Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Dancing With Myself: KYLE MACRAE (Blasted Heathen) interviews KYLE MACRAE (Blasted Heathen)

Blasted Heath, like their name suggests, seems to have a scorched-earth policy. 

It wasn't enough for them to give out their entire launch output for nothing during their first week.  Now they're selling it all at the bargain price of 99p/99c - it's a one week offer, so I'd pop over to their site to pick up another slice of good fortune if I were you.

There's also the chance to pick up their new release for free if you go and like their Facebook page. 

How they're ever going to make real money with that kind of generosity is beyond me, but here's hoping.

KYLE: So, Smudge, just how insane do you have to be to launch a publishing business these days?

SMUDGE: Beyond bonkers, Kyle. Thanks for asking. But Al Guthrie told me it's easy to make lots of money in publishing.

KYLE: Really?

SMUDGE: No. But it's all his fault.

KYLE: How so?

SMUDGE: Well, I'd spent the past three years working on social media strategies with clients through my business, Blether Media. Back in February I was trying to figure out how to help authors use social channels for publicity and promotion, not least because I was writing my own novel and knew I'd have to do it myself one day. I was already aware of Al as a literary agent but when I saw the success he was having with his own self-publishing experiment – 50,000+ sales to date – I knew he was the hombre to hook.

KYLE: How did you meet?

SMUDGE: I stalked him.

KYLE: Uh huh.

SMUDGE: No, really. He didn't stand a chance. I camped out in Portobello, bugged his house, hacked his PC, drugged his latte, made a secret ally of his dog, and rewired his brain while he slept. He finally took the hint that I might be worth talking to, which led to a chat, a coffee and an exchange of ideas. It could have ended there…

But it didn't. Lots more coffee, many more ideas, and we finally figured that a full-service digital publishing business was the way to go. At which point, it was me on the hook. There was no going back. Damn his enthusiasm!

KYLE: What qualifies you for this? What do you know about publishing?

SMUDGE: Considerably more than I did six months ago! But that's fine. It's kinda cool being an outsider. No preconceptions and the freedom to look at a business model and say: well, that's fucked, let's try something different. Al was already doing that as an industry insider.

Meanwhile, one really useful experiment for me was asking a bunch of willing writers what they thought about digital opportunities. This was over at and I think it's still worth a browse (though like everything else it's currently on hold).

The key thing is that we're working with our authors. It's a partnership. That's the deal. And they have been to a man (and will be to a woman, soon) terrific at kick-starting Blasted Heath. It's a combined effort and will continue so. We're also enormously appreciative of all the goodwill towards what we're doing, mainly from Al's existing network. That kind of support is invaluable.  

KYLE: So how easy is it to set up a digital publishing business, Smudge? You just throw up a website, yeah? Sign up a few writers and screw them on their rights? Punt a few ePubs into the ether and see what happens?

SMUDGE: Ha! Setting up ANY business is always a challenge. At the logistical level alone, it takes months of preparation and graft. Meetings with bankers and accountants, endless form-filling, all the techie ecommerce stuff – that’s when your commitment is truly tested. Well, that and throwing your own money at the project; that's fairly testing too.

But beyond the logistics, we knew three things for sure: we had a phenomenal pool of talent available to us (just look at the brilliant authors we have onboard), we had ideas we believed in, and we had the drive to JFDI. So JFDI we did.

There's no question that the publishing industry is changing, and change is always the place to be. Preferably at the pointy end. I like the pointy end. Or the cutting edge. Always have. Even when it hurts.

KYLE: Pretty straightforward, then.

SMUDGE: Piece of piss. Truth is, you need to be prepared to set aside virtually everything else to get something like this off the ground. That was a relatively easy call for me. On the personal level, the first few months of this year were shit. Meltdown City. Not pretty, not pretty at all. To bounce back, I needed a new focus, a new project, a new business. So I climbed Mont Ventoux on my bike in July – a personal milestone, having bottled it in 2005 when I was younger (obv) and fitter – and threw myself into Blasted Heath. It meant downing tools at Blether Media and essentially living off my wife's goodwill, but that's the risk you take with a start-up.

KYLE: Is it risky?

SMUDGE: You shitting me? It's ALL risk. But I'm loving it. Nothing I'd rather be doing than working with writers and trying to do something exciting in publishing. We're only a few days into the live business and now the hard work really begins. This is a business, not a hobby. We're determined to make it work. Luckily, we're also determined to have fun. So screw the risk.

KYLE: What else are you up to?

SMUDGE: Not much. I'm working on the digital campaign for Bloody Scotland, an exciting new crime fiction festival in Stirling next September, and finally getting back to thinking about maybe planning to find the time to do some of my own writing. Elsewise it's Blasted Heath around the clock. 

KYLE: On that note, rumour has it that Mr Guthrie hasn't written a whole helluva lot these past few months, what with setting up Blasted Heath and all. How do you feel about disrupting the literary output of one of Scotland's finest writers?

SMUDGE: Not fussed. Like I said, it's all his fault.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting insight on you, Smudge. Blasted Heath is developing to be this really cool indie venue for writers. I see great things in the future for it.