Interviews

Interview: UK Local, Thom Chambers

Kate Kendall interviews Thom Chambers – a writer, micropublisher, explorer and founder at Mountain & Pacific.

Congratulations on the launch of Mountain & Pacific, what is micropublishing to you and what magazines do you create?

As the word suggests, micropublishing takes traditional publishing and shrinks it.

Mountain & Pacific is a micropublishing house – it designs and makes and promotes and sells publications, just as a normal publishing house would do. The only difference is the size – all those things are done by me alone.

With a computer, you can now be your own publishing house. You can commission work from yourself, you can ship it to the world, and you can build a business around it – all on a personal level.

In essence, micropublishing combines the intimacy of blogging with the professional approach of a traditional publisher.

At Mountain & Pacific, I make a couple of online magazines – they’re my primary publications.

In Treehouses inspires freedom businesses. It’s for those who want freedom to work on projects that matter to them, on their own schedule, from anywhere in the world.

The Micropublisher, meanwhile, shows readers how to make a living with words by being your own publishing house. It’s for those who want to take on the ideas of micropublishing for themselves.

How did you get to where you are today – what was your background before the ‘tree change’?

Before all this, I studied English at the University of Exeter and at UCSB, then did a Masters degree in Management at the University of Edinburgh. I’m fortunate enough to be able to combine the two aspects – writing and business – in my daily work, which is great.

I started In Treehouses in the summer of 2010, at which point I was working in my first job post-university. I was a marketing executive – later marketing manager – at a small marketing and design agency in Cheltenham, England.

After 10 months of working on both the day job and the magazine, I made the jump to working for myself full time.

You’re a one-person shop – what’s your view on team size and the ability to get things done?

This comes down to a distinction that’s become very blurred in recent years: the difference between the artisan and the accountant.

Before the internet made it easy to start a business as an individual with minimal overhead, things were more clear cut. Artists went to workshops and sought out patrons and publishers. Entrepreneurs started businesses and went to networking events.

Now, artists can build an audience online by starting a one-person business. And entrepreneurs can take the risk of funding out of the equation by doing the same. They’re vastly different approaches, but have started to look the same from the outside.

Now that it’s hard to tell at a glance whether an individual is approaching things out of love for their craft (the artisan) or out of trying to grow their business (the accountant), they’ve started to be lumped together online. The artisans read the same blogs as the accountants. They start worrying about conversion and click-throughs and building their business more than their art.

So I’ve had to become clear on this myself. I fall on the side of the artisan. Essentially I am an individual writer, just like all those writers who’ve been around for centuries. I’m not a CEO or a managing director. I won’t be building a team in a hurry.

I just apply a bit of the accountant’s attitude so that I can make a living as an artisan in this new world.

When readers are overwhelmed and their attentions gone, how does one stand out in publishing?

This is a great question, and it’s one that’s going to become critical in the coming years.

Publishing houses are, amongst many other things, curators. If they publish something, it’s got a stamp of approval that gives a reader confidence.

But now that self-publishing is a legitimate destination in its own right – not just a backwater for the desperate and delusional – how do readers know where to look? Amid all the writers rejoicing that they can publish to millions, very few people are considering the reader.

One of the aims of a micropublishing house is to improve the quality of the work you produce. As I said before, micropublishing combines the intimacy of blogging with the professional approach of a traditional publisher.

When you set your own high standards, readers come to trust you. It’ll take time, and it won’t be easy, but that’s all you can do – establish trust and earn permission and build your small tribe of dedicated readers by publishing exceptional work.

Who do you think is doing amazing stuff at the moment in our industries?

There are plenty. Leo Babauta‘s blogs make for inspiring reading, while the likes of Joe Konrath and Joanna Penn are constantly proving their passion for self-publishing.

My honest recommendation to anyone, though, is to spend as much time as you can afford going back through the posts on Seth Godin‘s blog. It’s all there, all the answers you need. Everyone else is just playing catch-up.

What’s next and how can we connect with you?

My work this year is centred around In Treehouses and The Micropublisher. Between them, I’m publishing 20 magazines this year. It’s a full old schedule.

The best place to connect with me is on Mountain & Pacific, where I publish the magazines. There’s also a blog that shows what’s going on behind the scenes.

I’m also on Twitter and Google+. There’s a Facebook page, too.

And, of course, you can always email me on thom@mountainandpacific.com.

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