Khaki is someone with a distinct voice in the furry writing community – and not just because of his Voice of Dog podcast! He also has a long history with furry publishing, and has a lot of very interesting things to say.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and the publisher you are representing.
I’m Khaki, but back in the day I went by Alex Vance. I founded Bad Dog Books, which later became an imprint of FurPlanet, before the brand was re-purposed for FurPlanet’s e-book store. A lot can happen in 15 years!
What is your favourite thing about the furry fandom?
Relentless creativity. The fandom is a community of makers and doers first and foremost, it’s absolutely incredible. Everybody’s making stuff, whether it’s art or music or stories, or characters or jokes, or performances and dances, or events and communities. I’ve never known a furry who just quietly consumes things — I’m sure they’re out there, but I’m also sure they’ll all catch the bug sooner or later and try writing a story or develop a character or volunteer at a con!
What made you decide to get involved with the furry publishing scene?
I’d just submitted my very first story to a publication, Sofawolf’s Heat magazine. I was a budding young writer with more dreams than experience, so when I hadn’t heard back from the editor within a week I started looking into what actually goes into publishing an anthology, to better understand what I should expect as a submitter. “Hey, that doesn’t seem *too* hard,” I thought, once I discovered print-on-demand technologies were mature enough that you could publish a book without having to lay out ten grand to get a few thousand copies printed first.
What do you believe makes a good story?
Big question. I think the most important thing (and the thing I struggled with the most, when I was still a writer) is that the writer has to understand what the story is about. It’s not enough to like the characters or the world; the story has to achieve something, some change or realization in the characters or the reader, and the writer has to know what that is. It’s why I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer; I had a lot of fun creating vivid and exciting scenes that could be really enjoyable to read, but I didn’t really interrogate what I was trying to achieve.
I contributed a story to Kyell Gold’s “X” anthology, based on the Ten Commandments. During the editing rounds, Kyell’s primary editorial note was that I should clarify the central conflict, which was when I realized that I didn’t really understand what the core of the story was. That was immensely insightful of him!
I find the things I’ve struggled with the most are the easiest to spot in other people’s writing. Does your protagonist have enough agency? Does the reader understand the purpose and structure of the story? Do the characters feel alive, and do their relationships feel earned? Does the plot feel logical, yet surprising?
What are some of the biggest challenges with publishing in a relatively niche market?
Making money. That seems like a flip answer but it’s not; it’s really, really hard to make money, for everyone in the chain. Publishers operate on far narrower margins than most businesses could accept, writers and cover artists get a lower rate than in other markets and editors generally don’t get paid at all.
On-demand printing is great at reducing risk, because you don’t have to pay for books to be printed if they don’t get sold, but the cost per unit is very high. A typical paperback that you find in the bargain bin probably cost a dollar to print, about 10% of the cover cost. FANG, which was a pricey book at $19.95, cost anywhere from $6 to $9 to print back in the day, so there was a much lower percentage of revenue to recoup the writers’ fees with.
What are some of the best parts of publishing furry books?
The passion. Hands-down. There are vanishingly few people out there for whom furry writing and publishing is their full-time employment and for the rest it’s all driven by a desire for something cool to exist.
Prestige is a far more valuable currency than money, in furry publishing. Publishers strive to show their belief in the value of furry writing by putting out well-edited, professionally laid-out books that furries can be proud to show on their bookshelf, and writers can be proud to have their name on.
Everyone hopes to push the envelope, to broaden the market, because with more readers come more sales, and higher sales volume means both lower prices for readers and more profit for writers and publishers.
What is the ideal writer to work with like?
A good communicator who respects that the editor and publisher are responsible for the whole book. Editors don’t have perfect judgment and they can make mistakes, but their first responsibility isn’t toward a particular story or writer, but the book as a whole. That’s a lot of work, and it’s about a lot more than whether a story is good or not.
I once rejected a truly stellar story because it was too similar to another story, which had fortuitous parallels with a couple of other stories, that together would make for a terrific reading experience. The story I rejected might have been better than the one I picked, but it wouldn’t have elevated the book as a whole.
Novels vs Anthologies. Which do you prefer working on, and how do they compare in terms of sales?
Personally I prefer anthologies! Short stories have a focus and energy to them I really enjoy. Novels are intensely rewarding as well but they require a lot more attention during the editing process. Even if you work on a per-chapter basis, both you and the author have to keep a lot of plot details in mind across the full span of the book.
One novel I worked on involved a long travel sequence on horseback, where the author realized he was falling into the “magic horse” trope, with an inexhaustible steed, and that the world was better served and visualized by replacing the horse with a sea-plane. Which was great! Except several chapters later, the hero greets a local leader with a bow and “the horse bowed too”. The horse was so magical, it just appeared out of nowhere!
In my experience, novels were more profitable and a look at the current market suggests that’s still the case.
In furry publishing there was a “Gold Rush” of anthologies. It started around FANG Vol. 4 in 2012, the first volume to be based on a theme rather than a genre, with a one-book editing team. This proved to be a highly successful model; while it’s always been hard to find recurring editors for anthologies, many authors were very interested in overseeing and editing one anthology, as part of a series or one-off, and dozens of really great anthos were published on a variety of themes.
But few of them were really profitable, so by 2015 the boom started to ebb, as publishers focused on their most profitable offerings. Novels, and established series like FANG and ROAR. That sounds mercenary or dismissive, but even when the editor works for free and there’s no cover art, it’s still a gamble whether an anthology will break even.
Thurston Howl has spoken on this topic, how they produce their wealth of anthologies almost more for the authors than the readers, and I respect that immensely. They put tons of work into these books out of a desire for them to exist, and that’s fantastic.
What do you believe is the biggest misconception about the process of publishing, either specific to furry publishing or generally?
The meaning of “profitability”. As I mentioned earlier, most furry publishers have focused more on profitable titles, but it’s wrong to imagine them as cigar-chomping executives that care nothing about art, only about the fancy new swordfish they can buy for the piano-shaped pond in their third home.
When I ran Bad Dog Books only FANG Vol. 1 had been profitable within a year of publication, and that profit wasn’t enough to cover the first-year losses of the next two volumes, let alone ROAR Vol. 1. FurPlanet can produce those books much more efficiently, since they can do their own American sales directly, and they also decided to start adding cover art, which improved the sales of FANG and ROAR measurably.
But nobody’s getting rich. The recent news from Goal Publications is case in point. Everyone in furry publishing could make more money if they used their skills somewhere else, but they stay because they genuinely, honestly care about furry fiction.
It’s uncommon for publishers to be included in writers’ guilds, but in furry that’s almost unimaginable. The people most passionate about furry fiction are often publishers — because why else would you get into furry publishing?
So when a publisher weighs whether a project will be “profitable”, they’re thinking about all the projects they’ve already worked on, where they worked for free and paid more money to authors than they earned from sales. They love profitable projects, especially reliably profitable ones, because that allows them to raise their pay rates, first for writers, then for editors and artists.
And they have! I started FANG with a rate of 0.1 cents per word back in 2005, and I think I went as high as 0.2 or 0.3 cents by 2012 (those books didn’t turn a profit, remember). Nowadays FurPlanet’s rate for FANG is now 0.5 cents! That’s really, really incredible. And it’s a credit to the writers, editors and audience — and to the publishers.
It’s always said “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but just how important is cover art to the success of a book?
When FurPlanet started commissioning art for FANG and ROAR I was astonished at the effect on sales, and I’ve become convinced of the value of high-quality, attention-grabbing cover art. When a reader is considering their next book purchase, the cover definitely plays a role. Good cover art shows that the publisher or author invested in it — that they considered it worth investing in.
Is there anything you would like to see more of in furry fiction?
The fandom is more diverse than ever, and the world of furry fiction is rapidly catching up to that reality. We need more of that, and faster. We need to hear more voices, from women, trans and enby and GNC people, BIPOC people, Native people, neurodiverse people, younger and older people, . We need to hear about other experiences, other cultures and religions, other ecosystems and economies.
What has been your favourite book to work on recently? Why?
It’s been a while since I’ve been in publishing, but since I started the short story reading podcast The Voice Of Dog I’ve been involved in the furry writing community again, and one of the authors whose work I read on the show hired me to record the audiobook for his upcoming debut novel.
It’s called “The Quantity of Desire”, by Payson R. Harris, and it’s a fascinating fantasy story …about a minotaur who’s stolen from his homeland as a child and sold as a slave in the human world. Two major phases of his growing-up are under the “ownership” of a wealthy industrialist, and under the loving guidance of an earthier, more vivacious man. He has to resolve and synthesize their very conflicting worldviews in order to become his own kind of leader, to protect people from a growing supernatural menace.
It appealed to me because of the clear vision the author had of the story he was trying to tell: yes, there’s monsters and magic and archers and trials and politics, but it’s about growing up. How do you take everything you’ve learned and blend that with who you’ve become, and use the best of all of that to succeed?
There’s a fun, diverse cast of characters across gender roles, genders and personalities, with gay, bi, poly and enby people and relationships that just… *are*. I had tremendous fun reading it and I can’t wait for it to come out! [FWG Note: Because of the delay between when this interview was done and now, this book is already out – click here!]
We hope you’ll check out Voice of Dog – there are so many wonderful stories masterfully narrated by Khaki and other readers.
Tomorrow we speak with a writer who also delves into the more visual side of storytelling.