Devin Murphy is the son of New York Times bestselling authors Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran. Devin runs Destroyer Books, which primarily handles the legendary “Destroyer” series created by his father and the late Richard Sapir, which now contains over 150 novels. For more information about the company and their other titles, visit www.destroyerbooks.com.
How many books a year do you publish? Do you consider yourself a small publisher? Medium? Indie? What do you think that means?
We publish a relatively small number of new works — primarily the Legacy series, but we fully expect that number to go up over the next few years. It’s important to have a good foundation if you’re going to build a house, and the same is true here: we had to make sure that the business was capable of ‘handling’ new works before we started producing them. I’ve seen a lot of small publishers fold because they overextended themselves too early. I want to keep that from happening to us.
So what defines a “small publisher”?
Other than an obvious definition (“a publisher that publishes a small number of new books per year”), I think one key defining quality might be the number of employees dedicated to specific tasks. In other words, if you have an editor, an accountant, a social media liason, a graphic designer, etc., then you’re probably mid-sized or bigger. In a “small” business, there’s often one “chief everything officer,” so to speak, who handles the day-to-day work in a variety of different fields. That’s me. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though, because it forces you to be very focused on every element of a book, from the content (editorial work) to publicity (marketing/social media). That, in turn, makes you really invested in the success of all of your titles, which is something that “big” publishers are known to neglect. I’ve read all the books we’ve published at least twenty times, and also know how much they earn, how effective (or ineffective) our ad campaigns are, and what our plans are for the next book (or series of books). A lot of people in the publishing industry can’t say that, because they’re small cogs in a big machine, rather than being the machine itself.
What are the differences between your company and a Big Five publisher?
This is such a big question that it’s hard to answer, but I think there are two main differences. First, we actually care immensely about each and every book we release. I’m not saying that the big publishers don’t care about their work, because they certainly do. But there’s a big difference between an assembly-line production model, which you can see in the big 5, and each book being carefully nurtured from beginning to end.
Also, because we’re smaller and don’t have the overhead of big publishing companies (offices in Manhattan, warehouse space for books, etc.), we’re able to be a lot more competitive (some would say “nicer”) than the big 5 in terms of what we offer authors. The traditional model of paying authors — large advance that never earns out, small royalties (if any are ever made) — just doesn’t make sense any more, for a lot of reasons. I think a new business model is better for authors and less risky for publishers — a smaller advance, with a much higher royalty rate.
Do you have any special education, training, etc. to be a publisher?
I read and learn constantly. Just because setting up a publishing account at Amazon is free doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I think it is colossally arrogant to assume that anyone can be a publisher, and it’s the mistake that many self-published authors make. Think of it like running: just because you can physically run does not mean that you’re going to be an Olympic marathon runner without a lot of training, knowledge, and dedication.
What do you do as a publisher?
“What don’t I do?” is perhaps a better question — because I do everything, from writing contracts to editing manuscripts to helping with graphic design. An author writes a draft (don’t call it a “book” yet because it’s not). I edit and offer suggestions and changes and the author sends me another draft. That’s the author’s job. Anything and everything involved with getting that book from Microsoft Word to being on someone’s bookshelf is up to me.
What are your preferred genres to read for fun? What genres will you NOT read? Which genres do you dislike reading?
When I’m not reading informational books, I like to read classics, mostly because if something is considered “great literature,” I want to know why. Usually “classics” are classic for a reason, and it’s a mistake to ignore them.
What influences your choice of book to read for fun?
Accessibility and price, honestly, are some of the main reasons I read what I do, even if that seems like a cop-out of an answer. Like most readers, I see a lot of books I’d like to read, but I have to balk when I see a retail price of $30+ for a hardcover or $15 for an ebook. That being said, I’m willing to pay any price if it’s an author I really like. When Gillian Flynn writes a new book, I’ll be buying that the day it comes out, regardless of price. Same with Lawrence Block. I can’t imagine I’m alone in feeling this way, though, so I use a combination of my personal tastes and market research to help decide pricing for new books.
I know a lot of people love audiobooks, but I have no patience for them — I read too quickly. Why spend 12 hours listening to something when I could read it in 2 hours? Plus, I don’t like listening to things (music, TV, audiobook) when I’m working. I think I’d like audiobooks if I had to spend a lot of time driving, but I don’t.
How fast do you read?
When I’m editing a manuscript, I read very, very slowly. When I’m reading for fun, I read extremely quickly. A lot depends on how dense a book is, but for a fun read, I can usually read at least a page or two pages per minute.
What's the best book you've ever read?
“Best” in what sense? As a high watermark of literature with a capital “L”? Ulysses (James Joyce), without question. Best book I’ve read in the past year? Gone Girl was gripping, and I don’t know a single writer who could read that book without learning something about crafting characters and plot. A Visit From the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan) was one of the most audaciously brilliant books I’ve read in a long time, too. It won (and deserved) the Pulitzer Prize — extremely “deep” without being leaden or boring.
What's the worst book you've ever read?
Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m glad that it made erotica mainstream again — the whole field has been dormant for decades now — but reading it was about as exciting as hammering nails into my eyeballs.
What elements make a good story?
Characters you care about, a plot without tons of holes and unresolved questions, and an element of universality — if you can’t relate in any way to what you’re reading (to the characters, to the plot, to the ideas), then the book isn’t going to resonate with you, and it’s not going to be a successful books.
What makes you roll your eyes or groan in a story?
Flowery descriptions that are meant to sound “smart” or “writer-ly” that do not advance the story really bug me. This is particularly true of new writers, who desperately want everyone to know how smart they are. I guess if I had to give this sort of writing a label, I’d call it pretentious writing. I also find clichés to be irritating. Though they can occasionally be used well, writers often use clichés because they can’t think of a better description — except that’s what being a writer is all about! Writers out there: when you go back and revise your manuscript (which I hope everyone does), take out the clichés and replace them with words that actually mean something. Don’t say someone is “seeing red”; show the character being angry. This is one of the reasons the Destroyer series is so good: even though the books are short and fun, the writers always gave the books their best work. The series wouldn’t have gotten to 150 books if the books were consistently half-assed. It’s important to give every book your full and undivided attention — readers will know if you don’t.
Anything else on your mind?
I am actively looking for new writers and new books — particularly in the action-adventure field. There have been some good action books lately — the Jack Reacher series and the Bourne series come to mind — but these are long books. I think the Destroyer series was successful because the books were short. Especially now that everyone has smartphones and other constant distractions, I think shorter books are going to make a comeback. Not everyone has three weeks to invest in reading a 600+ page novel, but a lot of people would like to read a book short enough that they can read it in a weekend. If you’d like to send in a submission or a proposal, please do so — DestroyerBooks at gmail.com. (The email address isn’t hyperlinked in order to cut down on spam). And please get the word out — if you know someone who is looking to get a book published, tell them to email me!
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