Publishers kept telling Bill Campbell that his novels weren’t marketable, so he published them himself, found a market, and 18 months ago started Rosarium Publishing to do the same for other writers and comics creators. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, Rosarium Publishing boasts a multicultural lineup of authors and a list that features prose works as well as comics.
This year Rosarium will release eight print titles in addition to 12 digital comics. Last year, Campbell signed with IPG for bookstore distribution, and its comics are also available through major platforms including the digital comics marketplace Comixology. “It’s like coming out of the jungle, taking off your camouflage, and putting on a tux,” he said about the new distribution agreements.
An African-American creator writing novels about African-American characters, Campbell said he was often told that there wasn’t a market for his work. He didn’t buy it. “If you take all the people of color in the U.S. alone, that’s a market of 100 million people, yet a lot of artists and writers are told there’s no market for what you do,” he said. After years of being “paralyzed” by that attitude, Campbell said he is passionate about publishing all sorts of stories and all sorts of authors.
“Yes, I am an African-American publisher, but it’s also important to me that a Native American creator has this outlet, or a Mormon, or a Latino.” Campbell said. “For me, it’s imperative that people are able to tell their own stories. They can build their own tables rather than ask for a place at the table,” he said.
Campbell’s foray into marketing his own work began when a friend who was a history professor at Georgia Tech gave a copy of Campbell’s self-published novel Sunshine Patriots to a colleague. The colleague included it in a class about reactions to war in science fiction, alongside works by Robert Heinlein, Ursula LeGuin, and Joe Haldeman. A student even wrote about the book in his dissertation. So when he self-published his next book, Koontown Killing Kaper, Campbell made sure he pitched it to academics as well. “I looked for professors who taught satire, science fiction, and African-American fiction, and I emailed them,” he said. “Three emailed back, two started teaching it.”
Campbell described his list as “speculative fiction and comics, with a little crime.” Rosarium launched with Campbell’s novels, plus a 40th-anniversary edition of Vern E. Smith’s acclaimed crime novel The Jones Men; artist John Jennings’s Pitch Black Rainbow, a collection of sketches and illustration; and Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond, an anthology including contributions from such writers as Junot Diaz, Jaymee Goh, Lauren Beukes, and Victor LaValle. Mothership got a favorable review in PW, and Campbell said it also made a favorable impression on IPG. “When IPG saw Pitch Black Rainbow and Mothership, they said, ‘We don’t know who you are, but we want you,’ ” he said.
Campbell began Rosarium’s comics line when he started promoting Koontown—which contains elements of comics—at comics conventions. “I was seeing talented artists without publishers, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just ask them if they want to be part of this,’ ” he said. Rosarium’s comics lineup is varied and offers readers black lead characters at a time when comics fans are looking for stories that feature diversity. Rosarium comics include Keef Cross’s DayBlack, which is about a vampire tattoo artist; Kid Code, by John Jennings, Stacey Robinson, and Damian Duffy, which is a time-travel adventure that Campbell described as “a hip-hop Doctor Who”; Jennifer Crute’s Jennifer’s Journal, a graphic memoir; and Micheline Hess’s Malice in Ovenland, a children’s adventure story.
“We are doing [the comics] digitally, and we will compile them into trade paperbacks later,” he said. The comics are available via Comixology, Google Play, and the Rosarium site; the titles with black creators are also available on Peep Game Comix, a new platform that was created specifically to promote the work of African-American creators and publishers. The digital comics will eventually be available for Kindle as well.
Though he still does most of the work at the publishing house himself, Campbell has brought in an intern to work on the comics line. His authors pitch in as well, he said: one writer is planning an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund an upcoming book. Rosarium artists work on designing its book covers, and the creators team up to work the Rosarium table at comic cons and book festivals.
“I really wanted people who are into the esprit de corps that I am trying to build here,” he said. “Nobody is really expecting to get rich, but everyone wants their stuff out there. Their attitudes and their talent push me.”