An Interview from Down-Under: Zeus Publications (E-Publishers)
© 2001 Christina Hamlett
August 31, 1999 was a history making moment for Australia and an intrepid media entrepreneur named Bruce Rogers. It was opening day of business for Zeus Publications, the first e-book company to take root-and spread like wildfire-in the Land Down-Under. In a matter of months, its title list jumped from 6 to 40, garnering enviable reviews for its literary diversity and its pool of both established and beginning authors. Zeus Publications now boasts around 140 titles on the site and it's growing. Zeus is also a zealous newcomer at international bookfairs, the most recent being The Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Enthusiastic to expand the company's talent base to the U.S. and beyond, General Manager/Owner Rogers graciously allowed me several hours of his time to share what Zeus and the burgeoning e-publishing phenomenon are all about.
Q. Why don't we start with how you got your first break in the publishing world?
A. It was back in 1971 when I was a cadet journalist for a biweekly country newspaper in Roma, Australia. Starting salary? The sum of $200 per week. That led to subsequent careers in radio, television, and writing for several popular magazines in Australia. I also picked up plenty of experience in production sales and marketing, as well as newspaper layout.
Q. I understand your wife is a writer, too?
A. Yes, as a matter of fact Sandra is the one who rekindled my interest in making a difference in the literary market. She had just had a book published in 1997 by Minerva Press (U.K.) and recruited me to help her with editing and layout. It was over the course of that book-and her next-that I not only realized I missed the industry but that the traditional marketing and distribution process left a lot to be desired.
Q. How did you first hear about e-publishing and decide to pursue it yourself?
A. I started experimenting myself, then decided to look at the Internet and found there were some e-publishers up and running in the States. My next thought was, "I can do this!"
Q. So what was the very first book Zeus Publications officially put on line?
A. It was a collection of Australian Bush Poetry - Burleigh to the Bush!
Q. Is Zeus a one-man show or do you have a full-time staff?
A. It is not exactly a 'one man' show - we have a number of people who read and evaluate for us, together with my wife who assists in the day to day running.
Q. Literary agents have been especially critical of the e-book phenomenon, alleging that authors published electronically can say goodbye to any chance of their work ever being accepted by traditional houses. Any validity to that?
A. No, quite the contrary. Some literary agents are just single-minded about traditional publishing and are concerned that most e- publishers do not pay advances. Being published electronically can actually assist in the process of later-or simultaneously-getting your words into print.
Q. How will the role of agents need to change to keep pace with this new publishing technology?
A. I believe they'll need to adjust their attitudes toward the publishing game because most of them actually set the rules for the authors and publishers-much like an 'old boys' club. This will require change because e-publishers think differently and are dealing directly with authors on a one to one basis. Literary agents will need to sit down with the e-publishing industry and strike some guidelines.
Q. With so many new e-book publishers entering the market, it has to be a challenge to attract--and keep--good authors. What has been your most effective tool for publicizing the e-book medium in general and Zeus in particular?
A. So far, the most effective tool for us has been search engine listings, Free for All links and target marketing through message boards, review pages and selected e-mailings. We're also very aware of the need to promote ourselves and have done so with radio advertising, press releases, book reviews and great support from our local press. We also are pleased to reveal that our stats show our visitors are increasing each week. Around 80% come from the US.
Q. Have you hit any unexpected speedbumps or has it been a smooth ride from the start?
A. It's been pretty smooth. We're taking it easy and have no grand expectations from the industry in the short term. It is a long term thing and no one will make any money for quite a while. One has to be patient and understand the nature of the beast in this business.
Q. How many submissions does Zeus receive per month?
A. Right now, we're getting about twenty submissions a month from all over the world.
Q. And how many new titles do you debut?
A. Currently, it's about four books per month. As for the coming year, we'd like to see our annual inventory hit 150+.
Q. What's your most popular genre?
A. Currently, fiction is the most popular, followed closely by Children's, Sci-Fi and Young Adult and Non fiction.
Q. Is there anything you'd like to see more of in the future?
A. We have just started a new genre for Plays and Drama - this should be interesting.
Q.How much input do authors have on the design of their book covers?
A.We give them a questionnaire to fill out upon signing of the contract, then we mail them a proof before actually going ahead with the work. Their input is important to us; some of them, in fact, even supply their own artwork for consideration.
Q. What type of advance/royalty structure is in place at Zeus for prospective authors?
A. Although we don't pay advances, we do offer a 30% royalty to our authors. A visit to our website at www.zeus-publications.com also shows that the cost of our cds and downloads are comparable to those offered by fellow e-book publishers.
Q. A number of e-publishers are offering print-on-demand options for selected titles. Is this a route that Zeus will follow as well?
A. We actually explored print options very early in the piece, but decided to leave it to the existing publishers. That road is pretty hard so we are staying right where we are.
Q. What advice would you like to give writers who may be considering e-books as a market for their talent?
A. It doesn't hurt to submit your work. As long as someone sees it and can showcase it for you in the best possible way-be it in print or cyberspace-you've accomplished every writer's goal of getting the story 'out there'. I believe that there is so much hidden talent as yet unpublished - some of the best books are sitting in top drawers somewhere gathering dust. The end of the rainbow is just an e-mail away. No one is making tons of money yet, but you never know about the future and I reckon it looks bright out there! Maybe you should 'give it a go, mate!'
If you're interested, take a look at their site www.zeus-publications.com
© 2001 Christina Hamlett
Excerpted from Christina's latest book, It All Begins with the Script: Writing & Selling Your Screenplay. Available now at Zeus Publications, Australia: www.zeus-publications.com.