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Introducing Bob Nelson of Brick Cave Media
Name: Bob Nelson
Publishing House: Brick Cave Media
Labels: Brick Cave Books, Brick Cave Audio, Brick Cave Films
Niche: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry
Any Professional Affiliations: IPBA, Arizona State Poetry Society, Mesa, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, SFWA (Bob Individually)
Book Formats: Audio, paperback, eBook
Bob Nelson on his book shelves
You see mostly non-fiction in this picture, we converted one of our daughter’s rooms into a library when she moved out (She was none too pleased- she was mad we had not converted it while she was still living in it ?) but it is complete as you can see with a library cat and bee. :-)
I also attached a picture of the lending library in the office (below), we keep copies of the books we have published for new staff to check out and read, to acclimate them to our press style and history.
Your Brand(s) & Your Niche(s)
Please describe Brick Cave Media briefly and what genre(s) you serve.
Headquartered in Mesa, AZ, Brick Cave Media publishes books in digital ebook, audio book, paperback & hard cover print formats. We use the tagline “Publishers of fiction, poetry and … curiosities” as we publish science fiction, fantasy and poetry mostly.
The mission of BCM is to effectively support the creative endeavors of talented individuals that they may realize a benefit beyond the creative process. We leverage technology, and the changes in media availability of the last 25 years to build followings for the endeavors of our creators.
How did you come to found Brick Cave Media? What titles and writers did you start with?
Brick Cave Media (Brick Cave, BCM) was a branch company created from the literary nonprofit Anthology, Inc. Anthology organized many poetry related events, and as such has relationships with a number of performance poets. Seeing that there was not an organized way for these poets to produce and release albums, Brick Cave Media was founded to facilitate that, and in 2006 released their first product, a 3 Compact Disc “box set” from poet Bill Campana called “The Hit List”.
When we decided to start publishing, we started with Author J.A. Giunta, first publishing his Guardians stories, then slowly expanding by adding author Sharon Skinner and her poetry collection In Case You Didn’t Hear Me the First Time and eventually her fantasy novel The Healer’s Legacy.
How has the company changed over time? Was it because of lessons learned? Did changes within the publishing world force you to adapt as well?
Originally, we did not publish books at all. After releasing several albums between 2006-2009, the market for digital and CD albums sales began to deteriorate, and we as an organization started looking at film. In 2008, Brick Cave began pre-production of a giant monster movie, Sacrifice, releasing the film in 2011. During this time (2009), Brick Cave was approached by author J.A. Giunta about being his publisher for his science fiction stories encompassing The Knights of Virtue, and because of the introduction of the Kindle platform, Brick Cave decided to pursue the project. As Brick Cave realized they did not have the money for feature film production, we steadily emphasized the publishing business more and more.
How do you define what you are looking for? What happens when you come across a great story that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
Our background and interests have kept the press pretty well focused on fiction and poetry so far. That being said, we have been persuaded by our existing author base to try other genres. Author Scott Woods asked us to publish his Prince and Little Weird Black Boy Gods: Prince Essays by Scott Woods (Amazon: http://a.co/7FKQqGd) which has been very well received.
Typically, if we receive a great manuscript of quality that for whatever reason just does not fit with us, we look at our contacts elsewhere in the industry to see if we can provide a quality referral.
Politics have become interesting these days. Has the local, national, or even international political climates changed the way you look at your business model or the titles you might put out?
From the beginning, our backgrounds in Performance Poetry has always influenced the Press to an interest in social issues and politics. Pretty much every title we release has a subtle, or not so subtle, connection to relevant existing social discourse. Prime example being My American Journey: My Years in Poetry Slam and Bush’s America Collide by The Klute (Amazon: http://a.co/aGpjeu6). For us, it’s our DNA. Even in our fantasy titles, such as Platinum Magic, by Bruce Davis (Amazon: http://a.co/9Oo2L94), there is a strong undercurrents to today’s climate.
Tales of Yourself
What did you read before you even thought of publishing? How did becoming a publisher change your reading habits?
I read a lot of science fiction, but tilted science fiction. Harry Harrison (Stainless Steel Rat), Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) which unknowingly tilted my interest to a bit of sarcasm and critical analysis towards the greater genre of sci-fi. As a publisher, our press has sought out those manuscripts that defy clean lines of genre, I would say I have influenced the Press far more than the Press has influence me.
Has becoming a publisher changed you or your social life in any way?
I have no social life outside of anything connected to my being a publisher ?
If you meet someone for the first time and they introduce themselves as a writer, do you... a) say “Hey, funny coincidence...” b) talk about your “day job” exclusively... or c) point to a grouse in the trees and run away when their back is turned?
Honestly, I try to avoid all reference that I am a publisher. My understanding of the role of the small press in the current environment is that the Press is a partner to the author, and that relationship needs to be a strong one to be successful.
I am not interested in adding authors whose mindset is anything other than rolling up their sleeves and getting to work in the trenches beside both the press itself, and their peer authors. We very much believe in the adage that Together Everyone Achieves More, and we expect that from our authors.
That being said, I want to meet people first, not necessarily manuscripts. For us, an author is a long term relationship, most of our authors publish multiple titles with us and stay with us because we stay focused on providing them opportunities to shine and connect their books with readers.
Community Interaction: Readers/Fans
How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?
As a publisher, we make appearances at several events each year, including the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Tucson Festival of Books, Mesa Book Festival (an event managed by our sister non profit https://mesabookfestival.com/) Books and Phoenix Fan Fusion among others.
We host a “Brick Cave Meet & Greet” each year, a social event specifically for the public to meet the authors of our press.
This year, we have also been fortunate to set up our first large tour for our authors, which begins in September and last through the end of the year, making 7 different stops.
How do you interact with your readership? Do you have a forum? A newsletter? Pen-pals?
You name it. Social Media:
We ourselves have vended at hundreds of events in our time, including San Francisco Comicon, Phoenix Comicon/Fan Fest/Fan Fusion, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Tucson festival of Books, San Diego Festival of Books, Mesa Book Festival and a number of others. Our authors have paneled at many more events, including Emerald City Comicon, WorldCon and others.
What is the typical fan of Brick Cave Media like? Do you even have a typical fan? Are your readers attracted to different authors (or imprints) differently? Or do your readers tend to be attracted to the whole she-bang?
We feel like we have “Brand” fans. Because we work hard to be consistently great in quality, both in the manufacture/editing of books and the craft of the content. We have a solid following of readers that trust the “Brand” and freely move between the authors in the publishing house. For the Press (and the authors) that’s a benefit when a reader is looking for the next book by ‘X’, and ‘X’ may be a little behind, readers are very open to trying ‘Y’ author in the meantime- which then translates into multi-book, multi-author sales over time and benefits everyone.
What sensations or experiences do you hope to evoke in your readers? What’s your favorite feedback so far from one of your customers?
Each book is its own world with intent. Overall, we want the reader to feel engaged, and satisfied that we did everything in our power to give them a well written, well presented story. And, of course, we want them to ask for the next one.
This was pretty fantastic to see. From this review: https://theodenhumphrey.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/book-review-the-healers-legacy/
“But two of those books were excellent. And interestingly, they were both from the same publishing house, Brick Cave Media. I think those folks have their act together.”
Community Interaction: Writers
How do you attract writers? Or do they tend to find you? From submission to publication to marketing, how closely to you tend to work with your creators?
We maintain an open submission process that runs from July-September (https://brickcavemedia.com/about-brick-cave/prospective-authors). In addition to that, we partner with our sister nonprofit Anthology, Inc. to participate in a home town writer’s Conference, Cirque du Livre (https://cirquedulivre.com/).
Overall in the publishing process, we are very consultative with our Authors. We generally view our authors as long term relationships and we work to make sure that they are an active part of the publishing process, from reviewing feedback to working with the illustrator on the final cover design. As a small press, we are limited in the number of authors we are able to support at any one time (in fairness to them and actually publishing their books in a reasonable amount of time). But we want the authors to be an active partner and be ready to get out there and help sell their works- we think helping them feel empowered through the process creates that.
In the winter of 2017, another small publisher announced that they'd no longer be working with agents and set off a Twitter storm. Do you have any opinions on that?
Every Press has a personality and how it wants to function. Just like anything else, there are usually multiple ways to get to the same destination. If one Press chooses a particular path, then as long as they can clearly articulate why they choose that path- that’s really their choice to make- just as it is the author’s choice to decide if that Press is worth the time and energy to submit to.
In addition to being a publisher, do you offer any literary services for creators outside of your publishing company?
When we noticed that we were starting to have mission creep and see more services that would relate themselves more to a publicist, we broke that piece of the business out- it is now called Proxima Emporium (https://proximaemporium.com/) and it handles many of the more specific ‘promote this author’ services.
Even ebooks have to have covers. How much say do your creators have in selecting a cover artist? How much say in the layout and design?
We tend to be very consultative with our Authors regarding their covers. We maintain stable of artists that help create a feel for the press and a level of professionalism in our artwork: https://brickcavemedia.com/images/brick_cave_books/giunta_book_covers/Giunta_TLI_150.png
Do you have one perfect font for your books or do you work with the writer to find the best font for each book?
For our manuscripts, we typically use two fonts:
Poetry/non fiction: Times New Roman
Fiction: Bookman old Style
Generally, we do try to identify a font to be associated with each author across books and marketing.
How do you reach out to your existing writers? Do you have a forum? A newsletter? Personal emails? Do you host panels at conventions and such?
We maintain a special web portal and forum for their access only.
We also host an annual “State of the Press” meeting with them to bring them up to speed on the health of our business and our business plans. And we probably over annoy them with email too ?.
Most indie authors understand that they must do some marketing of their book, once it’s published. If publishing was a pool and marketing was swimming, are you the doting parent that shows them a video, buys them water-wings, and eases them in? Or are you more the uncle that throws them into the deep end with a slap on the ass and a hearty “Sink or Swim!” shout?
We view our role as a key to the doors that authors may not be able to open on their own. We encourage our authors to be very active and engaging in promoting their books, and for events and opportunities (Such as large Book festivals or Pop Culture Conventions) that lend themselves to a more unified presence, we coordinate that.
Do you have a regular release schedule or is each release customized for each book?
Each release is customized per book. We have learned through trial and error that forcing a book into a particular release date can have terrible circumstances. The book needs to be released when it is ready, not when the Author or Press want it to be ready.
Community Interaction: Local Real World Stuff
Do you, as a publisher, reach out to locals through bookstores, craft fairs, or the local chamber of commerce? Do you maybe sell your books at farm markets and the like?
We are a member of our Chamber of Commerce. We book tours regionally at bookstores. We have shied away from creating our own independent distribution network because print on demand has made it very easy for any retailer to order books to sell. We partner with other businesses to sell our books in locations we may be unable to reach, or don’t have the time/resources to plan on vending at.
Do you work with any local writers or know any? Does the area find its way into their work?
With a couple exceptions, all of our writers are local. Generally, it depends on the work in question- for The Nelig Stones, by Sharon Skinner, a local landmark features prominently in the story. Having, or not having, connections locally does not generally influence our process of decision to accept a manuscript.
Have you done any readings at local schools, hospitals, or senior center? How did they go over?
Poets will read anytime, anywhere. I have facilitated hundreds of readings at just about any type of venue imaginable (Abandoned Building? Check. Mortuary? check. Parking Lot? Check.) Events only go as well as they are publicized, and only to the extent that the audience gets what they expect (or has their expectations exceeded).
Do you do press releases locally?
Yes. We maintain a database of media contacts categorized by city, state, and genre/interest. So, prior to any reading we will send a press release to that geographic area 2 weeks in advance.
Business vs Passion, Publisher vs Creator
Do you publish your own work? If so, do you handle the work differently from idea to distribution?
If I ever get to write it, I publish it. My works follow the same editorial and publishing workflow as any of the other authors, with a lower priority because I am the host, and the host never puts themselves first.
What business choices have you had to make that really annoyed your creative self? How often do the artist and the publisher within you butt heads? Which side wins the most often? What was your last bad business but good art decision?
Learning to say ‘no’ to yourself can be a challenging proposition. I have had to pass on a couple really large events that frankly were tremendous amounts of fun but could not be justified financially. The business side wins 90% of the time, which is why I am generally unable to complete projects. I think I’d be a great writer if I were not a publisher. Bad business/good art decision- we recently published a manuscript that we knew was going to be challenging for the casual reader to accept- but the manuscript challenged some storytelling norms in ways that we thought were interesting, and we wanted to see how it was received.
That Damn Slush Pile
How often is your “open” period, and where do writers find your latest story needs? Do you announce on sites like Horror Tree or Submittable?
Our “Open” period runs July-September each year. We maintain a page on the Brick Cave Media website with the details- https://brickcavemedia.com/about-brick-cave/prospective-authors No, we keep a pretty low profile on submissions. We generally share on Social Media and that’s about it.
Anthologies? Love them or hate them?
My first printing experience was a poetry magazine called “Anthology”, so I’m pretty good with them ? Brick Cave on the other hand, has not really embraced them up until we released Futurewords (Amazon: http://a.co/5IHpYUY ) in 2017. Even then, our contributors have been only existing authors in the Press. We have started collecting stories for a second Futurewords, so we will see where it takes us.
I’m sure you have this posted in at least two places on the Internet, but what is an acceptable format for you and how easy-going are you about it?
We like hard copy, physical paper mailed to us. Apparently that makes us the minority now, but we are not in a rush to sign anyone. Our existing author base provides us with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to manuscripts, and we want to honor that by adding new authors that are complimentary to the mindset and that skill set. We ask for first three chapters, double spaced, with a cover letter. We are pretty stringent about it.
What makes a good cover letter or query letter? What was the last one that really blew your mind and made you want to read the whole book? Do you have any examples of the worst?
Being honest in your assessment of your work and your expectations for success. We remind each other on a regular basis that ego has no place in our work, and we look for others that emulate that. No particular examples of the worst, but the best will be succinct and to the point.
How do you dole out rejection letters? Do you ever say “maybe with revisions”?
We ask for a SASE, to notify of results. We never say- “Maybe with revisions”. We offer them an opportunity to strengthen their craft- if they choose to accept that feedback and show a genuine desire to improve, we keep working with them. If they seem reluctant to make changes, we decline that particular manuscript.
Current and Future Plans
What was 2017 like for you and (your company)? What were some of the highlights for you and your (niche)?
2017 was a poor year for sales overall. Several of our events struggled, and we learned a valuable lesson in releasing more titles than we could reasonably promote effectively.
What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
We trimmed our dependence on certain conventions that no longer were providing value to us. We also let go of some conventions that we genuinely loved to attend, but found that they were not cost effective for us. We have 5 manuscripts in stages close to release dates, with a follow up to Sharon Skinner’s The Nelig Stones (Amazon: http://a.co/9j0Oiny) being the most likely to see a release date in 2018 yet. A new Title from J.A. Giunta, entitled The War Golem, is also in final preparation for release.
Do you have any long range plans in the works?
We are looking to continue to expand our publishing schedule to 8-10 titles a year in the next 2-3 years. We are also looking to leverage our knowledge in audio and film and start creating additional media for the stories that our writers have published.
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