Chris Morey is the owner and publisher of Dark Regions Press, a specialty horror publisher located in Portland, Oregon. Chris Morey has edited the works of Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, and Jeff Strand, among many others. He participated in Write to Publish 2015 as a panelist, speaking on crowdfunding. Here, he touches on some subjects covered in the Write to Publish panel as well as describing how he got into the business and what happens behind the scenes of a small publishing house.
You took over Dark Regions from someone else, correct? Was the business already a success?
My dad, Joe Morey, founded Dark Regions Press in 1985. In the 1990s he started Dark Regions Magazine, which lasted for many years up until 2001. When I took over the business in August of 2012, I would call it a success in some respects. Financially it was struggling, but professionally and creatively it was thriving. Dark Regions Press is a well-respected name in the specialty publishing industry, and we have published some fantastic books by many talented authors. The problem is that specialty publishing has a huge amount of overhead, so when I first took over the business, things were challenging financially at first.
Did you hire the current staff? Are they all full time, part time, freelance? How were they found: online ad, friend of a friend? What sort of rates do they get paid?
Yes, I hired just about everyone except for F. J. Bergmann, who does a lot of our proofreading and some design work. Some are full time, part time, and freelance. Most everyone works virtually, except for Scott, who I pay $11.00 per hour to pack and ship orders in the shipping office. Nicole works as my financial advisor and bookkeeper, and she works at an extremely reasonable rate of $12.50 per hour (it helps that she’s my girlfriend). Others get paid on a per-project basis, and it varies greatly, but I try to pay everyone a reasonable rate and pay in a timely manner. I found Scott through a Craigslist ad for the shipping position, but other than that it’s all through networking or people I already knew.
When you took over the company, did Dark Regions already have money to invest in new books? Did you use your own money? Bank loans?
My dad gave me the balance of the business accounts when I took the business from California to Oregon. With books already in production and bills coming soon, it wasn’t much money, and it basically gave me the chance to survive for a month or two until I started generating sales. For the first six months there were a lot of ups and downs, but I didn’t take any loans . . . and we survived.
Has crowdfunding helped Dark Regions defray the costs of publishing? Has it paid for all printing costs, or do new books—even after a successful crowdfunding—still require an investment?
Each time I’ve underestimated the costs of each crowdfunding project. As you add up the shipping costs, the costs for all of the extra add-ons, to get everything manufactured . . . things tend to add up quickly. Still, I consider crowdfunding the preorder 2.0. You take a preorder, you give it a professional sales page presentation, you instill a sense of urgency and a new level of interactivity with your customers, and as it turns out it’s a more successful ecommerce model to generate conversions. People become invested emotionally in the projects because they realize that they have a direct impact on it becoming expanded for everyone. It’s a great experience.
Do you plan to crowdfund all of Dark Regions’s books eventually?
No, well, it depends. Here’s the thing: Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns are loud. If we started pushing a campaign every month, it might very well fatigue our customer base. However, I have seen publishers successfully implement a crowdfunding platform into their own websites as a means of preordering the books, which I think is very interesting. We might adapt something like this in the future, but for now we’re going to stick to mostly old-fashioned preorders.
You use Kickstarter, correct? Why Kickstarter? Have you thought about hosting crowdfunding on a publisher-focused site such as Pubslush?
We use both Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Actually, as of writing this we are running our third Indiegogo campaign for our new anthology Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror. Indiegogo is nice because it offers an option called “Flexible Funding,” which means that if you don’t hit your goal you can still keep the funds, whereas on Kickstarter you could be $1,000 short and lose everything. Granted, we’ve never had a problem reaching our goal amounts . . . but it’s a comfort. Also, Indiegogo accepts PayPal as payments in the campaigns, and those payments come through immediately instead of after the campaign’s completion. This allows you to use funds generated by the preorder of the product to pay for creative costs and other costs during the campaign, which can be a big relief. I’ve looked at Pubslush and certainly like the platform. However, the truth is that when it comes to sheer numbers, Kickstarter and Indiegogo get a lot more traffic than Pubslush, and a decent chunk of our funds come from people who discover our campaign through the crowdfunding platforms themselves. Still, Pubslush is a great platform, and I hope it continues to grow.
Do you have a distributor for Dark Regions? Do you buy ISBNs for your books?
Yes and yes. We are now distributing our titles through Ingram Content Group. We are new to their catalog, so we’re still in the process of adding all of our currently available titles. However, if interested bookstores search for Dark Regions Press in the Ingram catalog, our titles should pop up. Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale and illustrated by Santiago Caruso has been selling particularly well through Ingram. Absolutely it’s a must to buy ISBNs. The price breaks from Bowker for these ISBNs are ridiculous, though, so we just jumped at 1,000 of them for $1,000. Otherwise you’re paying as much as $25.00 for an ISBN.
Were you prepared for taking over the press? Anything that surprised you after taking over the business? How did you come to take over the business? Were you already working for the company at the time?
I thought I was prepared, but honestly I had a lot to learn. Many things that I never dealt with I had to learn on my own, so I definitely made my fair share of mistakes. What surprised me was the sheer number of delays. It seems like everything takes longer than it should. For a while it drove me insane . . . but now it’s just . . . life. My dad was getting too stressed out by the business; I wanted to grow it, and he wanted to keep it smaller, so he handed it to me and, I went off. Like I said before, it was rough at the start, but I’m feeling really good about how far we’ve come. In 2014 the business more than doubled its revenue from what we made in 2013, and it showed a profit. 2015 should be even better.
Thanks, Brandon, for the questions, and I hope everyone keeps a look out for the new publications coming from Dark Regions Press. We have some exciting projects coming out this year, including titles from Richard Laymon, Brian Keene, Clive Barker, and more. Pay us a visit at DarkRegions.com.