Worldcon 2015: Meet TANSTAAFL Press

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Everyone has a story. Most of them are glad to share it; all you have to do is ask. I caught up with TANSTAAFL Press publisher, Tom Gondolfi, at Worldcon in Spokane, Washington, and he was more than happy to answer my questions. TANSTAAFL Press is a small publishing house with big ideas. “An author who wishes to be a success can’t sit idly by in his ivory tower and only write books unless he is already a huge name … [We] define success as commercial viability and/or number of people reading your work … You must offer value for value. TANSTAAFL Press was founded in 2011 to bring one author down from his own ivory tower and let the public enjoy the value he provided from his fertile imagination.” In other words: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

Gondolfi describes himself as a Renaissance man. He’s an avid player of board games and RPGs, a reader, a writer, and he’s lived and worked in a wild variety of areas. “I have skills in a lot of areas. I have been a cook; I’ve done all phases of construction; I’m an engineer now; I was a personal assistant to a quadriplegic; I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for ten years, so I’ve done a little bit of everything, but I’ve never done anything in the publishing field …There was a lot of on-the-job training, so to speak.”

With all of those skills under his belt, how did he end up in the prestigious field of publishing? Gondolfi explains, “So, my wife handed me this book. It was called The Well-Fed Self-Publisher… I started to read it and realized that traditional publishers weren’t all that and a bag of chips. So, I decided to do it myself. The one thing I didn’t really know anything about was marketing to people, and that’s pretty typical of [anyone] who’s an author. I found out that I’m a natural flirt: as my wife calls it, ‘a certified flirt.’ So, it worked out really well.”

And that pretty well describes his business. In just three years, he has managed to publish seven books — while working a day job! In its infancy, TANSTAAFL Press faced an unexpected setback that almost caused it to be scrapped. “I looked for almost a year before I found an artist, an illustrator, that was both good and that would even talk to me, because a lot of artists don’t want to work with a new publishing house … the reason is that they’re worried their art is going to go onto something that sucks … but Tony [Foti] is a true commercial artist.”

TANSTAAFL Press takes a local and global approach to marketing its new works of fiction and showcasing debut authors. By actively marketing to independent booksellers in both traditional sales and consignment opportunities, they’ve cultivated a network of bookstores who promote local authors and help them build a hometown following. Reaching out to larger markets, both online and at conventions like Worldcon help them to expand their reach beyond that home base.

Fans of Gondolfi’s first book, Toy Wars, are in for a big treat. He has planned a sequel! “In fact, I’m about half way through writing it … Don Quixote returns!” He has much in store for all of his fans, and we must all wait with baited breath for his next work. If you’re not yet a fan of Toy Wars, it’s available for a limited time as a free Kindle download.

So far, TANSTAAFL has published two authors, Gondolfi and his good friend, Bruce Graw, and has recently signed two new authors: Christopher Bair and Stephanie Weippert. Gondolfi has published the first three books in a series called the CORPGOV Chronicles, and plans to write nine more. “The absolute least I have for each one is, here’s a paragraph and here’s the concept of what’s going to happen in the book. Some of them I actually have a really, really rough outline. But, it’s really rough.”

To new and aspiring writers, Gondolfi offered a pearl of wisdom: “One of the things that allowed me to do that [outline all nine of his future CORPSGOV Chronicles books] — because I used to hate outlining — was learning that outlining is not a strait-jacket. You can change an outline.” This may sound like something that is obvious, but most young writers don’t realize this, and they come to hate outlines because no one ever points this out to them.

We look forward to seeing what TANSTAAFL Press and its growing stable of talent will bring us next.