The ReviewerBill Kieffer‘s website.
Introducing Joe Mynhardt of Crystal Lake Publishing
Crystal Lake... the name evokes a certain series of slasher films. CLP publishes many dark and speculative titles, with a focus on Horror Suspense Thrillers. Its the perfect house to visit to stock up for October's Halloween reading marathon. I asked Joe Mynhardt to share with us a bit before the deadly holiday season is upon us.
About His Book Shelf
Joe's books are like mine, sneaking around the house and office plotting who knows what from their shadowy alcoves. The picture to the left features his bookcase of titles published by Crystal Lake, as well as a few special autographed books. Other pictures inserted below show books waiting for a larger bookcase, books ready for ambush at his bedside, and others simply gathering wherever they can for, I assume, dark and nefarious purposes.
About Crystal Lake Publishing
How did you come to found Crystal Lake Publishing? What titles and writers did you start with?
I’ve always been fascinated with stories, whether they’re in the form of comics, books, movies, whatever. Along with a life-long desire to create something out of nothing (although back then I had no idea what I wanted to create), I eventually started writing in 2008, self-published a collection of short stories in 2012, and fell in love with the business side of books.
I started Crystal Lake Publishing in August of 2012 with the notion of doing some anthologies in an effort to learn more about the business, while supporting great authors. The name Crystal Lake of course comes from the old Friday the 13th movies.
I knew enough authors and artists by then to send out invites, get a cool cover, and do a pretty decent job of it. I think I offered each author about $30, and thankfully they accepted. And if I remember correctly, Gary McMahon, Jasper Bark, Kevin Lucia, and William Meikle were part of that first one. One of the stories even made it into a Best of 2013 Horror anthology.
Soon after I ventured into short story collections with Kevin Lucia and Daniel I. Russell. I’ve since worked with pretty much every authorfrom that very first For the Night is Dark anthology. Eventually I had the confidence and skill to publish novels, and everything just kept growing. I’ve been very blessed.
Do you have a staff? Can you introduce us?
I’m in the process of making some major changes over here. Bringing certain people up to take more charge. I’ve been working pretty hard for the last few years, and with my current health and with a baby girl on the way, I’d love to be able to step back a bit, where possible. I’ve met enough great people over the years to help guide this company to success. Hardworking, talented folk.
The big players in the company at the moment is Monique Snyman (editor), Ben Eads (mentoring, marketing), Doug Murano (anthology editor), Eugene Johnson and Mercedes M. Yardley (both project managers for Crystal Lake Kids), Ben Baldwin and Luke Spooner (artwork), Lori Michelle (interior layout), Guy Medley (press), and D. Alexander Ward (merchandise).
Then we’ve got folks like Jasper Bark (spokesperson) and Paula Limbaugh who step in when I need some extra help. We’ve also got interns working with us in exchange for experience and references; I love helping people learn more about the business. It takes a lot of teamwork, and with the help of reviewers, podcasts, bloggers, and hardcore fans, we’ve built up a pretty successful company.
As a small indie publisher, I expect your company and your home may be somewhat juxtaposed. How much of your place has been given over to publishing? Is it fairer to say that (your company) allows you to have a cot in the break room? Or, perhaps, there’s a clear separation between the two?
All I need it a tiny corner of the living room. Desk on one side, bookcase on the other. If it weren’t for some Bram Stoker and This is Horror awards on the wall, visitors wouldn’t even know it was a business.
Tales of Joe
Tell us a bit about yourself before you put on your publishing hat. Where were you raised? How did you relate to others from your age group?
Ooh, I was a total loner as a kid. It got a bit better in high school, but I’ve always been more of a ‘hang out with my friends at home’ kind of guy. If I’m your friend, you’ve got a great friend for life, but that privilege only belongs to a hand full of people.
As a youngster, I wasn’t as into reading as I am now, but I loved stories. I grew up on comic books, slasher films, Fantasy movies like The Neverending Story and Labyrinth, Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, Hitchcock, Tales from The Crypt, and a highly developed imagination. I was always more interested in the macabre side of life.
What did you read before you even thought of publishing? How did becoming a publisher change your reading habits?
I’m sad to say that back then I had a lot more time for reading. But knowing I help give happiness to others makes it ‘almost’ worth it. Eventually the business will run smoothly enough for me to have some more free time. Fingers crossed.
I love short stories, mostly Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and some really old stories by Algernon Blackwood, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ambrose Bierce. These days, when I do find time, I try to catch up with all the amazing female authors out there—something I seldom did as a young reader. I also try to read at least one book from every major author, current or long gone.
Has becoming a publisher changed you or your social life in any way?
For sure, and not all for the best. Since I had to start publishing as a 2nd job, the two jobs forced me to make a lot of sacrifices. One being any kind of social life. I ended up neglecting my friends, and even some family members. Luckily, I immediately started giving this problem some attention when I quit my day job a few years later.
Needless to say, folks near me understood why I had to do this (I was extremely unhappy in my day job), but putting family and friends above your job doesn’t go down smoothly. I was just in such a hurry. I can be stubbornly goal-oriented at times.
The biggest change came with my health. I was so busy, and in such a rush to get the company where I needed it to be in order to quit my job, that I neglected to take care of myself. I worked through sickness and physical pain. Like they say, sitting is the new cancer. I can’t even begin to say how it’s screwed up my health. I was on the brink of burn out three times between 2013 and 2016. And today I struggle to walk, sit, and even sleep.
There is no position that isn’t painful. I’m working hard to fix this by keeping busy and moving as much as possible, but it’s still a long road to recovery.
So for everyone reading this, it’s A LOT easier to prevent bad health than to try and fix it once you’re already there. This business is all about longevity and experience. So take care of yourself so you can still write at an old age.
On Community Interaction: Readers/Fans
How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?
Right from the start, I decided to focus on long term marketing by promoting the company as a brand. So my goal is not just to promote books and authors, but the company. So right now fans are finding us by social media and actual word of mouth at conventions etc.
I’m very accessible to fans, and actually know some of their individual tastes. I’m active on social media and the newsletter, and I’m always helpful and polite. If a press is recommended by readers and authors, you’ve got a winning ticket. So whenever I do something, I have that vision in mind. I make sure people talk about Crystal Lake, and I try to influence exactly what they’ll say.
What sensations or experiences do you hope to evoke in your readers? What’s your favorite feedback so far from one of your customers?
First of all an enjoyable read that gives the reader what they want most from books, be it escapism, an emotional rollercoaster, thought provoking ideas that change our worldview, or just plain entertainment. And great production quality.
My first love will always be a great story, and that’s the main thing I look for when accepting new projects. Everything else can be fixed.
If money was no object, which book(s) or author(s) would your readers demand to be published?
Interesting question. I’ve published a lot of people on my wish list (folks I grew up admiring), but a lot of them were reprints. I’d love to publish original stories by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Robert R. McCammon, George R.R. Martin, and Clive Barker. And some reprints from Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch.
On Community Interaction: Writers
Tell me about some of your favorite authors that you have worked with.
Oh, I’ve been spoiled rotten in this regard. Firstly, let’s talk about the authors I work with a lot. I know how authors think and what drives them, and when I publish an author I basically represent them. I’m their agent, publicist, mentor, biggest fan, and I make them feel like royalty. And they pick up on that and deliver their best. My favorite authors to work with are those who don’t just write and shy away, but those who know that they themselves are part of the product. They know that writing the book is only half the job. Hell, I’m also shy, but social media is a lot easier than doing live readings an talking at conventions etc.
Now for the really fun part. As a kid, I looked up to a lot of folks in the industry, from producers and screenwriters to authors and artists. It fascinated me to know that there was a person behind the story, movie, or comic. I think I realized this when I saw all the names that worked on my favorite comic books.
Highlights include interviewing Wes Craven a few months before he passed away, chatting with and thereafter publishing a story by Graham Masterton, interviewing and becoming good online friends with Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination) working with (although it was indirectly) Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, George A. Romero, John Connolly, and Clive Barker. I’ve had email conversations with Peter Straub, Tom Holland, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Mick Garris, and Ramsey Campbell. Jack Ketchum (Dallas) was such a treat. Amazing guy.
I’ll always be a fan boy first, so these are major highlights in my life. Even though most of my friends and family don’t even know who these people are. Later this year and next year I’m scheduled to work with R.L. Stine and actor Tony Todd, and a few great ones I can’t mention yet.
In addition to being a publisher, do you offer any literary services for creators outside of your publishing company?
Yes, our Author Central page on the website offers a mentoring program, where four of our editors and myself are available for a month’s mentoring. Depending on what the author’s needs are, I allocate two editors to that author for a month, while I cover career aspects such as branding, marketing, etc.
The Author Central page also promotes recommended author services from folks we’ve worked with in the past. You’ll find workshops, editing services, book layout, artwork, even a free download, etc.
We really try to do what we can to help authors.
This is not really local, but I also started a Facebook group for small presses, where we support each other, help young presses, and step in to help authors when a press closes down.
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?
Not so much in who does the cover, since we have in-house artists, but a lot in the layout and design. I like to connect the author with an artist, and then they can brainstorm the cover. Our artists already know what I like and the look of a Crystal Lake book, so I completely trust them. I have, however, allowed anthology editors to bring in outside artists from time to time.
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?
I’m with them every step of the way. We brainstorm some marketing ideas, and then I take out my play book of techniques and contacts I’ve built up over the years. By the time the book comes out, everything is set up and we just keep sharing the links and reviews as they come in. Once an author is published with us, they’ll have enough contacts and techniques going forward, even if they publish with someone else.
Do you have a regular release schedule or is each release customized for each book?
Where possible we try to release a book around a day or holiday that has some kind of connection to that book, but most of the time we just release a book on average every 3 weeks, on Fridays.
On Community Interaction: Local Real World Stuff
Do you, as a creator, reach out to local community groups or art guilds? Is there an active art community there? If so, do you interact with it in some way?
Yes, I joined a local writers group a few years ago, the oldest existing writers group in South Africa (48 years old with members spread all over the country). About four years ago I was opted onto the board, and for the last two years I’ve been the vice-president of the board. We arrange a national writing competition every year, while hosting monthly writing workshops and trips to museums, monuments, and historic sites. Once a year we also get a big name author to run a day long workshop. We fly them in, find accommodation, and pay them.
I also help out a local comic book store with their annual Halloween event, meeting artistic people who might want to try their hand at writing or artwork.
Do you work with any local writers or know any? Does the area find its way into their work?
Since joining the writers group mentioned in my previous answer, I’ve found a few really talented Afrikaans authors. I started publishing some of their work in Afrikaans, as well as an anthology filled with South African talent.
South Africans have an amazing sense of humor, and we love traditional ghost stories. We’re publishing these books in eBook format only, and our main target audience is the many expatriates who miss the old country, or would love to introduce their kids to the culture. Some just want their kids to keep talking and reading in Afrikaans, since our government is working hard to erase this language.
On Business vs Passion, Publisher vs Creator
Do you publish your own work? If so, do you handle the work differently from idea to distribution?
No… However, the very first book I published was my own. I knew it would be a learning curve, so I was more willing to learn from mistakes with my own book, than someone else’s. It was a great experience, and I definitely learned from it. Perhaps one day I’ll find the time to start writing again. For now my writing stays with forewords, introductions, and press kits.
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?
The admin stuff is really not my favorite. And spending so much money. It’s boring, lacks creativity, and is quite monotonous. But it has to be done. You can’t just wing it if you want a business to be successful. These two sides of me used to butt heads a lot, but now there’s a nice balance, and it’s all one big system now. Plus, it’s a lot easier now than when I was a teacher. That was a massive clash. Two different worlds colliding. Add to that work responsibilities like sport coaching, event planning, and the safety stuff I had to do.
My last bad business but good art decision was to publish a few books that I knew had a tiny market, but was still something I wanted folks to read.
What’s your day publishing like? How many days or hours of publishing are you able to get in per week?
Since I started doing this full time, I work an average of 10 to 15 hours a day. On Saturdays I finish up whatever I didn’t get to during the week, and then I rest. Monday’s are always the most hectic, since I not only have a to do list for that day, but I also have to catch up on the weekend’s emails and problems. One thing that really work for me is switching things up. I don’t follow the same routine every day. Some days I’ll do the small stuff first, other days the big stuff first, sometimes emails first, and other days I’ll answer one every half hour or so. Sometimes with music, other times with the TV on in the background, a music DVD, or even an audiobook that doesn’t require too much concentration.
That Damn Slush Pile
Anthologies? Love them or hate them?
Absolute love them! My love for reading and this business came from reading short stories. Especially Stephen King and John Connolly. And before Crystal Lake, short stories and flash fiction was all I wrote. For a reader, it’s the perfect way to get to know some new authors. For a publisher or editor, it’s a great way to see how authors are improving and making a name for themselves. It’s a great platform for everyone.
From a financial viewpoint they can be risky, so I need to make sure it’s something that’ll sell. But, our anthologies sell a lot better than our single-author books, so they tend to earn back their expenses relatively quickly.
How do you read a full book submission? Almost every book is going to need some work. How much interaction and work are you willing to give on a new book? And how do you make that determination?
Because of my hectic schedule, I’ll read about 20% of all manuscripts on my Kindle, and if I’m hooked, I’ll ask the author for a detailed synopsis. Then I look at the overall presentation, taking in the quality of writing, the storyline/plot, the author’s existing platform on social media, and how I can bring them all together. I also know what most Crystal Lake readers will like, and which books will be easier to market. Sometimes I publish books that are very difficult to market, but if it’s a great story, I’ll take it on. Not every book needs to make a profit. If the author is as talented as I believe, it’s a long term investment.
Regarding how much work a book will need, it needs to be pretty clean, to at least show that the author knows the basic elements of clear writing, and that the author isn’t lazy. There’s nothing worse than a lazy author when launching a book.
Plus, I know the capabilities of my team and editors to fix a manuscript. If I look at all these things and still believe it’s a story worth telling, I’ll accept the book.
On Current and Future Plans
What was 2017 like for you and Crystal Lake Publishing? What were some of the highlights for you and horror?
I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of fun, though. It was my first year doing this job on a full time basis. Sales took a dip in the first 6 months, which I now know is to be expected, and then shot up the last 6 months. Unfortunately that meant I made a budgeting error and booked too many anthologies for 2017. It was tough, but we were eventually able to fund them all. I’ve still got a lot of anthologies this year, but from next year we’ll start putting more space between them. I love anthologies, but since we do it to promote great talents while paying them what they deserve, these books tend to be quite expensive.
What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
Regarding plans for the immediate future that are already in motion, I can think of three huge projects launching before the end of this year. The first one I can’t share until the contracts are signed, but it’ll open Crystal Lake to an entirely new audience. The second one is a Speculative Daily Planner for authors, or basically any creative person (I make it my mission to continually guide and inspire authors through various means). At the moment we’re selling ad space while filling the pages with daily inspirational quotes and creative exercises. The third project is a repeat of last year’s Indiegogo fundraiser, which will be a great financial boost for our 2019 books. It won’t be as big as last year’s, but still very important. I’m still figuring out how to combine it with the Daily Planner launch.
Upcoming releases include single author titles by Kenneth W. Cain, Tommy B. Smith, Kevin Lucia, Dino Parenti, Dan Weatherer, Dave Jeffery, and Mark Allen Gunnells. There’s also our annual Tales from The Lake anthology, and the 2nd book in our nonfiction The Dream Weaver series. Busy time ahead, all topped off with our baby girl coming just before Christmas. Good times!
Do you have any long range plans in the works?
A reviewer once referred to me--and I quite see myself in the same light--as an idea factory. So to answer your question, oh yeah. I always have a lot of plans, and 90% of them are in some degree of motion. I’m already doing research on a new Crystal Lake project I want to launch in 2020. One thing is for sure, Crystal Lake will never stand still and just fade away. Anything’s possible.
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Bill Kieffer‘s website.