form of democratization, even if it leads to the “cult of the amateur.” Could you expand on your thoughts a little bit?
JASON: People who would argue that it empowers the “little guy” are delusional. First, a good many of these authors selling their work for 99 cents are the same people who believes that the expertise of an acquisitions editor is nothing but shit. It’s the whole “They rejected me, they’re idiots, my work kicks ass” mentality. Second, they’re not able to discern the difference between outliers and what is normal. They see Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, and that ilk and honestly believe that if they retrace the steps those authors take, they’ll get rich, get noticed, and become famous. Hocking and Konrath won the lottery. On top of that, they’re bright individuals. They’re good writers. In the case of Joe, there was a sizable fan base to begin with. It took all these factors PLUS being in the right place at the right time for them to become a success with 99 cent books.
I’m not so concerned about 99 cent books these days. After readers get burned over and over, it’ll become a price point that means “crap writing” and they’ll avoid it like the plague.
MIKE: From my perspective, there seems to be a lot of illusions about independent presses, the types of quality they will “tolerate,” and the insular, perhaps “cliquish,” nature of their business. What are the most common myths or misunderstandings about independent presses?
JASON: At least in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror small press, it’s extremely insular. At seminars, I often tell the students that the best thing they could do for their careers is attend fan conventions such as World Fantasy Con (if they’re genre writers). You’re not going to be published unless you’re a professional level writer, but that personal touch with an editor might be the difference when it comes down to deciding whether they select your novel or the novel of somebody they don’t know.
Indie press is rife with myths and misunderstandings. I could fill a book… I’ll address one of the most popular ones: small press publishers only publish their friends. This is false for the most part. I believe the reason this myth is believed by so many is that editors and their authors share a friendly intimacy that doesn’t exist between New York and most of their authors. After working with a person on their book for six months… editing, marketing, publishing, traveling… I almost always find myself becoming a good friend of the author’s. You’ll see me chumming around with Maurice Broaddus and Sara M. Harvey at conventions and events and someone who doesn’t know better will think “Ah, now I know why he published them. They’re best buds!” Sure, they’re best buds. But they’re also damn awesome writers who earned their spot on the Apex roster.
MIKE: Many authors are currently seeking self-publishing. What advantages are there to small press publishing versus self-publishing?
JASON: I think we’re in the death throes of the backlist title. Every midlist writer in the world will start dumping their old books unto the nook and Kindle and use services like Createspace to keep them in print. Why not when you get a much bigger part of the pie?
A good small press will offer many of the same positives that a New York house will. Editing. Marketing. Promotion. Review copies. And so on.
MIKE: A lot of writers who frequent my site are Christians, but are unhappy with the current content being labeled “Christian fiction.” They love sci-fi and horror, but want “faith” elements in their stories without the ultra conservative strictures or preachiness. Does Apex publish books with “spiritual / religious” themes and, if so, what advice would you give to writers of such a genre?
JASON: Apex publishes a broad spectrum of genre titles, but one of our specialties is faith-based genre work. We have a Stoker Award nominated anthology titled DARK FAITH that seeks to examine the concept of faith using dark fantasy and horror. One of our more popular titles is a short novel by Dru Pagliassotti titled AN AGREEMENT WITH HELL that features all sorts of spiritual and religious themes.
My suggestion to the writers who frequent your site is to repackage their work. Don’t market it as faith-based. Use words paranormal fantasy and religious horror. Describe it as having a bit of an edge. That should boost you out of the ultra-conservative gutter.
MIKE: What are some of the small presses that you most admire and, you think, are putting out some of the best stuff?
JASON: Nightshade Books is far and away the best small press of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The press I admire the most would be Permuted Press.
MIKE: Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small press? Aside from the money, no small thing indeed, what factors should the entrepreneurial small presser consider before diving in?
JASON: You best have a thick skin. Everybody thinks they know your business better than you. There will always be naysayers. There will always be a subset of people who, inexplicably, want to see you fail.
Get experienced professionals on your side if you can. They’ll give you invaluable advise and prestige.
And don’t forget to drink a lot of booze. You’ll need it!
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Great stuff, Jason! (Not so much the “booze” part, but the rest of it.) If you’re interested in some great sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, check out Apex Publications. And if you’re interested in being included in the drawing for a one-year digital subscription, don’t forget to leave a comment.