My name is Katie, and I’ve been an author
my entire adult life. I published my first novel in 2006 with a large
mainstream publisher. In 2009 my second came out with another. Five more
followed, and everything seemed set.
But by 2015, everything had changed. eBooks had been a thing for some time, and book sales were down across the board – even for bestsellers. The big publishing companies had chosen to invest heavily in the eBook market, a move which did not pay off as well as they likely hoped it would, as many readers decided the format did not suit them and for some “electronic books” appeared to have been nothing but a passing fad. On top of that Amazon had cornered the eBook market and few other platforms survived for long. By now hemorrhaging money, the “Big Five” stopped renewing contracts with many of their mid-level authors and many editors and other publishing professionals lost their jobs.
I was one of the many people to lose out.
In 2015 both of my publishers told me they weren’t going to publish the next
installment in the series I had begun in 2009. I was effectively out on the
street with a half-published series, fans asking when the next book would be
out and an agent shrugging helplessly as every other mainstream possibility
turned us down on the grounds that they did not want to pick up a series
halfway through (or in one case, went into receivership before they’d even read
I had no idea what to do, so I turned to my
friends. Their advice – go indie.
There has long been something of a class
system in the publishing world, which to my regret I must confess I once
ascribed to myself. “Real” authors got their books out through big shiny
corporate publishing companies and that’s it. Self-publishing was for
untalented losers who couldn’t take no for an answer. Indie publishing was for
cults and conspiracy theorists. Certainly, when I became an indie author
several people I had thought were friends suddenly began acting as if I didn’t
exist, or began making passive-aggressive remarks about my “failed” career.
But the landscape has changed and is still changing. If those stereotypes were ever so they no longer are. I entered the independent publishing world hopelessly naïve and unsure of what I was getting into, and as it is in any business I learned a few painful lessons along the way. What I found was a world where many others are still finding their feet, but were, for the most part, everything was less impersonal, and there was far more creative freedom. The companies I’ve begun working with are not owned by faceless bean counters, but by other artists, for artists. There’s less money invested, of course, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. Too much money on the line makes any company overly conservative and averse to taking risks, which is why so much mainstream fiction tends to be rather samey – blockbuster movies even more so. Diversity is encouraged and there is far less preferential treatment shown toward white male authors, which was an issue I had to deal with many times as a mainstream author. The experience is more collaborative, and as the author, you feel less like a supplicant and more like a partner.
Some people are now declaring that
independent publishing is the way of the future, and perhaps it is. Time, as
always, will tell. I for one am
It is well known by now that for many years I worked for Burning Willow Press, LLC. I eventually began publishing my work with them as they signed my series. They gave me my first big graphics contract, they encouraged me as a writer and an artist, and when my time with them ended I was left saddened an era was over. Over these years, I came to truly find commonalities in my co-workers, one of these being a man named Edd Sowder, whom I have interviewed before, but not quite like this.
Edd Sowder, along with his wife Kindra Sowder, owned and ran with a small staff the now-defunct publishing company Burning Willow Press, LLC and I was able to get a bit of Mr. Sowder’s time to catch-up, see what life has been like since the closing of the publishing company.
Last year, Burning Willow Press, LLC closed its doors with the reason being due to health issues. Have they gotten better? What is your status health-wise now? Improved, I hope.
The reasons I, or I should say we, decided to close have an ongoing situation that will likely never be completely resolved but I want to say that as of today I am doing far better than I was last August. So, better yes but improved is a good way to look at it.
How are you feeling today?
Currently, I am okay. I have some small things but nothing a few more coffee pots will not help with. <laughs> My overall feeling is one of contentment and ongoing frustration. I will get better, I hope.
How has life changed since the announcement? Has life improved?
I lost a lot of “friends” and I get it. I did manage to not only upset but really piss off a lot of authors, distributors, editors, artists, etc. A few were relieved to not have to deal with me any longer and gladly accepted the end of their contractual agreements but for some, I got less than that and I even got some who still do not speak to me. I get it. I killed off dreams, hard work, and determinations that they had trusted me with. It is pretty tough to look at myself in the mirror some days, but I have to consider the silver lining. My blood pressure is normal again. I am not spending 18-20 hours in my office trying to work out something for an upcoming release and I am not jeopardizing my health for everyone else anymore. Now, I just do that for me. <laughs>
What is a typical day like for you now that you are no longer a publisher?
I would say I am no longer doing any form of it but I am. I am still doing edits for a select few author(s) who have asked. Recently, I was asked to do a beta read on a series since I knew the characters so well in the previous book(s) and I am helping a few small presses with some consultations and advice from time to time.
I am also co-hosting a Podcast called The Buzz ( http://www.tbkmagazine.com ) with Richard Pruitt where we talk mostly about stupidity in Washington (Lately, Pres. Trump has been an easy target), Pandemic, and other things of interest like Tiger King. I promise, it’s not all political and with hundreds of downloads every week, we are talking to someone and they seem to like it for the most part. Now, we know we can’t please them all and in saying so, we got our first death threats for bashing a particular President for something stupid he said and did the whole world saw live. It’s fine. We expect to not get overwhelming likes from the masses.
Typically, I get up at 6:00 a.m., attach my left leg, put on coffee, feed the furry cohabitants, and turn on the news. Eventually, I eat, edit a few chapters, fix or repair something around this old house, maybe watch a movie, write as I am writing a few novels of my own now. It’s quite different being on that end of the process and it has been far too long since I was.
The publishing world is rough. In the time that BWP has shut its doors, new companies have popped up. Do you have any words for those thinking of starting a publishing company of their own?
Stay as small as you can, give all your energy to your authors, release slowly, and triple check everything before you click publish. Be selective… very selective. I put out over 150 books in five years. 43 in 2017 alone. It can be done but don’t get into any hurries to do so. You will thank me for that later. If you can focus on 10 releases or less a year, you will likely be much happier and far more productive than trying to make every single author dream become reality. Also, and take this to heart, Rome was not built in a day so if you can keep in mind that the more help you have to run the company, even volunteer help, the better. It takes the load of it off you when you have other ideas coming in from other minds to help you with harder decisions. Oh, and one more thing. Know what your authors are like outside the publishing company. If you are going to clash on personal issues not associated with what they publish, then you may want to consider that when you are considering their novel for publication. Do your research into their social media, both personal and professional pages. If they are bigots, do you want your company to represent them? If they hate minorities, opposite gender, LGBTQ, or hate right or leftist activists, can you be objective and look past it if you stand firmly on one way or another? Keep that in mind when you start signing authors
You once mentioned never doing another publishing company, is there anything you have planned on doing instead?
Well, I am writing now and about to revise my first full manuscript in over 25 years written by myself. I am also putting together my two books of poetry soon. I have several ideas floating around but as far as that, I don’t expect them to do exceptionally well. I know I am not, by any means, as good a writer as some of the ones I represented as a publisher. Currently, I just plan on making certain my house is paid off, my projects are completed, and my wife and kid(s) are taken care of when I am gone. I can rest easy knowing I did everything I could to create a better world for them even if it was not finished.
You began stepping forward as a writer in recent years, do you have plans on taking a new role in the publishing industry, that being of a published author?
It’s interesting that when I ran a publishing company—and easy way to get my own books and stories to see the proverbial light of day—I did not write much of anything unless it was in editing or help with revision for books by others. I used to say all my talents were being used by the authors who needed them more than I did, or I would have more time to do it for myself. Kindra begged and pleaded with me to go back and start writing again so, I plan to publish the aforementioned books, collections. When? I have no idea. I would like to have my first novel ready to go out by the end of the year, but I just don’t know if I will have it ready or not yet. I will likely have the collection ready sooner so perhaps it will go out first. It is closer to being completed. As for the world of being a published author, well time will tell. I am not really in the best place to look at the future fully and say yes, this is exactly what I am doing.
What were some of the best parts of being a publisher that you may now miss?
By far it was all about the people. The ones I met on trips, or at signings, or even over the internet with podcasts. Authors and fans are not that different. They all have dreams, aspirations, and expectations. If you deliver a good story and can tell others about it, you can do it every day. If you can read a story and tell others about it, you can help the author you love every day.
I have to say the process of checking off the punch list of what needed to be completed next on the book about to release, yeah… I miss that some days. The staff calls that would turn into us just talking about anything while we wrote, or worked, or whatever in the background. Finally, I would say our annual anthology. That was truly a labor of love for me and I would like to say it was to all the authors who were involved. I miss the whole thing but like many dreams, they end. It’s just too bad this one had to on a sour note.
Anything you are glad to not have to deal with anymore?
I think the same things apply here. Ha. There were days where I had to put my foot down and tell an author, or editor, or artist who the boss was, and I hated to be that person. I hated to make someone refer back to their contract over edits, or timelines, or changes, or whatever. I never wanted to be that guy… I tried to be cordial with everyone and at times, it was hard to bite my tongue and pick battles. Especially when call/emails came in where the author was clearly misinformed or just pushing their agenda, wanting more than I could give, or just being a total jerk. I really did not like to be the heavy and many times I was forced to be that person.
Is there anything you would like to say as these questions end? Anything you would like to promote?
I could take this time to promote my own works, but I will not. Instead, I will take this moment to thank L. Bachman for interviewing me, make damned certain you check out her books. I have it on a personal knowledge base that Maxwell Demon is one fantastic story and I loved every page of it.
I would also like to promote Bryan Tann, as I am doing some edits for him to finish up his books for re-release soon. Invincible Heart is already available. You can find him on Amazon and elsewhere.
One final thing to promote, my wife Kindra Sowder has several books out and since the demise of our company, some of them have been in stasis of being revamped for re-release but she has several others still available like her Permutation Archives series.