As part of my ongoing series on indie presses, I’m excited to visit with speculative fiction novelist and publisher Grace Bridges. Grace is the author of two science fiction novels and the owner of Splashdown Books, an independent publisher of inspirational sci-fi and fantasy. In addition to chatting about the publishing industry, Grace is offering a free eBook (or PDF) of Aquasynthesis, Splashdown’s upcoming short story anthology, to five lucky commenters. The winners will be announced Monday the 25th and contacted via email with details. If you’d like to enter, please leave a comment on this post for Grace.
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MIKE: There’s so much debate about the state of the industry and the future of books and publishers. Is it safe to say that indie presses are booming? And if so, are the factors that have contributed to this a good or bad thing?
GRACE: As far as the industry goes, I’m really just along for the ride. Publishing is going somewhere fast, and we are on board traveling at speeds never seen before. The factors of digital print publishing and everyman’s ebook-making are definitely good things – after all, it allows me to do what I’m doing with a minimum of overhead. Sure, it may ease the publication of some bad books along with the good, but the good stuff tends to rise to the top. I do my thing with half an eye on the state of the industry, but the fact is, it doesn’t really impact us much down here in indie-land. When our books succeed, it has very little to do with the industry and everything to do with our authors and their own individual campaigns to spread the word of mouth.
MIKE: What is your vision for Splashdown Books? What prompted you to start it? Are you a natural entrepreneur or did you see a void that needed filled?
GRACE: Splashdown Books has a vision to provide a connection between authors and fans of a genre with the capability to transport the reader to other worlds. I see our aim as two-fold: to discover and publish great books, and to get those books into the hands of readers who want exactly what we’re giving. I started it because I kept coming across perfectly marvelous manuscripts in critique groups, and the consensus seemed to be that there wasn’t much hope of publication. I’m out to change that. In that sense I definitely stepped into a gap.
Back when I finished polishing up my first novel, I knew it would be well-received by the right sort of people, but there was pretty much nil chance of being published traditionally. The book was just plain too strange. I mean, how often do you get post-apocalypse mixed with virtual reality, biology, persecution of believers, and romance, set in Ireland and viewed through the eyes of a Kiwi in Germany (where I was living at the time)? So with some encouragement from the good folks at the Lost Genre Guild, I decided to take matters into my own hands four years ago. I learned how to format a book inside and out for print, and I gave myself the toughest standards along with a boatload of critique partners and editors and proofers. As I continued to swap critiques with other Guild members – finding some truly awesome stories along the way – I realized they would have the same kind of problem trying to get published, and that I could use my technical skills to do for them what I had learned to do for myself. Not everyone wants to be indie-published, and I understand that. I applaud those who have gone on to traditional publishing. Signing on with me is more like an employment contract than anything else – it has to be a good fit personality-wise, and my authors are asked to dig in with all the work there is to be done around here.
MIKE: What kind of learning curve was there to starting a new press and what were some of the unexpected obstacles you encountered along the way?
GRACE: You know, there are a thousand tiny things I’ve learned to do, and together they make up the curve. But none of them seemed significant at the time. I’m still learning! Whether it be the ins and outs of PDF formatting, or a newly discovered effect in a graphics program, or a different way to use social media – it never ends. Something unexpected? Well, publishing a book nearly always takes a lot more time and effort than you first think it will, even after gaining a reasonable amount of experience. It’s a fine art to plan out all the steps involved and allow sufficient time to do everything properly.
One thing I’ve had to learn lately is that I CAN’T do everything myself, much as I’d like to. So we are currently in the process of carving up the responsibilities and handing them off to this one and that one. It shocks me when my authors tell me they’re going to need a team to handle just one aspect of what I have done alone up until now. I mustn’t be a creative control freak – I’ve got to let my people do their thing in their way and come to me for the sign-off, rather than doing it all myself because I think wrongly that I might be faster or more pleased with the result. In the future, my website, marketing, newsletter, cover design, initial editing, and specific projects will be off my plate and in the capable hands of my team members.
MIKE: There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about independent presses, the types of quality they will “tolerate,” and the insular, perhaps “cliquish,” nature of their business. What are the most common myths or misunderstandings about independent presses?
GRACE: My biggest gripe lately is that many writers, especially those new to the business end of it, do not know the difference between self-publishing, vanity publishing, and indie publishing. They are three very different entities. Vanity is to be avoided at all costs (pun intended: vanity or subsidy presses are out to get your money). Self-publishing may be sensible for some books – it gives the author complete control over the project, and the cost as well, though much less than vanity. Indie is a branch of traditional publishing, where the author is never asked to pay anything. I object to being compared in any way to a completely different kind of business because vanity publishing especially – and self-publishing to a lesser degree – is notorious for bad quality books. With us, everything is carefully chosen and polished to its greatest potential. So you can understand that it makes my blood boil when new writers don’t want to consider the indie route because they think it is the same as vanity or self-publishing. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with self-publishing if proper standards of editing and design are applied. It can certainly be the perfect business decision for many authors. Yet what we do as an indie publisher is a very different animal indeed.
MIKE: Many authors are currently seeking self-publishing. What advantages are there to small press publishing versus self-publishing? Why should someone choose Splashdown Books over doing it themselves?
GRACE: Self-publishing is exactly what it says on the label: you’re by yourself. You have to learn how to publish, mostly without help except of the Google variety. You must learn or hire out your cover designing and formatting, and you MUST get external edits because self-edits are not sufficient. If you’re doing “real” self-publishing, you need to set up a business and a publisher name, even if it’s just for your own books, and sign on with a printer. “Easy” self-publishing would include options such as Lulu and CreateSpace, where you don’t have to set up as a publisher yourself, but then one of those entities would be your publisher of record. With them, you still do all the design yourself, and there is the option to purchase extra help with editing and design – but I don’t recommend that, as it’s rather pricey and the quality has often been called into question.
That’s print. For ebooks it’s even easier, with Kindle, PubIt, and Smashwords providing instant access to sales if your marketing is up to scratch. Some people are going this way and not bothering with print. All power to them – there is some decent money to be made if you have a good product. But it’s up to you and you alone to make it sell well, by its quality and by your marketing.
At Splashdown, nobody is alone. We’re a team – not just authors, but editors, artists, marketers. There’s always support for any issues that may arise, and we have a shared marketing plan to assist every author. We brainstorm together for book blurbs, covers and even titles. We critique each others work thoroughly – in fact that is the beginning stage of getting a book ready for publication. An early edit, one might call it. Then of course there are the major edits, two or three rounds by different people and finally by me, to scrub and tighten your story. When it comes time for those final copyedits and proofreads, the team is called in to help. You still get input on all the design choices as you would with self-publishing, but you don’t have to arrange it yourself (unless you want to). So in that sense it’s really the best of both worlds.
MIKE: As you know, a lot of writers who frequent my site are Christians, but are unhappy with the current content being labeled “Christian fiction.” They want “faith” elements in their stories without the ultra conservative strictures. Does Splashdown Books address that demographic? And, if so, what advice would you give to writers of such a genre?
GRACE: I think because we publish speculative fiction, we are already a bit out on the edge of “Christian fiction”. Sometimes our faith elements are truly minimal, visible only in the spirit intended by a Christian author behind the words. Others are a little more overt, but I’m no fan of preaching in fiction. I’m also no fan of strictures, so you’ll sometimes find stuff in our books that goes beyond what, say, the CBA might accept. You can be sure, though, that it won’t be gratuitous nor anything that makes me uncomfortable personally – because the buck stops with me.
Some of our readers have had issues with the idea of a future artificial intelligence gaining a type of spirituality, a fantasy world where slavery is acceptable, a divorce lawyerette getting hooks into a superhero’s wife, and various sexual situations with and without marriage – though nothing actually happens onstage, so those must have been well written to provoke to that extent, right? These are exactly the kinds of things I like to explore in fiction, and in every case they are 100% necessary to the story’s impact.
Advice for writers? Read this excellent post at the New Authors’ Fellowship. Quit whacking on the “other” more conservative type of writer, and let everyone tell the story they’re called to tell. Don’t worry about them. If you’re weird enough, maybe I want to publish you.
MIKE: What kinds of submissions are you currently looking for? Is there a genre or story that you are really seeking, one on the rise, or something entirely from left field?
GRACE: Right now we have a ton of fantasy – I’m not complaining, it’s GOOD fantasy! You can expect some exciting releases over the next year. But I’d love to see some more science fiction coming in. Virtual reality, cyberpunk, space travel, aliens, multiverse, time travel, space opera, steampunk, and whatever else is out there. I want concepts that mess with your mind, maybe even a little metafiction if it’s well-executed. Metafiction is a story within a story, e.g. a tale AND the tale of its author as she writes it, and how they interact. Or something like Galaxy Quest, where the fiction becomes real.
We have also just launched Splashdown Darkwater, a new imprint for supernatural and paranormal plus the darker sides of science fiction and fantasy. I have a couple of good prospects for that, but we need more. There is a great interest right now in supernatural and dark fiction, and we want to jump into that arena. And the direction is proving to be correct: our first supernatural title, Winter by Keven Newsome, has had the best launch of any book in our history. Anyone with a manuscript involving visions, demons, near-death experiences, dark beings of any sort, and any paranormal occurrence or supernatural gift, is very welcome to get in touch.
MIKE: Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start a small press? Aside from the money, no small thing indeed, what factors should the entrepreneurial small presser consider before diving in?
GRACE: Well, I started with my own book, and that is a good way to learn it so that no one else is affected by our bumbling beginnings. There’s a good reason I published a second edition of that one 😉 But seriously, nothing teaches so well as just diving in and doing it. I’m not ashamed of my first efforts – they got me where I am now.
You need to be able to do everything yourself or plan on paying someone to do it for you. This includes absolutely everything from editing and proofing to typesetting and interior design, all the way to covers and marketing. All of this takes a huge amount of time which you should consider if you are working another job to pay bills, as most of us have to. If you become a publisher, it will take all your time, period. I can’t remember when I last watched TV or a movie.
This isn’t a hobby or even a job – it’s a lifestyle. To do it even halfway justice, everything else takes a back seat, including my own writing. I’ve got a lot of novels in my head too, but it’s going to be a long time before I can write them. I have two in progress and I keep my hand in with occasional short pieces such as the Comet Born superhero serial at Digital Dragon magazine and our Avenir Eclectia multi-author microfiction project, but that’s often all I can do. And it bugs me sometimes.
Having said that, this is an incredibly exhilarating ride and I wouldn’t exchange it for the world. There’s nothing that can quite compare to being the one who makes dreams possible, even if it’s just for a handful of people each year. One person can only do so much, especially when she does nearly everything!
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Awesome stuff, Grace! If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a free eBook of Aquasynthesis, feel free to leave a comment or question for Grace. And don’t forget to check out Splashdown Books and the fine collection of authors being assembled there.