A Look Inside Publishing with New Concepts Publishing

Editor’s Note: The Fiction Forum does not endorse any of the publishers interviewed for the site. Please research any publisher thoroughly before signing a contract. If you are an author who has been published by New Concepts Publishing and you would like to share your experiences, please use this contact form to let us know. You should be prepared to share contact information, name, book title, and consent to be quoted. –July 14, 2003

Interview with New Concepts Publishing,
Conducted by Dawn Seewer, October 2002

How did New Concepts Publishing (NCP) get started, what steps were taken to get from concept to the publisher we know today?

NCP has been in business since 1996, so explaining how we got from there to here would be a rather long story, and hard to put into just a few sentences. If I had to encapsulate, I suppose it would boil down to marketing/advertising—- to find our authors/books, to build NCP name recognition, to build a customer base. It’s been a tremendous learning experience all the way around.

Where did the name “New Concepts Publishing” come from?

When I first conceived the idea of an electronic book publishing business, that in itself was a new concept. Many of my ideas for author/publisher relations were also a new concept. I wanted a name that would reflect what we proposed to do.

Can you briefly tell me about NCP’s philosophy and commitments?

Since I came into the business from an author’s viewpoint and had made a lot of friends in the business, my main goal was simply to build a better ‘world’, to address the issues so many authors had with their current publishers. I was also a huge reader, often reading 10 books a week, and from a reader’s standpoint I wasn’t completely satisfied with the statis quo either. The basic idea was to offer authors more creative freedom, which would in turn satisfy readers, who were growing bored with the clones NY kept stamping out, and provide books to our customers at a more affordable price.

Tell me a little bit about your staff. Who’s behind NCP?

Like any other business, big, small or mega, staff comes and goes, but basically, like Kennsington, New Concepts is a family business and these are the people who are REALLY behind NCP, the people who built it, the people who love it, the people who are totally committed to building it into the concept I first envisioned back in the spring of 1996.

From a publisher’s standpoint, what are the advantages of electronic publishing? And the challenges? The primary advantage of electronic publishing as I’ve always seen it, is that it’s a format which allows NCP to compete against the megacorporations that now rule the publishing world. Without the advantage of low overhead and on demand production we would not have been able to offer our product at a competitive price and we wouldn’t have stood a fighting chance against the megacorporations, which have billions of dollars at their disposal. The challenge, of course, is that the internet is our primary market and few of the ‘old rules’ of marketing work.

What criteria do you use to determine whether a manuscript should be accepted?

Professionalism, the little things that indicate that a person either KNOWS the business through experience, or through study. I’ve become very reluctant to accept a manuscript from anyone who shows a lack of professionalism that creates doubt in my mind that they will behave in a manner that will make it possible to work with them. Of the manuscript itself, we look to see if it offers anything fresh and original, if it has strong, believable conflict, strong, believable characters, good dialogue. As a market, the ebook market has finally evolved to a point where we have a fairly clear idea of what will sell and what won’t, what will sell really well, have mediocre sales, or little or no sales. We now try to avoid taking books that we know have low expectations for the simple reason that an author ALWAYS has tremendous expectations, whatever he or she has written. In the past, since we didn’t know the market ourselves, we’ve taken books simply because we really, really liked them, only to discover that they were often very hard to market, very slow in sales, and ultimately disappointed everyone involved. I’ve come to realize that it’s better to disappoint an author up front and reject a book we don’t think will perform well, than to accept it, just because it’s really good, and hope for the best.

How much of your personal tastes, like and dislikes plays into your acceptance criteria?

A great deal, naturally. It would be impossible to exclude it. However, I have ecclectic tastes. Moreover, my personal likes and dislikes are confined to my view of the author’s writing voice/style. The final decision is actually the readers’ choices. A lot of our customers have been with us since we started out. We know what they like and what they don’t. The only time we make a conscious decision to accept outside our current market of readers is when we choose books we hope will help to broaden our customer base, as in the case of series romance and YA. Although we’ve been publishing in these genres for a while now, they’re still the ‘youngest’ of our lines and have the smallest customer base so they make the least sales. It’s proven a really tough market to break in to, but we’ve begun to make a little headway.

Are there are specific storylines or genres that lend themselves well to the electronic format?

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that anything not readily available in the traditional market, which has proven popular before, does best in ebook sales. Popularity might have waned in the traditional market to the point that there aren’t enough numbers to interest the mega-publishers, but they still have a following….and this following turns to the internet to find the hard to find. One thing the ebook market DOES have in common with the traditional is that the sexier the book, the more likely the sales are to be huge, in ebook terms. At this particular point in time, the captive or bondage type story theme, because of its inate sexual overtones, is THE most popular, and readers don’t seem to care whether the theme is explored in historical romances or fantasy or paranormal. The current trend seems to be towards futuristic, but Marilyn Grall’s medievals, which are both lusty and carry the theme of captive/forced marriage, have done very well for us. Love’s Captive, a sci-fi/fantasy, has also done very well. Most recently, Autumn Dawn’s Teasing Danger, which uses the captive theme in another world, and a combination of the paranormal and fantasy elements, is showing strong indications of being one of our all time bestselling books.

Can you walk us through the process that you use to take a manuscript from submission to published title?

Although manuscripts are generally targeted to a specific editor, the decision on whether or not to accept is usually the result of a group discusion of its merits and possibilities. Ultimately it comes down to a question of whether or not the book has a fair chance in the market, and whether or not the editor who will be working on it feels a strong draw to the work. NCP has become our life. Obviously we want to have books on our schedule that we get excited about and look forward to working on. Once we’ve decided on a book, we work up the contract and send it out and we wait to see if the author accepts the contract. When we get the contract back, we schedule the book in the first available slot that seems to be a good spot for that particular book.

Scheduling is always tentative due to the nature of the ebook business, however we try to schedule the books, more or less, within a year after the contract is received. Most of our books are accepted ‘as is’, which isn’t to say we don’t expect editing to be performed, but rather that we do not expect to make any major changes. Occasionally, when we see a book that has a lot of potential, we will accept books knowing that it will require a good bit of re-write, but this is becoming more and more rare due to the fact that authors of ‘rough’ manucripts are usually NOT a professional and generally either unable, or unwilling, to cooperate in re-working the book to make it saleable. On these types of books, we try to get to the first round of edits as soon as possible. Otherwise, we edit the book a few weeks before publication. Prior to that, however, we usually consult with the author on possible cover concepts….we like to get the coverart taken care of several months in advance of publication so that we can use the art work for pre-publicity.

Generally, when we contact the author regarding artwork, we also put them to work on a blurb and one-liner for the page and have them select a scene to use as the sample for their page. Once we receive the final edits back and have checked it, we begin setting the book up in the various formats we sell, and also setup the layout for printing the labels and jackets for books-on-disk sales. When the formats are setup for our site, the book is loaded to the page with the next updates. After all of this is completed, we begin setting up the books for the more complicated formats required by ebook readers, at this time specifically Gemstar editions, and load the materials for Gemstar technicians to check.

What type of marketing campaigns does NCP implement to ensure continues sales and growth for both the company and its authors?

Since it’s inception, our primary focus has been to build company name recognition and a customer base for the company as a whole. As a ‘new concept’ however, very few people either knew, or could guess, what an ebook was in the beginning. Through the combined efforts of NCP and our authors, and also those epublishers and ebook authors who came after us, the first years of the ebook industry were spent primarily in educating the general public. The REAL building only began after the advent of the ebook reader and the arrival on the scene of the mega-corporations. Since they jumped in, we’ve been concentrating on broadening our customer base. We’re only just now approaching a turning point in the building of this industry where we anticipate changing our focus from general to specific, building our own superstars. Specifically, at this point, we are focusing on accelerated internet marketing, trying a variety of possibilities to get the feel of which will be the most effective, at which point we will be focusing on those which prove most effective and enlarging the scope of our participation. As star potential emerges—-authors with books that sell really well, we’ll be focusing on giving them a little extra push to reach their full potential.

On average how many books are sold a month?

This question is too general and really impossible to answer . If you mean per author, that would require a good deal of investigation, and wouldn’t really tell authors anything any way. An author can have one book that sells really well, and one that has very poor sales. There isn’t much name recognition in this business, so sales are almost entirely dependent on the individual book. An average for the company would probably be somewhere between 1000 to 3000 per month, but book sales tend to be seasonal, and times are changing so that really wouldn’t tell anyone much either, particularly since our sales are climbing and the average changes fairly regularly. What is the average “shelf life” for titles? Currently that would probably be around 5 years. How does this differ from those books we find at our local bookstore? Vastly. The shelf life of a traditional book is about a month for the average author.

Who are your leading authors?

Marion Marshall, Marilyn Grall, Autumn Dawn, ATK. Butterfly, Jennifer Dunne, Myra Nour, Tallie Thompson, Janet Lane Walters, Jane Toombs, Fiona Neal, Daphne Clair and Elizabeth Mayne come most readily to mind. All of them have hit some fairly ‘landmark’ sales, at one time or another. In Autumn Dawn’s case, best first sales. About how many books does a leading author sell (on average) a month? Again, a tough question to answer simply because, taken out of context, it really won’t tell authors much. Over time, these authors have earned from a single title, approaching $1000.00 to well over $2000.00. Most still have a good bit of shelf life and will probably reach much higher sales figures.

How many books does the typical customer buy?

Per visit I think around 3. Per month would be around 12. Do most customers purchase books based on the author, storyline or cover? Although some of our authors are beginning to build name recognition and we’re seeing more and more readers looking for books by name, probably most of our sales at this point are on the storyline/and or cover.

In you opinion, what typically draws a writer to submit to an electronic publisher versa a traditional print publisher?

Typically, with new/unpublished, the misconception that this is a ‘get rich quick’ senario, and an ‘easy’ sale. For the professionals, it’s usually a chance at more creative freedom, and/or a chance to climb out of the mid-list rut and make their mark.

Would you say that there is any difference in the quality between electronically published books and traditional print published books?

I think it would depend on your outlook. If so, what would those differences be? For those who equate excessive commerialism with quality, ebooks would be considered lower. However, I’d rather ‘under’ edit our books than have them come out stale from over editing. We have a small staff, which translates to fewer editors, which translates to fewer read throughs and probably a lot more typos missed. For people reading just for entertainment, our books are out front in quality. For readers who just can’t help reviewing everything they read, they might find the occasional blip irritating. Naturally enough, the more errors in the raw material, the more likely some will be missed. The cleaner the manuscript, the cleaner the finished product. Naturally, not all of our books are ‘keepers’, but I can proudly claim that we do not have one single book that I found myself ‘unable to read’. Whereas, when it comes to the competition, I find, more often than not, that I simply can not wade through one reading and usually discover I’ve wasted my money. Quality, when you get right down to it, is entertainment value.

There are those in the book industry who still do not see electronic publishing as a “true” or “real” form of publishing, what would you say to them?

Why? What part doesn’t seem true or real? It’s still a commerical enterprise and we do make money, not much, granted, but we’re doing as well as many ‘starting out’ publishers and better than some. If they could just point out to me what part, specifically, doesn’t seem ‘true’ or ‘real’, then I could also be more specific.

Most electronic publishers fold within the first few years, do you believe that this could be an indication of a “fad” industry or do you believe electronic publishing is here to stay?

Most epubs fold within the first few years for two possible reasons…one, most business of ANY kind whatsoever fold within the first few years because it requires an investment to begin, an investment to continue and they are playing beat the clock….they must go from unknown, with all their money going out the door, to known, a good sized customer base and money coming in the door faster than it’s going out before they run out of money to get them there. Or two, they went into the business to start with because they thought it was a get rich quick scheme.

No, I don’t think this is an indication of a fad. I think it’s a lack of sufficient funding and pre-planning. I think epublishing is here to stay. I think the business will continue to grow as more and more people are attracted to what it has to offer. But I also think the billions the mega-corporations are looking for is still down the road and maybe they’ll bow out before then and leave the field wide open to the new industrialists.

What is NCP doing to ensure a home for it’s titles and authors for many years to come?

We’re working to broaden our customer base and availability of titles. By entering the print book market we hope to build on that front as well, strengthening the company and insuring sales for our authors.

What do you believe the future holds for e-books, it’s authors and publishers?

I think this industry holds the same promise of virtually limitless possibilities as it offered the traditional publishers in their time. Some epublishers will eventually become mega-corporations, some authors stars. In any case, the percentages we pay our authors insures that, with time, even mid-list authors will be able to expect to make a comfortable, or very good, living off of thier craft.

Thank you very much to New Concepts Publishing for a great interview and offering some wonderful insight into the world of electronic publishing. Best of luck to everyone at New Concepts.

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