Brian James Freeman of Lividian Publications
While Lividian Publications is a relative newcomer to the small press world, the man at the helm, Brian James Freeman is no stranger to the industry. After many years working at Cemetery Dance Publications, Brian decided to take his accrued knowledge and expertise there and build his own press from the ground up. A few years in, Lividian Publications has already released limited editions from some of the biggest names in horror including Stephen King, Joe Hill, Catriona Ward, and Robert McCammon. Brian is well known as being one of the most generous and likeable press owners in the business and our time interacting with him only confirmed this. We are not only followers of the imprint, but also have a high level of respect for Brian as a press owner, and we hope you enjoy this conversation with the talented mind behind Lividian Publications.
Q: We initially began talking about doing this interview quite a long time ago, so I’m excited that it is finally happening! You were at Cemetery Dance Publications for almost two decades and contributed to the many famous works produced by that press, including numerous King releases. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and role with Cemetery Dance Publications? What prompted you to consider running your own press?
While in high school in the mid '90s, I started building websites for authors and doing some freelance marketing work. I liked the website stuff, writing up HTML in my notepad program and trying to make everything play nice together, but I hated the marketing side of things and quickly stopped offering to do it. (Everyone expected you to magically get them a starred Publishers Weekly review, an interview in The New York Times, and a guest spot on Oprah.)
During this time, I got to know Douglas Clegg, who was one of the earliest innovators of how authors used the web to reach readers and sell their work. I did a little work for him, but mostly we just chatted about the publishing business and life.
In the summer of 2000, Rich Chizmar was looking for someone to help with the online marketing for Cemetery Dance Publications, and Doug recommended me. Rich and I never met in person that year, but I developed a bunch of ideas for him and sent them over. I believe the final folder had 40 or 50 possible plans.
Fast forward to April 2002. My college graduation was approximately four weeks away, and I realized I should probably start thinking about a job or a career or something. I'd be getting married in July, and then we'd be moving to Baltimore where my wife's career was taking her, so I remembered that indie publishing company in Abingdon, Maryland, that I had done a little freelancing for a few summers back.
Now, there are a lot of ways you could approach a company looking for work, or to at least touch base and see if they might be hiring, but I decided to go big or go home by preparing a 17 page document outlining all the ways I thought I could help Cemetery Dance Publications.
I mailed that off to Rich, and waited.
Eventually, I called a few times to follow-up, and Mindy gave the same answer each time: "Richard's in a meeting, but he'll get back to you."
Then, finally, I emailed one last time, assuming that my proposal had been laughed off but wanting to be sure.
The funny thing is, I don't remember much about this part, other than that email must have gotten things moving along because a few days later I had a job waiting for me in Maryland.
Once officially an employee of Cemetery Dance, I started with the usual grunt work: packing orders and reading the slush pile for the magazine. I learned so much from reading the slush pile. When you have to narrow down thousands of submissions to maybe a few dozen finalists for the boss, it really hones your thinking of what works and what doesn’t work in a story. (Also, your brain gets very tired of seeing the same tropes done the same way. It makes you focus on how an author can bring their unique voice to a story.)
My other job was to revitalize the email newsletter and start the process of redesigning the website. Within a few months, I also started to learn about book production: how a book goes from a manuscript to the finished, printed product. There are many steps involved, and like anything else in life, once you do it a few hundred times, you get a lot better at it.
Within a couple of years, I was running the book and magazine production. My job was to get the books from the manuscript stage to being ready for the printer. This meant working with agents, authors, artists, designers, and material suppliers on a daily basis. Once a project was ready for the printer, Rich would take it from there, getting the book scheduled with them, although eventually I would handle the logistics again after that point: coordinating with the printers and case makers, etc.
Once I was familiar with the process and had a good grasp on the process, I also started to acquire titles for publication.
In the end, after nearly 20 years of working at Cemetery Dance, I was wearing about a dozen different hats, which was great preparation for what I’m doing now.
Q: I would imagine it was not an easy decision to commit to venturing out on your own. When was the first time the idea of Lividian came into your mind? Who were some of the most important people in this journey that encouraged and supported you? Were there any pivotal moments when you remember the press moving from an idea to a tangible reality?
Like a lot of people, my interest in the publishing business started with my own writing. I sold my first short story when I was fourteen years old and had written at least one terrible novel by the time I was in high school. I continued with my fiction through college, and then started working at Cemetery Dance after that. When I had time, I pecked away at some short stories and a novella or two, plus a couple of still unpublished novels, but not anywhere close to the rate I had been writing in high school and college.
In early 2017, my longtime friend Vicki Liebowitz contacted me and said: “Is there anything I can do that would help you write more?”
It was obvious to her that I wasn’t writing much at that point because all my creative energy was going into Cemetery Dance. I’d work 60+ hours each week, but it wasn’t just the time “at the desk.”
If you know anything about working in a creative business, your brain doesn’t just stop thinking about the work when you’re “off the clock.” Driving to and from the office, you’ll be thinking about the work. Watching your kids, you’ll be thinking about the work. Plus, since we’re connected to everyone else constantly via our cell phones now, there would always be another email or text arriving at all hours of the day and night, snagging your attention for a bit.
I’ve always done most of my writing after everyone has gone to bed, but by 11 o’clock at night, there was no creative energy left. Plus, there was often something to prep for the next workday, and I’d try to get that done first, so I wouldn’t have to rush to get the announcement or newsletter or whatever ready in the morning.
When discussing all this with Vicki, somehow the topic of Patreon came up, and I decided I’d give it a try. At the very least, having a public Patreon account would give me some goals each year since I’d need to write new stories for the chapbooks.
My Patreon launched on July 19, 2017, and I thought maybe 20 or 25 people would sign up if things went really well. Instead, hundreds of readers made the leap to be supporters, and we were off to the races. Eventually, enough readers signed up that I could write full-time, and throw myself at Lividian full-time as well.
Besides Vicki, who literally changed my life with her question, my biggest supporter in the launch of my Patreon and eventually Lividian Publications was Rich Chizmar. He’s been endlessly supportive of all my endeavors, even the dumb ones! And you couldn’t ask for a better sounding board when it comes to writing and the publishing business. He’s done it all, and he’s seen what’s worked and what hasn’t worked firsthand.
Q: It really is incredible how much a single moment can change the trajectory of our lives. Now in the early days of announcing the press you were going under the name of LetterPress Publications. What transpired to make the shift and what is the origin of the name Lividian? Were there any other names in the running during the early days of dreaming about the press?
I’m terrible at naming things, so LetterPress Publications was meant to be a placeholder when I started my Patreon. My plan was to actually print some letterpress chapbooks for my supporters each year, using an actual manual press I had spotted for sale. I needed a publisher name to go on these chapbooks, and I spent six months brainstorming names with absolutely no luck.
None of the options sounded good. So, I finally said, “This is a small thing that’s probably going to be seen by 20 or 25 people if I’m lucky, so the name doesn’t matter all that much.” And I kind of just accepted that my fallback name of LetterPress Publications was good enough for that purpose.
What I didn’t know was that hundreds of people were going to sign up for my Patreon. After talking to the seller of the press I’d been looking at, I realized I didn’t have the time to hand produce that many chapbooks. Not with three kids at home and my work at Cemetery Dance. Plus, the goal of the Patreon was to give me a reason to get some writing done, which I wouldn’t have time for if I was always in the garage printing and collating chapbooks.
I still hadn’t thought of a name I loved, but I figured: “Well, this is just for my Patreon supporters, the name doesn’t really matter.”
What I didn’t expect was for Stephen King to accept my proposal to publish a special edition of Revival. Yes, obviously I was hopeful when I prepared the proposal, but I had worked on dozens of possible project ideas to be pitched to him over the years, some of which would make collectors lose their minds if they knew what could have been, and the usual answers to those pitches were “no thanks” or “the timing is bad, sorry.”
Instead, I got an enthusiastic yes for Revival, which was incredible and obviously a defining moment for the press.
I scrambled to come up with a better name for the company, but I still wasn’t having much luck. There are a couple of key things to keep in mind when naming a publishing company. For example, has someone already used it for any kind of business? Even more importantly, has it been used specifically for a publishing company or an imprint? Are the domain names available? How about the social media accounts? That sort of thing.
Then King’s agent issued an agreement using the LetterPress Publications name. At that point, I didn’t want to rock the boat (and I still couldn’t think of anything better), so we just rolled with it.
By the time I was talking to Joe Hill about publishing a big matching library of his work, I knew I had to come up with a better name for the press, even though I feared that task would be even more difficult now that Revival was out in the world. I wanted to keep the logo on the spine the same, you see, which meant the new and final name had to start with the letter L.
In a way, though, that actually made things easier in the end. Knowing the first word had to start with the letter L focused my thinking. There are some fun words that start with L. One of my favorites is Leviathan, but it didn’t fit the criteria: someone had already used it for a publishing company or imprint years ago, and there were no good domain names available, etc.
While looking over my list of twenty or thirty L words I liked the sound of, I started circling back to Livid. Livid Press or Livid Publications didn’t quite have the right ring to it, but at some point it popped into my head to add the -ian and Lividian Publications was born. The made up word had barely been used for anything anywhere in the world, and the Lividian.com domain name was available.
It's not a deep or meaningful story of how the name came to be, but it is the story!
Q: From the onset of the press, it seems you have had at least one foot in the horror genre, although not every release has firmly fallen in this category. What do you find particularly compelling about the horror genre and how has your relationship with horror literature evolved over the years? What would you tell someone to start with if they weren’t historically interested in this genre?
Horror fiction has always been a part of my life. There was a paperback original for teens that I read when I was ten years old called The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen. Up until then, I had been reading the Hardy Boys and books of that nature, so I was absolutely gut punched by the ending. I had never known books without a neat, clean happy ending. The first anthology I ever stumbled across in a bookstore was the paperback of Dark Forces. I can still tell you which store (Encore Books & Music) and even where in the store the book was (over on the left side, three or four aisles back from the front windows.) I remember standing at the front of my local Waldenbooks, absolutely mesmerized by the hardcover artwork for Nightmares and Dreamscapes. A few years later when I was in high school, I worked at that same Waldenbooks and my manager, an incredibly knowledgeable gentleman named Jim Munchel, let me take over his horror section. I was stocking those fifteen shelves with both classics and new releases (which were not exactly plentiful in 1996) and handselling to anyone who would listen. My favorite thing was taking “Stephen King only” readers and pointing them toward other authors. I liked to joke that I sold more copies of Carrion Comfort, The Ceremonies, and Boy’s Life than any other Waldenbooks employee in history.
Q: Well, since I have you here, can you please do a new limited edition of Carrion Comfort? We know that you have had some very important collaborators from the beginning including your longtime friend, illustrator Francois Vaillancourt. He truly seems like one of the hardest working and most generous artists in the small press world. How did you first meet him and what does he mean to you and the press? What is it you appreciate about his illustrations that have caused you to go back to him on such a consistent basis?
François Vaillancourt is easily one of my favorite people in this business. I believe he first caught Rich’s eye when he posted some Stephen King inspired artwork in a Facebook group. Our first project working together was the Limited Edition of Widow’s Point for Cemetery Dance. Since then, François and I have worked together on dozens of projects – with more in the works! He’s extremely hardworking and extremely easy to work with. He’s never missed a deadline, and he’s always handled weird/stupid publisher and author feedback with grace. He’s everything you’d want in a collaborator.
Q: At the limited-edition level, a few of the releases such as Revival by Stephen King and your two Joe Hill releases have been in synthetic leather with some beautiful blind embossing and hot foil stamping, while other releases have been cloth bound with illustrated dust jackets. What factors determine the treatment of each release and do you ever envision there being different levels beyond limited and lettered in future releases?
For now, the faux leather bindings with the spine hubs have been reserved for the Stephen King and Joe Hill editions. Our goal for the Joe Hill books is to create a big, beautiful library of matching editions.
With our regular Limited Editions, we use a variety of binding materials, and each slipcase has a die cut window in the front to reveal part of the cover artwork. Like with Joe’s books, we’re trying to create one big library of books that fit together on the shelves like a set. You don’t have to collect them all to get the full effect, of course. But when someone posts a photo of all the Limited Editions or Lettered Editions so far, you can really see a library in progress.
On the production front, we’re playing around with different page edge staining options right now for an upcoming Lettered Edition, and there might be some other changes for that line in 2024.
Q: Walk us through a day in the life of Brian James Freeman. How do you make sure there is progress being made on the various projects you have in the queue and do you have a particular process to keep you on track? What are some of the most important things you have learned about balancing your love of limited books with making sure you maintain a viable business and have time for your own writing as well?
The actual daily tasks will vary depending on what part of the publication process I need to tackle. It’s just my wife and me running the business, so we wear a lot of hats and do a little bit of everything. Book announcement days are very different than order shipping days, which are very different than general production days. (Often all three days are happening at the same time!)
The kids get up around 7 AM and are off to school by 9. What happens during the day depends on what we’re working on, but I make sure to have a good stopping point before the kids get off the bus at 4 PM.
The evening is family time, and then after the kids are in bed around 9 PM, I’m back on the computer or packing orders until midnight or so.
Right now, I’m shipping three new Limited Edition and Lettered Edition releases (plus a trade hardcover) in a seven week window while handling the final production work on Horns by Joe Hill before it goes to the printer, which is mostly the copyediting and proofreading of the recently delivered bonus materials. The signature sheets are all done on that one, for those who are curious.
Q: If you put aside the difficulty of rights acquisition and cost, what titles would you love to see under your imprint if there were no barriers to what books you could create? Why do you think these specific works would be fitting for your press?
I’ve always wanted to publish a big, beautiful Limited Edition of Duma Key by Stephen King, but neither of my proposals panned out, unfortunately.
There are others, but I won’t mention them because there’s still a chance they could happen!
Q: As you look back over the last six years since you started Lividian, what are some of the things you are most proud of? What does it mean to you that people have embraced what you are doing and supported this dream of yours?
I’m proud of the response we’ve gotten from collectors. Way more collectors than I ever expected have really embraced what we’re trying to do, and the feedback has been very gratifying.
Q: If there was one word or phrase that came to people’s minds when they think of Lividian, what would you hope that it would be?
Quality books for a fair price.
Q: Well I certainly think you have achieved that. What should we be anticipating next from Lividian? We know that you have recently released The Dog Stars for preorder and have new Robert McCammon releases coming down the pike, but is there anything else you are comfortable sharing for 2024 and beyond?
We just announced Where They Wait by Scott Carson, and depending on when this goes live, our first ever (and still unannounced as of now) Dean Koontz Limited Edition will probably be within a few weeks of publication. We have a book at the printer right now that is written by one of the hottest authors to hit the horror scene in the last few years, and we’re sending Horns to the printer in December if all goes well. We have a big white board on the wall of our office, and at the moment I see twenty books under contract. Some are by authors we’ve published before, but there are also some brand-new names I’m excited about working with for the first time.
This interview was done in a series of communications back and forth between Zach and Brian and we want to say a huge thanks to Brian for being a part of this interview and being so generous with his time. If you want to see more from Lividian Publications and stay up on all of their new releases, you can check them out at their website and sign up for their mailing list to get periodic updates. You can also follow Lividian Publications on Facebook and Instagram.
Interview by: Zach Harney - Co-founder of the Collectible Book Vault