Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Namelos Guest Authors: A Different Kind of Publisher

As I mentioned last Friday, I’m hosting a group of namelos authors for the next few weeks. Here they discuss how they got involved with namelos, a relatively new player in the publishing industry with some unusual practices.

1) How did your book come to the attention of Stephen Roxburgh and become a namelos title?

SHANNON: I met Stephen at a Highlights Workshop for editing picture books. I viewed myself as a picture book writer at that point although I’d written a few novels. Our personalities clicked. I liked his direct style and sense of humor and after the workshop ended we kept in touch. Namelos doesn’t publish picture books so he asked me to send a novel. THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS became a namelos title about a year after that.

CAROL: When I was an editor at Front Street/Cricket Books in Chicago, Stephen was our consultant and mentor in Asheville, North Carolina, and he sat in on our editorial meetings by phone. Long before we met in person, I came to know him as this deep, calm voice of wisdom coming out of the speaker phone in the middle of the conference table. And as I got to know his Front Street list, I decided that if I ever wrote a children’s book, I wanted to write it for him.

SHANNON: You’re right. . . he does have a calming voice.

NANCY: NO-NAME BABY is also a Whole Novel Workshop at Highlights success story. I was shaking as I sat down across from Stephen Roxburgh ready to hear his response to my manuscript. I thought he might say something like “Just what makes you think you can write?” Instead he said something like this: “This story made me cry. It has heart.” So I cried. Stephen Roxburgh is amazing at taking a rough piece of “coal” and asking the questions that give one courage to dig in to find the diamond, then polish it.

ALINA: Aw, Nancy, what a lovely response he gave you! As for me, I met Stephen when he was a faculty member at the annual Indiana SCBWI conference in September of 2010. At the end of the event, we had an open mic where I read from my novel-in-progress, RAPE GIRL. Afterward Stephen found me and said something nearly as wonderful as what he said to Nancy: “That was really good! I’d like to see that when you’re finished.” Of course, that lit a fire under me to finally complete my book. I sent it to him that December and a week later he emailed to arrange a phone call—which ended very well.

SHEILA: I think I can claim to have “met” Stephen before any of the others. Way back in the early 1990s, maybe 1992, I saw him on a panel at an American Library Association conference. From then on, he was my top choice for editor. He became acquainted with my work when Front Street/Cricket Books published one of my books, so when I submitted WAITING TO FORGET to be critiqued at namelos, he was interested, and within a few weeks, I’d signed a contract.

2) If you’ve worked with other publishers, how has namelos been different?

SHANNON: Well, they didn’t send me a rejection letter.

ALINA: Ba-dum-bum-CHING! I like that. This is also the difference I enjoyed most.

SHANNON: Honestly, I think what I’ve appreciated most is the care and concern for the work itself. I’ve spent time with other publishers editing manuscripts that in the end didn’t get purchased because sales projections didn’t come in as expected. If namelos believes in the story, I don’t think anyone discusses sales projections.

CAROL: Exactly. I wrote EDDIE’S WAR for Front Street, but it took so long that when it was finished there was this namelos “thing” instead. When I was deciding whether to sign, Stephen asked me “What do you want most? If you want big advances and to have lunch with your editor in New York, that’s not what we’re about.” Namelos is about excellent literature and excellent editorial support; there’s no pulp in the list. (But I added a clause to my contract called “Alimentary Obligation”: i.e, if Stephen and I are ever in New York City at the same time, he has to buy me lunch.)

ALINA: Why did I not think of that clause? I need such a clause! You’re brilliant, Carol. My only book before my namelos title was a picture book for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which was hardly traditional. But I can say that working with namelos has been entirely different from the experiences I’ve heard about from friends working with Big 6 publishers. When I was revising my novel and had a question, Stephen would usually email me an answer within minutes. I’m a mom with young kids and a limited amount of writing time. An open line of communication really helped me make the most of it.

NANCY: Working with Stephen as editor and namelos as publisher has been the dream experience that I think most writers yearn for. He cares about one’s manuscript and making it the best story possible. He is insightful and articulates his concerns without apologies but with a sense of “yes you can fix this.” He listens and remains patient with one’s revision process regardless how slow that might be. He cares, bottom line.

SHEILA: The big presses I’ve worked with have lacked the sense of family that namelos provides. The other small presses that have published my books haven’t had the kind of recognition that comes with Roxburgh’s name.

3) What are some of the best features of a small independent company such as namelos?

CAROL: I agree with Alina: I have friends who wait literally weeks, biting their nails, for a response from their editors and agents. Once—and only once—I waited a week for a reply from Stephen. I’m not proud of this, but I cried (“He doesn’t like me anymore! He thinks my book stinks!”). Then I wrote again and 10 minutes later he replied with apologies: he simply hadn’t read my first note as asking for a reply.

NANCY: Working with namelos has been like working with a family of perfectionistic, brilliant professionals. Of course I did have to promise rhubarb pie for “just desserts!”

ALINA: Mmm, desserts. I’d say that one of the best features is that there is no shroud of mystery surrounding namelos. Everything is straightforward. Even the contract is written in plain language. There are no bosses of bosses to rule us all enigmatically from on high. No committees to throw in monkey-wrenches just when you think you’ve almost made it. Everyone at namelos is a real, accessible, person invested in making each of our books the best they can be.

CAROL: Oh—and the contract? It’s maybe 4 pages and he emailed it the same day I said yes over the phone. My friend waited six months for a 30-page contract from FSG, which she had to sign and send back in triplicate: 120 pages of contract!

SHANNON: Everything feels so personal. As Sheila and Nancy have said, it does feel like family. Stephen was so quick to respond, to answer questions and to encourage when needed. I had wonderful email exchanges with my copyeditor as well as the cover designer. All were so complimentary about the book. It feels like a passion for everyone involved, to create great books, not simply a job.

SHEILA: I agree with everyone’s comments. I especially like having direct contact with the people in charge of design, copyediting, and publicity. Try that with Random House!

4) Did you all know each other before you signed books with namelos?

ALINA: No, but I immediately asked Stephen to introduce me to his other authors when I signed my contract. Carol and I spoke on the phone days later and then we started an email group with the others after that.

SHANNON: I’ve spent time with Nancy at a workshop, she’s terrific! I’m hoping for a namelos writing retreat one of these days so we can all share a glass of wine. For now, email will have to do.

CAROL: When I was at Cricket Books, we published Sheila’s THE SHADOWED UNICORN. I wasn’t her editor, and I didn’t meet her then, but I met her later at local author events. The others I didn’t know before.

SHANNON: We’ve become a great support for each other now. Talking at least once a week over email. We read each other’s work, encourage, answer questions, and share marketing tips.

SHEILA: Most of us have yet to chat face-to-face. I first met Carol as an editor, so it’s been fun getting to know her as an author. (Yes, there is a difference!) Our email group has grown sort of organically and is just one way namelos authors have to stay connected. Stephen has set up a Facebook page where everyone in the namelos family can exchange comments. Actually that page is open to anyone who’s interested, so join us on Facebook or check out all the namelos books at

NANCY: We “came together” as strangers with the common experience of being a namelos author. Working together to get the word out about each other’s books and about namelos has been better than terrific.

Chris says: Wow, can you feel the love? I’m sure some of you are going to want to run out and check namelos submissions guidelines. However, namelos works a bit differently in that way as well. You can sign up for a paid manuscript evaluation service, where they, according to the website, “provide a detailed critique in a written response.” (Info on their services here). And from the stories above, authors do connect through conferences. However, you won’t find an option for free direct queries or submissions.

Thanks to the namelos authors for sharing their stories. In the next few weeks, each one will post individually in more detail.


  1. Another soon-to-be namelos author here. I echo all of the sentiments expressed, and I too met Stephen at a Whole Novel Workshop through the Highlights Foundation.

  2. Just from reading the above, it seems the major criterion for signing with this publisher is meeting Stephen! A little confusing as to whether they are even looking for other authors, and what that author must do to connect. Do they connect simply from having a manuscript critiqued?

  3. Jodi, that's my impression -- to "submit" to the publisher, you have to pay for a critique (or meet an editor at a conference). Generally that's a warning sign and authors are advised not to submit to publishers that charge reading fees. But Stephen is a well-respected name in the industry, and apparently you do get a valuable critique, whether or not they decide to take on your book. I'm not sure it's the right path for everyone, or for me, but it's an option and has obviously worked out for some of these writers.

  4. Hi Nancy. Hi Shannon. Great to see so many talented writers here. Great interview, Chris. Thanks for posting this.

  5. A reading fee would be a fee to read and then accept or reject a manuscript. Yes namelos is a closed house. Just like most houses are these days, and not open to general submission. Stephen's critique services are a separate thing, similar to what Emma Dryden ( and other respected editors offer. The fact that he offers those services and is also a publisher, seems to confuse people. What you would be paying for from him, if you chose to use that paid service, would be detailed editorial feedback from a longtime publisher of award-winning books.

    Stephen finds most of his books at conferences and events and via referral which means he's actively looking for them when he travels to speak. You and I both know from our SCBWI work, Chris, that the open invitation editors offer at conferences are usually met with a big, fat silence to all submissions or blanket, non-personalized form letters afterward. Closed houses are pretty much closed. Yes, there are success stories, but most are of the signing-with-an-agent variety. I'm not sure any editors are going into events looking for good books as much as Stephen does.

    So, I guess I'm saying, if you get the chance to meet him at an event, grab it. The same way you would for any other editor you admire, who isn't open to unsolicited manuscripts.

  6. Hi, everyone--

    Something else we haven't even touched on is the publishing model that namelos uses, in which the writers are full partners financially. The royalties are 50% from the first book, and for all subrights sales, but we also share some costs. (Not overhead--just the initial production costs.) I want to stress that the writers NEVER owe or pay anything. If our book doesn't sell, we lose nothing. Namelos takes all the risk. But once the book earns out its costs, the 50% royalty kicks in.

    Also, if Stephen learns of your book from a paid critique and offers to buy it, he refunds the critique fee.

  7. Sorry my comment above was a little disjointed and I neglected to say hello. I'm posting from my phone and couldn't go back to re-read. *waves at everyone* :)

    To reiterate Carol's comment, we don't pay any money. We just don't start earning royalties until the shared costs have been covered.

  8. I've been wondering just what namelos is. Vanity press? Hybrid traditional publisher? What? I'm still not really sure, but what I found when I read 'Eddie's War' this week is that the quality is way above anything you'd find with a simple vanity press. It was very good, and reminded me a lot of Richard Peck's works. Great book. It raised my opinion of namelos at the same time.

  9. Carol and Alina, thanks for clarifying. Even from the website it was hard to tell exactly how things work. I would say this is definitely not a "vanity press" -- those accept every work submitted to them, so long as the author pays for publication. Hybrid suggests a mix of two things, and I'm not sure namelos is that either. More like it's a brand-new thing. It's not the only one of its kind, as some other small presses seem to have that kind of financial deal with writers (though the specific numbers vary). Most of those others are e-book first or e-book only, though, and largely targeted at adult genre fiction.

    My opinion would be, if you want a good critique from a professional, consider arranging a critique, but don't expect it to lead to publication. Pay for the feedback, not for access, to avoid disappointment. If you think namelos is a perfect fit for your book and your book is ready to go, see if you can meet Stephen at a conference, which may be more cost effective than getting a critique (depending on travel costs), and you may get other benefits from a conference as well.

  10. Beth, thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed Eddie's War.

    Stephen Roxburgh is only interested in good fiction. He has a huge reputation to protect--this is a man who edited Roald Dahl and Madeleine L'Engle in his days at FSG. His books have won nine National Book Award nominations and every other honor in children's books. He is in no way, shape, or form a vanity publisher.

    Vanity presses can't get their books reviewed in Horn Book, or get nominated for major awards. namelos books are winning lots of honors and appearing in all the review journals that librarians and teachers use to buy books.

    Stephen's passion is to edit and publish quiet, literary books that would probably not be commercial enough to be published by a conventional publisher.

    Chris, your comment is exactly right. Stephen Roxburgh would say that namelos IS Front Street (his previous company, which did conventional publishing of children's literary fiction) but in an entirely new form. It's very unusual that a non-vanity publisher would follow this model, but we're all hoping that more and more "respectable" publishers will follow it, because it makes sense for books like ours that would probably not sell enough copies to remain in print conventionally.

    It's a comfort to me that Eddie's War will never go out of print.

  11. In my opinion, namelos is a work-in-progress. But it is not, nor ever has been, a vanity press. At one point, when SCBWI was still uncertain about granting namelos their stamp of approval, Stephen Roxburgh made a comment to me that was something like, "The only vanity involved is my own." In other words, he has a lot of self confidence in his ability to choose what he considers "a few good books."

  12. namelos sounds extremely interesting. I'll keep it in my bookmark bar for future reference, just in case.

  13. Hello from another namelos author, Nancy Bo Flood. Two of my books are "namelos" books, Warriors in the Crossfire was published by Frontstreet-BoydsMills Press when Frontstreet was part of BoydsMills and Stephen Roxburgh was the senior editor. The submission - acquisition process was the same as it is at any traditional publishing house.

    My second novel, No-Name Baby, was acquired by namelos but the submssion- acquisition -revision - design - publication process was similar. Important differences are the ones described in this series of interviews with namelos authors: personal contact with one of the namelos staff (Joy Neaves, Carolyn Coman, Karen Klockner, etc); personal communication that gets the revision process rolling; full design of book and covers; marketing which includes submission to major review sources; electronic publication with POD Print on demand availability of hard copy books; distribution via internet. Thus the manuscript - to - book process is streamlined and electronic which decreases costs. It's a new publishing model but it is not a vanity press model which basically is paying for publication - no editing, no design, no marketing, no distribution. I hope this helps. I agree, it is confusing to understand the many changes happening today. Nancy Bo Flood

  14. a PS from Nancy Bo Flood I decided to simply ask Stephen Roxburgh what the submission policy is for namelos. The following is his reply (the next morning):
    "Our evaluation service is the channel we have established for submissions. Most people object to the fact that there is a fee, and I understand that. They should understand that they get a detailed editorial response (usually 1000-1500 words), more often than not written by me, in two weeks. Their book is considered for publication, and if we go on to offer a contract, the evaluation fee is refunded."