May 24, 2013 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with James Lewis
(Pictured: Omar Luqmaan-Harris, Stephanie Casher & James Lewis)
“There are three rules for writing a novel,” said W. Somerset Maugham. “Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Up until the past decade, the rules for publishing a novel were not only just as secretive but were also rigidly enforced by the gatekeepers at traditional venues (aka The Big Five) in New York. Not surprisingly, the combined effects of corporate downsizing at major literary houses and the burgeoning popularity of self-publishing have given rise to a new breed of book-loving entrepreneurs; specifically, those who launch their own imprints and juggle the simultaneous tasks of editors, publishers and marketers. James Lewis, managing partner and author at The Pantheon Collective (www.pantheoncollective.com), took that leap of faith himself 3-1/2 years ago and has never been happier.
Q: Starting a business from scratch in any industry is a risky venture but especially so when the economy is unstable and shows no signs of improving. What prompted you to take that risk with The Pantheon Collective and what do you believe distinguishes it from the competition?
A: Although I had signed with a high-profile literary agent, I still received over 20 rejections from major publishers. To my dismay, I ultimately dissolved the relationship with my agent. Around the same time, Omar Luqmaan-Harris and Stephanie Casher, two of my closest friends and aspiring novelists, were having problems just signing with an agent, so we decided since technology had greatly improved in publishing—in favor of “indie” authors and publishers—we felt we could do business just as good as the “big boys,” so we took the plunge and started an LLC called The Pantheon Collective. Omar has extensive experience in marketing and business management; Stephanie is the “backbone” and behind-the-scenes organizer, skilled in editing, typesetting, and bookkeeping; and I’m the “veteran” with multiple publishing credits. I knew our areas of expertise were tailor-made for a publishing company. With our collaborative efforts, we’ve sold over 30,000 books, a rare feat for an indie publisher with only four books (so far!).
Q: Tell us about your company name and why you chose it.
A: The Pantheon Collective (or TPC) represents our tagline well: Three Minds. One Mission. No Limits. “Pantheon” symbolizes a group of highly influential people. As TPC, we feel the “power of three” is way more formidable as a unit (or collective) than as one. Three passionate individuals working together amplify the multiplier effect, which means there are no limits to the possibilities. Our mission is simple: To become full-time writers and help other up-and-comers.
Q: Who is your target demographic in terms of readers and aspiring writers?
A: Stephanie and I write Contemporary Fiction while Omar delves into the darker side of the Horror genre. We target readers who enjoy best-selling authors like Eric Jerome Dickey, Stephen King, and Francis Ray. When we open up our author services division, we hope to assist other authors in various stages prior to a book release, from typesetting to creating marketing plans.
Q: Transitioning from author to the role of publisher not only requires you to don multiple hats but also to become well versed in funding, marketing and production strategies to keep everything running smoothly. Tell us about some of the start-up challenges you encountered and what you know now that you didn’t know when you started.
A: When we were started, we only had one book to promote (my book Sellout), so building reader demand was a slow process. Sellout didn’t have shelf space in major bookstores, either. That meant we had to hit the road and do as many book signings as possible. Travel costs were expensive, often exceeding what we made in book sales, but we wanted to meet and greet as many people in our target market and start a buzz.
Q: Based on your experiences with The Pantheon Collective, what’s your best advice to anyone who wants to strike out on their own and launch a new enterprise?
A: Create a business plan and get free assistance from small business advisors, like at SCORE.
Q: What is a typical workday like for you and your colleagues?
A: Stephanie and I live in California while Omar now lives in Turkey (prior to moving, he lived in New Jersey). We all wear hats for different occasions. Right now, we’re trying to take TPC to the next level. As writers, we write every day to finish our novels and meet our individual deadlines (I don’t have a set word count). With the book promoter hats, we engage in social media daily while seeking out reviewers and book clubs for our books. As TPC managing partners, we consult at least twice a month (either via email or Google chat). Currently we are carrying out various business-related tasks, such as deciding on a book cover for the latest TPC book “F.A.T.E: From Authors to Entrepreneurs”; devising a game plan for our upcoming author services division; and critiquing our new manuscripts prior to launch.
Q: How much time does your role as a publisher leave for the development of your own projects?
A: When we launch a book, we focus time and money solely on that book. Three times the promotional power helps to ensure a successful book debut vice just one person trying to promote it. However, since we’re not actively trying to launch a book yet, and our four books are selling well on their own (two are mine, the others are Stephanie’s and Omar’s), we are all working on individual projects to be published by our company. Each book has a deadline and will launch at different times.
Q: Who are some of the authors whose work you most admire and why?
A: I admire Stephen King for his longevity, wild imagination, and talent of crossing into multiple genres. I identify most with Eric Jerome Dickey, another male author I admire who has made a name for himself by channeling female characters very well, which is something I’ve tried to do with my first two books.
Q: Let’s say you could have lunch with any famous author in history. Who would it be, where would you go and what is the one question you’d most like to ask?
A: Edgar Allen Poe. We would go to a local bar and have a few drinks, maybe play pool, and I would ask, “What was going on in your head when you wrote those crazy stories?”
Q: There’s no question that social media has enabled entrepreneurs to deliver their messages faster – and more economically – than through traditional channels and paid advertising. With so many voices speaking at once, though, how do you use these tools to creative advantage and make yourself heard above the din?
A: I learned early on that social media isn’t for constantly posting “buy my books” comments. It’s more about developing relationships with other people and them getting to know you as a person, rather than just as an “author.” I’m very engaged in social media, usually by posting on a friend’s or group page, sharing helpful links for other writers, and connecting with book clubs. I’ve also held contests where we gave away gift certificates and free autographed books.
Q: If you could make a prediction for the future of books and the publishing industry in general, what would it be and why?
A: I predict e-books will overtake print books in sales by 2014. E-books already account for 30%!
Q: What’s next for The Pantheon Collective?
A: TPC hopes to launch “F.A.T.E: From Authors to Entrepreneurs” sometime this summer. We also hope to open up an author services division and possibly publish other authors.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
A: My book Tangled Web should drop this fall!