An Interview with SPMG’s CEO, Eric Staggs
By Judy Spring
Behind the scenes here at SPMG there are many gifted people dedicated to offering their best to our authors to achieve their publishing goals. As a segmented part of our newsletter, we would like to bring you an inside look at this enthusiastic and committed group of people. To start things off, we presented a few questions to Eric Staggs, CEO and co-founder of Spectacle, to better understand from his perspective what SPMG has to offer, as well as his vision for its future.
Can you share the progression in your life that led up to Spectacle Publishing Media Group?
Like many writers, I’ve had a slew of jobs in a vast array of industries. I found them all interesting, but my true passion has always been story. Following that to its logical conclusion, a well told story is one of the things that defines a civilization: The Grand Myth. I’ve always wanted to be part of helping our civilization experience the great stories and myths that are being made.
As CEO and co-founder of SPMG, what was the inspiration behind its creation?
The concept was simple: the industry doesn’t make it easy for struggling authors. Agents, Publishers—it’s all a big self-serving mess. Can’t get an agent until you get a publisher and can’t get a publisher until you get an agent. Pay your meager wages to contests in the vain hopes you might gain some recognition. Throw your ideas out into the void for less ethical or inventive vultures to scavenge. It’s a tough proposition for anyone.
My high school guidance counselor told me “you’ll never make money as an artist.” In the old paradigm she grew up in, yes, it was hard for artists. But these days, we are not bound by those old ideas. We don’t have to give 70% to the publisher, 15% to an agent.
SPMG is designed to bring the new and talented voices of literature to the fore without exploiting them. We work extensively with our authors to help them create the best, most marketable story they can while maintaining trueness of vision and integrity of story.
Has the vision changed since the beginning, and how so?
Yes, very much, and no. We intended to create online media only, eBooks and the like. We quickly found that to maintain and increase our reputation and integrity as a publisher we needed to print books as well. This meant adding new skill sets, and preparing for another battery of associated and unexpected costs. Our business model had to change, but we learned from the Six Sisters and their dinosaur ancillaries.
That said, our primary advantage over competitors—technological awareness and agility, as an entity—is still strong. We also still believe that our authors are TALENT, not assets.
What do you do or oversee for the company? How would you describe your role?
Cat herder. It’s a great challenge and very rewarding, but it is like working with a partisan senate of felines who want nothing more than to nap, eat, run, break things, set fires, and tease one another.
As the CEO, I work closely with Nichole Canniff, our other founding partner, to maintain the organization’s heading towards our ultimate business goals. That’s the canned answer. In reality, my philosophy is hands-off—I have picked the best people and can trust them to execute their goals professionally and with great quality.
However, no plan survives an encounter with the enemy, and things always come up. As a young company we always watch the bottom line and sometimes I have to become involved in negotiating with vendors or talent.
I try very hard to share my experience with my team. I try to mentor them and share my technological, marketing, and advertising knowledge. As well, I bore them with my anecdotes about military doctrine and Greco-Roman history.
Further, I work with the leaders of each department to help facilitate communication and a measure of synchronicity. I scout talent at conventions, meet with people who may be interested in working with whatnot, and us, freelancing. I study social and cultural trends in media and entertainment, and help our Acquisitions team stay focused on not what is popular today, but what is popular tomorrow.
What is the best part of this company in your opinion?
Our list of successes grows every day. We’re printing, expanding, growing by leaps and bounds—all in the face of traditional business and economic theory. We are filled with new ideas, fresh insight, and not jaded by decades of “this is how it’s always done.” Nor are we wet behind the ears. We have real, tangible experience in media ranging from Triple-A video game titles, to award winning advertising and storytelling. Simply put, the best part is “all this.”
My desk. Totally, my desk.
Another joke. The worst part is easily time. There is nothing worse than seeing the disappointment in an author’s eyes when I (or my editors) have to say, “It’ll be two months before production.” It’s the worst. I have a backlog of phenomenal projects that I’m dying to get out to the world. There’s simply not enough time in the day.
Because of the elaborate nature of eBooks (contrary to popular belief) and printed books, we can’t just all sit down and “publish a book.” It takes time. Proofreading, editing, layout, printer management—if you’ve ever worked with a traditional printer, you know what I mean. EBooks are no better—testing on a multitude of devices, checking them for our distributor specifications. It all takes time.
What do you believe sets this company apart?
Quite a lot. First off, our contracts are the absolute best and most favorable for any author out there. We do this by cutting out the 15% an agent takes. We do this by maintaining the view that this is a partnership between SPMG and the author. They are not our assets—they are allies.
Further, my editors are quite skilled and insightful storytellers in their own right. This naturally lends itself to collaboration with our authors. I don’t care how much your mom likes your story, you need an editor.
Finally, our technological knowledge, our agility, is pretty rock-star. We can react to a changing market, the needs of our talent, social media and all the rest. Corporate giants may have the resources to buy whole worlds, but the purchase order will spend six months in the bureaucracy. Point to SPMG.
What is your personal vision of perfection for the future of Spectacle?
Pajamas. I want to be able to work in my pajamas. I mean, besides the smooth day-to-day running of a successful business, I want to maintain our business ethics—we don’t think a corporation needs to reap the absolute maximum profit at all times.
I think that SPMG is one of the first companies that are embracing a more society-friendly outlook—small footprint, socially responsible and fiscally progressive. If that means we won’t be quadrajillvillioaires in five years—that’s okay.
I want to have a good reputation among the writing community; I want my team to be proud and well rewarded. And I want to work in my pajamas, did I mention that?
Can you share some of the joys and some of the challenges you have had along the way?
The list is nearly endless. I once had an “author” send me six emails, with a total of twenty pages of “writing credits,” but not a single word of fiction, and demand, “Let’s cut the bullsh*t. Make me an offer.” When it was suggested that SPMG was not the company for his material, he went ballistic. Not pretty. But a funny story.
One of the great joys, I think, is watching a writer rise to the challenges of editing and rewrites, and then watching them develop their platform, becoming fully realized authors.
What are some of your personal Pet Projects?
We have launched a tabletop gaming brand. I’m very excited by this. Our first title, “The Darkest Age,” appeals to gamers, historians, zombie lovers, and those who just love a good ride.
How do you maintain balance in your life with all that you are involved in?
Well, sleep is the first thing that goes. Then, as you begin to fracture your personality into various obsessive facets, things balance out.
Honestly, I don’t know how anyone does it. My editors work so hard, I expect to see their eyes bleeding when I see them. Design and production teams are going full force with new media requests almost daily. The web site, the newsletter, the marketing, the contracts, the art, the story… I guess one of my secrets is that I try to surround myself with people who know my weaknesses and can complement them, not be bogged down by them. So, when I forget what day it is, or where I put my brain, it’s not a showstopper. Basically, try to be flexible and keep the goal in sight.
In your opinion, why should authors consider SPMG for their publishing needs?
First and foremost, there is a measure of integrity and pride, or authenticity that comes with being published by a publisher. We see dozens of manuscripts and queries a week. To be selected from that deluge is a big deal. Anyone can self-publish. Next time you buy a self-published eBook, count the typos and tell me why you think it cost 99¢. There is a measure of professionalism that comes from being selected. It means more than one person liked your story.
Second, working with SPMG brings together a writer and editor—this newly forged creative force is capable of so much more than just fixing grammar. Our editors are trained and experienced writers. They aren’t looking at the profit margin; they are looking at turning your vision into the best story it can be.
Finally, we have dedicated staff to help build an author’s platform. This is critical in a market with so much amateur competition—standing out above the crowd is required. We make your vision our focus.