Ever wake up one morning and do something really stupid? Well one day recently, suffering heavily from lockdown fever, I did just that: I set up a publishing imprint. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d just self-published a short story collection (mainly reprinting stuff I’d sold before) and was drunk on how easy it was and how bloody fantastic the paperback version came out (well, I’m a proud book-parent. Of course I’m going to think it was bloody fantastic). I’d probably lost my mind, too, for a short while.
The product of all this fevered enthusiasm was Wyldblood Press, and before the week was out we’d got a website, a clutch of (surprisingly expensive) ISDN numbers on file, a Facebook page, listings on Duotrope, Ralan and the Submissions Grinder, a business plan, a fancy spreadsheet and submissions already hurtling towards three figures. And we published our first piece of flash fiction (Milford stalwart Vaughan Stanger’s In Every Dream Home). Only a week before we hadn’t even decided on a name for the company. I needed to lie down.
I’m going to post here from time to time and let you know how it’s all going. Obviously I’d like you all to spread the word and send me great stories but really I just want a friendly space to blather on about what I’m pretty sure is going to be a wild ride. This whole project may ultimately collapse into its own entrails but I’m going to give it a major go. If I can turn Wyldblood into a quality writing outlet then that’s one more market – and we certainly need them. And if not there’ll be a great case study into setting up a new small press whether or not it takes off or crashes and burns.
There’ll be three primary fiction outlets – Flash Fridays on the website, short fiction in a magazine launching in January (still publicly called Wyldblood Magazine, but I’m leaning towards Wyld Stories) and novels and novellas published separately, if I get quality work in.
All together that’s led me into some interesting areas. Publishing my own collection, Dreams and Visions, on Amazon was a doddle, both ebook and paperback, though cover design was a nightmare and I’m definitely going to use pro design for them from now on. Cheap, too, because there were no upfront costs (the main stories had already been edited for previous publication, and the covers were free). But selling them to anyone other than family and friends? A new, nightmare world or Search Engine Optimisation, boosted Facebook posts, Google Ads, networking like crazy, pricing strategies and splitting headaches.
But when I’d pressed the ‘publish’ button that brave new world of internet selling was ahead of me, and by the time reality had set in it was too late: Wyldblood Press was up and running.
And the costs, oh the costs. Publishing ain’t free no more, not if you’re doing it properly. We’re starting modest, because I don’t want to eat up our starting budget before we’ve actually published anything outside the website, but even so there’s the website to pay for (upfront, with all the business add-ons that I’ve not had to bother with before), the mechanics (registrations, filings, accountants, barcodes etc. Who knew barcodes cost money?) and the content. We’re paying for content because writers need to be paid for their work (no argument), and because paying good money equals good stories. We’ll pay pro if we could, but we’re not there yet – but we will, when we can.
I’m astounded we’ve had so many submissions so early. Maybe it’s an early peak, and it’s certainly helped by getting our listings in early on Duotrope etc, but I’ve seen enough already to know that finding quality stories is not going to be a problem for us (at least for the first few issues). Most submissions are supposed to be typo-infested tonally jarring plot nightmares, right? Most from newbies taking a punt and jaded old lags dredging the bowels of their computer’s ‘unsold’ folders, yes? Not this lot. Serious writers, already published in serious places, with quality submissions in the majority. As an editor it’s left me rubbing my hands, even though the selection process is going to be tough (as a writer it was a bit of an ‘oh shit’ moment, though, because it gave me an insight on what my own works are faced with when they sit in an editor’s slush pile).
Some things I’ve learned so far:
- Have a plan. Works for writing, works for life. I’ve got a pretty good idea where I want Wyldblood Press to be in a couple of years’ time, and the broad steps along the way.
- Have some up-front money (and be prepared to spend it). I’m one of life’s natural misers, so this is tough for me.
- Take advantage of previous experience. Fortunately, I’ve edited before, know what goes into a writer’s publication journey and have made some good contacts and friends in our world. Without all that, I probably wouldn’t have a clue.
- Be prepared to learn. There are some tough choices to make, many with hefty financial implications (use Amazon for book distribution or use a book wholesaler or distributor (not the same thing)? Ebook or print for the magazine? Amazon again or use newsstand distributors (like Interzone does)?
- Have some time. I’m lucky that I have options, but it’s already clear that the only way for this to succeed is to fully embrace that this is a job, not a hobby.
- Get some help. I have some great support from my partner Sandra, a writer with a background in journalism and copy writing, but we’re going to need slush readers soon, and an artist/designer, more editorial help and some reviewers and most of that, at this stage, is going to be on a for-love basis.
- Build a community. Working on that.
If anybody’s been through this before (and I know some of you have) it would be great to pick your brains. What’s your advice? What should I be doing and what should I never, ever do? And if you fancy reading some submissions or reviewing some books/TV/films for us, let me know.
But if you want to talk me out of this? Too late.
Mark Bilsborough is a Northerner in long term exile in the soft-bellied South of England where he’s found a rare scrap of countryside to inspire him, though his attempts to write proper science fiction often strangely morph into fantasy. He’s had short stories published in numerous places and is perennially about to finish his novel. In real life he’s been a civil servant, teacher and charity director, occasionally skulking off to attend things like Odyssey and Milford. He writes reviews for SFconcatenation (www.concatenation.org) and edits Mensa’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror journal. His infrequently updated website is at www.markbilsborough.com. And now he’s the proud owner of Wyldblood Press.