Interview: Stephen Roxburgh on namelos: A Few Good Books

You last visited Cynsations in Feb. 2008 to talk about Boyds Mills and Front Street. Could you update readers on both and any changes in your role?

Time and tide wait for no man: I am no longer affiliated with Boyds Mills Press or Front Street. In addition to rowing the namelos skiff, I offer workshops on “Editing for Writers” through the Highlights Foundation, and I am on the faculty of this summer’s Writers Workshop at Chautauqua.

Congratulations on the launch of namelos: A Few Good Books! Could you give us an overview of what it is? What services does namelos offer?

namelos is a consortium of publishing professionals with decades of experience in editing, design, art direction, subsidiary rights, sales, and marketing.

Essentially, we identify writers and artists who have projects we think are publishable and work with them to make that happen.

Our primary service is editorial development. We support that on every level from design and art direction to marketing, publicity and promotion, and subsidiary rights. In a nutshell, we do everything a publisher does except manufacture, warehouse, and distribute books.

How does namelos work with writers and illustrators, agents, and publishers respectively? Why is it especially useful to each group? In each case, could you also give us a representative scenario for what takes place?

writers and illustrators

Here’s how we work with writers and artists.

The first step is an evaluation that enables us to determine if the project has merit or viability. If not, i.e., if we feel it is not a viable project, we’ll suggest ways that the writer might improve it and move forward, but we won’t continue to work with the author on that project.

If the project has merit and viability, we’ll say so and give some suggestions for how to develop it. The author can then proceed as she sees fit. If she wants to continue to work with us, we will discuss the next level, what goal we see, and what the cost will be.

In some cases this might be a phone conversation about the project, or it might be an assessment of a full draft of a novel with a complete editorial workup, just like what an author under contract receives from her editor when she submits a draft of a project.

Services will be incremental; each level will be assessed and priced. We won’t move to the next level unless we feel the previous level was successfully achieved. The goal is not to take money for work on projects that have no future potential for publication or to work beyond a substantially productive point.

When we get a project to the point that it is, in our opinion, publishable, we will give the author guidelines for presenting it to the industry, i.e., to agents and editors.

In summary, we are the bridge between an author with a project that needs work and that same author with a publishable project ready to be handled by an agent or sold to a publisher.


Agents need publishable projects to represent, and at namelos we develop projects. Successful agents are enormously busy staying in touch with the industry and tending to their clients’ business. Few have time for the kind of sustained editorial development that many authors need to make their work publishable.

Our services are a natural and often necessary prerequisite for acquiring an agent.

Agents will direct clients to namelos for editorial development, and namelos will deliver publishable projects to agents.


Publishers have a voracious need for good books to publish.

Increasingly, their resources are devoted to the sales and marketing end of the process. Development is time-consuming and expensive.

In these difficult times, publishers are reducing staff, laying off editors, art directors, designers, and all sorts of support staff. But they still need books.

namelos is a source for books and for support with virtually every aspect of the publishing process. With in-house staff reductions and the consequent strain on resources, we can supplement publishers’ efforts for a fraction of the cost of permanent in-house staff.

Is namelos in the business of connecting projects by writers and illustrators to publishers? If so, how do you work differently than literary agents?

Our goal is to see that books we develop are well published, but our primary service is editorial development, not author representation. We will do whatever we can to see that our clients’ projects get published. In some cases that will mean helping the author or artist find representation with an agent. In other cases it will mean helping the author or artist get the project directly into the hands of an editor.

We are very well connected with agents, editors, and publishers, and we have considerable experience and credibility. The specific circumstances of each author and project will dictate the path it takes to publication.

Is it your vision that all writers and illustrators who seek publication will achieve it–either through independent or traditional publishing–with your help? Why or why not?

No. Most projects we evaluate aren’t publishable, and it would be unconscionable to pretend they are. We will tell our clients the truth as we see it, and we will not try to develop any project that we feel isn’t publishable.

Of course, if we develop a project there are no guarantees that it will find either an agent or a publisher, but if it doesn’t, it won’t be through lack of effort on our part.

What do you offer of particular interest to writers or illustrators seeking to publish independently?

First and foremost, we offer an honest appraisal of their work, its merit and its viability. Most self-published books fail because they weren’t good enough to merit publication in the first place, not because they were self-published.

If we agree to work with you, we bring a vast amount of experience in helping authors and artists make their work the best it can be. That’s the first step.

Once that has been achieved, the channels of publication are becoming increasingly varied. Technology has given us many more options, ranging from print-on-demand to e-books. Distribution channels have developed that allow individuals more possibilities to deliver their work to the public. Finally, the Internet offers opportunities for niche marketing at costs that an individual can manage.

However, publishing independently is right only for people who understand what they are getting into and who are properly motivated. For those few people, there is enormous potential. It is the new frontier.

Your website indicates that you’re available to work on marketing with self-published authors and publishing companies. How about authors whose books are published traditionally? Are you able to work in conjunction with their house’s efforts, and if so, how do you approach that?

Marketing books (and authors, for that matter) is like making omelets: it’s best done one at a time. The larger publishing houses have a great many books to promote with limited in-house resources, and not all of the books get the same attention. Some books need niche marketing, supplementary to the primary efforts provided by the publisher. We can help.

We know how to promote authors and their books. We can get the books into the hands of the right people. We also help authors promote themselves: we can build low-cost websites and show authors how to maintain them, compose press releases and promotional pieces, manage targeted (snail and electronic) mailings, etc., etc., etc.

None of this is rocket science, but it helps if you know which strategies are productive and which are a waste of time and money. We also are well connected in the marketplace.

Years of selling and marketing books have put us in touch with a wide array of teachers, reviewers, and booksellers—all people interested in books.

Who are the people behind namelos, and what does each of them bring to the mix?

namelos is a team that has worked together for many years, publishing a few good books. We bring experience, skill, enthusiasm, commitment, and integrity to the work. Our individual backgrounds and areas of expertise are catalogued on our website under “About Us.”

What was your initial inspiration for founding namelos?

Opportunity and a strong sense of the growing need for an alternative to the traditional publishing model. There are many cracks appearing across the face of our industry. We can fill some of those cracks if we remain flexible, reasonable, fair, and humble.

Why is this the right time for such a new approach?

There is a wide gap between the authors and artists who need help developing their work, and the availability of help from the industry that depends on them.

That gap is getting larger as publishers focus more and more on enormously successful franchises, seemingly oblivious to the fact that very few authors or artists start off fabulously successful. Most develop over time. I know there are exceptions. They prove the rule.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The namelos model shifts the initial financial burden to authors and illustrators. Many will deplore this. We lament it, but see it as inevitable.

Already authors spend a lot of time and money going to conferences, workshops, correspondence courses, and graduate programs seeking editorial guidance. We cut to the chase, offering concentrated and immediately practical guidance.

The established publishing model has become exclusive: it serves fewer and fewer authors and artists even as the opportunities for reaching a public are expanding at a phenomenal rate.

We hope to serve a new model, an emerging publishing field that reflects the diversity and manifold talents of an array of authors and artists presenting their best work directly to their audience in a wide variety of ways and means.