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Pantheon Collective

ae_pantheonLocal publishing company brings a spirit of entrepreneurship and creative collaboration to the book industry
It seems an auspicious sign of the times that it started with a text message. A single question was relayed across the honeycombed cellular network from New Jersey to Santa Cruz in December of 2009: “What if [we] joined forces and created our own publishing company?”

Now, a mere year and a half later, the company is an entity, the first two books have been published and several more are slated to go to press in the next couple years. Stephanie Casher calls it the multiplier effect.

Casher, part owner in the Santa Cruz-based publishing company, Pantheon Collective, met her partners James W. Lewis and Omar Luqmaan-Harris in 2006 at the Black Writers’ Conference in Dallas, Texas. At the time, the three authors were in the process of shopping their unpublished manuscripts to agents and publishers.

 

“We had all been trying to get our books published for the longest time,” says Casher. “Over the years, we saw the industry change. As the economy tanks, publishers are less likely to invest in the untested or unknown.”

ae_pantheon2Among the trio’s frustrations with the traditional book publishing route was how long the process takes. Responses from editors and agents can take months—and, in one case, Stephanie received a response two years after she’d submitted a query.

Another problem that Casher encountered was that her book didn’t seem to fit neatly into a single marketing category. Slanted toward a college-age readership, her fiction is multicultural romance—but not with the fairy tale happy ending that formulaic romance requires.

“Editors would say, ‘it’s really great, but it doesn’t fit with our list,’” says the author. One editor even requested that she change her character’s race.

The three aspiring authors stayed in touch after that initial meeting in 2006 and met again a year later at a book expo in New York City. Over dinner in Times Square, they made a pact: If none of them had secured a book deal by 2010, they would come together to start their own publishing company. Casher received the text message from Luqmaan-Harris in December of 2009, just before the New Year.

“Do-it-yourself publishing and print-on-demand technology had started rising and we really started looking at it,” says Casher. “Why wait for someone else rather than be in charge from start to finish and maintain our creative control?”

And thus began Pantheon Collective. The first two books were published last year, “When Love isn’t Enough” by Casher, and “Sellout” by Lewis.

“We wanted to do it as an experiment,” said Casher. “We’re an author collective. By combining our resources, skills and knowledge, we have three times the promotion power, three times the creativity, three times the inspiration. We’ve always been very big on the multiplier effect.”

While Casher’s debut novel is a romance, Lewis’ can be considered African-American fiction and Luqmaan-Harris’ upcoming novel is a supernatural suspense, the partners hesitate to categorize the company as publishing a certain “type” of book.

“We don’t want to limit ourselves,” says Casher. “We’re more about the quality. At the beginning, we’ll have our key areas, but as we build our list we’ll diversify. Our themes are positive, multicultural fiction that is more genre-oriented than literary. We like the quick, easy, summer read.”

When the company first started, they received a question from an interested reader:

Do you only publish ‘Black books?’ Luqmaan-Harris was quick to respond, “No, we publish good books.”

ae_WLCoverFinalThough they have plans to open the company up to submissions in the near future, Casher says they began with their own books to “get the kinks out” as they learned the process of entering the book publishing industry.

“Before we open up the flood gates, we want to make sure everything is stable,” Casher explains. “Quality is the first thing. We’re trying to establish ourselves in the industry. It’s about longevity.” She adds that aspiring authors can sign up on their mailing list (pantheoncollective.com) so they will be among the first to know when the company is accepting manuscript submissions.

“We’re ambitious dreamers who are willing to work hard,” says Casher. “When we bring other authors on, it will be as much about the book as it will be about the spirit they bring to the process.”

When asked how a small, independent publishing company can hope to make it in this harsh economic climate—at a time when the publishing industry in general is hurting—Casher’s response is optimistic.

“The key to survival is flexibility. The reason the big publishers are having trouble is that they have been too slow to adjust their model to the e-book revolution. Kindle sales are outpacing everything else right now. Because we’re small, we can change with the market much more effectively than a large entity can. And we’re open to change because we started with the trial-and-error spirit of adventure.”

The partners have been writing about their adventures in the industry on their blog, which they tout as a literary reality show that is designed to take readers along during the trials and tribulations of building an independent publishing company from the ground up. One of their upcoming books slated for publication will be a non-fiction “How-To” book on starting your own publishing company, with the working title “From Authors to Entrepreneurs: TPC Presents ‘The Independent Publishing Plan.’”

Casher says their message is, “Yes, people of color can be successful authors and entrepreneurs. We went through a trend where the only ‘Black books’ being published were urban fiction, which perpetuates stereotypes. We’re very pro-positive imagery. We’re about being a model and inspiration for other small business owners, people of color and authors of color.”

Comments (4)Add Comment
...
written by Geraldine Solon, May 25, 2011
Great article!
Publishing Entrepreneurs
written by Dera, May 23, 2011
Congratulations on stepping out and taking a chance. I know you will be successful because you have the drive to make it work.
Self-Pubbed Authors Buck the Traditional Standards
written by Chanta Rand , May 21, 2011
Great article! I like the part about the key to survival being flexibility. There used to be a time when authors had to conform to the publisher's rules. Now, the rules have changed and more authors find themselves calling the shots and successfully marketing to a once largely ignored demographic. Thanks for sharing this article. It was very insightful.
Chanta Rand
Author of The Highest Bidder, Pharaoh's Desire, and Dirty Laundry
www.ChantaRand.com
A Brave New World
written by Alon Shalev, May 19, 2011
With the publishing industry going through such turmoil, these are brave people. Instead of sitting back and complaining as so many writers do, they are creating an exciting model. Good luck to them.
Alon Shalev

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