Interview

Interview

New Kid on the Page Part 2: Christopher Payne and the Rise of JournalStone

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In Part One we talked about how Christopher Payne decided to get into small press publishing. His first couple of years involved new authors whose writing he liked. But he realized he needed some well-known name value in his authors if his company was going to grow and begin selling great enough numbers of books to be self-sustaining. But "names" in horror are not the same as names in general literature.

By "well-known" where do you put that criteria?

Granted. Definitely mid-tier or low-end mid-tier as far as sales. But in 2013 we're working with Jonathan Maberry and some others. Now you take that into 2014 and you have a situation where I had to close down submissions because I can't take any more than I already had. 2014 is signed, full, and done. It's an entirely different looking company. It seems to have evolved every year. We're growing so fast.

Now it is not just you, right?

From an employee perspective I guess we don't have any employees. So we have a few people I contract with specifically to work with us. So they are not employees but they are contract labor. Editors and some cover artists that we work with. There are three artists now that we do most of our stuff with. We have a couple of editors - Dr. Michael R. Collings and Joel Kirkpatrick and Elizabeth Reuter.

Where did they come out of?

Joel's been with me the longest, almost from the very beginning. He read one of the books that I wrote and did a review. I got to talking to him and he saw what I was doing. Then he came on board with me on a volunteer basis, in the beginning. He helped read some submissions and we got to know each other more and more. I look at everything we've done and everything we've built in a short period of time and I'm pleased. We now have somebody who is selling foreign translation rights for us. That's all they do. 

Then last year you bought Dark Discoveries Magazine from James Beach? Or is it not a buy?

Dark Discoveries Magazine and Hellnotes, both. Hellnotes is a web site dedicated to press releases or any news about horror and dark fantasy.

That came with employees?

That came with David Silva who has now passed away. Now my half-brother Russ Thompson runs Hellnotes. When David passed away Russ sort of took that over.

What made you want to buy an online site and a magazine?

There’s a lot of money going out-of-pocket for every book.

Was it much more than you thought it would be? For lack of a better word your books are print on demand. You need 100, you print 100. You don’t sit around with a warehouse full of books like the old publishing model.

You don’t but you still have to put out a lot of money on every book. You have all the set-up costs, the artist, the editor. Every book we have goes through a couple of rounds of edits, proofreading. Then every book that we do I print off at least 50 ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) – which a lot of small presses don’t. So we are sending them out as review copies. We send out 200 to 300 eBooks on every book we do as well.

Do you get better response from one aspect of your business over another?

Print books. If you get 10 to 20 reviews most of those are going to come from print books. You’ll get some response from eBooks but it depends on the book as well.

What about being involved in something like BEA (Book Expo America) where the publishers exhibit and all the booksellers come to them in one spot?

I know the people at BEA very well. I thought about possibly getting a booth this year. We haven’t had an author yet that would be of the caliber of a BEA that can attract or do that kind of signing. We do now going forward so next year (2014) might be one like the Jonathan Maberry / Joe Ledger collection. We could probably have several different signings all over the place for something like that. They were going to give a pretty good deal this year and I’ll bet I could get a pretty good deal next year. But it’s a balancing act. I have to figure if this is the best way to spend my money.

So did you buy Dark Discoveries thinking here’s something that will make us big bucks?

No. I was advertising already in Dark Discoveries. My thought at the time was that I was spending x-amount on advertising so why not have a little more influence over what I could do on a website or magazine – see what I could produce and just have it be my own. I did buy it. I say that I bought it with the thought that I would be just as much a partner with James Beach. Because I don’t have, you have nineteen years of horror history, I don’t have that history. So I don’t know people in that way. But the synergy you get from it is...

Let’s say you have an author you’d like to do a short story with and I have Jonathan Maberry and all of a sudden he’s writing a column for us in Dark Discoveries. I signed David List to an anthology and I'd say “Hey David, I’d like to get you into Dark Discoveries for a short story.” So you get this synergy. Or maybe we get a short story from somebody and I say “That’s great. Maybe we should think about doing a project together.” So you get this synergy on the writing side and the content side but you also get the synergy on the advertising. It is so much better working with people you enjoy working with. 

What were you doing before all of this?

Finance. Corporate finance. When I first started this I didn’t want to be. Nothing against small presses, but I didn’t want to go that direction. My goal is not to sell a few books on Amazon. My goal is to have a book, when we publish it, proliferate out into all the bookstores at some point. To do that I felt that I had to go the route of what the big publishers were doing. That’s one of the reasons I went after contacts at Publishers Weekly. I went after contacts at Library Journal. I went in the direction where I saw major publishing houses doing their thing.

I disagree with their business model in the sense that I don’t know that we still need secondary distributors. I don’t know that we need to warehouse books. I don’t understand why a lot of the publishing houses don’t go to POD. I think with the POD books we’re printing that the quality is as good as the print runs of the print books coming out today. Because POD has changed in its quality. The one issue I have with POD is the cost per book is higher than if you do a print run. 

The interesting thing is this. There are 24 hours in a day and you need to look at what you can accomplish in that time. We publish 2 books a month right now. Think about what it takes to publish one single book. The artwork, the layout, dealing with getting it set up, contracts with the author, getting the ISBN, getting the ARCs out to reviewers, getting it set up on Goodreads, getting the book set up everywhere, getting it set up with the printer. When you look at how much time it takes to do all of that and with the things we do with the magazine and the website and JournalStone’s website. That’s not even trying to plan what you are going to do in the future and negotiating that. There’s only so much time in every day. You can only do so many things.

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You can reach Christopher Payne at the JournalStone website.

Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com.

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