Q & A With Grand Mal Press

Back in December I did this post about Grand Mal Press, basically advising writers to stay away from this new publisher for a variety of reasons. I'd been hesitant at the time on whether or not to actually include the publisher's name. In the end I included it, and I'm glad I did, because just last week I received an e-mail from the publisher with "Concerning your blog post" in the subject line. It wasn't until I opened the e-mail did I realize who it was from, and before I even started reading I thought Oh boy, here we go, because it seems writers and publishers have very fragile egos, and when someone says something unkind toward them, they oftentimes lash out. But I'm happy to say this wasn't the case as you can see:

Hi Robert, I am one of the co founders of Grand Mal Press and would happy to clear up any questions or concerns regarding our plans/rates/intentions etc. Our token advance is currently a 3 figure number that hasn't been added to the website as we merely prefer to leave it in the contract.

Your blog was professional, necessary and honest, and we took no offense to it. Many publishers (i.e. Permuted Press for instance) started out paying $10 per short story and $100 per novel. They received lots of flak. Six years later they are in the book stores and offering over $1000 on novel advances (I'm not privy to actual numbers but it's something like that from what I hear). This is our goal as well. But believe me we also understand some publishers pay little and have never changed their poorly produced covers. Our goal is to be like the former.

Again, we see the sense in your post so no worries. Writers are ripped off everyday. We hope you will pick our brains when you get a chance.

All our best, Darren, Grand Mal Press

Like I said, it seems many writers and publishers (especially those in the horror small press) have very fragile egos and are set to blow at any little thing, so I was impressed by Darren's levelheaded and professional response. In fact I was so impressed I wanted to take him up on his offer and ask a few questions and present his answers here. But before I do, I want to make it clear that this isn't an endorsement of Grand Mal Press. I just wanted to give Darren a new forum to talk about his business model and his eventual goals for his company. When entering into a new contract with a publisher (be it a small or major press), writers should always be careful to look at the fine print and ultimately do what they feel is best for their careers. Now with that out of the way and without any further commentary, I present to you my Q & A with Darren Heath of Grand Mal Press:

RS: My first question is in regards to your e-books. As digital books are taking up a huge percentage of the market every month, what is the thinking of waiting six months to release the e-book? Aren't you potentially losing many sales? Also, why is the royalty percentage of your e-books so low? I hate to say it, but 15% is insulting.

GMP: We're holding off on e-book releases for the same reason movie companies hold off on releasing DVDs. Once it's digital it's out there for theft. We are hiring professional editors, cover artists, layout designers, etc, and all that costs money. We know e-books sell faster and better than they did ten years ago, but we still want to see the hard copies out there and that means securing an ROI on all that work. If we see that theft is not an issue down the line, we will certainly release both at once. The ebooks will get their own launches to make readers aware they are available.

Regarding royalities ... understand our contracts explain everything in depth as it pertains to net sales, e-books, audio-books, foreign distro rights, etc. It's way too much to put on our website. But basically eight and fifteen percent on Suggested Retail Price is actually in line with what most small presses are offering. A standard deal is somewhere between 7-10 percent on hardcopies and 15-20 percent on e-books. Trust us, we looked into it and read over many contracts being offered by notable small presses. These were the numbers we saw everywhere. As with any publisher, writers don't have to submit to us if they don't agree with the terms, and that's not us being rude, it's just the reality of the business.

RS: What kind of distribution do you have? You mention Permuted Press, and yes, they are available in bookstores now (at least in Borders), but that wasn't always the case. Obviously someone could order one of your books from a bookstore, though it would make more sense to order it directly from you, or Amazon. However, your guidelines claim that the books you publish WILL be available from Walmart.com. I find this hard to believe, as my own anthology, published by a mainstream publisher, is not even available through them. Even Permuted Press's books are not available through the website (believe me, I checked).

GMP: Right now we are brand new, so getting distro to bookstores isn't going to happen for some time, if it ever does (many stores are wavering in the face of electronic distribution). We're using the POD standard Lightning Source/Ingram process of making the books available for order online from Amazon.com et al and at stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. We do not have a storefront ourselves.

Walmart.com ... I admit not knowing where that came from. Guidelines were written by a couple different people helping us out. I've removed it from the website.

RS: What sets Grand Mal Press apart from every other small press publisher out there? What can you do for your authors that another publisher can't do? In your guidelines you state "If you have the ability and intention to promote the book containing your work, please let us know your plan." Does this mean most of the promotion will fall on the author's shoulders?

GMP: Absolutely not. We have a professional PR contractor on staff. We've already mailed out review copies of our first two publications to websites and magazines. The books were just released 2 -3  weeks ago so its still early. Whether they get reviewed will depend on the staff at those places. We are collecting advertising rates from mags and reviews sites as well. But it takes a village, as they say, and Book PR is so largely a word-of-mouth situation. We are hoping that the writers we publish can get word out to media outlets we might not know of. This could be as simple as making an announcement on a message board or sending out Facebook blasts to their friends and family.  What will set us apart? Professionalism ... we hope. Original covers designed by professional artists. Professional editing (we have 4 contractors who are professional editors for a living). Professionally laid out books and the drive to create awareness of them. And overall, compelling, well-written stories from both new and old talent, the kinds of stories we want to read but can't find anywhere. Only time will tell if we stand out ... but our heels are dug in. Deep.