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Small Press Interview: Crystal Lake Publishing

As I had mentioned during my Small Press Publishing piece, I wanted to make the full text of the interviews I had conducted during the research for the piece available.

A banner reading Small Press Interview: Crystal Lake Publishing

This first one is from Joe at Crystal Lake Publishing.

Crystal Lake Publishing Interview

With unmatched success since 2012, Crystal Lake Publishing has quickly become one of the world’s leading indie book publishers of Horror, Mystery, Thriller, Dark & Speculative Fiction, and Suspense books with a Dark Fiction edge.

Sci-Fi & Scary: How important is the presentation of your client’s works (editing, copyediting, proofreading) to you?

Crystal Lake (Joe): Extremely. It shows respect to the author, the work, the genre, and the readers. Plus it’s a very important step toward building a proper brand for Crystal Lake Publishing. Therefor it can affect sales right now and in the long run. My goal as publisher is to build a brand and for readers to trust our brand so they’ll keep coming back for more. I want readers to trust me and Crystal Lake with future releases, whether they’re familiar with the author’s work or not. Lots of our readers have picked up our new releases simply because they trust my judgement.

Sci-Fi & Scary: When you sign someone, whether it be for an anthology, or a novel, how much effort do you put into promoting their works?

Crystal Lake: My absolute everything. I don’t just promote books, I promote careers. In the end, their success will be beneficial to me in the long run, anyway. But basically it comes down to my love for books, great stories, and promoting authors. I’ll link to their other books, be it with me or another publisher, their newsletter, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Long after the book is out, I’ll keep promoting it, as well as brainstorm with the author on how to get more readers to give it a shot. We’ll try new techniques, update the description or keywords, do giveaways etc.

Sci-Fi &Scary: I know several small presses don’t really put out notifications of upcoming novels nearly as far in advance as bigger publishers do. (This results in sites like mine being much harder pressed to promote them like we would love to do.) Why do you think this is?

Crystal Lake: The major contributing factor here is that small budgets prevent us from sometimes confirming a date well in advance. Plus, with such a small team involved in small presses (with the publisher normally taking on most of the work to save money), a lot can go wrong and result in delays. Bad health or family responsibilities can have an effect on a launch date, something that will definitely not happen with the bigger publishers, where a team of over 100 people can be involved in a book’s launch.

I try to work with a two month publishing window. With two months left I should have eBook ARCs in hand, review copies going out, and the launch being discussed with the author. But this really isn’t always possible. Pushing back a release isn’t a great move, but I’ve had to do it about twice now.

I’d also love to print out paperback ARCs and send them for possible Publishers Weekly reviews etc., but right now we don’t even send out more than two or three paperback review copies (to major genre magazines or ‘Best of’ anthologies, the odd award here and there).

Sci-FI & Scary: What is the biggest problem facing small presses today?

Crystal Lake: By now we’ve covered the budget aspect, but a press’ own success can be a problem. Success leads to authors wanting more…and expecting more. My job is to grow the Crystal Lake image and put our best foot forward, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, setbacks, and tight budgets. We went from paying $30 a story to paying 5c to 6c a word in only two years. After recent successful anthologies (Gutted, Behold, and Where Nightmares Come From), some authors are now expecting 8c to 10c word. I’m a big supporter of authors and helping them write full-time, but with so many presses closing down these days, my first responsibility lies with protecting the longevity of this press. Too many presses close down because they think paying more will result in earning more. Hope is the worst marketing plan in existence.

If I can mention one more problem… A growing concern (with more and more authors choosing to self-publish) is proving to authors that we’re worth the royalty cut we take. That we have the experience, contacts, and platform to help them be successful. I’m a big fan of self-publishers, and actually recommend hybrid-publishing to my authors and mentees. By choosing to put one or two of your books in the hand of a reputable small press, you now have the opportunity of reaching new readers, reviewers, and perhaps even learning more launch techniques you can try in your own releases.

A small press’ main purpose might be to support authors, but we’re still a business that needs to show a profit.

Sci-Fi & Scary: What is the atmosphere like for small press owners? Is it every press for itself, or do you guys sometimes work, or at least talk, together?

Crystal Lake: It used to be very quiet, but that’s no longer the case. These days the majority of publishers definitely help and support each other. I recently started a coalition of publishers (almost like a mastermind group), and every person I approached responded positively (over 70 publishers). We use this group to support each other, run ideas off one another, and basically prevent more presses from closing down. And if they do close down, we’ll be there to help in the transition and guide their authors to new contracts. The main reason we started this group was to take pitches from those authors who were affected by their respective presses closing down.

        Just like authors shouldn’t compete with each other, neither should presses. There are enough readers out there, and most of them read quite fast.

So yes, I support other presses, just as I hope they’ll support Crystal Lake.

Sci-Fi & Scary: What do you think the most important thing an author looking for a publisher needs to keep in mind when shopping their novel (or short story) around to small presses?

Crystal Lake: Just like with short stories, don’t take rejection personally. Understand that our schedules and budgets really limit how many books we can accept. Taking on too many books in a short period of time exhausts our resources and support base necessary for a successful launch. With too many books lined up we’ll eventually start spending less money on marketing per book, which will result in poor sales and a press eventually closing down due to too many expenses.

It doesn’t matter how great your book is, it’s just not a guarantee. There’s a reason small presses only have an open sub periods every now and then. We can get up to 300 pitches, but will probably only be able to accept five to eight new projects (especially if we offer an advance on royalties). So don’t think that just because it’s a small press it’ll be easier to get accepted. Great titles can be turned down simply because we can’t expect you to wait two years for the book to be published.

Visit Crystal Lake Publishing’s website, sign up for their mailing list, and get three free e-books!

Published inInterviews


  1. A great interview and it is very useful for authors to see the other side of the story. Thanks so much.

    • Welcome, Olga!

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