Down & Out Books: A Labor of Love

by Abby Gilman

Eric Campbell is the founder and executive editor for the Tampa-based publishing company Down & Out Books, a publishing house dedicated to bringing new life to crime authors that have gone out of print but are still relevant today.

The title Down & Out Books reflects the type of writing that Campbell enjoyed reading and wanted to publish. The crime fiction and noir novels that Campbell prints is known for its dark themes, skeptical views of society and cynical thoughts of the human soul.

Down & Out Books website

Campbell was not always involved in the publishing world though. He worked in the health care industry for over 20 years with several senior-level financial roles in health plans and large medical groups. However, these roles came with an inordinate amount of stress for him and held him back from pursuing his true passion. To relieve this stress and escape, he read crime fiction.

About 10 years ago, he had an opportunity to invest in a publishing company and be the part-time chief financial officer for it. The company was of a “traditional model” meaning it dealt with a lot of money advancement offers for authors, print and warehouse books and accept returns. This type of publishing company requires a lot of cash-flows and money availability which is incredibly hard to do in the beginning. Campbell and his partners decided that the best financial option was to sell the company.

“But I still had an itch to publish “lost” authors,” said Campbell. “That is authors that were no longer being published. So, in May 2011, I started Down & Out Books.”

Down & Out Books is a print-on-demand publisher. This means that if you order a book anywhere, the book is printed and shipped. In today’s publishing environment, this style best benefits the company and authors in a business aspect.

“In the short time that I’ve been in the industry, e-books continue to be a large percentage of sales,” said Campbell. “I’ve seen print sales starting to creep up, but I don’t expect that to climb much more.”

According to Nielsen’s PubTrack Digital report, total e-book sales were 162 million in 2017 which was a 10 percent decline from the previous year.

“This isn’t a comeback story for print and shouldn’t be considered evidence of a waning public interest in e-books,” Forbes contributor Adam Rowe said. “The fact that traditionally published e-book sales fell 10 percent last year isn’t the full picture.”

Through this study, it shows that the reason and reoccurring theme for the decline and incline of books sales strictly come down to the pricing.

Down & Out Books only has two employees, Campbell and an associate editor/production coordinator that works alongside Campbell. With Down & Out Books consisting of minimal staff, that leaves Campbell with most of the work to complete himself.

His duties consist of: evaluating manuscripts, coordinating cover designs, edits, print layouts, e-book layouts; downloading monthly sales reports from eight sales platforms; determining what authors are due payments; and many other things. From his lengthy list of tasks, it seems like Down & Out Book is almost a one-man show.

Say Campbell receives a hundred manuscripts, he can typically knock it down to 25 just by reading the first few paragraphs. He then goes on to send those top manuscripts to three people to read the first 30 pages or so. Those people provide a score to five questions that are later compared to each other to determine which manuscripts he will read in full.

“There may be seven manuscripts that get to this stage,” said Campbell. “Once these seven are read, then a similar scoring process happens and maybe two to four end up being something I’d like to publish.”

The publishing process is a long one and does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of stamina for both the author and publisher to come up with a completed product in a short amount of time. And with a company like Down & Out Books relying on one man, Campbell really had to work hard in order to gain credibility, reach success and see results.

“At the beginning, no one knew who I was or if the company would be around,” said Campbell. “But the things that led to my success in health care—doing what I say I’m going to do, high-level of integrity, honesty, hard-work, drive—served me well in publishing as well.”

It took a couple of years before current New York published authors began reaching out to talk about projects with Campbell but now with open submissions he gets over a hundred submissions in a two to three-week period. Now, big-name, trusted reviewers including Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Mystery Scenes are reviewing books that Down & Out publish.

“For the last few years, Down & Out Books has received more Anthony nominations than any other publisher; pretty damn amazing for such a small company,” said Campbell.

The Anthony awards, named after one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America, are one of the most prestigious awards for mystery writers and is known to enhance the careers of many of its recipients.

“There have been a lot of smaller publishers close up in the last few years,” said Campbell. “Those authors have to find a home and that’s been a blessing for Down & Out Books as several good writers have joined the team.”

Although Down & Out Books is still in its infancy, its power and potential to reach an outward audience and find underground writers is ever-expanding. At the end of the day, Campbell spends a lot of hours, time and sweat, dedicated to Down & Out Books and the authors he serves.

“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to start their own business unless they fully understand the ‘boss’ is the last guy to get paid and in many cases may not be paid,” said Campbell.

Campbell has had plenty of sleepless nights and endless phone calls that often leave him with no immediate profit or compensation. He does not clock out at the end of his shift or hangs up his uniform at the end of the day. The time and energy put into his work are endless and continual.

His hard work and efforts are often not rewarded with money or royalties but in his own words, “it is a labor of love.”