Monday, April 8, 2019

An Interview With Lance Wright, Associate Editor and Marketing Director for Down and Out Books

One of the many joys I experienced when I became part of the fold at Down & Out Books was learning Lance Wright was there. Lance was one of the first people I met on the business side of writing when I first started to self-publish and was routinely a delight to work with. He and I trade enough e-mails, especially as a publication date approaches, that I know he was a key player with Down & Out, but I confess not even I knew exactly how broad his responsibilities were.

I could go on for a while but it’s much better if you hear it from Lance himself. Be sure to say hello if you run into him at a conference. He’s a peach.

One Bite at a Time: You and I recently started the paperwork on what will be my sixth book for Down & Out Books and I spend more time in communication with you than anyone else there, yet I confess I couldn’t list everything you do there, though I know it’s a not inconsiderable level of effort. Describe what your duties are for Down & Out.

Lance Wright: I like to think of myself as the guy in the back office who keeps the day-to-day operations of the publishing process up and running. I am definitely a process person, someone who follows a set of guidelines drawn up for almost every task that are designed and intended to ensure that nothing, or very little, falls through the cracks. Everyday tasks include: gathering information from authors about upcoming books (a process you’re familiar with!); assisting with formatting manuscripts to our own standards; uploading formatted manuscripts to all retail vendors; a bit of marketing and keeping up with social media; maintaining the website; and responding promptly (I hope!) to all e-mail — I come from a customer service management background, and that experience informs a lot of what I do for Down & Out Books.

OBAAT: You and I first met when I was self-publishing and you were running the Omnimystery sites. How did that get started?

LW: Omnimystery had its origin in the mid-80s with Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, a pre-internet mail order service specializing in high quality first edition crime novels. The biggest problem I had with the company was that I was also a collector, and I had a hard time parting with many of the books in my inventory. A cross-country move in 1995 caused me to rethink what I was doing. The internet was still young then — Amazon had just been founded the year before, and Google was three years into the future — and I thought I could leverage my knowledge of the mystery genre into a centralized database of sorts. Life gets in the way, of course, and I had a full-time job, so the idea simmered in the background for another ten years until I registered the domain name in 2006. I had assembled half-dozen other sites in the meantime, and when Omnimystery became a reality, I merged them all under its umbrella. It still exists today, and I’m still active with parts of it, though some of its divisions are way out of date.

OBAAT: How did you get together with Eric Campbell?

LW: That’s an interesting question, and one that neither Eric or I can really fully answer. Another cross-country move in 2008 found me in the Tampa area of Florida. I had left my full-time job, and was looking to monetize the Omnimystery brand. Eric founded Down & Out Books in 2009, and I’d like to think I was well-known enough in the mystery community that a year or so later he reached out to me to help build his new business. Of course, I was looking for advertisers and sponsors, so it’s quite possible I reached out to him! To this day, we don’t know who reached out first. But with both of us local to Tampa, we arranged a lunch meeting to discuss how we might help each other. Quite honestly, nothing concrete came out of that initial meeting. But we kept in touch, and another couple of years later we had another lunch meeting and a few months after that he asked if I might want to work part-time for him. I jumped at the opportunity, which led to the position I hold today with the company.

OBAAT: What’s the best part of your job?

LW: It probably sounds like a cliché, but what I enjoy most is working with Eric. We come from completely different backgrounds, have vastly different professional experiences, and yet we both find ourselves working in a field that has held us captive since childhood. It truly doesn’t get any better than that.

OBAAT: What’s the worst part? Aside from dealing with whiny, co-dependent writers, that is.

LW: Whiny, co-dependent writers? They exist? Wow, you’ll have to introduce me to one, because the second best part of my job is working with our family of authors. I will say the most frustrating part of my job is that I don’t have the time to read all the books we publish. Indeed, I probably only read cover-to-cover 10-15% of them. True, I do have the opportunity to get a sense of all of them during the manuscript prepping and formatting processes, but I do miss simply reading books for the shear joy of losing myself in the world of crime fiction.

OBAAT: What’s the greatest challenge of competing with the big publishers?

LW: I’m not sure this answers your question, but I think the greatest challenge Down & Out Books and other small, independent publishers have is simply getting recognition for their authors and their work. The business of selling books — reviews, awards, features, bookstores — heavily favors the NYC-based publishers. I believe we could compete just fine if the playing field were even slightly more level. We publish solidly plotted storylines with strongly drawn characters, which take place in immersive settings that more than stand up against the bestselling authors published by New York. But the average reader simply cannot find them. It’s a tough business, to be sure, but I firmly believe we are making progress despite the headwinds, and I couldn’t be more proud of the books that Down & Out Books publishes every year.

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