Last Thursday, SCBWI and 57th Street Books hosted Stephen Roxburgh, founder of namelos, a new publishing company. Yes, namelos, with a lowercase “n.” The word is German for “nameless” as Mr. Roxburgh feels that all the credit should go to the author and their name alone should be on the book.
Stephen Roxburgh has been in the publishing industry for nearly 40 years, formerly a vice president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and has been editor for some of the most talented children’s writers and illustrators ever, (certainly some of my favorites) including Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, Felicia Bond, and Carolyn Coman, and that’s just naming a few. If there was anything I got out of the evening it was the assurance that this guy knows editing and publishing and he has some incredible insight as to where it’s going.
In the beginning, he held up a book, early 19th century leather-bound, printed on a block press. He loves that book. Then he lifted up his sleek new ipad. He loves that too and spoke with enthusiasm about all the cool things gadgets can do these days and how they are doing a lot of amazing stuff in publishing; animation, video capabilities, secret rooms, etc.
One audience member asked, “When does a book cease to be a book and become a video?”
“Who cares,” he answered. Kids these days are growing up with screens. That’s their world and they do not resist it, in fact they embrace it. An older generation might think that we are frying our kid’s brains by it all, but the truth is, screens and cool techno gadgets are here to stay. Fight or join. Make no mistake, Roxburgh loves the way things used to be, holds that old book in his hand like a sacred object, reveres bookstores as temples, but he loves his gadgets and he’s excited about what lies ahead.
And what lies ahead?
Well you can’t really tackle that question without addressing the way things are now and how they used to be. Mr. Roxburgh spent some time explaining the past and current business of publishing, too large and complex to portray well in a single blog post, but if you want a comprehensive overview read this article in The New Yorker, long, but well worth the read if you want to at least attempt to understand the current dizziness that is publishing. It will all be different tomorrow.
So what is the role of Stephen Roxburgh and namelos? A new business model of sorts, one that most would say isn’t viable, but hey, if you have any better ideas, start your own publishing company. You can bet that the traditional publishing companies are certainly rethinking things.
namelos is a mix of an editorial service, an agency, and a publishing company.
For a flat fee namelos will edit and critique the first 10,000 words of your manuscript and give you a 1800+ word detailed critique and advice for where they think you need to go from there.
One of the most frustrating things for a lot of novice writers these days is they can rarely get feedback from industry professionals. Form rejections can be tiresome, and even personalized feedback cryptic. We spend a lot of money to take classes and workshops which generally only give feedback from peers, instead of those who have a solid handle on the book business. namelos provides a service that a lot of writers are hungry for; comprehensive and detailed feedback from someone who knows, who has experience, and for that the fee is very reasonable.
namelos is committed to helping authors develop their books, but they also publish, or will assist authors they believe in get published elsewhere, acting as an agent (in a very loose sense.) He strongly believes that the author should be in control of the book, whether they want to publish it with him, or somewhere else.
namelos is an ebook and Print On Demand (POD) only business, tackling that problem of high returns and lost profits. (The average return rate from book stores to publishers is 50% and can be as high as 90%. Crippling to a small company.) The downside of the POD model is that you’ll never see your book in a store, something that a lot of writers fantasize about, but he did say that he is trying to address this problem with bookstores.
One person asked, “You’re kind of a little fish in a big sea. How will you separate yourself from the pack?” To which Mr Roxburgh replied that he was more like a speck on a plankton, but he would separate the company by the books they publish and using their resources (of which he has many) to market to the target audience.
But the book is key for him. Mr. Roxburgh is committed to assisting authors and publishing quality books. I like that.
I’m slow to change. I’m more of a conservative, traditional kind of girl, and I’m generally averse to the idea of POD publishing, but Mr. Roxburgh got my wheels spinning. It’s difficult for a young, hopeful writer to know where to turn in a time where the publishing industry feel like a giant bounce house. Hazardous and unstable. What is the best path? How does one establish a healthy writing career in such an unstable market?
I expressed my confusion and worry to my husband the other night, to which he replied, “Write a great book. The rest will take care of itself.” Very wise.
“New authors need old editors,” Stephen Roxburgh said last Thursday. “And old editors need new authors.” And he wasn’t speaking of age, but experience, and the two are not necessarily one in the same.
Well in those terms, I am certainly young and Mr Roxburgh is old. He knows books, understands publishing, and I think his new company will be an excellent resource for writers. Check out the namelos site and see what you think.
Here’s a link to an interview with Stephen Roxburgh at Cyntha Leitich Smith’s blog.