Can you tell us a bit about the history and mission of Fresh Ink Group, and what sets you apart from other companies offering similar services?
Founder Stephen Geez set up Fresh Ink in the early ’90s and hired a manager to handle the logistics of his publishing contracts and publicity. Unhappy with both of his publishers, he expanded it to Fresh Ink Group in ’95 as one of the first hybrid POD publishers where author and publisher share the costs and author retains all ownership—an author-centric publisher. FIG has since expanded into full multi-media publishing with worldwide distribution: hardcovers, softcovers, all ebook formats, cover design with promo graphics, audiobooks with sfx and music, videos and book trailers, podcasting, websites, editing/proofing, social media, and more. We have a few hundred titles from around fifty authors and are growing steadily.
What kinds of services do you offer to writers, and how do you ensure that each client receives personalized attention and support?
We offer pretty much everything ad hoc or as part of our packages. Some authors already have some elements handled—editing, cover design, etc.—so we fill the gaps. We meet, brainstorm, look at samples, and talk talk talk until everybody is geeked and ready to go. We show samples, proofs, updates, and more throughout the process. The author is involved in every aspect, including pricing and discounts. Authors are the ones who ensure they get the attention they need, which varies a lot from writer to writer.
How do you evaluate a writer’s needs and goals, and how do you tailor your services to meet their specific requirements?
When unpublished authors approach us, we spend time explaining the industry, options, steps, examples, and more until a clear path is envisioned. With established writers (which is at least half of our approaches), we study their other work, social media, websites, blogs—anything we can find to learn about the author and his/her material and marketing efforts. Then we talk more and include lots of examples to consider.
What are some of the most common challenges that writers face when seeking to publish or promote their work, and how does Fresh Ink Group help them address these obstacles?
Cost is a barrier to some, but at FIG we pick up a lot of those costs and work with the author to set affordable goals. Some authors have time constraints, families and jobs and more limiting their time to work on the next steps. I think the biggest is a lack of platform or media footprint. Sometimes we have to work with authors to set up social-media accounts, a blog, maybe a website, some parked promo materials such as book trailers and interviews, and more. We like to set up appearances—signings, readings, events—but some authors are not comfortable with carrying them, so we look for group opportunities such as booths at expos.
Can you walk us through the process of working with a writer from start to finish, and what kind of communication and feedback can they expect from your team?
As many as half of our new authors are established writers wanting to switch publishers or move from self-pubbing to working with us. In those cases, we research the work, record, and platform before meeting about the project. In all cases, we look at the material and talk talk talk, offer options, show examples, and start the work. We have lots of next steps, but we often assign the writer some steps as well—pulling together material for blurbs, providing quality author photo, obtaining endorsements or a foreword… I think accessibility is the difference between us and most of our competition. Others, you often don’t even know who you’re working with, and all you have for contact is an email address that might not get a quick response. With us, you know who we are, you have all our contact info including cellphones, and we talk. While we’re working on stuff, we will call and explain we need to decide between this and that, what’s your thought? We’ll get on Skype or Zoom and share our screens, show what we’re doing, involve everybody in the choices. Yesterday we spent three hours on Skype working on an author’s next three covers in a series. He wanted a certain look, and we weren’t sure exactly what he was describing, so we opened Photoshop and tried stuff while he watched. Except for the details (barcodes, blurbs, etc.), at the end we had three covers that thrilled him. It’s all interactive and very accessible.
How do you work with writers to establish a timeline for their projects, and how do you ensure that they stay on track throughout the process?
We don’t. Quality is first, at whatever the timeline requires. Sometimes authors bring us a manuscript and want to set a release date. We discourage that, as it can lead to rushing and settling. Authors sometimes will make big shifts mid-project and add a lot of time. Some elements, such as a package of children’s book illustrations, can take a good amount of time. When everything has come together and we are well into ancillary materials such as a book trailer, then we can predict an earliest release or pre-sale date and let the author decide. We like to know that date before we schedule the author on our podcast and start releasing more marketing materials.
What are some of the most successful projects that you have worked on as a company, and what do you think contributed to their success?
Well, we love all our children equally. “Success” is a variable term. More than half our releases in the past year have glided into Amazon’s top 100, with several reaching #1 and camping for a while in the top 50. I think our all-time bestseller is Alabama drummer Mark Herndon’s memoir The High Road: Memories from a Long Trip, which after seven years is still in our top 10 every month. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AFTSag63PY Submarine-er, a memoir by retired US Naval Lt. Commander Jerry Pait is already showing the kinds of numbers Herndon pulled the first year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PklESG3x-w These are number successes and financial successes for our authors, but we have other kinds of successes that make us just as proud, especially personal passion projects. Sportswriter Stephen Hargis released Eight Hateful Miles about a small-town high-school football rivalry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTwUbFFEMa0 Expecting a football-season surge around that area, we’re still amazed how it’s selling year-round across the USA and in some foreign countries after three years. Another author released the true story of his father’s construction company in a small Tennessee town, how it grew huge then had scandals, convictions, a company plane crash, and more drama. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3sXil1-z4Y We hoped to sell a few hundred around Tennessee. After four years it’s still selling briskly across the country. We like those kinds of successes, too—even when we don’t always understand them!
How do you ensure that your services are affordable and accessible to writers from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences?
Stephen Geez accepts no payment for any FIG work, which helps lower costs for everybody and provides some marketing funds. We have package prices on our website, which we honor no matter what, but usually when we see what is involved, we look for economies and offer a lower-cost package to the author based on exactly what work is involved.
How do you approach marketing and promotion for the writers you work with, and what strategies have you found to be most effective?
We blanket media. Every book gets a package of media materials that includes a very cool book trailer posted everywhere. We have a college-student social-media influencer who’s been on staff since he was sixteen. He puts us, our authors, our books, the podcast, and more out there hundreds of times a day. When we are cold-solicited, the author invariably says s/he has been seeing us and our authors out there for years and finally decided to learn more. Frankly, we do some cool stuff we don’t talk about because they wouldn’t work as well if everybody did them, but overall our approach is to support all indie authors, even our competitors. You don’t have to publish with us to become a member or tout your books on our podcast. We have found that by supporting others, it comes back to us and our authors.
What advice would you give to writers who are just starting out, and how can they best position themselves for success in today’s publishing landscape? Non-fiction writers should study what has been coming out lately. An ongoing trend is for non-fiction content to be very fragmented with lots of sub-headers and lists and sidebars and such to manage the content flow in small bits. Fiction writers should spend time further studying the wealth of how-to material out there, such as thrice-weekly posts at StoryEmpire.com or subscribing to Kim Cox’s blog, https://kimwrtr.wordpress.com/. Nearly all fiction we see can be improved with advanced techniques for description, dialogue, character development, point-of-view, and more. Contemporary literary conventions are way different from fifty years ago. Study how it’s being done today and flex your creativity. One more: Diversify your formats and outlets. Don’t think Amazon is enough, and don’t think an ebook or even ebook with papercover are enough. The last ten books we published have hardcovers either outselling the papercovers or coming close to the same numbers. We’ve had some, especially non-fiction, where print substantially outsold ebooks. We’ve also had authors order author copies (at wholesale) a thousand at a time for brisk sales through their own websites (autographed, inscribed!). Anybody can put out a Kindle, but if you stop there, you’re leaving a lot of potential sales on the table.