Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What it takes to be a publisher

Hats. I wear a lot of them these days.
Photo by Erkut Hanc─▒ cc license (CC BY 2.0)

I had a long conversation with Sharon Bially last week - a fellow writer who also happens to be a book publicist - and she remarked that I had a very interesting 'story' to share: that of forming a publishing imprint and wearing the dual hats of writer and publisher.

And it got me thinking that I should talk about what it means to be a publisher, both to outline the necessary steps in the process as my own reminder, but also to share that information with fellow writers and readers.

So I thought I'd write a series of posts, starting with the reasons I created Interrobang Books and what I hope to accomplish with it.

Going Indie

Unless you've been living on an island in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle without access to any media or the internet, I don't have to tell you about the massive changes to the publishing industry over the past ten years. When I started writing my first novel in 2004, I certainly didn't imagine I'd be publishing my own work. Remember, this was the time when self-publishing equaled vanity publishing.

In 2004, publishing really only meant one thing: that a writer had sold a manuscript to a publisher (typically through a literary agent), and that manuscript would, in a year to a year and half, be transformed into a physical book. The other option was to pay a hefty price to have a carton of books printed and if you were lucky (or persuasive enough) you might sell them, one at a time, to friends and neighbors. But in those years, this path was reserved for writers whose books weren't ready for prime time, or for your local organization's fundraiser cookbook.

EBooks didn't really exist in 2004. This was three years before Amazon released its first e-ink kindle, when reading electronically pretty much meant a pdf on your computer. There were early adopters of PDAs, but ebooks weren't common or easily available.

That first novel I finished wasn't anywhere near ready for prime time, though I didn't know that then. I did query agents for it. Shockingly, I got several requests for partial and full manuscripts, but nothing ever came of it. I kept writing and kept querying. My 3rd manuscript was the story that helped me sign with my then agent. Five years (and five novels later), she and I parted ways for a variety of reasons. I could cite changes and consolidation in the industry that narrowed the scope of what was being published, but at the end of the day, she and I weren't a match for one another.

During our partnership, even as she went out on submission for multiple projects, I was watching the world around me change and shift. EBooks became more popular and easier to access. Book stores were closing. Publishers were buying one another out in mergers. Software and sales channels that hadn't existed before suddenly made publishing  accessible in the way that word processors had made writing easier.

So by the time the agent and I broke our formal relationship, I had the knowledge, the technology, and the backlist to become my own publisher. 

The Name and the Message

I chose the name, Interrobang Books, because I have always loved the concept of the 'interrobang'. It is an old printer's mark, consisting of a question mark (the interrogative) and an exclamation mark (the bang). It was used, among other purposes, to denote a combination of delight and surprise.

If I have a 'brand', it is in writing character-driven stories set in worlds that don't quite exist so I can both delight and surprise the reader.

There's a lot of talk about 'brand' and 'platform' among writers these days. I look at it as a very simple issue: it's about intention and integrity. In everything I do, either as a writer or a publisher, I strive for authenticity. My 'message' is consistent, whether it is in a blog post, a status update, or a new novel.

The Mission

So when I started thinking about becoming a publisher, my overriding goal was to produce books that were professional quality in all their aspects. And that meant making a commitment to all parts of the process, from assessing the readiness of a manuscript, to editing, to proofreading, to formatting, to typography, to design, to cover art.

Part of any job is understanding the scope of the work and knowing your limitations.

I had the skills and the knowledge to be competent in some of those tasks. Others I knew I could learn. Some, however, I needed to outsource. I have no talent for drawing or painting. I can't even take a good photograph. So creating covers was not a job I would even attempt. And while I am a decent editor, I am not a professional editor, nor do I believe most writers can edit their own work effectively. Typography and formatting are skills I am good at (a misspent youth doing layout for a college literary magazine and yearbook), and I have learned to be even better.

One of the biggest challenges to being both an author and a publisher is in separating the tasks from ego.  When wearing my 'writer' hat, I need to be in love with the story. Engaging any sort of critical mindset is anathema to the initial creative process. But when it comes time to assess the marketability of a project, well, that takes a very different eye and a very different sensibility. And a whole lot of work.

But that's another post for another day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When everything happens at once

There is a feast or famine aspect of life as a writer. In drafting a new novel, an important part of the process is letting the story 'marinate' in the subconscious. To the non-writer, this can look a lot like daydreaming or being lazy. I can assure you, when a writer is in her native habitat, looking to all outside appearances as if she is not writing, there is story happening.

Tigger and Dustin only look like they're completely at rest.
If I said the word 'w.a.l.k.' or picked up a tennis ball, they'd
be up in a flash.

And when you are a writer/artist/musician/etc, it feels as if your life consists of long stretches of nothing happening, punctuated by intense times where everything seems to crash down on you at the same time.

This is where I am now.

I am not complaining; this is the life I chose after my very predictable career as a physical therapist. I love what I do and feel inordinately grateful that I have the ability to pursue a creative life.

This past weekend, I was immersed in geek/fan/writing culture at Arisia. I have been to other SF&F cons before, but this was my first Arisia. It was a riot of color and sound, of incredible cosplay, and wonderful conversations and connections with both creators and fans.  

It was incredible to spend time with my fellow members of Broad Universe, an organization dedicated to promoting women writing in speculative fiction. And I participated in the art show, displaying my ceramics for the first time.

One of the struggles of so many creative folk - myself included - is that we can tend to be introverts. I am what I call a 'social introvert', in that I am very outgoing and not at all shy. However, I need my quiet/alone time to recharge, especially after the immersion of interactions that is a con.

If I had my 'druthers, I'd spend the next week in deep silence. Unfortunately, I am running up against some hard deadlines, that are adding to my overall stress level. Again, they are for really great and exciting things; they are just happening all at once.

TIME AND TITHE, the sequel to THE BETWEEN, will be released the second Monday in February. And between now and then, there are an overwhelming number of details to be managed. Publishing one novel is work enough; I am rebranding THE BETWEEN with a new cover to match the art for TIME AND TITHE, so some of the work has doubled.

Jules Valera's new cover art for THE BETWEEN
And the cover for TIME AND TITHE is not quite done yet. I know it will be soon, and it will be fabulous when it's finished. I'm just feeling the crunch of time.

Because all of this work has to be completed by January 31st. When I travel to Iceland.

Again - not complaining! This is a trip that was an unexpected and unplanned adventure, and one that I am extremely excited about.

And when I return from the trip, the book releases and Boskone begins 5 days later.

:takes big, deep breath:

I can do this.

I know I can.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Trying to find center

Centering the clay, photo by BLW photography, used with permission, CC by 2.0

We are only nine days into the new year, and I'm already feeling overwhelmed. Although I'm not sure why I continue to believe that my life starts on a blank slate every January 1st. I am starting to realize there are not really endings and beginnings, only continuations, as one day blends into the next, one year into the next. It puts the concept of New Year's resolutions into a different kind of perspective for me.

What it means is that at any moment, we can choose to take a new course; that paradoxically, every moment is a chance for something to begin or something to end.

Anyway, enough philosophizing.

Even centering - the title of today's blogpost and the photo used above - is not entirely a metaphor. In ceramics, if the clay is not centered, you cannot throw. That's what happened to me last Friday. I wedged up a half-dozen balls of clay, planning to throw medium and large serving bowls.

What I accomplished instead was an afternoon of mud pies.

Nothing would center. Frustrated, I tried to open the clay and pull up the walls anyway. For my pains, I got what potters affectionately term 'the death wobble.' That's where the opening is not centered (natch - because the clay on the wheel is not centered) and one side of the wall is thick, the other thin. When the wheel spins, the clay wobbles and torques or collapses.

In movement, too, we need to be grounded in our physical center - the center of gravity - in order to function. Otherwise, we fall.

So yes, centering is a very real, physical phenomena.

And it's also a metaphor.

Right now, I'm feeling out of center. There's a lot going on in the next several weeks - much of it wonderful - but still, I'm having trouble staying in balance.

Between now and the middle of February, I will be attending Arisia and participating in the art show, readying TIME AND TITHE for publication, traveling to Iceland for a week (Yikes! But cool!), launching TIME AND TITHE, and attending Boskone, where I'm both in the art show and on panels.

:Takes big, deep breath:

My job in the next few weeks is to look for centering. That means not rushing the process on the wheel at the ceramics studio. That means not rushing about mindlessly (which I was doing yesterday and which meant that I started the day dropping and smashing a wrapped ceramic cup meant for a friend because I didn't take the time to be present.) That means taking the time to breathe, to do yoga, to shut down distractions when it's time to write.

May you be centered in your day and find the balance you need.

Friday, January 02, 2015


One of the lovely people I hang out with on Google plus posted a link to an article about this wonderful alternative to making New Year's resolutions, called "Rememberlutions."

I've never really been a fan of resolutions. They are too liable to make me feel like a failure, and, honestly, life is too short to spend it battling the inner demons whose voice are already strong enough. I don't need to give them even more ammunition.

So instead of resolutions, I will keep this jar and when the spirit moves me, I'll add a little note to it with an accomplishment (big or small) or memory. When I need a boost, I'll pick one out and read it.

The little blue slip in the jar is from yesterday. It reads:

Jan 1, 2015
A cold, crisp, hard sunshine day. N and I walked the dogs around Fresh Pond, then took them to the dog wash. We didn't do anything special, but simply waking together and enjoying the light became special. 
May 2015 be filled with many moments of joy, large moments and small, quiet ones.