What is Greyhart Press?
When I’m not writing or reading (or… whisper this quietly… indulging in real life) I wear another hat: I run Greyhart Press, an e-publisher of fantastic fiction through online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes. I also carry out e-book conversion services for small presses, though I am keeping this workload limited to allow me to work on other projects. (Mind you, I have got to work with stories from cool people such as Neil Gaiman, Liz Williams, Stephen Baxter, Dan Abnett, Lauren Beukes… I’d better stop there but it’s certainly exciting).
For the first three weeks, Greyhart Press was simply a trading name for me to self-publish some of my back catalogue of short stories. Then I wondered about all the wonderful stories I had encountered in critique groups that hadn’t been published or had but not widely. The world of genre print magazines can be very cliquey at times and as a short story writer it is easy to forget how small it is.
For example, here in the UK, the senior print magazine for SF and fantasy is Interzone. Sure, I’d love to be published in Interzone, but would that mean I’ve made it? With all due respect to the editors of Interzone, I would guess that well over 99% of the people who loved Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5, who play Halo or any game involving orcs and dwarves, who read Iain M Banks or Terry Pratchett; of the people who consider themselves Sci-Fi or fantasy fans — well over 99% have never even heard of Interzone. The same is also probably true (though slightly less so) of the senior US magazines: Asimovs’, Analog, and F&SF.
Then I thought of how inaccessible some of these magazine’s stories are. Over the past half-century many of the best SF and fantasy short stories have been published in these senior magazines and continue to be so. I used to subscribe to all of these magazines. I found that for every story that thrilled me, there were two that left me unimpressed. The principle reason was that what I would call basic storytelling was undervalued. I’m talking about clarity of language, of plot, about stories where something happens.
That’s great for the audience who read these magazines. Done well, I enjoy them myself — I don’t want basic storytelling all the time; I like the spice of something different, just not all the time. I’m certainly not going to tell anyone that they are wrong for enjoying reading a story any more than I’d tell them they shouldn’t have written a story.
Then I thought again of my hypothetical Sci-Fi fan who had never heard of Interzone or Asimovs’, and it occurred to me that if they read those magazines, chances are they wouldn’t enjoy the stories. But I had work-shopped plenty of stories from other authors that these hypothetical Sci-Fi nuts would enjoy. The question was how to match the reader to the story they would enjoy. And now that eReaders were becoming mainstream, possibilities were opening up that had never been possible before…
And so I rapidly moved Greyhart Press to publish stories from other authors.
I see Greyhart Press as a long term project that will continue for many years. As I write this, I feel the initial learning phase is coming to an end and we’re ramping up to deliver phase 2 in the second half of 2011.
We’ve had successes. We’ve managed to find many thousands of readers so far, received some encouraging critical reviews from reviewers and bloggers I’d never heard of at the beginning of the year, and I’ve not only got to work on e-book design for establish authors such as Neil Gaiman (sorry, can’t resist mentioning that again). I’ve also realised I am building e-book anthologies to a higher quality than many from the major publishers.
Not everything has gone as planned. You’d never guess from our line-up of stories that my initial approaches to authors were split evenly between the genders. And while some readers have loved our cover artwork, some have considered it patchy (sorry about that; I’m commissioning an award-winning artist; l hope that will do). Our fiction has been pirated (probably a good sign), and one story (one of mine) received a one-star review. I don’t know why; I know we won’t please everyone but to get a one-star rating was a surprise.
What’s next for Greyhart Press?
There remain a lot of details to finalise, so this has to be considered tentative.
October 2011 – launch the ‘99p Novellas’ range (not sure of US pricing)
I’m hoping for 3-4 novellas: fantasy-romance, steampunk-SF, spooky horror. The steampunk one is my Last Man Through the Gate. The horror one will be The Mill by establish horror writer Mark West. Artwork for these is looking good.
November 2011 – launch the first wave of novels
There will be 2-3. Definites are:
Terminus from Paul Melhuish: Red Dwarf meets space (opera) vampires. The artwork is almost ready and is going to be exhibited by the artist. He’ll take the digital version as a starting point (it’s ridiculously high resolution) and then paint over with acrylics for additional detail and texture. And then hangs on a wall. How cool is that?
In the Rain with the Dead by Mark West: a servant of the Devil returns from death to terrorise a tired English town. Definitely not one for fans of horror-lite such as Twilight.
Also in 2011
More horror from Mark West. A brand new novelette, and we’re talking about a unique ‘de-localised’ publication that might be called Welcome to Gaffney. Still early days on that one.
More novellas, novelettes, and short stories. Can’t name names as we’re not fully signed-up yet, but I’m hoping that by the end of the year we will have a more diverse set of authors, and that this will become even more true as we progress through 2012.
Although I never intend to use the author’s gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation as a consideration when deciding whether to accept a story, I do feel that one of the exciting (actually, important) aspects of reading pleasure is to be placed into the viewpoint of someone different from yourself. Authors bring their own experiences to their fictional creations and so publishing authors from different backgrounds should (in theory) deliver a wider set of viewpoint experiences for the reader.
To keep the throttle on submissions while I was still learning what to do with Greyhart Press, I started off by asking for stories that I had enjoyed when I had work-shopped them. In other words, I already knew the authors. I had hoped for more gender-balance than I eventually delivered, but I was always going to start off with a Brit-centric set of authors. That’s what we have now, but I’m hopeful that will change very soon.
Greyhart Press or Tim C Taylor?
A key question I’ve had to ask myself is this: what is the distinction between Tim C Taylor and Greyhart Press? Specifically, does Greyhart Press remain a vehicle for me to self-publish my own work?
I’ve wrestled with this for a few months, sought advice from other small print author/publishers, and talked with current and prospective Greyhart authors. Many author/publishers include a small amount of their own material, some refuse to publish their own work, and for a few 50% or more of the stories they publish are written by the publisher.
My initial set of Greyhart Press titles were my own work (I hadn’t intended to publish other people at first). All but one were short story reprints, which means other people had previously paid me (for the most part) to publish my stories in their magazines. Self-publishers often talk about the wonderful new freedom from ‘gatekeepers’ (i.e. agents and editors), while I had deliberately published stories that had been passed by a gatekeeper because I still felt that gave the stories a level of credibility.
But what if I published novels (something that will become a reality later in 2011)? in the world before the e-book boom, upcoming genre authors were very familiar with the idea of selling their short stories to magazines in return for ‘exposure’, with little or no financial payment. What about novels? That’s very different. I know from experience the enormous commitment and sacrifice that goes into writing novels at the same time as being a fully paid-up member of a family and holding down a full time job. To ask other authors to give me their novels to publish is to take on a major commitment. Why should anyone trust me to do a good job if I wasn’t prepared to publish my own novels?
So here are some hard questions with my conclusions:
Q: Is Greyhart Press simply a vehicle for you to self-publish, the stories from other authors merely a way for you to pretend you’ve been published by someone else?
A: If it were then that’s a very expensive way of trying to win some dubious sense of credibility. Remember, I am not setting up a genre print magazine in the 1990s; I am selling predominately into the same market that is stuffed full of self-publishers, many of whom are doing very well, thank you. Put another way, potential customers are not put off by self-publishing in a way they would have been even five years ago.
All the Greyhart Press titles are properly edited, built, tested, with cover art either commissioned or built and paid for by myself. The result is that I have spent considerably more time and money working with stories from other authors than I have with my own work.
So, no, and it would make no commercial sense to use other authors as a veneer of respectability because the cost outweighs that dubious benefit.
On the other hand, I am keen to make my own work less significant in the Greyhart catalogue. As I write this, 30% of the short stories and novelettes are still from me. I would feel more comfortable with that figure under 20% and I won’t publish any more of my short stories or novelettes until we are under that figure.
Q: What’s to stop you publishing good stories from other authors but rubbish from yourself?
A: All my stories are work-shopped and will pass through an editor (all our stories are edited by someone other than the author). Of course, the editor is paid for by me so can’t be considered fully independent. Of all the questions I pose here, this would have been the thorniest — would have been if we weren’t talking about the new world of e-books. All the online retailers offer a try before you buy. All I can suggest is that you take advantage of these, always and for all authors and all publishers. If my writing is not up to scratch, or if style or subject matter doesn’t suit, then you should be able to tell from the free sample.
Q: Novellas and novels take a lot more time to write. You are prepared to publish novellas and novels from other people, but are you prepared to put ‘skin in the game’ and commit your own novels?
A: When I first started Greyhart Press, I started with short stories. That was an easy decision because I love short stories and firmly believe that eReaders will raise the prominence of short stories. The other reason was that I was not prepared to ask authors to give me novels when I didn’t know if I could build them well or sell them. You should be aware that if Greyhart Press releases an eBook of a novel, it is very unlikely that any traditional publisher would consider publishing that novel themselves at a later date, unless e-sales are exceptional (a million-seller). So the author is risking all that work on the hope that Greyhart Press can achieve good sales.
I still can’t be sure that I can make money for the authors selling their novels, but I am going to give it a try and we are bringing out at least a couple of novels later in 2011. I couldn’t ask anyone to give me their novel and not risk my own work in the same way. So I have decided to publish my own longer length work too. However, so that I’m not distracted by my own work, I will publish other authors first, while committing to put my own work through the same process at a later date.
Q: What’s to stop you putting all your effort into promoting your own work at Greyhart Press and not your other authors?
A: Up to this point, I have only promoted my authors. When I’ve sent stories to review sites, for example, I’ve only sent other Greyhart authors. I have done a small amount of promotion for myself but that is only on sites interviewing authors, rather than reviewing books, and there I have always invited my authors to join in. To give my novel writers the best chance, I have commissioned artwork from award-winning cover artist Andy Bigwood.
I shall be promoting my own novellas and novels, but only in a proportionate way, something that should be apparent. Novels represent the biggest investment from authors and require the biggest investment from me in promotion. So that I can concentrate on doing the best job I can for my authors, I shall publish in small waves of no more than 2-3 novels and I will not include any of my own novels in the first wave, though I am committing to publish something of mine in a later wave.
Tim Taylor — July 2011