By Edward Nawotka
CHICAGO: Five years ago Dusty Sang lost his only child, his 24-year-son Ryan, to complications related to bipolar disorder. “At that moment everything changed,” says Sang, who was then working as an entertainment lawyer with both musicians and authors. “Suddenly I felt the need to leave my work as a lawyer behind and do something for Ryan.” What he did was start StayThirsty.com, an online ‘zine covering art and music, from bureaus in Chicago and Tokyo, with writers in Paris, London and Berlin. It is run by Ryan’s old friends, with support from Sang. “I am the angel,” he says. “There is no outside funding.”
The name, says Sang, embodies his son’s philosophy of life. In March, he extended the brand to a new publishing company, Stay Thirsty Press, in part as an effort to make some money to help support the project. Its model is pure Publishing 2.0: Stay Thirsty offers no advances, publishes books solely as ebook-only editions for the Amazon Kindle, and solicits manuscripts via the online classified ads service Craigslist.
“As soon as I put the ad up, I had hundreds of submissions,” said Sang, sounding not at all surprised. Among those who saw the ad was David Fulmer, the Shamus-award winning mystery writer. He’d been searching for a publisher for his seventh book, The Last Time — a book his agent had difficulty placing because it was decidedly different from his other work. “I’d been working on it for eight years, and thought, what have I got to lose,” says Fulmer. The result was near instant gratification: The book arrived at Sang’s offices on June 1 and was published on Amazon on June 7.
“What we tried to do this was make this really simple.” says Sang. “The agreement we offer is based on a gross royalty percentage. Amazon pays a royalty to Stay Thirsty and we divide that 50/50 with the author. Amazon pays a royalty of 35% off the retail list price.” Sang only takes the digital rights for the books, leaving the author with the option to later take the book to a print publisher if they so choose.
The thing that Sang says that he and his authors most appreciate about this arrangement is the speed at which writers can get paid and the transparency: “There is a 60 day delay with Amazon. As soon as we get the statement, we forward a copy to the author, then the author gets paid via Pay Pay. As an entertainment lawyer, I can’t tell you how many times I had to fight with a publisher or another company to find out what money was due to a client and to get them paid. It was one of the most difficult parts of my job.”
So far, Stay Thirsty Press has published four titles in all, including the novel Mrs. Beast by Pamela Ditchoff and a collection of columns from EDGE magazine by David Toussaint entitled Toussaint!, Stay Thirsty’s latest title is The Graduate Student by James Polster, which was published this month. The book, drawing on Polster’s experience as both a Hollywood screenwriter and a travel journalist, drops an anthropology graduate student fresh from the Amazon jungle with a trunk full of hallucinogenic vines into the jungle of Hollywood. Stay Thirsty is also republishing Polster’s two previous novels, 1987’s A Guest of the Jungle, and 1995’s Brown, a Publishers Weekly pick for one of the best books of that year. Ditchoff says she’ll also publish a sequel to Mrs. Beast with Stay Thirsty.
The loyalty Sang has managed to receive from his writers is part business plan, part personal. “We don’t see ourselves as a traditional publishing company,” says Sang, “in part because of our personal mission. When your only child passes away, it really does change everything. My wife and I have no other children, so this is now a major part of our lives, a major enterprise. Our authors know this too. They know that we’re with them for the long haul. We know this is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”
CONTACT: Dusty Sang directly
READ: More about Stay Thirsty’s authors, e-books and publishing program
EXPORE: The Stay Thirsty Media Web site