Friday, 22 January 2021

[Interview] Michael Esola - Entering the Primal Era of Publishing

Are you an author of killer monster stories with bite? You might fancy yourself as the next Steve Alten or have a story that will make 'Jurassic Park' look like Knott's Berry Farm on a rainy day. If you're looking for a publisher to breathe life into your monstrous creation look no further than American publisher 'Primal Publishing'. Everything from  dinosaurs, genetically engineered mutants, to ancient creatures thought to be extinct make up 'Primal Publishing's' library of 'prehistoric thrillers'. The publisher was founded by Michael Esola, himself an author enthused by paleontology, giving a platform to his work and those of other writers creating stories with plenty of teeth, claws and not to mention lots of people being eaten. 

Hailing from San Francisco, California Michael had a very different career path graduating college in 2004 and earning a master's degree in Sport Management. Michael searched for the dream job of Athletic career, a dream who pursued or many years. With very little in the way athletic director roles available Michael began earning a living as a school PE teacher. During that time, in 2007 Michael started writing self - help books, before moving onto fiction writing with his first book ‘The Ice Gorilla’. I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael about his foray into the world of 'prehistoric thrillers' and the founding of his publishing enterprise that is flourishing despite the Covid-19 Pandemic and the economic challenges it created. I talked to Michael about his published work, plans for growth, and the idea for his creature feature novel debut.

It actually started off as a screenplay. I worked on it with a friend of mine who had written one previously and successfully sold it to Hollywood. Unfortunately it wasn't turned into a movie but he had sold it, so we decided write this screenplay, which we did and pitched it to the studios. Sadly there was no interest in it, and the partnership didn't go any further. I then took the screenplay, and turned into book, ‘The Ice Gorilla”. It was a very raw introduction into writing novels but I am glad I wrote and published it because over the years it managed to sell just about 7000 copies. It’s had a decent life, though it’s not a great book since it's a very early book of mine but it’s done well. I’ve always loved ‘Jurassic Park’ and books like that and so I decided that I was going to write more books about monsters, creatures, basically animals that were thought to be extinct but are alive today. I dedicated myself to writing those kinds of books. Then last year my wife offered me the opportunity to just go full time writing, to start earning money. She’s currently working part time, I stopped working last year and set up ‘Primal Publishing’ which I’ve been running full time since.
The company is made up mainly of my wife and I, with outsourced independent contractors making up the rest of the team. My wife does help me edit the books, but I send some off to a smaller team of two people that I hire for editing work. We also have a solid graphic artist working for us who's actually a paleo artist so he knows a lot about dinosaurs and animals, he's not a palaeontologist by trade but he has a good working knowledge of them. Also on the team we have a couple of narrators for our audiobooks. This year we started publishing on ACX, a self publishing site for audio books and we’ve been using them for my books but also for all of our authors. As well as publishing books, I've also written a small publication called ‘Prehistoric Magazine’. It's an online magazine that comes out three times a year and I've been running it for about five years now. When I first started building this back in 2016 I didn’t have ‘Primal Publishing’ so I would I try and tie my own books in with the magazine to promote the books which I still do. To give you an example we have an issue coming out on December 31st. I decided to make our first 'Primal Publishing' book 'Remnant' the official cover for the December issue. We offer free advertising space authors and so it's a great way to meet new writers as well as a nice marketing vehicle.
Sounds good. What types of books do you write and publish? I call them 'prehistoric thrillers', anything with dinosaurs, monsters and plenty of people getting eaten. In fact over the last eight years I have not read any other types of books. These include Michael Crichton's ‘Jurassic Park’ (read it three times) also ‘Congo’, and ‘Sphere’ both written by Crichton, a lot of James Rollins books, basically any book that fits this creature theme I've read, and I always try to learn from them. Two years ago when I decided to set up 'Primal' it was to build a business so I could earn more of a living out of it. I decided to open myself up to other people, and this year (2020) we accepted our first manuscript called ‘Remnant’.which will be out on 31 December, and since then we signed another writer. That book will be published in April. I am also in talks with two more authors so all in all we’re hoping to have four books out at least in 2021. I’ll still continue writing my own books, and working one at the moment which should be out later in the year. For now we're focusing on prehistoric thrillers and it’s a small niche but draws a lot of interest. I don't know if you've ever heard of ‘Severed Press’ but they release a lot of titles in this genre. There's plenty of people writing these types of books, and there's plenty of readers who enjoy them. There certain is. What is it about palaeontology and prehistoric thrillers that you find fascinating to the point that you want to not only write about it but actually publish more of that kind of fiction. What's the draw for you? Ever since I was a kid I was always into dinosaurs, it was a fascination that never went away. In college I looked into being a palaeontologist, I thought maybe I can take that route. Towards the end of my senior year I helped out and worked in a couple of labs. It just didn't work out I mean let’s face it I am not great at science or chemistry even maths and you had to be proficient in those subjects. Yet I still had a big interest in the field so I decided to write books as a way of continuing my interest in the subject.

When I sit down to write a book I always work on a story I want to see as a movie. There're plenty of movies and so many movie ideas I'd love to see brought to the big screen but Hollywood is so hesitant to take a chance on unknowns, and so these kinds of films almost never get made. Bringing prehistoric creatures back to life is what I love to do, it’s what I focus on. I've even approached some independent film studios to see if I can get them interested in adapting some of the titles. I haven't managed to convince anyone yet so I just go back to my books but my goal is still to have a book made into a movie. It's a massive goal, it hasn’t come true yet but the more connections I make with people in the business I am hoping it will happen. In the meantime I continue to sit down and write the books that I would like to see made into a movie.

Hope you succeed. Aside from the pandemic What has been one of the challenges that you faced in setting up a new venture and how have you overcome those challenges?

My first initial shock was simply figuring out how to balance my own writing with handling other people's projects. Yes ‘Primal Publishing’ is small but the pressure is there. I feel pressure to make the offers, and deliver on them to make money for myself sure but also for the writers. I am conscious of the time it takes from reading the books, to putting in the offers, delivering a good cover, editing, writing a great description - a lot of work goes into publishing a book. We have a publishing timeline line which we give to the authors and so there’s the pressure to meet that timeline and do a really good job. The second challenge is always marketing, getting the word out on all these books. When we released our first book ‘Remnant’ on 31st December I was working on to promote the book right up to the last minute. I have to get the December issue of ‘Prehistoric Magazine’ done so it can go out to subscribers. Then comes the big pitch by email showcasing our first book from ‘Primal Publishing.’ I've also purchased a dinosaur themed YouTube channel last year for only $1,000 with 20,000 subscribers and that offers us a way  to continue  marketing our books. 

Okay, well, let's move on to the challenge that has been facing us all. Have you been weathering the challenges of the COVID pandemic?

Easy answer is very little. I haven't  noticed a decline in my own personal book sales, and we hadn’t had a book out yet, 'Remnant' as I've said before is our first. Interestingly I’ve been speaking with other  business people in the past and they’ve said that a pandemic (or even recession) is actually the best time to launch your business because more people will work for you for cheaper, and there's just more opportunities since fewer people are launching things. There are people in retreat rather than attack mode. For me, like I said I haven’t seen a decline in any book sales per se. There’s still an opportunity for artists to get their work out because people are home with little to do so they're reading - they have a big captive audience of people that really can't do anything or can’t go anywhere because you’re quarantining. People are buying books to pass so actually we haven’t really been affected too badly by the pandemic. 

That’s good to hear. So, I know it's a bit early, early to say but it sounds like you're doing well.  Have you thought about how you'd like to expand Primal Publishing?

Right now just to get more books, to aggressively go out and find authors, make them offers and generally get the word out about ‘Primal Publishing’. Maybe we might expand into non-fiction, and maybe graphic novels. Some of our writers have said they’d like to write sequels to their work so the pressure is there to deliver sales so we can create a market for those sequels.

And who knows maybe you'll discover the new Steve Alten.

I'd love to. I would even pick it up today you know someone's got to be out there that's gonna write the next 'Meg'. You never know.

Absolutely. You've obviously achieved quite a lot in a challenging environment. What would your advice be to some aspiring writers and aspirational entrepreneurs, thinking about taking the plunge, especially in the middle of a pandemic?

It’s important to set aside  a certain amount of time each day, and make sure you sit down and work on those projects. I've never really been someone to sit down and write all day and then I emerge 10 hours later with a masterpiece. So I set aside a few hours a day, however long I need to work on it. I think the main thing people need to do is to just commit. Before your  book is even a bad book you have to have a manuscript completed so use that time you set aside to get something completed. We all talk about doing something only it gets put on the backburner - we say to ourselves ‘Oh I'll do it one day.” Sit down and look at it today. Sure you're going to run into problems but hopefully you get it done.  Also be adaptable, even right now during this pandemic because. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.When I get uncomfortable, and I think I have too many projects going on. I'm going to go out and try and get someone else. I take a Kobe Bryant mindset that I'm just going to go out there and get more. The only way to grow is to keep getting more and more uncomfortable and putting yourself in a position of discomfort. It's uncomfortable, having all these books, weighing you down and knowing that authors are depending on you so I'm just gonna keep pushing it. 

'Remnant' by L D Whitney is available to buy from all good stockists
For more details about Primal Publishing visit their website

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again Ramon. Enjoyed the interview and talking to you. -Mike Esola