05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Birth of a Small Press by Laura Baumbach

The Birth of a Small Press
by Laura Baumbach
owner MLR Press
and its imprints Passion in Print Press
and Featherweight Press

I write M/M erotic romance almost exclusively. I started out being published by a small print house in the LA area, and then began submitting and being accepted by multiple ebook publishers. My print house wasn't paying royalties like they should have been and did nothing to promote the work. This made me frustrated and discontent. I began looking for other print publishers for my work. While one of my ebook publishers did take one of my stories to print in an anthology, they wouldn't commit to doing more of my novels. Their focus was e-publishing and they had limited interest in doing print. I understood that, but because I knew from my readership and fan letters that there was a growing interest in having these books in print, I continued to submit to houses like Alyson and Kensington.

Unfortunately for me, they weren't interested in gay erotic romance at that time. After a number of attempts and rejections of stories I knew were print worthy, I decided to gather together my closest and most talented friends within the industry and fill what I saw as a void in the publishing industry—a press for gay erotic romance and fiction— by creating ManLove Romance Press, LLC aka MLR Press. We publish the 'feel good, falling in love again' stories that readers were asking for.

I've kept the focus of MLR Press on gay erotic romance and fiction because that is the genre I know inside and out and can market and promote effectively. The readership for this genre is almost entirely straight women and gay men, and I target different media and events for each, keeping in mind that there are a lot more cross over venues each year.

Originally the press was to be a tiny house with a handful of authors in the genre, authors I knew had a following that might sustain a little print press. It was just a couple of authors and myself, with all the editing hired out free-lance or done by the authors themselves.

Then editing staff from other houses approached me asking if they could be a part of the effort to bring the genre to print. Judi David, Maura Anderson, and Kris Jacen joined us over time. Four months into publishing life I received a submission query from well-known mystery author Richard Stevenson who was looking for a new publisher after the closing of Haworth Press. Once Dick became part of the family I knew I had to pull out all the stops to make the press truly a viable force in the industry. We haven't looked back since, growing slowly but steadily.

There was quite a bit of trial and error the first year or so. While I have experience running a small business, my husband is a consultant, and I have experience as a department head in a hospital managing budgets and staffing, publishing is a beast all its own. And one that is in the process of changing at a rapid rate. There has been a lot to learn and there is still a lot to learn, but I have met dozens of people in the know who have been willing to help--my fellow epublishing peers, the Independent Publishers Association, and industry professionals in various areas of expertise have assisted me. Cevin Bryerman, the Associate Publisher with Publisher's Weekly, and Joe Murray, the advertising executive at PW, have been extremely kind and gracious in lending a knowledgeable hand to me. There is something new to learn every day. Literally every day.

I wanted the M-L-R in the press name to stand for several things. Besides being a shorter handle for ManLove Romance Press, I could see the tie-in with not only the genre of gay romance but with the sub-genres of mystery, suspense, adventure, erotica, paranormal, sci-fi, and fantasy. I thought mayhem, lust and romance pretty much covered what we do as well as who we are.

Invitation only grew out of the fact that I had to limit my authors for several reasons—I could only fund so many titles per year and each one had to sell well. They also had to be the best of the best in terms of talent, skill, readership, and career motivation to prove our quality matched any other presses. That narrowed the field of authors within the genre. I needed authors that knew how to market themselves and understood that this was a job not a hobby. I needed authors who trusted me to pull off this upstart business. So I turned to my peers and friends, most of whom are the authors you see writing for MLR Press.

I feel the real, pressing need to publish the best gay romance and fiction. If my press is the litmus test for the m/m romance genre to gain respect and acceptance in print, the stories have to be top shelf.

While our foundation is made up of requested, top shelf authors, we do make room for new authors. We occasionally put out open calls, usually during loop chats or special events. Even though MLR Press is an invitation only press, we still receive outside submissions on a daily basis. We accept only a few of those but we do read them all. Every one of them.

When we find a talent that fits us, we extend the invitation and pull more talent into the house. Once in awhile we find a first time author that has the natural talent but just needs to acquire writing skills. We can help with that. That's like finding the black pearl in the oyster. Sometimes we find authors through recommendations from our authors. Sometimes we see an excerpt on a loop during a chat that catches our eye or hear a buzz about an author that will make me or one of my editors go out and look for something this author has written, and that prompts an invitation. Occasionally, I'll be approached during an event with a pitch, and if I like what I hear enough, I ask for more.

I believe that every decision a person makes brings them further down a particular road, that the course of life isn't written in stone but made and altered by each new decision. It hasn't all been roses, but I like where I am and where the press is headed, so ultimately, I have to say I wouldn't have done anything differently. But I have learned to trust my gut instincts more and not be swayed by popular opinion on things like an author's talent or an emerging trend. As an emergency trauma nurse for over 3 decades, I've got excellent people instincts and skills. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, to trust my feel for a person or situation. That's why I like meeting my authors and staff in person if possible. Face to face beats out email to email every time.

Readers pick up romance, any genre of romance, to fall in love again. We want the stories we publish to give them that, whether it be heterosexual stories from our PASSION IN PRINT PRESS imprint or GBLT romances from MANLOVEROMANCE PRESS.

We want to provide that escape for a few hours, that pleasure and heartache and happy ending. Reality gets left behind for just a bit so dreams and fantasies can have their moment. I think it's important for us as human beings to have time to escape to a safe, comfortable place to recharge and unwind. It keeps us healthy mentally and physically.


Judith Ashley said...

Fascinating post that shows what one person can do when committed. Congratulations on building a viable business in a niche market and then spreading out from there.

I agree, we pick up a romance to escape for a few hours knowing that no matter the twists and turns there is a HEA. I've enough reality in my daily life and I love to slip away in a dream or fantasy for a few moments or a day.
Reading romance certainly is instrumental in my mental and physical health for just the reasons you mention.

Paty Jager said...

Laura, Small presses like yours are what gives the reader a full spectrum of stories to choose from. Congrats on your success.

Tam Linsey said...

It is nice to see small presses able to release books that do not fit "mainstream" fiction. Variety is ths spice of life!

B. A. Binns said...

A place to go for someone looking for the kind of thing big house are unwilling to touch, but that people still enjoy reading about. Romance is romance.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. It's a fascinating story. Congratulations on your well-earned success in this crazy business!