Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the owners of Storm Moon Press, K. Piet and S.L. Armstrong who have achieved phenomenal success with their non-traditional indie press.
Hi, Kris and S.L. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s such a pleasure to have you on the site today to talk about Storm Moon Press. Could you please give us a synopsis of your company and the areas you focus on relative to your publishing strategies?
Storm Moon Press is a small, independent publishing company specializing in quality *QUILTBAG fiction with a focus on erotica and erotic romance titles that embrace all gender and sexual identities and expressions. Since its inception in 2010, Storm Moon Press has expanded to have three imprints focused on non-erotic QUILTBAG genre fiction (Thunder Moon), het/mainstream erotica and erotic romance (Wild Moon), and QUILTBAG Young Adult fiction (Budding Moon).
You started this press in January 2010. How has the journey been so far? Rocky? Smooth? A bit of both? What are some of the highlights?
S.L Truthfully? A bit of both. In terms of growth, it’s been smooth. We’ve been growing steadily and at our planned rate from the very beginning. But, we’ve had rough patches in learning how to deal with authors and customers, learning how to compromise without losing sight of our mission. Some of the highlights are when we founded our young adult and non-erotic QUILTBAG imprints, signing our first young adult novel, selling our 10,000th book, signing our 60th author, the site relaunch, and being invited guests to industry events.
I love the fact that you’re an indie publisher. What are a few of the major challenges that you faced as a start-up, other than financing?
K. Our biggest challenge was acquiring authors. Oftentimes, authors are advised to never sign with a publisher that’s under 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years old. So, finding authors who were willing to get in on the ground floor with us was the absolute hardest aspect aside from financing. The second hardest aspect was finding the editors we needed to ensure the quality we wanted for our books.
Can you tell us what are some of the areas that you focus on at Storm Moon Press to ensure success year over year? How have your business strategies contributed to your success?
S.L. Our core strategy has always been to stay small. It allows us to be more personal with our authors and artists. It keeps our output small enough to ensure constant growth, but never so much growth that we wind up overreaching beyond our financial means. We’re also willing to take chances on themes and authors other presses might not. Our best-selling anthology in 2012 was Like It or Not, which is our non-con gay anthology, and most publishers won’t touch themes like that.
Looking at your achievements 3 years later, what would you say is the most important one and why?
S.L. I would say, first and foremost, is our achievement in the genre was to see our use of QUILTBAG slowly replacing GLBT. When we first began using it (though it had been in use elsewhere), not many people knew of or understood the acronym. Now, we see it popping up everywhere, and we love it. The second achievement would be the founding of Budding Moon Press. BMP, our QUILTBAG YA line, is a direct investment in queer youth, and I think it’s one of the most important aspects of being a publisher: investing in and inspiring the next generation of authors.
What is the most surprising fact that you discovered about epublishing since you started your own press 3 years ago?
K. Frankly? How easy epublishing is. That’s a misleading statement, but truly, ebook production isn’t difficult. The difficult part is editing and marketing the books rather than actually making the books. When we first started, we were told how very difficult every aspect of the process was, but when we dove in, we found that the difficulties weren’t in production, but in refining and selling the books.
How do you define success in your business?
One of the toughest decisions most businesses face, whether they are a large scale enterprise or a small entrepreneurship like SMP, is growth. Most small business owners don’t develop a strategic plan which factors in growth because of time constraints and the pressures of running the business operations on a daily basis. How do you plan to handle the needs of your company and existing customers as SMP continues to expand?
S.L. First, we started SMP with a five-year plan, and we’re happy to say we’re right on target. That plan always accounted for an increase in acquisitions and sales. As we’ve grown, though, we’ve added additional editors, additional cover artists, built an acquisitions team, proofreaders, and copywriters. As our needs continue to grow, we will continue to expand our support team. A key aspect to limiting our growth is to not acquire beyond our scope. We take our time during the acquisitions and production processes to ensure quality of product rather than quantity.
GBLTQ romance seems to have reached a saturation point with its exponential success and the number of new epublishers that have emerged and set up shop, as well as new writers who are releasing books each week. This is in addition to established authors who have been around for a while with their own fan base. How do you ensure that SMP continues to give readers quality stories while at the same time providing support for novice writers so that they don’t get discouraged and give up?
K. It goes back to not acquiring too many manuscripts at once. We love our novice writers. We love first time authors who have the hunger to get into this industry. Working with established authors is great, and they bring their fanbase to SMP while they’re with us. Regardless of how often an author has published, though, they all get the same amount of attention from us. Authors are free to email us about anything, and they’ll find us happy to respond. From that first email about a contract, we’re there for the authors, engaging them, offering them direction and support, as much or as little as they want.
Most large epublishers tend to focus on het or male/male romances which are more traditional subgenres of romance, however you publish books across the entire GBLTQ spectrum. I understand that part of the reason for doing so is personal, but what are a couple of the business reasons and what are the challenges?
S.L. Most of us at SMP—from the owners to the staff—all identify somewhere in the *QUILTBAG spectrum, so it made sense to publish a variety of fiction. If we wanted to read it, surely others did, too. This was confirmed in 2012 when we began attending events and other queer readers began asking after non-gay titles. It made us determined to offer more varied fiction. The hardest thing for us is finding authors willing to write fiction that might not sell as well (initially) as gay erotic romances do. It’s also incredibly difficult to find authors who will write anything longer than a short story starring these sorts of main characters. There is an audience for fiction other than that of the gay persuasion, it’s just having the inventory to make contact with that audience that we find the most challenging.
Your strategies and customer base are unique, and I’m sure they will contribute to SMP’s future success. Are there new areas that you’re planning to tackle? For example, are you thinking of getting into audio books in the future, which seems to be a new trend?
K. Right now, we’re delving into illustrated novellas and novels. We had three titles come out last year that included illustrations, and we hope to double that this year. Audio books has been something we’ve been interested in, but our one foray into it in 2011 left us very unhappy with the quality, sales, and cost associated with it. We may look into it again in 2014, but right now, we’re focusing on our imprints, serial line, and illustrated titles.
I noticed from perusing some of your titles that you’re quite adventurous in your offerings, as a matter of fact you’re probably the most adventurous epublisher. 😀 Your stories range from a large selection of anthologies (which is unusual), to heroes with tentacles, gun kink and even incest, just to name a few topics. How do you intend to market these books to readers, many of whom have more traditional tastes in their romances?
S.L. *laughs* Funnily, anthologies were never intended to be as large a part our catalogue as they’ve become. We put up dozens of anthology calls every year, mainly because in 2011, we had very little interest in anthologies. We figured, toss a bunch of it to the wall and something will stick. And anthologies are a great way to experiment with themes that we might have been unsure of tackling in a novella or novel. For example, All Wrapped Up directly led to the acquisition of a tentacle novel for one of our other imprints. Marketing the titles, though, can be difficult. Fraternal Devotion, for example, isn’t stocked on any site for sale other than SMP, B&N, and Rainbow eBooks. It means we have limited reach, but K. does an amazing job with promotion on blogs, websites, and events. I think readers are a lot more adventurous than publishers and authors give them credit for.
I’m very impressed with the growth of young adult romances, and I understand that SMP will soon establish your own YA imprint, Budding Moon Press. Can you tell us a little bit about it and when it will be up and running? Are you seeking new writers for Budding Moon Press or a mix of new as well as more established YA authors? When do you expect the first books from BMP to be available to readers?
K. Budding Moon Press is already in acquisitions. We’ve acquired two novels, and we’re in negotiations for a series and a short story collection. Right now, most of the fiction we’ve acquired for BMP has come from new authors, but we’d love to see both established and new names in our inbox for this imprint. The first book should be available this spring, and the second in the summer. We will also be releasing alternate editions of some of our SMP fiction with the explicit scenes shifted to fade-to-black and released under the BMP imprint (for example, Making Ends Meet by S.L. Armstrong and me will be one such title).
Next month you will be launching your new serial line. Would you like to tell us briefly why this is important to you as a publisher, and why do you think readers would be attracted to serials, something that hasn’t been done a lot in romance? The last serial I read was from Blind Eye Books and it covered 10 books. Do you have a few serials in the planning stages or ready to go?
S.L. We have one serial ready to go, one almost ready, and a handful more in the acquisitions phase (they’ve queried us, but are working on their initial episode to submit to us). Serials were something I rallied against from inception, but, after two years mulling on the topic, I found a format I thought was fair to readers, authors, and the publisher. Everything is told in 6 or 12 episode seasons, and if a reader buys a season pass (pre-order the book, basically), they receive extras that are posted along with the episodes (character interviews, artwork, deleted or additional scenes, backstory, etc.). I think serials aren’t for everyone, but it’s a unique method of publishing that allows for a different form of storytelling that I think will appeal to a lot of readers, especially since we’ll be offering every Episode 1 for $0.99. There will be a low investment for the reader to give a serial a try.
One of the most outstanding creative features of your books that make them stand out from the rest (outside of the content) is the cover art by Nathie, who I consider to be your secret weapon. 🙂 Can you tell us how you discovered hir? I think that covers are extremely important in helping to “sell” a book as it’s the first thing potential purchasers notice, even before the blurb.
K. Mmm, Nathie. Jeez, I don’t quite remember how we happened upon Nathie’s artwork, but I know we found hir work on DeviantArt. S.L. wrote to Nathie for the cover of Rachmaninoff, and Nathie was happy to work with us on it. From there, it just grew. Nathie was with us before we began acquiring other authors, and zie’s been with us since. 😀 Nathie has stated zie wants to work with no other publisher but us, so, in a way, zie is our secret weapon.
How do you keep the creative juices flowing, and which of you (Kris/SL ) is the sensible one who always tries to throw cold water on the more extreme ideas?
S.L. I don’t think cold water has ever been thrown on any idea. I don’t think there’s anything we wouldn’t write or publish, assuming we were 100% behind the idea. Non-con, slavery, incest, mpreg (eventually), etc., they’re all brewing in our brain and will eventually find a way out onto virtual paper. The creative juices are always flowing. It’s not difficult to find the inspiration to write, but the time to write. Right now, time is a precious commodity for us both.
With the competition for romance readers, do you think authors have to be more creative in choosing the world where their M/M novel takes place? Do authors have to expand the types of topics they write about so that their books are always edgy?
S.L. Edgy will get boring. Edgy will become commonplace, and then where will authors be? We encourage our writers to invest time and energy into creating rich worlds with extensive worldbuilding. When asked on our author loop recently what we were looking for in terms of submissions, my thought turned to fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, and non-contemporary paranormal fiction. All genres that require heavy worldbuilding, dense plot, and compelling characters. I feel these things are lacking in the QUILTBAG area we publish in (and I myself have been guilty of leaning on the easy contemporary setting), and so that’s what I’m seeking, what I think will keep the genre alive and kicking after the shine of abuse, non-con, and edgy BDSM titles wears off. 🙂
In one paragraph, what would you like readers to know about SMP that will get them excited about your books?
Last, what do you love best about your job?
S.L. Publishing books I love to read and working with authors I deeply respect.
K. Working with a team of authors, editors, and artists who all inspire one another to greatness.
Thanks, Kris and SL. I really appreciate your time.
Storm Moon Press Contact Information
Storm Moon Press
*QUILTBAG definition: Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer