I’m a huge fan of Sumiko Saulson. You know those “two fans” she always talks about? Well, one of them would be me. I think she’s an amazing writer and an awesome person, and I love how candid she was in this interview. Read on, and you might see just what makes her one of my favourite writers just from this interview! You can also find her on Facebook by clicking HERE.
(Be Warned! Possible spoiler alert for I…Stammer…in Disbelief from her book “Things That Go Bump In My Head.” Excellent, EXCELLENT read, by the way!)
1.) I think the literary world would be lacking without your voice. Your style is different because it’s matter-of-fact and to the point, and seeing that in fictional horror adds this air of reality to the story. It contributes to the overall chill-factor. That’s what I get as the reader, but how would you describe your “voice” as the writer?
Thanks! I’m glad you think so. I’ve never given the question much thought, always figuring that was the kind of question the reader will be better equipped to answer than the writer. When I write, I try not to censor myself too much in the first draft, because that tends to lead to writer’s block. Rather, I allow whatever seems natural to happen occur in the story in the order it occurs to me. Usually, I construct a character first, and decide how he or she thinks… from that point, once the character is established, there is a way that the character would to me, naturally interact with the environment. One way of looking at it is as if the characters in the stories are like characters in a role playing game, only as the author I’ve taken ownership of all of these roles and have to mentally act in my mind at least, how their environment affects them. Since I come up with a realistic character first, later, when the character is introduced into a surreal environment or situation, I am able to deduce how the character will react based upon who he or she is. Once a guy I know from San Francisco picked up “Solitude”, started reading it in the middle, and said it was a really great autobiography. I had to explain that it wasn’t autobiographical and that none of the people in it were real. When I wrote that story, my goal was to write a group of typical San Franciscans. San Francisco happens to be diverse so they would up being a diverse group. Most people who read my writing say they find the characters easy to relate to, or they find affinity with one or more characters. That’s the goal, really, because if the reader doesn’t care about the character, then the reader won’t care what happens to the character. Even when you have a character like the Harold Stammer in “I, Stammer (in disbelief)” who is completely unlikable, the reader has to kind of hate his guts enough to be rapt in attention, waiting to see if something really bad happens to him. So I would say that’s the construction… I try to make character’s points of view sound like someone the reader might be able to envision knowing or conversing with. I try to keep the tone casual. That way the reader is in a relaxed state when something shocking happens.
2.) When you receive feedback from a reader, is it usually spot on with what you were trying to convey in your writing, or does it sometimes make you re-analyse bits and pieces of your own work?
I don’t write fiction that is particularly complicated for the reader to understand. One difference between James Joyce and James Michener is that you can generally understand what Michener is talking about if you read at a high school graduate level. You don’t need to take special language courses or look for fifty layers of meaning in every sentence. My writing is intentionally unpretentious, and I write it so that my intended audience can receive it. There may be layers of meaning – for example, Solitude has certain underlying ecological themes, and The Moon Cried Blood has underlying feminist ones, that not everyone will pick up on, but the books can be understood without them. I’m always stunned when I receive reader feedback. I’m really pleased that anyone reads my writing at all. I try to respond to it whenever I get it.
3.) Why horror, and do you get funny looks from people when they find out you’re a horror writer?
I grew up reading and watching horror, and my life has had a sufficient amount of actual trauma to make me well qualified for the task of horror writing. Sometimes they do… I get a lot of “do you mean speculative fiction?” or “do you mean science fiction?” and… to be honest, it’s basically associated with the idea that a horror writer doesn’t look like me. A lot of people don’t seem to think that women, or black people, or especially black women are sitting around writing horror. The worse bad reactions come from the types of women who think that it’s just not appropriate or genteel. They say “I don’t read horror” with a look on their faces like I just passed gas, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a man say that to me. Ever. So it seems that some people think of horror as a bad girl kind of thing that one needs to publicly disassociate from. I find that amusing.
4.) The great thing about the internet, and Facebook particularly (and yes, myspace then and now, though it doesn’t seem to have the same networking opportunities, unless I just need to learn it all over again), is that you can seek out people who are in the same line of work or have the same interests. I feel that I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to “know” you, even though it may be “only” online. How do you feel about forging relationships with other writers and your fans from all over the world that you’ve never met?
I would have quickly given up on writing after my first novel if I didn’t have other writers to talk to. People who are writers – who have already finished something and put it out there, and been brave enough to see what other people think of it – can understand what it means to make that leap. And it really is a leap, when you decide that you’re ready to put your writing out there where other people can see it and not just hide it safely under your bed and talk about it mysteriously as the novel you’re going to someday write. There are stages and pains that you just don’t want to have to go through alone. They can shut you down. I’m really grateful for my online writer friends, and for the ladies in the two face-to-face writer’s groups I’m involved with. They keep me focused and motivated, and most importantly, help me to maintain a sense of humor about the long haul.
5.) I say that I use Facebook for marketing. The problem is that sometimes I actually use it more for personal and conversational purposes. Do you feel that Facebook is helpful as a writer, or more of a hindrance?
It is helpful as a writer, but if you didn’t use it more for personal and conversational purposes, it wouldn’t be very useful for you as a marketing tool unless you straight up paid Facebook. People are going to hide you from their stream if all you ever do is try to sell them something or ask them for money. Sure – we need money. I know I do. But your friends and acquaintances don’t want to feel like you’ve turned into a sales robot.
6.) I loved how you merged Women in Horror Month with Black History Month (both of which fall in February), and with such enthusiasm! Being that both demographics are underrepresented in horror, this is big! You worked hard to become an official ambassador for Women in Horror Month, so what was it like to have this amazing opportunity?
It was really exciting for me! It was also a LOT of work, but work I felt was important because we are both underserved and underrepresented communities. If I didn’t feel it was, and if I didn’t get emails from people like Linda Addison and Jemiah Jefferson expressing how important the work was, I might have just given up because it’s hard to keep doing something that you’re not getting paid for and that is taking up extra time in the middle of your current school and work schedule, and not to get burned out. But I also thought it gave me something to feel happy about and keep me busy in the wake of my father’s death in January. I was still really reeling in February, just sort of coming to terms with it after spending most of January handling things like funeral arrangements and raising money for the funeral and out of town relatives. Also, the amount of assistance I received from others with the funeral – not just me, but my family – people who cared about my dad being a veteran – really touched me and made me feel like I should do something to give back.
7.) After I read, “I, Stammer…(In Disbelief)”, the title made complete sense! I feel like I have a secret to hold over those who haven’t read it yet. But I gotta ask, what does it feel like to give a main character who happens to be a jerk a little dose of karma?
That’s a story that I read aloud on several occasions, and the audiences really just loved to hate Harold Stammer. I liked role-playing out his voice, and I really cracked up doing it. The thing is, when I write a story I’m pretty much putting myself in the headspace of the character, so even though Harold was a self-centered misogynistic douche, I wasn’t exactly thinking or even feeling “yea, I hope he gets it, he’s a low life” when I wrote it. No, I was having fun pretending to be a self-absorbed idiot. It was cathartic, really. I’d just finished writing a bunch of serious stuff like “Dead Horse Summer” and I needed a break.
(((Sidenote from Joslyn: If you want to hear Sumiko’s impression of Harold Stammer, check it out HERE!)))
8.) Being on the indie scene can be a bit difficult when it comes to getting your work out there. What advice could you give to someone who is trying to promote his or her work?
Keep writing. You really want to accumulate writing if you can, because if you start to get a lot of attention at some point you might find as I do that it interferes with your ability to write easily. It’s easier to write when you don’t feel under any pressure because you don’t think anyone gives a crap about what you’re writing. Trying to write the sequel to “Solitude” is just, so much harder because I know there are people anticipating its release. In order to write on it, I have to mentally convince myself that no one is waiting and there’s no pressure. Weird, right?
9.) What, for you, is the most rewarding part of being a writer?
I always wrote. I started to write stories at an age when many people can’t even read. When I am writing, I feel like I am being myself and doing what comes naturally to me, rather than trying to find something more economically feasible to spend my time on.
10.) After reading several of your stories, I can’t imagine you being afraid of anything! Is there anything that truly scares you?
Of course I am. I couldn’t write anything very scary if I was a fearless person. Writing is a way for me to process and cope with my personal fears and anxieties, which are myriad. I often write frightening parts of stories in the middle of the night – if it doesn’t give me the creeps, I figure it’s just not that scary. Sometimes I integrate my own fears into stories from memories – like that scene with the maggots in “The Moon Cried Blood” – something like that really happened to me, and I was afraid of maggots forever. In fact, they still creep me out .
11.) What do you want your readers to take away with them after reading one of your books, and what is your main goal as a writer?
My main goal as a writer is to entertain people. My secondary goal as a writer is to integrate horror. When I was a teenager and I read horror stories, it always bothered me that there either were no black people, or if there were, they were usually being martyred in Stephen King. And at least Stephen King actually HAD black people. When I read “Queen of the Damned” by Anne Rice, boy was I excited. There were vampires from any number of cultures all over the globe, multiple races, and these just fantastic descriptions of how vampirism was affecting the melanin in their skin and eyes. When I was older, I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and saw how psychological horror was really a part of the plot of the novel. But it wasn’t until I read L.A. Banks that I was actually holding in my hands a book by a black woman with multicultural characters about vampires and vampire slayers. It was that last that made me feel like it was OK for me to write horror – L.A. Banks. She died a couple of years back and I think that there is a feeling a lot of us have that now is the time, we have to keep the idea that horror is something black people can read and write out there.
12.) What story, or book, that you have written, are you most proud of?
The first one, “Solitude,” because it was so much harder because I’d never finished a novel before. Finishing it gave me this tremendous sense of accomplishment. And also, “Warmth,” for another reason, because it was the first book that my dad read and talked to me about, I mean the villain pissed him off so much he just called me one day saying he hoped he would get to the part where I killed her off already. That’s a strong reaction, someone just loathing a character so much that he or she can’t stop reading until the question of whether or not this bad guy is gonna get it in the end gets resolved.
13.) Could you give us a little taste of what we can look forward to from you?
I’m working on a sequel to “Solitude” called “Disillusionment” which I hope to have completed by October. It is a response to reader feedback about the novel, and addresses elements of the story that the readers asked me about, or matters they felt were not entirely resolved, so I don’t want to give too much away but yes, that’s what’s next.
And a VERY big thanks so Miss Sumiko Saulson for taking the time to answer my questions. You can purchase “Things That Go Bump In My Head” RIGHT HERE, and don’t forget to check out “Solitude” and “Warmth” as well. You’ll be glad you did!
If you’re a writer, you may very well know how stressful it can be as you go through the process of writing a billion query letters and waiting for the responses. Just wondering if you have your query letter perfect, or if you even have a chance at writing, can make you wonder if you should keep going and, if so, where to go from there.
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Kent Holloway http://kenthollowayonline.blogspot.com of Seven Realms Publishing http://www.sevenrealmspublishing.com! He answered those questions and thensome, including the burning question of how e-books have changed the book world as we know it! Not only was the interview informative, but Mr. Holloway’s delivery was so entertaining, I cracked a smile once or twice, and I even found myself stifling a giggle at times. His enthusiasm for writing, publishing, and books is absolutely contagious! If you’re a writer, you may want to read this, especially if you are trying to get published; I’m certain this interview will answer some of your own questions, and best of luck to all on your destinations to publication!
(P.S. Don’t forget to check out the new-and-upcoming titles from Seven Realms Publishing, featured at the end of this blog!)
Interview with Kent Holloway: Seven Realms Publishing
1.) What are some qualities that you have to have to succeed in your line of work?
To be a publisher (a decent one anyway), I kind of think there needs to be three major qualities.
1) Strive for Patience. Let’s face it, there are a lot of things going on that can go wrong in the publishing business and very little time, money, or other resources that can be wasted. I have to remind myself when I get a little stressed or frustrated that whatever irritation that has reared its head at any given moment will pass and that it’s important to take things in stride.
2) Strive for Compassion. This might sound strange coming from a publisher, but I think a certain amount of compassion should be an absolute requirement in any publishing company. I’m not saying that it’s going to happen. I’m just saying there should be. We need to remember that people have worked hard to put their books together. They’ve infused their works with great portions of their soul. Granted, sometimes, even the greatest of labors do not produce good authors. Or perhaps, the story just doesn’t fit with a particular company’s vision or game plan. Or, what I believe is the most common scenario, a particular manuscript just doesn’t appeal to the subjective tastes of the acquisitions editor. That’s perfectly fair. Perfectly reasonable. But what is neither perfectly fair or reasonable is to forget to have compassion when we decline their submissions. When we forget to be human.
Now, I won’t lie and say that I’ve always acted with the utmost of empathy toward every single submission that is sent to me. No. On the contrary…to my own mortification, I have been bombarded with submission after submission during a time or two in which A) we weren’t accepting submissions and B) I was up to my eyeballs in edits, promotional work, book cover design, interior formatting…etc., etc. etc. And you can imagine what comes next.
That’s right. I reason that our website clearly states we are not accepting submissions at the moment. I’m just simply too busy to deal with them right now. And into the trash bin their submissions have gone. Without even the slightest glance.
I don’t tell you this because I’m proud. No way! It, like I said earlier, mortifies me that I would behave so callously. But that’s my point of why I say a publisher should “strive” for compassion. We’ll all have lapses. We’ll all become overwhelmed with the day to day operations of running a company. And we’ll all occasionally lose that patience I mentioned in #1 and fail to have compassion on someone who simply wants to see their greatest dreams fulfilled. But what we must try to do…must make an absolute priority…is to try to always deal with those who seek publication from us with a great amount of compassion and respect.
3) Love your books. The final thing I think that is essential for a publisher is to LOVE the books he publishes. All too often, publishers rely on trends or market research or blah blah blah. Forget all that. Don’t worry about whether Harry Twilight is still popular or not. The publisher would do very well to listen to his/her own tastes. Her own instincts. His own…dare I say it…enjoyment of the manuscript itself.
To me, it’s relatively obvious. If a publisher isn’t one hundred percent in love with a book that he publishes, then how on earth is he going to sell it? How is he going to market it? How is he going to put his one hundred percent into it? And writers, let me say this…you don’t want a publisher to publish your book who doesn’t believe in it completely. No matter how badly you want to see it published…if you don’t feel that the publisher is completely into it, don’t let them touch it. Move onto the next one until you find the company who loves it even more than you do!
2.) What are some qualities that can help a writer to become successful?
Well, in a nutshell, I’d say all three of the characteristics I mentioned for the publisher. If both parties would learn to strive for patience and compassion, the process would go a lot more smooth.
In addition, I don’t think there should be anyone on earth who loves their book more than the author. When I first decided to pursue writing…long before deciding to become a publisher…I did so with one absolute in mind. I would only write books that I wanted to read. I would only write books that I personally loved. The entire world can hate and despise my books…but as long as I wrote something that appeals to me, I could really care less what others think about it. I’m writing for an audience of one basically. If other people enjoy the show, it’s all the sweeter!
On a practical level, I’d say the paramount quality a writer has to have is—quite simply—talent. It doesn’t take much, but writing does require at least a miniscule portion of raw talent. If the writer has just a smidgeon of talent, they can hone and perfect that through practice, practice, practice. And how does a writer practice? By writing, writing, writing…um, and reading (a lot), then writing some more.
Finally, a thick skin is absolutely essential for obvious reasons. You pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your work. More times than not, you’ll have your soul ripped out of your work by criticism (both fair and unfair). So, it’s best to refer back to the part where I said you should only write books that you personally love. You’ll find the skin is much thicker that way!
3.) Do you have any query peeves? What will guarantee that a query letter will go straight to the slush pile?
I have three primary query peeves. And every single one of them can be summed up by one characteristic: arrogance.
Here are my peeves:
- · Sending me a query submission despite the fact that my website clearly states that we are not accepting submissions at this time…in numerous places throughout the website. Typically, for any publisher, submissions are closed for a reason…not just to annoy writers. In a small press like 7R, we’re just getting started. We really do have very limited resources and we can only publish a handful of titles per year. I typically close submissions when I simply have no room for more titles for the year (or maybe even the following). It’s not that I’m being insensitive to the author’s plight. It’s just that I physically and financially cannot consider any more submissions at the moment.
So, when I receive a query despite the numerous places on my website that says SUBMISSIONS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, I get a little annoyed. What that author is saying to me when they do this is, “Yeah, I know submissions are closed for other people, but my book is so incredibly special, you’ll thank me for disregarding the rules and sending it anyway.” And they could be absolutely right. It could possibly be the next Twilight or Harry Potter. And if they send it to me that way…well, then I guess we’ll miss out on publishing the next great fad in publishing because I typically disregard these submissions out of hand.
Sometimes, such as now, I put on the website that submissions are by “invitation only” (which we’ll come back to a few questions down). When I have submissions by invitation only, I do allow for some room for people to send queries if they’d like. But they are placed on a lower priority bracket than those I’ve specifically requested from people.
- · Completely disregarding the submission guidelines. This one really drives me crazy. I’ve been rather specific on the format in which I want all of our submissions to be sent. I’ve talked about sending the initial query letter with a brief synopsis, then to paste the first three chapters into the body of the email. Simple, right? Well, apparently, not for quite a few people because I can’t even begin to tell you the crazy styles and formats I’ve received as queries. For someone to completely disregard the guidelines in such an obvious way tells me immediately that this is one person (I hesitate to call them an author) that I do not want to work with. After all, who wants to work with someone who can’t follow directions?
- · Sending a query that is entirely too familiar, personal, or silly. Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I cannot stand pretentiousness. I don’t like anything fancy. There’s nothing worse to me than wearing a suit and tie or being all ceremonial. At 7R, we are very laid back. Very relaxed. My authors have become like my family, so there’s no need to the formalities.
But if you’re not one of my authors (yet) and you don’t know me personally, then we need to be introduced. A query letter provides that introduction. If you saw me on the street and wanted to introduce yourself, you wouldn’t walk up to me and expect me to do the “secret handshake” with you, would you? Of course not…because we don’t know each other well enough to have a secret handshake. So, why would a person approach a potential publisher with such a cavalier demeanor.
Yes, I know they tell you to approach query letters like you have the utmost confidence in your book (you SHOULD have utmost confidence in your book…especially if you hold to my “Love your book” philosophy)…but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Now by overly personal query emails, I’m not referring to whether they address me as Mr. Holloway or Kent. That just depends on how your mamas raised you on how you want to handle that. I’m just saying that it is probably wise that you don’t act like the potential publisher and you went to one too many keggers while in college together…unless, of course, you actually did. Then you might actually have some leverage over the publisher to consider your work.
4.) Now, if a person commits these faux-pas, what, if anything, just *might* grant them enough redemption so that you would finish reading the query, or even move on to the sample chapters?
A display of sincere humility. Hey, we’re all human! We make mistakes. We become over eager. We’re really excited about this awesome manuscript we’ve just completed after working on it for so long and we just get carried away when sending them out to publishers and agents. If the author, realizing their mistake without me saying anything, writes back and shows true humility…explains why they might have been overzealous, etc…that would go a very long way in, not only giving them another shot, but also helping me to like them even more.
You see, let’s be honest…anyone can write a novel. It’s true. They can. Some novels are naturally better than others, but when it comes down to it, anyone can punch out letters on a keyboard and throw down a completed manuscript. And frankly, I’m more concerned about the author’s state of mind and whether they are going to listen to what I, as the publisher, say without arguing or bowing up and playing prima donna on me. An author who shows great humility is an author who is flexible and open to making their manuscript the very best it can be! That goes a very long way in helping me decide whether I want to work with that author or not.
6.) It seemed that a few years back, the world of writing and publishing was on the decline because readers had swapped paperbacks for e-books. From what I had read, publishers and agencies were more choosey with the projects they took on, and writers had a harder time breaking into print. With e-books, Kindle, and the spread of technology in this field, how has it changed things for those in publishing, and for the writers?
It’s actually an amazing thing. The explosion of ebooks, not to mention digital Print-On-Demand (POD) book printing, has blasted the gates of publishing that had been barred for so long. Anyone…from the little granny who wants to write her memoirs for family and friends to the aspiring next Clive Cussler…now has the opportunity to share their brilliant works with the world. Even more, they don’t even need a publisher to do it. With services such as Lulu.com and Createspace.com, writers can have their own books available in print. And with a little study, they can upload their books as ebooks at absolutely no cost through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.
Of course, POD and ebooks—well, the digital revolution in general—have allowed people like me an opportunity to gain relatively equal footing with the big publishers. After all, in cyberspace, shelf space is unlimited! (And yes, you don’t know how badly I wanted to use a “no one could hear you scream” joke there…but this is evidence of my maturing.) Seven Realms books sit side by side with Simon & Schuster, St. Martins, and Penguin books. With a little luck, some decent marketing, and a touch of patience, my authors at 7R have just as much chance to succeed as anyone. It’s really a beautiful thing!
However, going back to my original statement about it allowing anyone to publish without need for a publisher, one might ask…well, why do they need you? Well, publishers still come in handy. We have more experience at the whole putting a book together (editing, cover design, promotion, etc.) than the average author. However, I do foresee a day where the publisher might literally be replaced by another animal altogether! But that’s a question for another time (and yes, I’m very prepared for that day. It will be a good day for publishers and authors alike actually).
7.) Aside from publishing, do you also act as a literary agency for your authors? What other services do you offer?
We are a straight up publishing company. We do not act as literary agents. After all, that’s an entirely different profession. However, I will say that there have been times that I’ve recommended other publishing companies to authors in those unfortunate times that I’ve had to decline their manuscripts. I’ve tried to point them in a plausible direction for their particular work. But it’s actually very bad business to act as both publisher and literary agency. I’d hazard to say it borders on the unethical and I wouldn’t trust any company that dabbled in both.
8.) I love how Seven Realms Publishing promotes its authors. You give *EXCELLENT* PR! What are some of the career backgrounds of those at Seven Realms Publishing, and how does it extend into your field?
Ha ha! This is a great question simply because the answer may sound so…um, insane. Until recently (like up until the last three months or so), I, Kent Holloway, have been every single employee 7R has. That’s right. I acted as managing editor, editor, cover artist, cover designer, marketing specialist, web designer, FB promoter, Tweeter, book interior formatter, printing and distribution coordinator….and all while having another 40 hour a week job to put food on the table. Oh, and that forty-hour a week job? I’m a forensic death investigator for a Medical Examiner’s Office.
However, though my profession has been investigations for more than 10 years, I have done a number of other jobs. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a high school English teacher, an assignment editor for two TV news stations, a private investigator, a probation officer, and a preacher (yes, I’m an ordained Baptist minister as well). So, pretty much, all of these experiences have taught me a great deal about promotion.
But honestly, I don’t see what I do as “marketing” or “promotion”. I see it has trying to do the world a favor. You see…if I go to a restaurant and discover the “World’s Greatest Pie.” I am so going to savor every morsel of that pie. Then, I’m going to run out and tell everyone I know and love about that pie. I’m going to recommend that they go immediately and try that pie. I’m going to write down directions to the restaurant. Heck, I’m going to drive them to the restaurant myself if I have to…just so they can experience that awesome pie (and of course, I’d get me more pie while I was there). Well, that’s how I see 7R books. I honestly don’t publish a single book that I am not 100 percent enthusiastic about. If I love that book, then I’m going to want you to love that book too. But you can’t love that book like I do unless I tell you about it. So…that’s why our PR campaigns may seem so enthusiastic. Because I truly am.
Oh, and FYI…I’ve recently hired some help. Have a handful of contract editors (including an editor-in-chief). Have several contract artists for book covers. Recently acquired a business partner to handle much of the business-ey things that bore me….just so I can spend more time doing the things I love to do…which is telling others about our books.
9.) I’ve read a lot of positive things about smaller publishers, like they have more freedoms that larger publishing houses do not, and that publisher-author relationships are more on a personal level. Could you elaborate on some of the perks you get as a “small” press?
Oh, I love this question! You’re absolutely right. The relationship between author and publisher, I believe, is so much better in a small press environment. To be honest, I’ve never had a book published by one of the “Big Six”, so I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty…but from the things I’ve heard, I’d say I’m correct in saying that.
I have tried to make 7R an extremely author-friendly company. This goes from the contract to the production process and all the way through sales and marketing. As far as contacts, I believe 7R has some of the best terms out there (20%+ royalties across the board, decent advances (the royalty/advance varies on the notoriety of the author), and many other things). Then, the author has a huge say in the production process. For instance, cover design. We will not go with a cover that my author doesn’t absolutely love. We will work at the cover until everyone involved in the projects is completely satisfied. This is way different than most big companies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some of my Big Six author friends complain about the direction their publishers went on the book cover. That makes no sense to me. Once again, it goes back to that “gotta love the book completely” deal. If the author isn’t super excited about the book cover—and especially if they’re embarrassed by it—they’re not going to work as hard to promote it.
Even the editing phase is very author friendly. Yes, there are many things that must be fixed in the editing process. Things where there is simply no choice (like typos). But if one of my editors suggest a chance that is a matter of preference or a plot element that MIGHT make the story better, I usually trust the author’s judgment and allow them to make whatever changes they think will work best.
So, yeah, our authors do enjoy a great deal of “say” in the entire process and I think that really helps in creating the best books.
10.) When should a writer decide to retire the pen and paper? When their family sends back negative critiques? When they fail writing classes? When they receive Rejection Letter#1,234,567,890? Not that anyone is counting, *LOL*. . .
Oooh, I don’t like this question at all! Not that it’s not a very excellent question, mind you. It’s just that I am an encourager. I don’t like discouraging anyone from following their dreams. But let’s face it…the cold hard reality is that some people are just not cut out to be writers. Heck, they may be the best story tellers around…but when it comes to putting pen to paper and connecting a string of words together in a piece of prose, well, you know where I’m going with this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If a person isn’t cut out for writing, then I’m sure there is something that they can do that I couldn’t even begin to attempt in a million years. I’m reminded of one extremely gorgeous super model. She was (still is) amazing at modeling and, like I said, beautiful. Then, she is asked to do a commercial for a certain well known cola. And in this commercial, she has to sing. And when her mouth opens and the words start pouring from her mouth, her attractive-quality meter just starts spiraling downward with each stanza she blurts out. Oh, the humanity! What a horrible singing voice. [Um, not that I could do any better, mind you.] My point is, this woman is a highly successful model with an equally successful acting career. Who cares if singing isn’t one of her gifts. Just don’t ask her to sing again and we’ll all be okay.
So when should a writer give up the ghost? Give up the dream? Close the lid to his/her laptop for the final time and take up sculpting instead? I’ll refer you to rule three of the essential characteristics of an author. The moment the LOVE is gone, the author should stop. The moment the author becomes truly honest with himself. The moment they realize, “You know, this just isn’t working.” Only the author can determine the right time to give it up. And thank goodness for that!
11.) If you see potential in a piece, but maybe the word count is too low or too high, or maybe the manuscript requires a few changes here or there, would you work with the writer to make it marketable, or would you automatically give it a rejection?
I never really get caught up in word count to be honest. Granted, I would prefer at least about 70,000 words and I definitely don’t want too many novels over 120K. But I don’t use those numbers as a basis for if I decide to publish a book or not. Heck, a little secret here: we published Rick Nichols’ debut hardboiled detective novel (Survivor’s Affair) and it was a year later that I realized that the book was only about 55K words! Lol It’s just not a priority for me.
However, manuscript changes are another thing. There have been a couple of books we’ve published where I LOVED the story, but knew the manuscript was going to need a great deal of polishing. I’ve worked with these authors hard to bring their manuscripts up to 7R standards. To be honest, I probably won’t be doing that much in the future. My rule of thumb is, like most things in publishing, very subjective: If I feel the amount of work required to bring a book up to snuff is going to be too costly in both time, energy, and money…I probably won’t accept it.
Okay, let me rephrase that. If I REALLY REALLY like a story, I might sign the author for the book with the stipulation that they do a full re-write on my specifications. Then, I’ll ask them to fully edit their new manuscript and polish it up to near perfection before I even start the 7R process of editing it. If they’re willing to do that, it says a lot about them as authors and human beings.
Once again, it’s just a matter of subjective rationalizing. “Do I love the story enough to commit the time and resources required to publish this book?” If the answer is yes for me, then the author has a shot.
12.) As a writer, there is a lot of conflicting information when researching the perfect query letter. One will say to compare your work to other books; others tell you not to compare it to anything. Some agents/publishers feel any mention of their notable achievements is an insidious way to get ahead, while it lets others know why you chose them and makes them feel like you’ve done your research. And then, some don’t want to hear about your personal hobbies, interests, or achievements unless it’s pertinent to the writing, while others want a little insight into the person behind the writing. Since these things are subjective, and some agencies and publishing houses don’t list these preferences, how is one to know what’s right to include in that particular submission?
Wow. That’s a tough one. And the only way to answer that question honestly is to shrug my shoulders and mumble “Idunno.” Seriously. How can anyone on earth keep up with all the craziness in regards to queries? You’d almost have to be Kreskin to do it. Or maybe God. It’s a mystery as big and as wide as the Bermuda Triangle and just because I’m on the other side of the query desk doesn’t give me any more insight.
So here is my tip to you: ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS follow the submission guidelines of the particular agent/publisher to the letter (even if it requires you to write one hundred and three different query letters). If they didn’t specifically say they wanted a particular piece of information on their website, then they can’t very well hold you responsible for not providing it. Then, if you decide to add things like accomplishments and/or hobbies (FYI, I’m personally only concerned with one thing when I read a query…does it tickle my fancy!), feel free to do it unless the instructions tell you explicitly NOT to include that information.
As long as you follow the guidelines to the letter, you will be okay. Promise.
13.) Is it better to regard a query letter as “All-Business”, or to let the voice convey the feel of the actual manuscript? What do you look for in a query letter?
On this one, I can’t speak for other publishers. It’s one of those very subjective concepts, I believe. As I have already mentioned, overly-friendly queries lose my interest very quickly. If I feel I’m not being given the amount of respect that should be given (I’m very old fashioned with very southern ideals (so I like Yes, ma’am and No, sir kind of etiquette)), then it’s a turn off real quick.
At the same time, I don’t want a query letter to read like a “How To Build Your Very Own Proton-Pack Generator” manual either. If you can make me laugh, then all the better. Just make sure your jokes are truly funny. I had one clown send a query letter to me once that actually poked fun at some of our titles (and in a very mean-spirited way, I think). Not very funny to me actually. Instant rejection, to be quite honest.
But I think a professional demeanor in a query letter is probably the safe way to go. Just don’t confuse “professional” with “Arid Extra Dry”.
14.) I see a lot of publishers and agencies that only take proposals upon invitation. How does one go about getting a request to send in a proposal or manuscript?
Well, as I’ve already stated, 7R is currently “Invitation Only”. Hmmmm…so how does one get an invitation? Well, I’d say the most common way is simply for me to know about your work and think you’d be a good fit. That’s how it happens most of the time. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Scottish indie author of Lovecraftian-style detective stories William Meikle. So, I approached him and will be publishing his The Concordances of the Red Serpent in print around December 2011. Same with Hy Conrad and his upcoming Rally ‘Round the Corpse cozy mystery…I’m a huge fan of his, even before he became the writer/producer of TV’s MONK. So I actively pursued him and he agreed to let me publish him.
Then, there have been those authors who were suggested to me by other 7R authors (Sean Ellis is notorious for introducing me to potential authors). So, it’s sort of a “who knows you” kind of thing.
Still, when 7R does the by “invitation only” thing, I usually allow for unsolicited queries. I don’t feel obligated to respond to them (as I would if submissions were opened), but if a query catches my eye, they may receive an invitation for more.
I honestly can’t say how it works for other publishers though.
14.) I’m reminded of the old joke. The teacher goes to her student’s house and says, “Susie, is your mother home?” and Susie says, “She ain’t here.” The teacher says, “SUSIE! YOUR GRAMMAR!” to which Little Susie responds, “She ain’t here, neither.” Because of the type of work that you do, does it make you *cringe* whenever someone uses improper grammar?
Haha! Love that joke. And as to the question, well, it kind of depends on the context. Anyone who reads this interview can see that I don’t necessarily follow all the rules of grammar to the letter. Plus, I tend to overuse the ellipses like a madman. But if a person is writing dialogue of a character and the improper grammar is true to the character, then I’m fine with it. If certain use of improper grammar goes with the voice of a particular work, I can overlook it from time to time as well.
But if you’re submitting a query to me or if you’re presenting yourself as an author, then you better be able to show me that you have a strong command of the English language.
I guess where my pet peeve comes in is the use of texting language. There is nothing more disheartening to me than the explosion of popularity for grammatical conventions necessitated by the increase in texting. Granted, many linguists could argue that the English language is ever-evolving, ever-changing. It is alive. It is growing. Conventions of today were the texting conventions of twenty years ago. There’s no such thing as a language purist…at least, that’s what they say. Case in point, when I was in grammar school way back in the early 80s, I was taught a certain school of grammar. When I made it to high school and even college, it was MLS. Now, I believe the current accepted style of grammar comes from the Chicago Manual. Yet, when I was in seminary a mere seven years ago, we were forced to use Turabian’s manual. While I was a newspaper reporter, it was AP style. The point…grammar and English is constantly changing and how are we to keep up?
Answer: I have absolutely no idea. Just don’t “OMG” or “LOL” me when writing a query letter and we’ll both be happy. 🙂
15.) What gets you excited over a project? What really *WOWS* you?
Ummmm…that’s kind of like asking why is a sunset beautiful. It’s a very difficult one to actually answer. And I hate to spatter this interview with the word “subjective, subjective, subjective” but the truth is…most of publishing is exactly that. It’s completely subjective.
Once again, it goes back to my love for the book. But what kind of books do I love? It’s really hard to say. I don’t really have on particular genre that I enjoy. But I can say that I only have a handful of authors that I read consistently and will ALWAYS buy their next book. These authors: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (perhaps my favorite all time), Jim Butcher, Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, William Meikle, Sean Ellis.
I guess I would say I love adventure stories with a HINT of the paranormal about them. But it’s often a matter of just the story in general. Is there something about the concept that just resonates within me? Case in point…I’m currently reading a manuscript from a fairly well-known mid-lister for consideration. He was concerned that I might not like it because A) it didn’t fit with other books that 7R has done and B) it has certain elements that he thought I might find offensive considering my Christian background. But I encouraged him to send it to me anyway and I started reading it…and simply can’t stop. I absolutely love it. Why? I have no idea…except to just say, it’s just a great read. Very different. Very well-written. And the story is exceptionally well thought out.
So my answer to your question, in short, will have to be…it’s totally subjective. Sorry about that.
16.) Can you name a few upcoming titles from Seven Realms Press?
Oh wow! Can I?! J It would be my pleasure. Allow me to just list the next few books and their dates:
- · September 2011 – Double Heart by Rob MacGregor (NY Times bestselling author of seven Indiana Jones novels). Double Heart is a young adult mystery adventure set on a modern Hopi Indian reservation and features the adventures of a high school student there who starts investigating a murder only to find himself stalked by an evil shapeshifting witch known as Double Heart.
- · October 2011 – The Supernaturals by David L. Golemon (NY Times bestselling author of The EVENT Group series). Think Ghosthunters on steroids and you’ll get an idea of what this book might be like. A team of ghost hunters are recruited to investigate a house with a huge appetite for a live show on Halloween night! What could go wrong, right?!
- · December 2011 – The Concordances of the Red Serpent by William Meikle. An ancient text lost to the world resurfaces in the office of an unassuming book restorer…and her entire office is murdered because of it. Now on the run from both the bad guys and the police, she must turn to a mysterious reporter who knows much more about the book than he lets on for help.
- · January 2012 – Devil’s Child (Book 3 of The ENIGMA Directive series) by J. Kent Holloway. This is my own book and the third in my series of adventures featuring wisecracking cryptozoologist Dr. Obadiah “Jack” Jackson. In this adventure, Jack and the team travel to New York City where there’s a new tourist in town. It seems that Jersey Devil has left it’s comfortable territory of the Pine Barrens to take a bite of the Big Apple and Jack has to figure out why.
I want to give a *BIG* thanks to Mr. Kent Holloway of Seven Realms Publishing to taking time from his busy day to do this interview!
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