Geoff Habiger Talks About Life As An Indie Publisher with Lorraine Martindale, FC’s Editor At Large
Fictional Cafe is launching a new series, for which we don’t yet have a name . Maybe you can help? It’s a tandem publication, probably once a month, likely on a Tuesday. We’ll feaure a new novel from an indie author, the tandem aspect being an interview or a profile of the author’s indie publisher. The author’s book excerpt appears as a regular post, and the interview or feature appears in our Creative Nonfiction section (which is titled News, Reviews and Interviews on the home page).
Our goal is to recognize – indeed, to celebrate – the relationship between an author and their publisher. To accomplish this, Jack and Lorraine are working as a team within Fictional Cafe. Lorraine is in charge of the interviews and profiles and Jack the excerpts, although we enjoy collaborating on each feature. We hope you enjoy our efforts and welcome your comments, suggestions for authors or publishers, and any other aspect of what we do here at the Fictional Cafe.
Meet Geoff Habiner, Artemesia Publishing
Writer, publisher, and avid gamer Geoff Habiger talks about the many roles of independent (or niche) publishers today, how this new marketplace can help writers publish their work, and the relationship between writing and games. He founded Artemesia in New Mexico. It’s a true indie publisher, neither a hybrid nor otherwise. Yep, he’s an interesting guy.
FC: Artemesia Publishing has been in business for nearly twenty years. What are its origins, and what inspired you to start your own publishing company?
GH: Artemesia’s origins are pretty simple. One of our founders, my step-mom, Lynn Doxon, had written a book about the adoption of her daughters from Ukraine in 1997 (Rainbows from Heaven). This was 2004, before the era of self-publishing we’re are in today. The only way to get a book published back then was to go the traditional route (find an agent and get picked up by a publisher) or pay lots of money for a vanity publisher. Lynn knew she didn’t want to do the latter, and she didn’t want to go through the uncertainty of the pitch process to try and find an agent. She came across a book that gave instructions on how to create your own publishing company. It seemed pretty easy, way cheaper than paying somebody to publish the book, and she’d have control over the entire process. Had she written the book a few years later she might have self-published, but instead we ended up creating a publishing company.
FC: In that time, you’ve developed two imprints: Kinkajou Press, in 2009, which publishes early reader, mid-grade, and YA fiction, and Shadow Dragon Press, in 2013, focusing on horror, supernatural, science fiction, and fantasy titles. How did those imprints emerge? How you were able to grow in such a competitive market?
GH: Both imprints emerged organically. We had published a couple of titles that were geared to early readers (The Elephant Family Adventures) and had picked up a new author who had written a book about a young girl and her dog (Belle’s Star). We knew we wanted to eventually publish adult fiction titles, like mysteries, etc., and we wanted to have some separation in the brand from our adult titles and titles geared toward younger readers. So we created Kinkajou Press. Shadow Dragon Press was a more deliberate decision. We had published one title in the horror genre, a collection of short stories (Dark Tales for Dark Nights) and I knew we’d eventually want to publish other horror, sci-fi, and fantasy titles. We created the new imprint specifically to cater to that market.
As to how we’ve managed to grow in such competitive markets, I think our overall strategy of publishing quality books by quality authors has served us well, whether for titles published under Artemesia or our two imprints. We haven’t grown fast in those markets, certainly not by the number of titles published each year, but we have put out books that have gotten recognition through good reviews and awards.
FC: What particular books or projects have inspired you, and can you speak of authors you have nurtured?
GH: I think all of our books have inspired me. I don’t think I would have published the books if they had not sparked some sort of interest in me. My first question is always, “Am I enjoying this book?” If the answer is no, then I will not publish it. It’s a pretty simple approach and I think it has worked based on the acclaim our books have gotten and their sales success as well.
Many of our authors were already experienced writers and haven’t needed a lot of nurturing – even though for most we’re publishing their debut novel. I’ve nurtured many of them in different ways. Some have wonderfully written stories that don’t need much in the way of craft or edits, but the author wants or needs assistance in other aspects of publishing – like marketing their book. With others I have taken what might be a good concept for a story but was maybe lacking a bit in the writing. I could see a great story there, so I could guide them through the editing process to chip off the rough edges and polish the story to make it the best it could be.
FC: In general, who are some of your favorite authors? What are your favorite genres?
GH: My favorite authors span across a spectrum of genres, fiction and non-fiction. Terry Pratchett, Ian Rankin, Simon Winchester, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Tom Clancy, Erik Larson, Harry Turtledove, Anne Hillerman, and Neil Gaiman. There are several self-published authors who I love to read and who I consider very good friends: AE Lowan, Eric Michael Craig, and Zachry Wheeler. I read books by many other authors, and I have been seeking a wide range of authors who have good stories to tell, such as Nnedi Okarafor, N.K. Jemisin, Xiran Jay Zhao, and others to read. There are so many wonderful stories being told out there and I love seeing what is being created now.
I read a lot of different genres. I love non-fiction and fiction both. Among non-fiction, history and science books (especially geology and paleontology)* are my favorites. Among fiction I gravitate toward mystery and detective, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. But I will also pick up books outside of these genres if a title catches my eye. *(Geoff explained he named his publishing company after plant that grows wild in the Southwest desert – also called sagebrush. – ed)
FC: How have you seen independent publishing change over the years? What trends have you noticed?
GH: Independent publishing has changed the barriers to entry into the writing and publishing profession, and that’s a good thing. The development of print on demand (POD) made it possible for a small indie publisher to put out titles with low overhead. The ease at which you can set up as a publisher with the biggest players, like Amazon and Ingram/Spark makes it easier to get your books in front of an audience. That doesn’t mean you will generate sales – neither Amazon nor Ingram will do any marketing for you, so you still have to know how to reach an audience to get them to pick up your book. At the same time, the growth of social media, as well as alternate methods of financing a project (like a Kickstarter), have made it possible to publish more niche titles of appeal to a very narrow audience.
There are a couple other trends that are really changing the industry which I think the bigger publishers have been slow to catch on to. The first is the rapid growth of the self-published author. In the early days of self-publishing it was seen as a negative, that you were “not good enough” to get published the “traditional” way. These days there are many authors, even established authors whom some might say have “made it” but still will self-publish either exclusively or for a single title. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest one I hear talked about the most is control. These authors want to control the entire process, from writing, to layout, to cover design, to marketing. And they often don’t like the idea of sharing profits with another party. Self-published books these days are of a much better quality than they used to be. I’d even say some of them are better written, better designed, better edited, than works put out by the biggest publishers. Sure, there’s the occasional dud, but that’s also true of traditionally published books, so I think this is one of the biggest changes.
The other change is the increase in niche publishers who are publishing books which larger publishers often overlook. These books are often written by authors whom we publish at Artemisia, writers who have great stories to tell and don’t want to self-publish, but also don’t want to go through the dog and pony show of finding an agent. Some of these niche publishers are giving voice to marginalized authors, especially those who are of POC, LGBTQIA+, and other identities. All of this is making publishing a much more exciting field than it used to be.
FC: You’re also a writer, and a game designer/player, and you collaborate with Coy Kissee on your other venture Tangent Games. Can you talk about your interest in games, and the types of projects you work on?
GH: My interest in games, especially role-playing games (RPGs) and board games predates my work as a publisher. While Coy and I started Tangent Games at around the same time that my partners and I started Artemesia Publishing, our interest in gaming goes way back, to high school for us, even to elementary school where I was introduced to my first RPG – Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). These games, especially the RPGs, sparked a desire to create, to build characters and worlds and adventures that my friends and I could play in. That led to an interest in just telling stories and being a writer.
FC: How did Tangent Games emerge, and how do you wear so many hats?
GH: Coy and I started Tangent Games because we wanted to use our interest in games to make our own games. One of the reasons we started Tangent Games when we did, back in 2004, was because that was when D&D was going through its own changes with the new 3rd Edition of the game being published. With it Wizards of the Coast created the Open Gaming License (OGL) which allowed third-party publishers to create material that could be used in the D&D game. It was a game changer. (Pun intended.) The first products we created were material we could use in our own D&D games – our own campaign setting, resource books for gamers, and adventures. But we knew we wanted to do more so we also started creating our own physical games as well. We started with card games as the costs to produce those kinds of games were lower than for a component-heavy board game. We’ve actually never produced a true board game, partially due to the costs involved. Plus, it has gotten harder to work on the game design, as we live several states apart from each other. That’s one of the reasons we’ve focused more on writing fiction in the past few years. It’s easier to collaborate on writing.
And how do I wear so many hats? That’s easy. I don’t watch a lot of television and I don’t get a lot of sleep.
FC: I’m curious: do you find a connection between games and writing? How do the two influence each other, in your creative work as well as publishing?
GH: There is a huge connection between gaming and writing, especially in RPGs. Both require very similar skillsets to create characters, settings, worlds, and stories. The biggest difference between RPGs and fiction-writing is that most RPG writing is instructional – you are writing the rules for playing the game. In writing fiction, your goal is to be the narrator of the particular story being told. In an RPG your writing must be clear and concise and must convey the rules to the reader so that they can understand and play the game. But that sort of writing doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. You need to explain how to play the game and there is less emphasis on plot and story, and practically no character development (even when you are rolling up your character!). That is almost the opposite of what an author may do when drafting a novel.
At the same time, RPG writing does allow plenty of chances for worldbuilding, and when writing an adventure plot and story are important, though this process is very different from a traditional novel because you will never understand the actual motives of the main characters you are writing for – the players (and their player characters) that are playing the game. It is like writing an open-ended ‘choose your adventure’ story where you have no idea who the main character is, what they can do, or even if they are motivated to complete the adventure as you envision it.
When you play an RPG, the storytelling is collaborative between the person running the game (the Dungeon Master or Game Master) and the players who control the characters. In a novel, the author controls everything, including the characters. But both styles draw from the same well of creativity and hopefully reach the same outcome: the enjoyment by the participants, whether they are players or readers.
FC: And, finally, what do you look for in submissions?
GH: I am looking for a story that will entertain me. Sure, it should be well-written, and maybe even have a positive message, but if I am not “entertained,” if the characters or the story don’t capture my interest, then I will not be interested in the book. Even if it is perfectly written and has no other “flaws,” I may still not publish the book. If I am going to put money into a project and be an advocate for the author and their book, then I want to be just as passionate about the story as the author. And the best way to know what I’m interested in and what will entertain me,is to read the books we publish.
FC: How would one submit work to Artemesia Publishing?
GH: We have instructions on our website for submitting a manuscript to us. Our submission guidelines can be found here. I also recommend reading our “What does a publisher do for you?” section to understand a bit about our publishing philosophy – and even consider joining our newsletter to stay up on the kinds of books we are publishing.
kFC: Than you, Geoff, for sharing your story with the writers and readers at Fictional Cafe.
GH: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure.
Don’t miss reading the excerpt from Rebecca Weber’s first novel, The Painter’s Butterfly, published by Geoff and Artemisia Publishing, making simultaneous its appearance here.