For the first time, I’m interviewing not an author, but a publisher. Daniel J. Dombrowski owns the DJD Digital Press – aka 33rd Street Press. He defines it as a new kind of publishing partner, which sounds rather intriguing.
Dan kindly reached out to me after reading The Power of Six, my collection of short science fiction stories, to ask me if I’d be interested in submitting a short story to his upcoming magazine, Nonlocal Science Fiction. I soon became enthusiastic about the endeavor, and thought it would be interesting to showcase his approach to publishing; an approach I personally find refreshing.
Oh, and yes, he is publishing my short story in the magazine, so yay! 🙂
Hi, Dan! Great to have you here. First of all, is it the Daniel J. Dombrowski Digital Press, or the 33rd Street Press?
The formal name for the company is 33rd Street Digital Press. I’ve been operating as Daniel J. Dombrowski Digital Press for several months because I’ve yet to file LLC paperwork. Even though I was just in an R&D phase and not dealing with any financials, I wanted to make sure I was doing things correctly as far as taxes are concerned. Now that it’s 2015, I’ll be filing the paperwork and making the official change soon.
You know, I’ve been wondering: are you an author as well as a publisher?
I started out about four years ago trying to be a science fiction writer. I wrote several short stories and was working on a trio of novellas, but I was impatient to find success and a bit too easily discouraged by rejection letters from Asimov’s, Analog and others. I ended up walking away from writing entirely for a while.
So you never completed your trilogy?
The trilogy was about a group of humans who had escaped Earth during an invasion by a race of aliens who had gained immortality by developing a technology that allowed them to shift their consciousnesses into new host bodies. The humans consisted of a military strike team that had stolen an alien craft and a group of colonists from Mars. They were tasked with finding a new planet in case humanity didn’t survive the invasion.
I finished the first book and wrote a first draft of the second. I never got to the third. The first was rejected out-of-hand by a couple of outlets. I never pursued self-publication or a non-professional outlet. Self-publishing wasn’t quite as developed even just five years ago, and I wasn’t aware of how many non-professional outlets even existed. I probably would have self-published if I’d had the tools that exist now.
You should. It sounds exciting – definitely something I’d read! Perhaps you should reconsider, unless you have you now dedicated your career to helping others get published instead.
Going back and reading the novellas today, all of it is pretty terrible. I’ve come a long way as a writer and editor, but the plot itself just wasn’t anything special. I haven’t abandoned the universe I created or the larger plot arc that I had outlined, but the trilogy itself is pretty much officially dead.
I am still writing – most of it marketing copy and blog articles for 33rd Street – but I will have a short story in the first issue of Nonlocal Science Fiction. It’s purposely a bit of a departure from the hard sci-fi I’ve written in the past. Hopefully it won’t disappoint.
I beg to differ (the plot does sound intriguing), but you’re author here. I’m looking forward to reading your short story. Speaking of, a lot of people in traditional publishing seem to feel pretty strongly about Indie authors (“their work sucks”). Similarly, a lot of Indies speak poorly of traditional publishers (“they’re snooty and doomed”). What’s your take in all this?
I try not to throw stones at either side because I’m kind of in the middle. I will say that there are far too many indie authors who lack professionalism and far too many traditional publishers who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that it’s 2015 and digital is the way things are heading. Still, we’ll probably be in the long tail of print publishing long after I’m gone, so I don’t worry too much about it.
For the moment, I’m trying to position myself where I think publishing is heading in the next decade. I think publishing will go the way of the music industry – a slow transition from a handful of large publishers/labels to hundreds of boutique indie publishers/labels. Like the music industry, the transition in publishing will be driven by the adoption of digital by the consumer and the advance of technology, and as with the modern music industry, readers will have more and better books to choose from as the industry continues to evolve.
Uncanny; I’ve often made the same comparison with the music industry! And I agree completely – there are still too many people on both sides of the fence that need to shift their way of thinking. Speaking of, your motto is, “Say goodbye to the publishing company. Say hello to the publishing partner.” Is this your way of thinking?
It ties into my idea of a large number of boutique indie publishers. There won’t be room in the market for big, bloated companies with hundreds of employees and tens of millions of dollars in overhead.
Anyone can start a one-man digital publishing company in their home office, but they will only be successful if they form true partnerships with authors rather than treating them like a commodity. I can provide more marketing support for a rookie author than a mainstream publisher, but I can’t make it work if the author isn’t on board and willing to do just as much work as me.
If a publisher treats an author poorly, the author has to put up with it because that’s his paycheck. If I treat an author poorly, he or she can just break ties and post stuff to Amazon the next day. I’m not a gatekeeper. I can only add value. I need the author as much as he or she needs me. That’s a partnership.
This is something you obviously feel strongly about. Is there a particular experience behind it? What inspired you to start the DJD Digital Press?
The idea for the company was initially 33rd Street Publishing Services. I’ve been editing on a freelance basis for a print self-publisher since 2013, and I thought that I might be able to make headway applying what I’d learned on that job and my knowledge of Internet marketing and programming to an exclusively digital publishing sphere. I asked around a bit, but the problem was that no one that I wanted to work with wanted to work with me. Generally, writers who are good enough to produce quality stuff are also smart enough to know that they shouldn’t pay up front for anything, especially when they can just upload their unedited manuscripts to Amazon for free and start a blog in an hour.
I couldn’t figure out a way to add enough value to what I can do to charge for it up front, which seemed like the simpler option, but I knew that I had the knowledge to help people. I don’t want to make it sound like starting a legit publishing company was ‘Plan B,’ but it kind of was. I think it was absolutely the right decision, and I’m glad I never found anyone willing to work with me on that other path.
That’s not all you’ve been working on, though. How about the Nonlocal Science Fiction magazine?
Nonlocal Science Fiction is essentially my firstborn son at this point. I’ve been working on the concept for over six months and collecting stories since October. It’s a short fiction magazine that’s planned as a quarterly. It’s a bit different from other sci-fi magazines, in that it pays authors an ongoing commission for sales rather than a flat per-word rate. The hope is that authors will make a lot more over time and that, by partnering with me for marketing, they’ll learn how to manage their own careers better and grow their careers. I’ll also be able to accomplish my goals by partnering with authors rather than having to hire a marketing staff.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to receive over 50 submissions since October. Nine of those, plus my own story, will be appearing in the first issue, which will launch on March 14th. It still blows me away how many great authors I’ve met who are willing to trust some guy on the Internet who says he’s starting a magazine, but I’m glad they found me. It’s incredibly exciting to see your ideas take off and come to life.
I, too, have found the writing world in general and the Indie world in particular to be remarkably open and supportive. Everyone seems eager to help out in some way. Is your magazine, Programmable Type, part of this effort?
Programmable Type is probably the most neglected of my various projects. I started it with good intentions, and I will eventually make it great. For the moment, though, all that is going out is a blog digest every ten days. Unfortunately, with how busy I’ve been with Nonlocal, I haven’t been able to really make it something special. It’s on life support, but I will turn it into a winner one of these days.
Ideally, I’d like to use it to keep in touch with my core audience. I’ll send out special insider info on projects and use the mailing list to recruit test readers – things like that.
What are you working on at the moment? Tell us a little about your current project.
The project that has been dominating my life since Christmas has been the KickStarter campaign for Nonlocal Science Fiction. I’ve been working on a shoestring budget to this point, but to really do this thing right, I need a little help.
I’ve lined up some great incentives for donors – everything from advance digital copies of the magazine to limited edition print copies to t-shirts and tote bags to the chance to serve as a guest editor for Issue #2 and Issue #3.
The campaign will run for 30 days, starting on January 15th.
I promise to help out any way that I can. 🙂 Who are your favorite authors and what do you love about them?
My Mount Rushmore of authors, all of whom are sci-fi authors, includes Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke. I love them all for different reasons.
Asimov is far and away the number one author on my list. He’s the guy who made modern science fiction what it is. Anyone who hasn’t read him or who thinks he’s out of style doesn’t understand science fiction. He’s the Beatles. He’s Elvis. I read the original Foundation trilogy once a year, and I have his picture hanging over my desk. You’ll see it in my KickStarter video.
I see Frank Herbert as sort of the yin to Asimov’s yang. His style is looser, and his universe, the one he is most known for – Dune, is softer than Asimov’s. He embraced the exploration of futuristic cultures that were more than just high-tech and shiny. Reading him after reading Asimov was a bit like reading Shakespeare after reading Plato.
I never quite know how to explain my fascination with Philip K. Dick. I wish I could somehow go back and just talk to the guy and figure out how his head worked. He wrote some of the most off-the-wall stuff you’ll ever read, but all of it is brilliant. I could read his short stories for days.
Arthur C. Clarke is just classic. Even more so than Asimov in some ways, he’s the epitome of simple, effective storytelling. I reread 2001: A Space Odyssey just last month. Brilliant. Simple, but brilliant.
I’m surprised you found Herbert more yin. I thought Asimov’s world to be more like Star Trek, compared to Herbert’s messier Dune-verse. Although I agree with you on Herbert’s comparison to Shakespeare, as well on your take on Dick and Clarke – and love all four, of course. Have you checked out Dick’s Exegesis? I think it’s the next best thing to actually going back in time to chat with him.
Mind you, these are all science fiction authors. Don’t you read anything else? For example, what are you reading now?
For fiction, I do tend to stick to science fiction because I like it best and I have so many other things going on and so much other reading and editing to do that I don’t have time to broaden my horizons.
Currently, I’m reading the Pearseus trilogy (no joke. I’m enjoying it!) I’m also about halfway through Neuromancer by William Gibson, though it’s not really my style. On the nonfiction side, I’m reading The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller. And then I occasionally read a few pages of The Swann’s Way by Proust. I heard someone say once that good writers read a little Proust every day. Maybe someday I’ll have the time to actually do that.
Lol – Pearseus, seriously?! Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying it 🙂 I loved Neuromancer, but understand what you mean about Gibson. He’s a bit of an acquired taste – but absolutely brilliant. I could never get into Proust, however. Too self-centered for my taste, and his writing, while beautiful, was not my cup of tea. Do you have any advice for indie authors?
READ. The absolute best thing you can do to develop your style and your organic understanding of the language is to read. Writing without reading is like trying to paddle a boat with your hands. You might make some progress, but you can’t really get anywhere until you start using the right tools.
Lol – I can see the influence of Stephen King here. Are there any sites or writing tools that you find useful and wish to recommend?
More often, though, I turn to a couple of print resources: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (for reference) and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (for whenever I feel like quitting).
Told you I saw King’s influence there. 🙂 Tell us about your website and blog. What will readers find there?
The 33rd Street Webpage has some general information about the company, and I keep a blog that is mainly tips for writers on marketing and general announcements of my milestones.
I just launched the site for Nonlocal Science Fiction. It contains information on the magazine and all of the authors for the first issue.
You hold an MA in anthropology. What is an anthropologist doing in the publishing industry?
Short Answer: My office is a lot cleaner than a hole in the ground.
Long Answer: I studied to be an archaeologist, actually, focusing on the late Colonial and early national period in the United States. It was never really a good fit. I think I always had a pretty romantic view of being a historian and an archaeologist. In reality, it’s endless reading (none of it interesting) and endless bickering with colleagues about little points that no one can ever prove one way or the other.
I jumped into publishing for several reasons. I wanted to write, but I had hit a wall. I started editing and was pretty good at it. I’ve always been good with web development and technology. Digital publishing was a natural fit because is combined by interest in the technology and my skills as a writer/editor. Also, I think it is a perfect time for an amateur to get into the game. In ten years, it’s going to be a lot harder for someone to just jump in without having prior experience.
Any hobbies or interests that you enjoy in your spare time?
I get up and go for a run with my dog in the morning, kiss my wife goodbye as she leaves for work, and then sit at the computer in my office for eight hours. Then I come downstairs, make/eat dinner, and work on my laptop on the couch until I go to bed.
I’m lucky enough to be doing something that I love enough that I don’t mind that it has taken over my life.
Erm, I noticed that you never kiss your wife when she returns from work. She does return, right?? Aaanyway, what are the things in your life that you’re most grateful for?
My wife. I love her more than anything. She puts up with me and goes off to work every day – she’s on the faculty at a school of pharmacy – while I stay at home and try to figure out the world.
Ah, good. So she does come back at some point. How would you like to be remembered?
As a good husband and, eventually, a good father. The rest is just for fun.
I love how you’ve got your priorities straight. 🙂 If you had to describe a theme or thread running through your life, what would it be? What’s your life theme?
Running headlong into things, finding out that I’m in too deep, and then looking for something new. Happily, 33rd Street and writing/editing/publishing seems to be the end of that trend.
Lol – I hope so. You do seem to have what it takes. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Where are you from?
Mars, probably, but I like to travel.
Yes, it’s rather lonely up there. Is it true you’ve been abducted by aliens?
No. I agree with Hawking. If aliens ever come here, it will be to strip the planet of resources and move on to the next M-class planet.
He does have a rather dreary look at things, doesn’t he? Oh well. Name your claim to fame.
I don’t have one. Yet.
What is the weirdest thing that’s happened to you?
Streetlights go out when I pass under them an inordinate amount. I’ve yet to figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Amazing, that happens to me as well. Even when I drive, which is distracting to say the least! Which one do you prefer: Elephants or tigers?
Elephants. They taste better.
Oookay, didn’t expect that. If you had to live over again what would you change in your life?
My stock answer is usually that I’d go to school for something more useful, but then I’d probably have a good job and not have time for any of this other stuff. I don’t know that I would change anything, really. Things are just now getting interesting. I don’t want to miss what happens next.
Where in the universe would you live if you could travel anywhere?
In the middle of the woods in a house that no one could find, with an unlimited food supply and a stable Internet connection. The exact location doesn’t matter.
Good one! Thank you so much for sharing with us – it was great having you over! 🙂
Dan, in his own words
Many moons ago, I went off to college with the idea that I was going to be an archaeologist. I earned both my B.A. and my M.A. in anthropology from The Pennsylvania State University, graduating with honors as the department valedictorian. Unfortunately, I found myself in an economy that didn’t have a lot of room for social science majors with no real-world experience.
I bounced around from job to job for a while, supporting my wife as she made her own way through graduate school. About a year into working at call centers and stocking shelves at 5 a.m., I started to look for an escape. For me, as it is for so many people, that escape was writing. Over the next two years, I wrote a couple dozen short stories and the first two books of a novella trilogy. I submitted some of the best to large sci-fi magazines like Asimov’s and Analog, never once doubting that I, as a young, new writer with little experience or training, would be able to break into a world I knew nothing about.
At the end of those two years, I was discouraged and more than a little disenchanted with the creative process. Not only was I universally rejected, but I never even received anything beyond a stock email telling me the bad news. I walked away from creative writing for a while, convinced that it was not for me.
A little while later, I found a freelance editing gig for a large self-publishing company. I found writing work in the form of freelance human interest and entertainment journalism where I excelled at helping others tell their story rather than banging my head against a wall trying to come up with one on my own. I also got involved in a few other projects that didn’t end up going very far because of a systemic lack of planning and support.
Those failed projects are what inspired this company. Too often, good ideas get left by the wayside because it is hard to find a partner you can trust who also has the knowledge and the experience to move a project forward. Aspiring authors everywhere need that support, and I intend to give it to them.
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