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Interview w/ Jessica Thomas of Provision Books

So what would possess an ordinary woman — wife, mother, IT professional, and non-zombie lover — to start up her own small press? Okay, so Jessica Thomas isn’t that ordinary. But she did recently fire up the jets on a new small press. To understand the thinking behind such an endeavor, Jessica graciously agreed to field a few questions.

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MIKE: In May of this year, you introduced Provision Books. So why did you start your own small press? Was this a dream of yours? Are you a natural entrepreneur? Or were you just wanting to make your life more difficult and busier than it already is?

JESSICA: I’m a firm believer in working harder not smarter, and I also Jessica-Thomastry to maximize my blood pressure readings whenever possible. Since I only have two kids, two cats, one husband, and one full-time job (when Congress funds it), I figured why not add writer, proofreader, editor, ebook formatter, PR rep, and marketing guru to the mix?

Seriously though, I started Provision Books because it made professional sense. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I started toddling around in Stride Rites, and since then I’ve made small, but steady progress toward my goal. To date, my accomplishments include composing hundreds of teenage, angst-ridden love poems, completing a Bachelor of Science in English, and publishing various poems and short stories, all while working incognito as an Information Technology professional.

Ironically, my time in the IT industry has been as instrumental to my writing career as learning the craft of writing. With the publishing industry in massive flux because of ebooks, I’m well positioned to harness the technologies required to make a small press successful. I also have an in-house art director who doubles as my husband. Combine my technical/writing skills with his B.F.A. and graphic design experience and you have the makings of a small press.

MIKE: You recently released your first anthology and have a follow-up release this Fall. What kind of learning curve is there to starting a new press? Have you encountered unexpected obstacles along the way? And what has gone easier than planned?

JESSICA: Time and discoverability are no doubt my two greatest challenges. Starting a small press is not difficult, but there are many tasks that need to be completed prior to opening up shop, such as filing business and tax paperwork, building the website, and developing a branding strategy, as well as the regular duties you might expect like editing, proofreading, and writing back cover copy.

It’s difficult finding time to accomplish even the smallest tasks while raising two young children and maintaining a full-time job, which is why Provision Books’ first release is a short story collection. The project fit within my time constraints and the word count was more manageable than a novel. The collection is also illustrated, so it allowed my art director an opportunity to experiment with new graphic design tools and methods.

The release of Moon Dust Castles was a major accomplishment for Provision Books, yet even as I patted myself on the back, a second, even more daunting task loomed on the horizon: selling the darn thing.

The Web is oversaturated with self-published and independently published books. It’s exceedingly difficult to be heard above the noise, but not impossible. I have yet to fully test my theory, but it’s my belief that through persistence and patience, good books will gain momentum and rise to the top. At Provision Books, quality comes first because I believe quality fiction will eventually prevail over quick-to-market, assembly-line fiction.

MIKE: So what’s the response been like to calls for submissions? Are you getting more or less submissions than you anticipated? And what’s the quality of submissions been like?

JESSICA: To clarify at the outset, Provision Books is not currently open for submissions; however, we publish an ezine, The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow, which is open for submissions.

Sideshow_1Since I tend to have grand, unrealistic expectations, I’m getting fewer short story submissions than I anticipated. In hindsight, my excitement about starting an ezine tipped my rocker a bit, but no harm done. I’ve reclaimed my balance and I’m resolved to be patient as word gets out about Provision Books and our offerings.

Current plans are for The Common Oddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow to release biannually in the spring and fall, but that could change depending on the number of submissions received. Our first issue came out in September and I’m very pleased with the quality of both the cover and the contents. We’ve established a good baseline, and I expect future issues to meet and exceed expectations.

MIKE: You’re looking for speculative fiction from a Christian worldview. As you know, a lot of writers who frequent my site are Christians, but are unhappy with the current content being labeled “Christian fiction.” Will the stories you publish fit within the Christian fiction genre? Or are you aiming for something different than what is currently labeled Christian speculative fiction?

JESSICA: I’m not necessarily looking for Christian speculative fiction. What I’m looking for is speculative fiction that doesn’t contradict or belittle the Christian worldview.

I recently read a story in Lightspeed Magazine called The Streets of Ashkelon. To summarize, a missionary visits a planet inhabited by simple-minded, logical beings called Weskers. They live in utopian conditions with no knowledge of gods, religion, or sin. After the missionary teaches them about the resurrection of Christ, the Weskers crucify him in order to logically prove the validity of the Bible. In other words, the Bible turns them into murderers.

The story was a reprint, originally published 1962 as “An Alien Agony” by Harry Harrison. Despite its accolades, it’s not a story I would publish because of its simple-minded depiction of Christianity. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t publish a story written by an atheist. Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists alike share a common human experience that is rich with themes worth exploring in fiction. Whether the author’s exploration takes a track that becomes contradictory to Christianity is subjective, and can only be decided on a case-by-case basis. In other words, when in doubt, submit your story. There are also many stories that don’t delve into religious themes at all, and I’m open to those as well.

To answer your specific question, “Will the stories you publish fit within the Christian genre?” Yes and no. To be honest, I’m not all that concerned either way. Along those same lines, I’m not specifically aiming to publish stories that are different than current Christian speculative fiction offerings. I’m interested in publishing the best stories I can get my hands on that fit within the loose parameters I just noted.

MIKE: I have a “Christian” vampire story I’m dying to tell. R-rated. Language and gore. And creatures of the night. Lots and lots of ghoulies. But redemptive! Would your press be interested in such a tale? Why or why not?

JESSICA: It better be a really good vampire story, because I’m of the general opinion that vampires are lame. And boring. (Zombies too.) But, since other people seem to like vampires, I might make an occasional exception for zombie-eats-vampire fanfic,

R-rated, language, ghoulies, and gore are fine if executed tastefully (nothing gratuitous), although I’m the least keen on gore. If ghoulies can be redeemed, I’m all for it. Shock me and surprise me, but don’t give me anything that exists solely to shock or surprise, because that’s lame. And boring.

MIKE: Finally, many authors are currently seeking self-publishing. What advantages are there to small press publishing versus self-publishing? Why should someone choose Provision Books over doing it themselves?

JESSICA: At this point, I’m not interested in making money off another author’s labor. What I am interested in is creating a cooperative, collaborative environment for folks like myself who take quality very seriously. While it’s subject to change, my current intent is to transform Provision Books into a co-op of like-minded, mature authors who are producing publishable material but have been squeezed out of traditional publishing for various reasons, as well as traditionally published authors who have side projects that don’t fit within the traditional model.

Self-publishing is a viable, respectable option these days. The problem I see with self-publishing is that self-published authors become isolated islands in the vast internet ocean, and this only feeds into the discoverability problem. Time and money are also issues. Going it alone is extremely time consuming, yet many of us don’t have the funds to outsource.

I think a reasonable solution to these problems is for self-published authors to consolidate under cooperative small presses, where authors assist each other in the publishing process but maintain 100% of their royalties. The authors in the co-op could also share the burden of marketing and have immediate access to an expanded network. It’s my hope that Provision Books becomes a trusted brand for readers seeking quality speculative fiction. This, in turn, will boost the credibility and discoverability of any authors publishing with Provision Books.

Like I said, Provision Books isn’t officially open for submissions, but if your readers have a near-complete manuscript and are willing to share the burdens of line-editing, proofreading, beta reading, et cetera, with other writers, they can drop me a line at jessicathomas at jessicathomasink dot com and we’ll talk. And of course, to all your readers, keep sending me those short stories!

Great questions, Mike! And thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

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Thanks, Jessica! Godspeed on your new venture. Other than that part about vampires and zombies being “lame and boring,” this was a fantastic interview! And to learn more about submitting to Provision Books, make sure to visit their website.

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Heather Day Gilbert October 15, 2013, 5:42 AM

    Great interview. Jessica, all the best with Provision Books! I really think those w/some marketing smarts and superior products are going to pull ahead in this brave new publishing world. I love the idea of a co-op publisher. Come to think of it, I have a speculative short story….

    • Jessica E. Thomas October 15, 2013, 6:44 AM

      Thanks Heather! I’d love to see that short story. 🙂 Good luck on your upcoming book release.

      • Heather Day Gilbert October 15, 2013, 2:35 PM

        Hee–it’s nothing stellar, I’m sure. It was actually a dream I sat down and wrote out the next day. More surreal than spec, probably. Here’s the link–it’s called “Plastic.” http://bookinamonthmom.blogspot.com/2011/04/ive-hit-50000.html. Yeah…this was early in my writing “career”–so no doubt dialogue tagging and whatnot is rampant. Anyway, feel free to read (and probably snicker)!

  • Jessica E. Thomas October 15, 2013, 6:48 AM

    Zombies. Vampires. Meh. I don’t understand the cosplay thing at all either. *sigh*

    Thanks again, Mike. Your questions made me think.

  • Jill October 15, 2013, 7:45 AM

    I like the way you think. Great interview.

  • Katherine Coble October 15, 2013, 9:48 AM

    I could hug and kiss you for saying that vampires and zombies are lame. They so are.

  • D.M. Dutcher October 15, 2013, 2:29 PM

    The co-op idea is a good one, and I wonder if more internet small presses with evolve that way. Kind of a natural evolution of a writer’s group; go all the way and publish too. Oddities was pretty good, and I’m looking forwards to the first full-length books, whenever they come.

  • J.S. Clark October 16, 2013, 12:29 PM

    I like the idea of co-op publishing, but to me the problem is what to do with the books that are published?

    If only there were more brick and mortar bookstores, that catered exclusively to commendable indie authors. Like maybe a chain that would take these small press offerings and put them where people will find them . . .

    For my two cents, I think vamps can be done right and I think the pre-requisite is the vampire has to be the bad guy.

    • D.M. Dutcher October 16, 2013, 1:17 PM

      Something that I saw that was funny was that a local gas station had a 6 book point of sale display of indie Christian fantasy:

      http://flamingpen.blogspot.com/2011/07/henny-penny-in-saybrook-ct.html

      Unfortunately his company seems to be struggling to turn a profit, and his press has gone dark. Actually getting books into a bookstore or chain has a lot of hassle to deal with; offering your book at wholesale or consignment, or having to deal with returns and shrink. Not sure a small internet co-op could easily upscale to this.

    • Jessica E. Thomas October 16, 2013, 2:03 PM

      Getting into bookstores isn’t on the top of my to-do list at the moment. I plan to focus on the electronic marketplaces, of which there are many.

      With bookstores dwindling, the requirements to get into bookstores may change. Probably tighten? Not sure.

      I think if hybrid authors team up with indie authors in a co-op, the hybrids will throw focus to the indies. That’s my goal eventually (to be a hybrid author). I haven’t given up on traditional publishing; however, at this point in my career I’m leery of signing my name to a contract and I don’t like the editing trends I see in the traditional realm. I suppose I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, control-freak. When it comes to my writing, I like being in charge of the QC.

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