Today we have MFA student Arao Ameny interviewing Blind Eye Books editor Nicole Kimberling about the day-to-day of running a small publishing company.
Nicole: So how did you find Blind Eye Books?
Arao: I was reading a book called Queer Africa, an anthology of LGBTQ fiction from the African continent and re-reading another book called Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, books that center around LGBTQ characters on the African continent. I started wondering about books or publishers that center around similar narratives here in the U.S. I was doing an internet search, found the Lambda Literary website and scrolled through a few options, read that Blind Eye Books publishes books with LGBTQ protagonists, contacted you and here we are...On a personal note, I'm on a quest to read books or authors from diverse communities—that's how I'll learn and grow and mature as a writer.
Nicole: It’s amazing how books are able to break through barriers between people.
Arao: I understand you are established in Bellingham, Washington. What year did you start Blind Eye Books? Did you originally start in Bellingham where you are located? Have you expanded?
Nicole: We started BEB 11 years ago. Originally we published speculative fiction only but in the last couple of years we’ve expanded into mysteries and thrillers.
Arao: What kind of books do you publish?
Nicole: Blind Eye Books publishes fiction featuring queer protagonists. We do both print and digital releases of novels, anthologies and, recently, standalone novellas.
Arao: Who are the key players in Blind Eye Books?
Nicole: We have two full-time employees and work with several contractors. Dawn Kimberling acts as publisher and art director and I am both managing and acquiring editor. We have a social media coordinator named Theresa Tyree and may work with other freelance editors, proofreaders, publicists, illustrators and book designers depending on what a particular project requires.
For example, for our forthcoming release, a thriller called Object of Desire by Dal Maclean, I did the primary developmental edit and line edit and hired another editor, Anne Scott, to do proofreading and continuity. We hired KaNaXa to design the cover (including the cover type design) and did the interior book design in-house. We also outsource our ebook manufacturing. So including the author that’s a six-person team working to turn a manuscript into a print book.
Arao: Do you have authors with multiple titles that you’ve published? How many books do you publish per year?
Nicole: Yes. Most of our authors have more than one title with us. But we don’t demand right of first refusal or anything like that. We publish two titles per year.
Arao: I understand you publishing company is dedicated to publishing the best science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance featuring LGBT protagonists. What is your mission statement? How has it evolved?
Nicole: Our mission statement is exactly the same as it always has been: to produce genre fiction featuring queer protagonists that is both powerful and positive. We don’t do bummer endings. Ever.
Arao: May you describe how you fund Blind Eye Books? How do you fund your press? What are the estimated costs of doing business?
Nicole: With money of course! (lol) We run on the revenue generated by sales of our books, just like any other business. :) If you’re asking how much money a person needs to start a publishing company I’d say: about $5,000 and one killer manuscript that’s gonna sell more than 10,000 copies. At Blind Eye Books we lucked out and chose Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen as our first release. Ms. Hale’s book went on the win the Spectrum Award and was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award.
Arao: How has your audience changed since you first established Blind Eye Books?
Nicole: Well, it’s gotten bigger. Each new author finds a new set of readers and some of those crossover to our other authors and titles. Plus review outlets are more eager to read fiction featuring queer protagonists than they used to be.
Arao: What other thoughts or ideas would you like to share with our class about Blind Eye Books?
Nicole: When we started Blind Eye Books it was to produce the kind of books that we wanted to read but couldn’t find on bookstore shelves. Back then publishing was a closed system with enormous barriers to entry to the book market and access to readers. Since then digital access to distributors and retailers—even libraries—has become as easy as setting up a Smashwords account. Worldwide print book manufacture and distribution can be had from Lightning Source. Marketing is a hashtag away. Even high-end reviews in venues like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly can be yours for a few hundred bucks. So if you have the passion to start your own publishing company that makes the kind of books that YOU want to read go ahead and make one. If you think there is an underserved reader or marginalized author, publish a book. Sell the book. Prove that the market exists. Make those readers visible.
It would be ingenuous of me to claim that starting a publishing company is easy, because it really isn’t. Like any other business it takes a while to learn the ropes of your industry and you are bound to make some errors and missteps along the way.
But just in case anybody wants to give it a shot I’ll give the brief order of events here:
1. Decide what your mission is. Do not deviate from the mission. For the purposes of this essay lets say you want to read contemporary romance books featuring Latinx protagonists. Decide on a name and acquire a business license and bank account and web address. Apply for an EIN number for tax purposes.
2. Find a couple of authors who are willing to work with you. Even if you are, yourself an author, it will help to have more than one person on your team. Five is a good number, but you can start with just one if that’s all you have. Always write contracts explaining exactly how much an author is paid and when they are paid. At Blind Eye Books we pay 10% of cover price for print and 50% net for digital.
3. Complete production on your books—get them written, edited, proofread, and manufactured into 3 file types: print-ready pdf (for Lightning Source) plus .mobi (for amazon.com) and .epub (for everybody else.) Make sure covers are high-res images. You are now four months away from release.
4. Build your website.
5. Send review copies to reviewers—most big venues require books to be submitted at least four months prior to the release date.
6. Build and connect author websites (if they don’t already have them.)
7. Build social media accounts for your publishing house.
8. Contact citizen reviewers in your field. Send out review copies.
9. Two months before release date, upload digital books for preorder. Begin to arrange author appearances on relevant blogs and websites. (It helps to hire a publicist to do this if you can find one familiar with your field.).
10. One month before release date begin media campaign.
11. Release date: Hooray! Time to see how you did. If you sold 100 copies, you’re about average. If you sold 1000 you’re on to something. If you sold 5,000 you’re onto something good.
12. Pay author on time.
Bio: Arao Ameny is an Uganda-born, Maryland-based journalist and writer. She is currently an MFA Fiction student at the University of Baltimore and loves prose and poetry—equally. Her favorite author is Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marechera.