Brannon Hollingsworth has taken a unique approach to the indie publishing game by starting a publishing cooperative with like-minded authors in order to pool their skills and publish quality fiction under a common banner: Four Fools Press.
An avid role-playing gamer, Brannon began his career writing fiction, articles, and designing games in the role-playing industry. Eventually, he was contracted by an RPG company to put together a short story anthology. He called on his writer friends to put that project together, and soon they found themselves pitching the idea for a second book, a mosaic novel of interconnected stories. That book, Skein of Shadows, was published by Dark Quest Books in June of 2011. Brannon followed up that project in December of 2011 with H2O, a Christian speculative fiction novel co-written by fellow writer Austin Boyd (published by AMG Publishing).
Following H2O, life happened. Brannon was eager to continue the story started in H2O, but personal and family concerns had waylaid him and his writing partner. It was around this time that Brannon started paying attention to the self-publishing industry. He read as much as he could on indie publishing on websites such as kboards (Writer’s Cafe), and the blogs of indie giants Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath.
“I knew that one of the critical things was building a backlist and continuing to put out quality releases,” Brannon says. “And so I began to put together an idea in my head, where, you know, if one guy couldn’t do it by himself, maybe a couple three guys could do it, or couple four guys could do it working in concert.”
Four Fools Press
So Brannon pulled together a group of like-minded writer friends — his alpha readers and co-collaborators — and founded Four Fools Press. Their objective: to collectively publish a high-quality new release each month by pooling the skills of author members.
Four Fools Press serves both as a publishing house/distributor, and as a mastermind group; author members offer the “first line of sanity check” by serving as a sounding board for each other. Members pitch project ideas to each other at monthly meetings, helping to shape their catalog of titles.
The way it works is each member provides a role: proofreader, editor, layout, web design, marketing, and so on. Each role has a specific percentage assigned to it, and members can participate based on their skill set and enthusiasm for the project. The author gets lion’s share; the next percentage tier covers the editor and art director; and the next percentage tier — slightly lower, but not by much — covers the proofreader, book layout, and marketing person.
In order to meet their objective for high-quality stories, there are established processes and steps that each role requires be completed and checked off before a title can be published. For example, proofreaders are required to do 2-4 passes and must read out loud. The editor has a certain number of steps that must be completed, as does the art director, the marketing person, et cetera.
Four Fools Press is an LLC that acts as distributor, and the author keeps their copyright. Percentages for production roles are worked out and payments issued through PayPal at their monthly meetings, allowing for the process to be transparent. New projects are also pitched at monthly meetings, allowing for members to volunteer participation based on enthusiasm for the project.
Brannon reports that despite the seeming complexity of the arrangement, they have a good group of like-minded individuals and a solid production process that keeps things on track and moving forward without disagreement.
Currently, Four Fools Press is focused on getting shorter titles out to meet their one-new-release-a-month production schedule; however, they are actively working towards eventually doing two releases a month; a novella or novel, and then something smaller, hopefully related to the longer piece.
Like most other authors, Brannon has a full plate: he’s running a publishing cooperative with an ambitious production schedule, he’s authoring his own projects, and he has a full family life (five kids, four of whom are home-schooled!). How does he get it all done?
“Make every moment count,” he says. “I think that is the key to be able to produce a large amount of stuff, is not to have any down moments.”
Brannon tells of the time back in college when he was laid up in bed immobile for six weeks with a broken leg. He couldn’t do anything but watch time go by as nothing was getting done, and he decided then and there that he wasn’t going to let moments pass him by that he couldn’t turn into something productive.
“You know, for me, 15 free minutes is like a wonderful thing. You know, I can go and I can write or outline a scene for my next novella in, you know, 15 minutes. I can do some character development work. I can edit, you know, two pages of, you know, one of my friends’ stories or something like that.”
But he also stresses the importance of balancing work with the more important stuff in life, like family, and he makes a conscious effort to check in with himself to see if his time is being spent well. Sometimes it could be he’s spending too much time with writing and needs to shift his focus on his family. With family, he says, “you’re building something bigger, you’re building something that’s much more important than you will ever be. So I think you’re right, it’s about being able to control that time and choose what’s best for this moment.”
What’s the Next Big Thing?
Brannon released the first book in his new series, The Truth is Out There (Tenet’s Tales Book 0), in March of this year, a project he refers to as “Dresden Files with a twist.” It is his current biggest passion, he says, and he has six or seven upcoming titles planned.
As for Four Fools Press, he reports that there may be an author or two joining their ranks soon, and they will continue to work hard building up their catalog and their reputation for high-quality works of fiction.
On collaboration: “One of the things I’ve always loved is collaboration. I love, love, love working with other people. I love the synergy that happens when you get a couple people in the room and you’re working on a story idea together, and how new ideas blossom in that friction in between the creative conversations.”
The philosophy behind Four Fools Press: “High tides raise all boats.”
On time management: “Make every moment count.”
On being Southern: “Being patient is part of being Southern.”
- Do you know how to format EPUBs or design WordPress sites? Are you an especially eagle-eyed proofreader or astute editor? Reach out in your writer communities and forums and offer to trade services for the ones that you need.
- Evaluate your systems. The tasks required of an indie author/publisher are myriad and seemingly endless. In order to keep your releases at a high quality, consider your production system and how you can make it both consistent and better. Brannon’s collective has established set production tasks that ensures that each title they put out is their very best.
- Practice outreach. Say hi to folks in your online communities. Offer commiseration and encouragement. And make it a practice to contact authors and other professionals in the indie publishing sphere that you admire and send a good word. “Hey, I really enjoyed your book…or podcast…or book design….” You never know where such relationships will lead you.
- Does the idea of working within a publishing cooperative alongside other authors sound to you like both a dream and a huge relief? Start your own publishing cooperative with like-minded fellow authors, or check out Four Fools Press and see if you and your work would be a fit.
What are your thoughts on publishing cooperatives? Would you consider giving up percentages of your sales for the production of your books to be handled collectively by enthusiastic collaborators, or do you prefer the indie in indie publishing? Do you think the industry will see more publishing collectives forming between authors?
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