Lesley Connor from Apex Book Company dropped by for a chit-chat. She is an editor and manages much of the promo work for Apex Books. I have really enjoyed reading The Apex Book of World SF 2, Dark Faith: Invocations, and Let’s Play White by Cheysa Burke, as well as the Apex Magazine.
Gimme the promo schpiel for Apex. What is Apex, why would a reader want to tune into what Apex does?
Apex Publications is a small press publisher based out of Lexington, KY dedicated to producing exemplary science fiction, horror, fantasy, and nonfiction.
Apex wants to entertain and challenge our readers. We like books that have the potential to challenge the way you see and interact with the world. We wish to expand your horizons beyond the boilerplate science fiction, fantasy, and horror you’ll find on the bookshelves. I like to think that books such as The Apex Book of World SF (an anthology of international SF), Dark Faith (an anthology of dark fiction around the concept of faith), and Machine (a science fiction novel addressing sexuality and gender roles) speak to this commitment.
But we won’t pretend to be so high minded. Our bestselling title is a “choose your own adventure” zombie novel!
What role does Apex play in the whole book industry? What does Apex provide that no one else does?
We’re progressive in the type of material we publish. There aren’t many other publishers as mainstream as Apex that would have printed Jennifer Pelland’s amazing novel Machine. Apex produces books for smart readers. Having said that, I’m sure our publisher, Jason Sizemore, would LOVE to have a hit like Fifty Shades of Grey in the company coffers!
- What is progressive and challenging about Pelland’s Machine?
- At its core Machine is a love story. The spouse of the protagonist goes into induced stasis until a cure is found for her illness. Our protagonist suffers from depression due to loneliness and other issues, and undergoes a procedure that turns her into a sort of cyborg. In the bounds of this unique setup, Pelland explores weighty issues such as gender identity, sexual politics, and social change.
Isn’t there a magazine, too ?
Indeed! The magazine is a monthly short fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) publication edited by Lynne M. Thomas. In 2012, the zine earned a Hugo Award nomination. The fiction can be read for free, and I encourage everybody to head over to http://www.apex-magazine.com to check it out sometime.
What do you do for Apex? Is this a job/role that most publishing houses employ?
What do I do for Apex? Hmm… If you look at the Apex masthead, my job title is Social Media and Assistant Editor. Jason Sizemore has referred to me as the Social Media Maven and Marketing Leader. My husband says my title should be Senior Vice President of Getting the Word Out. Basically, I manage the Apex social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, LibraryThing, ect.), so if you tweet something at @ApexBookCompany it’s me who is responding to you. I also do a fair amount of marketing: querying book reviewers, setting up giveaways, running read-alongs. Sometimes I write up posts for the Apex website about promotions we’re running. When I’m not talking about Apex books and trying to get people excited about them, I’m proofreading. Somehow Jason convinced me to do some coding for the website the other day, something I never thought I’d be doing. Basically, I jump in and help wherever I need to.
At big publishing houses there are probably entire teams of people who do what I do, instead of it just being me sending Jason an email saying I want to do a read-along of Dark Faith: Invocations on Goodreads. At smaller publishing houses it’s probably a job that’s divvied out to everyone involved and sort of gets pushed aside until someone has time to deal with it. Unfortunately, there is never time to deal with it, so I think it gets mainly forgotten. Maintaining an active Twitter account that has someone to interact with followers doesn’t get a book published. Actually, it can detract from getting the final product out there because it’s so time consuming, taking away from proofing and copy-edits and everything else that makes a book awesome. But having that interactive Twitter account is important to building an audience to sell the book to.
Why do you choose to work for Apex? Do you believe in the product? What opportunities does this provide for you?
Apex puts out some seriously amazing books. Not only is the writing top notch, but the covers are fantastic and they’re well put together. For a complete bibliophile, like me, this is important. Plus, the Apex gang is super nice. When the opportunity to become a part of it came up, I jumped at it. I was already telling all of my friends about Apex books. Why not tell the world?
I’d be lying if I said that everything I do for Apex is completely altruistic. As a writer, learning everything I can about publishing and marketing is a major benefit. Hopefully, I’ll be using all the skills I’m building to promote my own novels one day.
Do you get paid? (This seems to be a taboo subject, but i find that readersv sometimes still have misconceptions when it comes to the “profit” on book sales, it’s an important question: not everyone is drawing JK Rowling’s income)
I make enough to get a couple of cups of fancy coffee a week. Mmmm… coffee.
The stack of Apex books sitting on my dining room table and the experience I’m gaining working with Jason and Janet definitely puts me in the black. What could be more valuable to a writer than great books and a peek behind the curtain at the mysteries of the publishing business?
How much work goes into promo? How many hours a week do you spend doing this? What reactions and benefits do you see to your work that you put into promotions? Can you give me examples?
When I first started working for Apex Jason asked me to keep a log of how much time I was putting in, but I sort of dropped the ball on that. How do you keep track of how much time you spend tweeting? It isn’t exactly an activity where I can set a timer, spend 10 or 15 minutes and be done. I go back and forth all day.
Marketing work is kind of the same way. A lot of it happens on that mystical plane where thoughts become ideas and ideas become plans. Only once I have a plan do the emails start flying and anything becomes reality.
So how much time do I spend working on promos? A lot. Between coming up with ideas, bouncing them off Jason, researching any bits that I’m not sure how to do, actually implementing them and then promoting, it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of time, but it’s also totally worth it. When I get an email from a reviewer telling me how much they loved a book and a link to a glowing review, or I get to chat with someone who is excited to have discovered Apex Magazine through the subscription drive it makes me feel all warm and glow-y.
Do you participate in the Hugos? Does Apex qualify for Hugo nominations?
Apex does qualify for Hugo nominations. You can check out a list of all of Apex’s Hugo eligible work here.
What have you learned about the book industry that you didn’t know before you started this work for Apex? What have you learned about yourself?
If I answered this question completely, we would be here for a very long time. I knew next to nothing about publishing and marketing before I started working for Apex. Luckily for me, Jason Sizemore was willing to give me the chance to try and patient enough to answer all my questions. I must be doing something right because he keeps giving me new responsibilities and I keep learning new things. The whole process has done wonders for me. I’ve grown a lot, becoming more out-going and confident.
- Really? I have always made the assumption that a person working in marketing would by necessity need to be out-going and confident. Can you tell me a little bit more about this self-growth?
- You would think that a person working in marketing would naturally be out-going, wouldn’t you?
I sort of fell into doing the marketing work for Apex. When Jason and I first discussed me working with him I wasn’t really sure what I would be doing. I didn’t know anything about publishing, but I had a passion for Apex and if I could be a part of it, I wanted to be. I started out managing the Apex Twitter and Facebook pages simply because those were websites I already used personally, so I knew how to do it, but it took a long time to get over that nearly paralyzing fear of saying something ridiculous and broadcasting it to nearly 4,000 people. Honestly, there are still times when I hesitate before tweeting something.
Then Jason asked me to manage the Apex Magazine subscription drive last October. For the first time I wasn’t just coming up with one-liners for Twitter and then chatting with anyone who responded. I was emailing people about donating raffle prizes, writing blog posts, sending out a press release, corresponding with subscribers, and trying to keep up with the promotion. It made me a nervous wreck. I’d never done anything like that, and suddenly I was in charge and didn’t really know how I’d gotten there.
The subscription drive went really well and after that I found myself doing more and more of the marketing work for Apex; finding reviewers for books, setting up interviews on podcasts, running promotions. One day I realized that I no longer had the fear that I was going to fail miserably. Sending emails to complete strangers was no longer a torturous act. I can’t say that I’m super confident that everything will be perfect, but I am confident that I will do everything I can to make things a success and if I end up failing, then I’ll learn from it and move on.
That confidence has carried over beyond my work with Apex. I’m a lot more apt to my share ideas. I speak up more, getting into the action rather than sitting back and letting everyone else come up with a plan. I feel like I carry myself differently. Apex has changed me, and I love the person I’ve become.
Which of Apex’s publications do you want the reader reading this interview to start reading, right now?
I just finished reading the ARC of What Makes You Die by Tom Piccirilli. I loved it! (Getting to read new Apex titles before they come out is a definite perk of my job.)
It doesn’t come out until mid-March, but everyone needs to read it. It was amazing. Watch for it, because you are going to want to snatch up a copy as soon as it’s available.
- What was so amazing about it? Why did it knock your socks off?
- At the heart of it, What Makes You Die is about a man trying to claw his way back from a very dark place, fighting mental illness, Komodo dragons, and the anguish of lost love along the way. It’s a bizarre, wild ride, but it’s also one that we can all relate to. We all have times when we question the reality of our lives.