When I proposed co-founding J & B Publishing to my friend Jamal Barbari, I knew that we’d need to come up with something unique, some way to stand apart from the thousands of other small publishers. We both dove into the industry, cased the competition and contacted the most commercially successful authors we knew. What we found is that while it’s really hard to sell one-of books, series are much easier.
The series advantage wasn’t just confined to famous universes like Stephen King’s Dark Towers or JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, either. According to successful indie authors Michael Totten and Chris Behrsin, this marketing advantage extends to pretty much every genre and every level of publishing.
This led to a problem because, while there are a lot of writers with one good book in them, there are far fewer with the capacity to write two, three or seven. How then, to create these longer series without lucking into the rare writer who is both talented and prolific?
At first glance, those authors with one good book in them seem unmarketable and undesirable. Certainly, that’s how most traditional publishers treat them. However, we dug into the reasons that series are so much easier to market than standalone books – they naturally connect customers to more product, they allow marketing for one book to benefit all the books in the series, they allow beloved characters to reappear – and realized that a good writer, even one with limited output, can benefit from all those series-perks if they agree to write in a shared universe with others.
Our model here was the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Half a dozen authors, all respecting the same canon, re-using settings, sharing some characters and sticking to a few key themes – Star Wars gets almost all the benefits of a Middle Earth without needing writers who can crank out words, pages and chapters as quickly as JRR Tolkien.
Jamal and I are pursuing a similar strategy. We plan to add more in the future, but for now this means we are focused on three fictional series:
1. The Old Heroes. These stories are historical fiction pieces focused on the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean around 1200 BC. This includes many of the quasi-legendary, quasi-historical stories foundational to our world – Moses and the Exodus, Joshua and the Conquest, Achilles and his Myrmidons, Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, Hector and the Trojans, Amazon queens and the Hanging Gardens, Babylonian astrologers and Assyrian magicians.
These legendary figures are almost all based on historically real people, and real people who knew about each other. The Homeric king Agamemnon, for example, almost certainly appears in the records of the ancient Egyptians and, indirectly, as forefather to the enemies of Samson in the Bible. Treating Homer, the Old Testament, the Egyptian cultural sphere, and the Babylonian world as interconnected, this series seeks to bring the mightiest heroes and greatest conflicts out of the legendary past and into vivid, colorful life.
2. Stories From the Lost and Found. These modern day, adult fairy tales take the reader into a world at once familiar and ethereal. Using myths inspired from sources as diverse as vedic India, medieval Arabia and Celtic Britannia, Stories From the Lost and Found continually dances on the edge of the magical and invites the reader to see the spectacular in the mundane. This series is intended for short story writers, particularly those who write in the magical realism or folk tale genres.
3. The Enclave Universe. These urban fantasy thrillers take place in the fictional village of Enclave, Nevada. Under the mysterious influence of a tall, muscular woman who never seems to age, Enclave is home to frightening, primal religion, terrifying scientific utopianism and a huge cast of characters united only by their powerful desire to bend the world to human will. These stories draw inspiration from Albert Camus, the Chinese legalist tradition, Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Nietzsche, powerfully depicting the majesty and power of the human shadow consciousness.
We plan to add more of these series as the company grows. Current plans include a non-fiction series of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” like books explaining the history of morality, culture and politics. We are also on the lookout for writers in the romance, horror and graphic novel genres.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, contact Jamal or myself at https://jandbpublish.com/contact/.