49 Writers Interview: Stephen Roxburgh of namelos

As an author, I feel fortunate to have placed eight of my books – seven for children – directly with editors of houses I respect and admire. But this year I had a manuscript that was a little different. I’d written it with a well-published, agented friend who asked to remain anonymous. Her agent wasn’t interested. We believed in the project and wanted to place it. But as one another’s best readers, where could we go to validate our feelings about the book and get the kind of advice you’d normally get from an agent?

New on the scene from highly-respected Front Street founder Stephen Roxburgh, namelos was our answer. Though neither of us had ever paid for editorial consultation before, we plunked down $200 and got fantastic advice, plus strong consideration for publication, from namelos editor Karen Klockner. Though ultimately our manuscript moved on, I still like what I see at namelos: a core group of committed, experienced publishing experts getting in front of the changing market by offering genuine options to authors who aren’t afraid to try something different.

With pleasure, we bring you a 49 Writers exclusive interview with forward-thinking Stephen Roxburgh, founder of namelos.

namelos is billed as “the opening move in a new age of publishing.” What’s your take on how and why publishing is moving into a new age, and what prompted you to make an opening move?

Competition, the economic crisis, and technological developments have combined to create a “perfect storm” and it is transforming publishing. Only the largest, best financed, and most efficient of the major publishers will survive and thrive. Smaller publishers (and some not so small) will fail unless they adapt. Brand name authors will thrive. The rest will be dismissed. Insane risks will be taken on very few authors and books. Right now there is an enormous opportunity for alternate approaches to publishing. namelos is my best shot at forging a new path. I’ve published according to the old model for over 35 years. Every few decades a person should do something new. I’m ready, willing, and able to try something different. And the time is right.

Traditionally, authors have been discouraged from paying for the kinds of services offered by namelos. Why do we need to start thinking differently, and what sets namelos apart from services that authors should shun?

Authors have always paid for the kinds of services namelos offers. They paid by accepting 10-15% of the retail price of their books as compensation. The real difference is when they pay, not that they pay. By paying in advance, they share the risk in ways that they have not previously. But as anyone who participates in the stock market knows, the greater the risk you are able to shoulder, the higher the return. namelos offers a partnership, an equal share (50/50) of the profit. As for our “services”, authors do not pay us to read their work. They pay us to give them honest, informed, constructive guidance in a timely manner based on our experience and knowledge. Publishers have always been the employees of authors, but they’ve done a great job of making authors feel it’s the other way around. What sets namelos apart from services that should be shunned is that those services don’t offer what we offer. Our credentials are available for all to see and assess. Our reputation is hard-earned and, so far, our clients seem to think they have received good value for their money.

Your editorial services serve as a gateway to your publishing and development programs. What do you look for in projects that move into either publishing or development, and what is the difference between the two?

We are always looking for the same thing: quality. We will only take on a few good books. The difference between our publishing program and out development program is simple. For reasons having to do with our business model, specifically the quality and cost of print-on-demand technology, we are not publishing full-color books at this time. But we have considerable experience in developing such projects. And we really like them. Therefore, we have created the development program to enable us to do what we do best, i.e. editorial development, and then we place the books with other publishers whose business model includes full-color books. We have decades of experience in licensing rights, both domestic and foreign, and we bring books to publishers at a point where they can be involved in the development at whatever level they desire. If a book we take on fits our model, i.e. can be produced in one-color, we will publish it, presuming the author wants us to. We are working on some projects that we could publish but we won’t because the author has an alternative plan; some have agents, some have publishers, but the authors have come to us for our editorial expertise. In any event, we will only take on books that we feel strongly are books we want to publish, even if, at the end of the day, we aren’t the publisher.

Why would an author choose the namelos route to publishing over the more traditional agent-editor-publisher gateways?

That’s a question you need to ask our authors and our clients. I assume it has to do with wanting to work with us, the substance and quality of the service they receive, the partnership, and the lure of doing something new, different, and exciting. People will come to us for a host of reasons, but we will only develop and publish a few really good books by authors who want work with us.

The focus at namelos is on books for children. Given the recent uproar over Harlequin’s new self-pubbing arm, what will it take for alternative publishing models to gain acceptance in all genres?

Success. And it will happen. Soon.

I expect you’re tired of this one, but I’m sure our readers are wondering: why call it namelos? And why lower case?

I believe that the important names on a book are the author’s and artist’s. I believe that editors should be heard (by authors) and not seen (by the public). My last publishing company was called “Front Street”, pretty innocuous. I no longer have access to that name so I decided not to come up with some cute, catchy name, but to keep it simple. “namelos” is a medieval German word that means “nameless.” It is the equivalent of “anonymous.” The lower case is in keeping with the concept.

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