Kinsy McVay and Progressive Rising Phoenix Press

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Another ‘unedited for length’ interview originally in our regional SCBWI newsletter.  This time with Kinsy McVay sharing his new endeavor.  Here’s a bit about this very busy illustrator/author/educator.

Kinsy McVay grew up in small-town Kansas and became enthralled with comic books early on.  He received his illustration degree from the University of Kansas.  His illustration career was derailed after college by his glamorous 7-year job in retail sales (gag).  Luckily, through some great advice from his wife, he was able to break away from sales, and worm his way back toward his chosen field by becoming an elementary art teacher.  As an art teacher, he was inspired to write his first children’s book, Just Line Around, which tells the story of a horizontal line that no longer lies flat.  His most recent work graces the cover of Amanda M. Thrasher’s middle grade novel, The Ghost of Whispering Willow.  He also has two other covers in the works as well as two more children’s books.

As one can see Kinsy has so much going on but for this Q & A we are going to focus on the joint venture, Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

CK: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press is a great name that one can visualize.  I read on your web site that the authors involved in Rising Phoenix want to make a better experience for authors than you all had when working with publishers in the past. There are three of you who started this venture-you an author/illustrator and two women authors-Amanda M. Thrasher and Jannifer Powelson. Tell us how you all met.  (Especially the one who lives outside of Texas!)

KM:  It’s strange how things work out sometimes.  Even though Amanda and I both live in Fort Worth, we actually met at a book festival in Abilene, TX, about 3 years ago.  Amanda is definitely the more outgoing of the two of us, and if she hadn’t struck up a conversation with me, I’m sure we’d have never met.  What first caught her attention was the fact that we were with the same publisher, and, as we talked, we shared our struggles and successes as new authors.  Since I was an illustrator, she asked for my opinion on her book covers and then suggested a joint picture book project.  What started out as a chance meeting, soon bloomed into a full-fledged partnership.  We have worked together on many occasions since then, including book fairs, books signings, and school visits.  Our picture book is still in the works, but I’ve illustrated covers for three of her other books, and I even managed to pick up some book design and layout work along the way.

Amanda and Jannifer also met through their publisher.  Their relationship started out as one author helping another by sharing tips on having a successful school visit.  Months before Phoenix was even a flutter of a thought, these two had already begun networking and supporting each other – two of the key concepts that Rising Phoenix is built upon.

CK: Tell us the when, where and how Progressive Rising Phoenix Press came into being.

KM:  Have you ever heard the saying “necessity is the mother of invention”?  Well, that’s exactly where all three of us found ourselves this past summer.  Our shared difficulties with our publisher are what inspired us to create something new and different.  We decided rather than just sitting around complaining about it, we would do something about it.  We envisioned a publishing house that protects the authors as well as allows authors more freedom over their work than traditional publishing, but, at the same time, maintains a level of professional standards and expectations.  The idea for Phoenix first sprung to life when Amanda began considering creating her own label.  While discussing possible branding for her label, she hit upon the idea of multiple authors banding together based on unity and support.  Later that summer, we attended a writer’s conference and saw a group of authors working together as a cooperative to promote each other and their works. We decided then and there that if they could do it, we could do it!

Within weeks of that conversation, all of us had taken that very scary, first step and cut all ties with our publisher.  We were all on our own – together. Unfortunately, there isn’t a handbook for starting your own publishing company (if anyone would like to write one, you’ve got one guaranteed sale here!), so it has definitely been a learning experience for all of us. We used our own titles (eight in all) to learn about and refine our knowledge of the publishing process.  The few times we’ve stumbled, we have picked ourselves up, learned from our mistake, and moved forward. As authors ourselves, we are constantly looking at publishing from the author’s perspective.  How would we want it done? How would we want to be treated?  Those are the burning questions that drive everything that we do.

CK: I like the succinctness of your company’s mission statement and philosophy.  Basically this is a ‘three musketeer’ philosophy–“all for one and one for all”. So the three of you are on this adventure and you are inviting others to come along.  We can accomplish more together than alone.

KM: “The Three Musketeers” is exactly what came to mind when the three of us were conceiving Rising Phoenix.  Who wouldn’t rather go out into today’s market knowing that you have a team of fellow authors at your back?  Picture a typical book signing by a big-name author, let’s just say J.K. Rowling.  Do you think at any point during her visit she’s going to mention other books available from her publisher?  Of course not!  And that’s where we’re different.  There may only be one of our authors present at an event, but ALL of our combined works are being represented, everything from picture books to young adult.  This creates all kinds of opportunities for our authors.  Now, when we approach a venue about a possible event, we aren’t just proposing that “Joe Author” who wrote “Book A” for 6th-8th graders comes to visit. Instead, we are proposing that “Joe Author” who wrote “Book A” comes to visit as a representative of our entire label and all of its titles, not just one.  It’s now no longer simply about this one author and his fantasy book about dragons.  Maybe you don’t like dragons.  Great!  Do you or your kids like picture books about creativity or nature?  How about fairy tales or ghost stories?  Well, let me just tell you all about them…  We feel that this twist on the typical author event will be a huge enticement for schools and other venues when looking for authors to bring in for visits.         Additionally, “Jane Author” is now having her books introduced in areas previously unavailable to her.  We currently have authors from California to Illinois, and all of our titles are gaining exposure in those markets!  It’s a win-win for all of the authors.  How else could an author from Texas get his book in front of readers in California?

Of course, we are extremely proud and excited when one of our authors books an event, and we in no way want to take away from their time in the sun.  So, while all authors are required to have information available on all Phoenix titles, to what degree they want to share this information is left up to them.

As far as content is concerned, we are looking for things out of the ordinary that will hopefully stand out in this flooded market.  We review and discuss every submission that we receive and ask ourselves a number of questions about the title.  Is it original/unique?  What separates it from other books in its genre?  Is it marketable?  Will it represent our label well?  How does it add to or complement what we currently offer?  Would we buy it if we saw it on a shelf?  Basically, we are judging someone else’s creation, so it is a responsibility that we take very seriously and decisions are not made lightly.  As authors, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a rejection letter, and we completely empathize with those who may not be a good fit with our company.

CK: Just like the three musketeers had a united purpose, anyone who wants to join you must fit in-i.e. their quality of work must complement your current titles.

KM: Absolutely!  Because our goal is collaboration between our authors, we are always looking for submissions that bring something new to the table.  Our goal is to find a wide-variety of quality work across all children’s genres and reading levels.  This will create the most opportunities for our authors to reach new markets and demographics.

All submissions are reviewed by Amanda, Jannifer and me.  We take a look at the synopsis and basic info, and, following a “majority rules” process, if at least two of us feel that it might be a good fit for our label, we delve deeper into the manuscript.  This is when the discussions really get good, and all of those questions that I mentioned above get asked.  The best part is that all three of us come from such varied backgrounds, that we will all see the same submission from three totally different perspectives!  Jannifer or Amanda may see potential in a piece that I would have never even considered, and vice versa.  It really is very exciting, and I know that all three of us look forward to reading each and every new submission we receive.

Anyone who would like more information on submitting to Rising Phoenix can click on the “Contact” tab on our website.  Submissions are not only open to writers, but to illustrators, editors, and book designers as well.

CK:  Here comes the best part of the adventure story.  Like the musketeers who give their all for the cause, anyone whose work is submitted and accepted will get to keep all of their royalties-minus the production costs.

KM: That is the absolute best part!  We know many authors who only see pennies in royalties for each book sold, and we feel that that is unacceptable considering all of the time and effort that goes into creating a book.  Under our system, however, authors have the opportunity to make up to $4 in royalties per book!  We accomplish this in one simple way:  we don’t touch the authors’ royalties.  The author gets every penny that is left after the printer deducts production fees from the retail price. We do have an up-front fee for joining our label, but that entire fee goes either to the pre-press production of the author’s book or to marketing for the label (press releases, advertising, etc.) In addition, authors pay only production cost for personal copies of their books.  If the printer charges us $3.43 per copy plus shipping, the author pays $3.43 per copy plus shipping and not a penny more.

Of course, following this line of thinking may lead you to ask how Amanda, Jannifer and I are making any profit.  The answer, strange as it may sound, is we’re not.  We’re not cutting into the authors’ royalties, and we’re not paying ourselves from the up-front fee.  We get compensation the same way as every other author under the label, through cross-promotion.  The more authors under our label, the more exposure my book gets in the markets they represent, which builds credibility for my book and the label as a whole, which, ideally, drives more sales for all Phoenix authors.  The entire process relies on authors making an effort to help their fellow authors, which, in turn, helps them.

As far as we know, there is no other publishing model like ours out there.  It is totally author-centered and author-reliant for success.  We are looking for motivated authors, excited to share their work with the world while enjoying the support and encouragement of a network of fellow authors standing with them.  We can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!

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