Saturday, January 20, 2018



Wolfpack Publishing is rapidly becoming the top publisher of Western series and is now branching out to embrace the men’s adventure genre. Founded in June 2013, by Mike Bray and L.J. Martin, Wolfpack found immediate success by with an impressive list of western authors and their release ready back-list. In three years, Wolfpack sold two million books and went on to sell another million in 2017. Publisher Mike Bray assumed almost complete responsibility for Wolfpack when L.J. Martin retired in 2016. Hard working and with a strong crew behind him, Mike is a busy guy, but I was able to get him to sit down around the virtual prairie campfire for a few minutes to discuss some of the reasons behind Wolfpack’s success…
If the Texas Rangers pinned a wanted poster for Mike Bray on the sheriff’s office wall, what pertinent information would it contain?

I’ve been in search engine marketing and search engine optimization for the last 25 years. And I love it. I love reverse engineering algorithms, competitor’s websites and marketing campaigns. SEO/SEM is like playing a game or solving a puzzle for me. Confucius got it right when he said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

What are your first memories of reading? 

My Grandfather caught me running a horse on the pavement (trying to kick up sparks) when I was around ten. His punishment was to send me into his library to grab a book. I was then restrict to the house until I finished the book, or my parents came to pick me up.  The smallest book in his library was The Perfect Tribute by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. I was still reading when my parents came to gather me up.

I shocked the hell out of everyone (including myself) when I asked if I could take the book home to finish. A few weeks later, The Wonderful World of Disney featured the movie, and I remember thinking the book was better. And just like that, I was hooked on reading. A couple years ago Wolfpack published The Perfect Tribute. It is our only public domain title and doesn’t make much money, but it makes me smile every time I see a sale come through.

When did you first begin to read widely in the Western field?

The same Grandfather was an avid western fan. He would read 3 or 4 books a week. After he found out I could read, he kept me stocked with books. As a kid I would much rather spend my evenings with Grey or L’Amour than wrestling with three brothers and my parents over which re-run we were going watch from the three network channels on our little black and white television.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Wolfpack Publishing and your friendship with L.J. Martin?

L.J. and his wife, Kat Martin, and I go back thirty years. We were in the real estate game together. I even dated Kat’s sister for a few years. I was around when both L.J. and Kat Martin sold their first books and have thoroughly enjoyed following their careers over the years.

In 2009, L.J. and Kat asked me for some help with their backlist titles, which L.J.  had self-published. So, there I was with a backlist from a New York Times bestselling romance author and a mid-list western author to play with—almost eighty titles all together—a big enough sample with which to do some serious testing. 

When it came to Kat’s titles it was white horse/white hat all the way. But anybody in internet marketing knows that if you aren’t pushing the envelope hard enough to get an occasional spanking, you’re potentially leaving a boatload of money on the table. 

With L.J.’s titles, I was able to get a little frisky. Nothing too scandalous—though I might have changed a few publication dates, reinvented a couple sub-genres and exchanged a few reviews. We did a lot of testing with L. J.’s titles, and through our testing we came away with a pretty good picture of how to work with Amazons algorithms. 

Is there a story behind the Wolfpack name?

L.J. and Kat Martin built a gorgeous little ranch outside of Missoula, Montana they call Wolfpack Ranch. L.J. is a ready, fire, aim kind of guy and a confident salesman. He purchased the domain name wolfpackpublishing.com before he even pitched me on the publishing venture. If he hadn’t sold me on publishing, he would have found another marketing company to try to duplicate our success for additional authors.

What was it that made you believe you could make Wolfpack Publishing a success in a time when many small publishers are struggling?

We had a proven and tested model with L.J.’s backlist. I took the following screenshot in June 2013. We were damn sure holding our own against the biggest names and biggest publishers in the industry and doing it with a backlist that was old enough to vote. 

You have said Wolfpack is not so much a publishing company as it is a marketing company. Can you explain your philosophy?

Our Managing Editor, Rachel Del Grosso, and her team, kick out two to six new titles per week. I have very little involvement in the production side of the business, so of course I think that’s the easy part.

But we are competing against 5.8 million titles on Amazon and visibility is the key to sales on Amazon. Our marketing gives our titles the visibility needed to walk up a bestsellers list and is by far our biggest expense.

I wish I could say I was a publishing guru, but honestly, our success is based on solid internet marketing. You think genres and sub-genres, I’m thinking niche’s and categories. If I wasn’t selling books, it could just as easily be toasters out of Taiwan—though I’m obviously not as passionate about toasters as I am books.  

What do you look for when deciding on a new Wolfpack title?

Once we find a title we like, we look at the genre to see if we can compete. Then we look at the author. We are looking for long term partners who can deliver product on a consistent basis, whether it’s backlist titles, frontlist titles or a combination of the two.  

Finally, we look at how brandable the author is. Do they have a following, a social platform, existing internet properties? And/or does the author have an interesting story we can utilize in building up their brand.

As an example, an author with control of a 15-book backlist who is willing to crank out an additional four titles per year, had a high profile 35-year career as a LAPD detective and has reality TV experience, would have a pretty good shot.

Are there any authors who you would like to publish, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to pin down?

I’d love to work with Courtney Joyner and Max Collins so I could pick their brains. I recently started reading Robert Randisi’s mysteries. I hope he remembers Wolfpack as his existing contracts mature. James Reasoner also deserves much more recognition then he receives.

Johnny Boggs, Larry Sweazy, Brett Cogburn’s wife and even Brett have been friends since the first day we met. They are great ambassadors for the genre and the kind of people I’d like even if I was selling toasters. But, I have to remind myself that there are only twenty slots on the first page of Amazon’s bestsellers list for each genre. 

Do you have any personal favorites among your Wolfpack titles?

LOL, that’s like asking which one of my kids is my favorite.

Any particular acquisition coups among the books you’ve published?

We’ve won some awards and have received a little recognition from the industry. Linell Jeppsen’s Far West won the Peacemaker award for best novel last year from Western Fictioneers, making Linell the first female to win the award and the first person to win Best Novel with a western romance.

The movie rights for Pistole Pete: The Guns of Frank Eaton by David Althouse were sold last year. The movie will go into production this year with Joe Don Rooney from Rascal Flatts playing the lead.

But I think our biggest coup has been the stable of authors we have assembled under the Wolfpack banner. Not just the established authors like Robert Vaughan and Frank Roderus, but also our new authors Like B.N. Rundell and Lane R. Warenski. 

You’ve brought a number of Western authors back into availability in print and e-books. Why do you feel it is important to keep these writers and their books available?

I’m not going to try to pull one over on a world class interrogator! I was simply at the right place at the right time. Before we opened Wolfpack, I was having fun with L.J.’s titles, and because of the skinny margins in digital publishing, wasn’t interested in additional authors. But L.J. was determined to open a publishing company and leaned on our friendship to drag me into it. The funny part is. L.J.’s motivation wasn’t money—he simply wanted to help some old friends monetize their backlists.

How have advances in the technical side of publishing been advantageous to Wolfpack?

Desktop publishing and Amazon changed the whole industry. Each new generation of desktop publishing software is more affordable and user friendly. The quality and pricing for print on demand is constantly improving. 

How has Wolfpack exploited the ebook market and is there an average split between the ebook sales and the sales of a paperback for individual titles?

Exploited is kind of a big word, officer. All we’ve done is learn how to work with Amazon’s algorithms. The paperbacks were only 12% of our income last year. With our current print on demand solutions, we are at a disadvantage on pricing when competing against mass market books. Fortunately, we think we have a solution in the works that will allow us to become more competitive.

How important is your website and mailing list to the success of Wolfpack?

The websites, mailing lists and our social media platform are all important tools in our tool belt, but pale in comparison to Amazon’s marketing machine. 

Wolfpack authors consistently speak highly of how Wolfpack treats writers. How has this come to be part of your reputation?

Thank you. The truth is. it is very rewarding work and the 70 or 80 authors we work with have all become friends.

How do you make Amazon work for you and how important are Amazon reviews for Wolfpack titles?

Currently, we are Amazon exclusive with our digital books. This makes our titles available to Amazon’s subscription platforms, Unlimited and Prime. Kindle Unlimited readers are the 2nd largest group of digital readers, second only to Amazon, and larger than all the digital readers on the competing platforms combined. In today’s world of fake and easily manipulated news, social proof (reviews) are extremely important.

How do you perceive the current status of the Western genre?

We are extremely bullish on the Western genre. It’s one of the fastest growing genres on Amazon and we’re very proud of the fact Wolfpack Publishing has played a significant role in the new-found popularity of the genre.

Wolfpack has begun expanding into the men’s adventure field. What prompted this decision and what do you look for in a men’s adventure series? 

The consolidation of legacy publishing companies left some genres under represented. Westerns are only one example; Men’s Adventure is another. Regardless of genre, we are high on series as they are more cost effective to market.

What can we look for in the next few months from Wolfpack Publishing?

Our focus going into the first quarter is on increasing our return from our existing catalog. You will see more of our titles in libraries and on brick and mortar shelves in the coming months. We are producing audio books as fast as we can find good narrators. We are also in talks regarding foreign rights.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but everyone knows westerns are relatively inexpensive movies to produce. With both Netflix and Amazon actively searching for scripts, we are devoting more time presenting our titles to decision makers in the film industry.  

What are your future goals for Wolfpack Publishing?

The traditional legacy publishing model doesn’t make sense to me. For example: 

Except for the top tier of authors, the author is expected to do the bulk of their own marketing. If I were to talk to someone like Max Evans about click through rates, conversions and retargeting, he’d punch me in the face. The guy is still banging away on a typewriter.

Any eight-year-old with three or four days of lemonade stand experience knows the more times you sell something to someone the easier it gets. Except for Harlequin, the brand isn’t the publisher; it’s the author. After the initial investment in an author, how does a publisher let an author slip away? It sure makes more sense to me to continue investing in an author’s career rather than letting them slip away to the competition and then chasing a new horse.

And why is New York the publishing mecca? We have great strip clubs in Las Vegas. 80% of traditionally published books lose money. Why not reduce that Madison Avenue overhead and invest the savings into authors and marketing their entire catalog? 

Our future plan for Wolfpack is to continue filling the void in the softer genres and sub genres the big five publishers don’t think are cost effective to pursue.

Welcome to Wolfpack Publishing, Paul. I can’t promise you that you’ll earn what you’re worth, but I can promise you that your ride with Wolfpack Publishing won’t be boring.

Thanks to Mike for sharing so much information and for being a publisher who champions writers...

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