Wolfpack Publishing, a Las Vegas–based genre publisher with more than 90% of its business in digital book sales, is finding success with its direct-to-consumer focus during nationwide shelter-in-place orders. According to publisher Mike Bray, since mid-March, when people began staying at home because of the pandemic, sales have been up 32% over the same period last year. The press had $2.2 million in gross sales in 2019, and he thinks it’s on track to earn $3 million in 2020.
“The difference between us and traditional publishers is that we’ve been marketing for consumers since day one,” Bray said, whereas “publishers are trying to learn the business-to-consumer model now.”
Wolfpack’s list focuses primarily on westerns, though Bray has been growing Wolfpack’s footprint in adventure, mystery, and historical fiction. Around 70% of its catalogue is backlist titles that were once released by more traditional publishers, including genre fiction from novelists like L.J. Martin, Kat Martin, and Peter Brandvold.
Bray cofounded Wolfpack in 2013 with Martin, launching at the annual Western Writers of America conference. Bray had a long career in digital marketing before starting the press, and he left the conference with a dozen new authors and their backlists. The press now has an annual output of around 240 titles, and Bray hopes to double output in the next year.
“Our editors are deep diving into the work and often turn around one manuscript every one to two weeks,” said associate publisher Rachel Del Grosso, who manages seven editors and proofreaders.
With his marketing background, Bray takes the lead on that side of the business, along with two marketing employees. In all, Wolfpack has 14 employees.
Wolfpack’s online marketing ability has been a selling point for both established and up-and-coming authors. “I saw that Wolfpack was absolutely killing it with their sales figures,” said Brandvold, a veteran western writer who started working with Wolfpack in 2019. “Mike Bray has figured out how to get the right titles in front of the very people looking for them.”
Brandvold now has nearly 60 books in the Wolfpack catalogue, both backlist and new series. “Traditional publishers cannot hold a candle,” he said, recalling how the relationship began with Once a Marshal, a western he published as a mass market paperback with Berkley in 1998. “Back then, it didn’t make anything compared to what Wolfpack has brought in for it now.”
The press offers authors a 40% royalty rate, paid monthly, but, Bray said, “we seldom pay an advance.”
At any given moment, Wolfpack has 640 advertisements running on Amazon and 300 on Facebook, driving digital sales for the publisher. The press distributes its paperbacks through Ingram, but those sales make up less than 10% of its business. Beyond ads, Wolfpack cultivates an email list of 45,000 readers. Through that list, Bray has found more than 24 genre-specific readers who read digital ARCs and post reviews on Amazon.
Action and adventure has become an important genre for Wolfpack. Australian novelist Brent Towns had published westerns in the past but couldn’t find a traditional publisher for his military thriller Retribution. Wolfpack published the novel in February 2019, and Towns has since published seven books with the press and his novel has become a series. “I was an unknown entity for them, but they took a chance on someone with no proven track record for writing action and adventure,” Towns said.
Series are an important part of Wolfpack’s business model. “Series are king,” Del Grosso said. “When we are approached by any author or agent, the first thing we’re looking at is how many titles the author is bringing to the table. We invest in an author, not a single book.”
Brandvold pointed to the Covid-19 crisis as a reason for Wolfpack’s recent sales uptick. “We are living through a time of rugged individualism. When has each of us been more on our own than now? It’s each of us against the fates. Isn’t that exactly what the traditional western hero faces every day of his mythical life?”