Interview: Publishing a collection (part 2 of 3)

(Krista Ball continues her three-part interview with me on my experiences in publishing my two collections and working with small presses. Part 2 is below or you can also read it on Krista's blog. Part 1 is here.)

Question: Did you go the agent route? Why or why not.

For a collection? Nope. No need to and no advantage in doing so. Since I wasn't targeting the big NYC houses, an agent wouldn't have done me any good. I could research the small presses as well as they could, and could submit to those directly myself. Even if I had foolishly tried to target the big publishers, an agent wouldn't have been interested in trying to market a collection. They know collections don't sell, and a collection would get an incredibly small advance compared to a novel, even a first novel. So from an agent's point of view, that translates into a lot of work with no chance of success and for very little pay even if they could sell it. From my point of view, an agent was not going to do anything for me with a small press that I couldn't do better myself.

Question: What are the top 3 best things about a small press?

Well, for the two presses I worked with, I could list more than three. But most of my points would come down to retaining an involvement and degree of control over your book. With both collections, I had input on who should write the introduction, the stories to include, the order of their appearance, editing and copy-editing, promotion, etc..

And on the cover, which is just not heard of in big publishing. For PS, Pete had Fernando Molinari do the cover, and he asked me what I wanted. Because it was a collection with only three stories (albeit novelettes), I told him that I'd like to incorporate something from each story: a wolf in a dark forest, the particular van Gogh painting, and a carnival. I didn’t think that (a) he'd listen, or (b) could pull off such a list as an integrated piece of art, but he did an amazing job. There's also a very creepy carnival seen through the trees on the back cover that you can't see here).

Prior to that, PS had actually communicated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to try to get the rights to use a copy of Van Gogh's "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase" painting for the cover (since it was the lead story in the collection). PS's discussion with the museum went on for some time, but finally fell through when the MMoA would only agree provided there was nothing else on the cover but the painting—i.e., no title, no author's name, nothing!! So that's when we turned to Fernando. But can you imagine any big publisher going to those lengths to work with an author on a cover? Nope. With big publishing, you take what you're given (check out this recent blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch to see a horrible cover that a big publisher gave one of her books, and the cover she put on when she recently reissued and self-published the book. It's about halfway down the blog, but the blog is a good read as well, as are all her blog entries).

With ChiZine for Chimerascope, Erik Mohr did the cover. Erik does all the CZP covers, and they are all uniformly amazing. He's like CZP's secret weapon. Erik's up for an Aurora this year for best artist for his CZP work, and if anyone votes in the Auroras, you should give Erik your vote. He has also done almost all of my ebook covers for me. With Chimerascope, Erik did an initial cover for me, which was gorgeous, but which to me said "SF." Since my collection is a mix of fantasy, SF, and horror--and since my first two novels will be urban fantasy--I wanted something that didn't look purely science fiction. So he promptly came back with another design, which we went with as the final cover for Chimerascope.

Secondly, I'd list quality and attention. In both cases, both PS and CZP produce beautiful books and take great pride in doing so. This is more than just a business to them--it's something they love doing. And because they're small, you get more personal attention. They like and respect their authors, and it shows.

Thirdly, especially for CZP, I'd list promotion and profile that the book received. Chimerascope was reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Quill and Quire, and ever so many more, all without effort on my part. I added some review sources based on my own list, but I'd never been reviewed in all of those places before. In addition, thanks in part to CZP promotion, Chimerascope made the final ballot for the 2011 CBC Bookies Award for best collection. It is also on the 2011 Aurora Award final ballot and (much to my surprise) is one of the five finalists for the 2011 Sunburst Award, Canada's juried speculative fiction award.

I'd also mention that all of the good things I've listed about PS and CZP were often what was missing when I talked to other authors about their bad experiences with small presses. So, basically, do your homework before selecting a small press.

I'd add a fourth item for CZP, which I mentioned earlier. Their business model includes trade paperbacks, not just limited run hardcovers, and most importantly, that they have distribution deals in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Small presses have also, generally, been quicker to both embrace and establish ebook editions. CZP added ebook editions early on, and thanks to urging by myself and another author, PS recently added ebooks too (which I think is a great idea and supplements their business model, without competing with their print books. A collector will still want the numbered print version, but ebooks open up the market for PS to capture other readers who just want to read the stories.)

Interview: Publishing a collection (part 1 of 3)

Fellow author Krista D. Ball interviewed me recently on my experiences with selling my two collections and with working with small genre presses for both of the books. The discussion went longer than we expected so Krista is posting the interview in three parts on her blog. I've posted part 1 below, or you can check out "Publishing a Short Story Collection" on Krista's blog as well.

Krista's first question: In Chimerascope, most of the stories were at least nominated for Aurora Awards and one was a winner. With a strong list of credits like that, why did you choose to go with a small Canadian press like ChiZine?

True, the stories in Chimerascope have a lot of award credentials. "Scream Angel" won the Aurora, while another nine of the sixteen stories were Aurora finalists. "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" was also a Best New Horror selection, and several more received honourable mentions in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. I could talk similar numbers for my first collection, Impossibilia, which had another Aurora winner ("Spirit Dance") and an Aurora finalist in its three-novelette line-up.

But if I pick up any collection, I'd expect to see award credits for the stories. A collection is supposed to represent an author's best work. But unfortunately, regardless of awards, a "big" publisher will simply not be interested in publishing a collection, unless you are a Name (which I'm not). The strategy for how an author should market a collection changed from when I started writing to when I was ready to market Impossibilia in 2008. And it's changed again since I published Chimerascope just last year, thanks to eBooks and indie publishing options.

Podcast interview up

Friend and fellow writer, John Mierau, recently interviewed me via Skype for another of his continuing series of podcast interviews with writers. We chatted about a bunch of writerly topics, including short stories, ebooks, the state of NYC publishing, indie publishing options for writers these days, and more. You can check out the podcast on John's site if you're interested.


Blog Talk Radio interview now available

Fellow writers Susan Wingate and Joshua Miller recently interviewed me on their "Between the Lines" show on Blog Talk Radio about Chimerascope, short fiction, ebooks, foreign markets, and more. You can listen to the archived podcast of the interview here. My interview starts about 9.5 minutes into the show.


Blog Talk Radio interview today!

A little short notice, but I'm being interviewed today by writers Susan Wingate and Joshua Graham on Blog Talk Radio. Hope that you can tune in!


A "Pick Six" interview with me at Heidi Ruby Miller's blog

Writer Heidi Ruby Miller recently invited me to take part in her recurring "Pick Six" interview series on her blog. Heidi has a fun and unusual approach to these interviews (which is not surprising, since Heidi's background also seems fun and unusual, including a stint at archaelogy, working at both a Frank Lloyd Wright house and Disney World, and an appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire).

Anyway, for the Pick Six interviews, she gives the author a list of 15 questions and asks them to pick any six to answer. Here was my list:

1. Which of your characters is your favorite? 2. Tell me about your travels. 3. Coffee, tea, or milk? 4. What else can you do besides write? 5. Who are you reading right now? 6. Pop culture or academia? 7. What is the toughest scene you ever wrote? 8. Where do you find your inspirations to write? 9. Food you could eat everyday. 10. Are you into sports or other physical activities? 11. What kind of music speaks to you? 12. Do you outline your stories or do they just take you along for the ride? 13. Celebrity crush. 14. Who are the biggest influences on your work? 15. Do you still watch cartoons?

Can you guess which ones I went for? You can check out the entire interview below or on Heidi's site. Here's the full interview:


Blood and Vegetables interview: Spirit in the Night

Claire Horsnell at Blood and Vegetables ("Horror lit with a side of vegetables") recently interviewed me about my Springsteen stories, small presses in general and ChiZine publication in particular, the By Her Hand movie, Chimerascope and the CBC bookies, and other writing projects. The text of her interview is below.

Although author Douglas Smith is adamant that his own stories aren’t written with political motives, the tales in his first collection, Chimerascope, frequently envision a future of corporate totalitarianism, in which everyday people are at the mercy of forces they can’t control and are faced with the prospect of sacrifice and compromise in order to survive.

It’s a theme that also runs through the work of one of Smith’s inspirations, Bruce Springsteen—and Smith has written a number of stories with titles inspired by Springsteen’s work.

“Springsteen is an astounding storyteller,” says Smith. “His strongest songs are ballads, stories told through real characters, everyday people struggling with whatever life has thrown at them. And there is generally such an attitude of defiance and hope despite the odds against them. So many of his songs just speak to me of the bigger stories behind the ones that he just gets to hint at in just a few lines.” The Boss’s music is an ongoing source of inspiration for Smith. “I have more stories that I want to write based on or inspired by his songs, and someday I’d love to put out a collection of all my Springsteen-inspired stories,” he says. “My dream would be to get his endorsement, include some lyrics of the songs to intro each story, and have all the proceeds go to his favourite charity. It’ll probably never happen, but I’ll keep writing the stories—because I’d do that anyway.”

Chimerascope was published last year by ChiZine Publications and was not only both widely and well reviewed, but was also nominated for the brand new CBC Book Club awards, voted on by readers . “I had quite a few interviews over the year about the book, and it was fun and gratifying to see such a positive response to the collection,” he says. “But having it show up last month on the final ballot for the inaugural ‘Bookies’ took me by surprise. I didn’t even know it was on the ballot until a friend pointed it out. Chimerascope didn’t win, but it was very cool to be on a ballot with names like Stieg Larsson and William Gibson.”

The collection is also eligible for nomination for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s Aurora Awards; nominations are open until midnight on April 30.

Last year also saw the premiere of By Her Hand, She Draws You Down, an independent short film based on Smith’s story of the same name (which appears in Chimerascope). The film has screened at festivals worldwide, and the plan is ultimately to include it on a DVD anthology of horror shorts. “I’m a huge movie fan,” says Smith, “so this whole experience was a lot of fun, even viewed from a distance, to see one of my tales transformed into another medium. Anthony Sumner of TinyCore Pictures did a great job on the script and directing, and Zoe Daelman Chlanda and Jerry Murdoch were amazing in the two lead roles.”

And Smith is still working hard: his stories have been translated into French for another collection to be published in France later this year (with an introduction by one of his own favourite fantasy writers, Charles de Lint); he’s putting out all his short stories and novelettes in e-reader format; his first novel is with publishers in New York; and not only is he working on his second, he’s planning a graphic novel based on one of his earlier pieces. Quite the schedule.

Smith is also appearing at this weekend’s Ad Astra science fiction conference, in Toronto, on two panels, the first intriguingly title “It’s the Best/Worst Time to Be a Writer.” “Ad Astra is probably my favourite annual convention,” he says. “ It’s fairly small, but it has a strong literature focus compared to many of the genre cons, which tend to have more of a media bent … I imagine that [the panel] will focus on the impact of ebooks on the publishing industry and the options that this presents to writers, being able to self-publish and increase their earnings in a way that has never been available to this degree as it is now. That’s on the ‘best’ side of the coin. On the ‘worst’ side, NYC publishers are proceeding at an even more glacial pace than usual in making buying decisions, and the deals that I’m hearing about involve much lower advances and more aggressive demands regarding rights.” In the light of the current controversy over Dorchester–Leisure’s treatment of their authors, it’s good to be reminded that authors still have options.

The second panel on which Smith will speak covers the small press scene in Canada. “I’ve had two collections now, both with small presses: PS Publishing in the UK (Impossibilia) and ChiZine Publications in Toronto (Chimerascope),” he says. “In both cases, I have nothing but good things to say. PS did a beautiful job with Impossibilia, and I would have gone with them for the second collection, except that I wanted to find a publisher with retail distribution in place. PS wasn’t into retail bookstores, so to get Impossibilia, you had to order from PS (or Amazon) and have it shipped. They also only do limited print runs.” This was about the time that critically acclaimed press ChiZine was getting into gear, run by husband and wife team Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi.

“I knew and respected both the publishers,” says Smith. “They had distribution deals in Canada, the US, and the UK, and their model was a limited edition signed hardcover with a print run based solely on pre-orders, followed by a trade paperback edition for the retail stores. They have since added ebook editions. Everything with both PS and CZP has been great: lots of input into the cover design, the manuscript TOC, the editing, the quality of the book, the promotion, etc. etc.”

Smith also points to ChiZine as one of the most exciting outfits in the country on the genre scene. “I was absolutely amazed at the visibility that Chimerascope received coming from a small press,” he says. “It was reviewed everywhere. I think Publishers Weekly stated in the Chimerascope review that if they could get a subscription to a publisher the way you could to a magazine, they’d subscribe to CZP to make sure that they never missed a title. Check out any of the other CZP authors: David Nickle, Gemma Files, Bob Boyczuk, Claude Lalumiere, Brent Hayward, to name just a few.”

He cites ChiZine’s Napier’s Bones, by Derryl Murphy as one title to look out for. “I had the opportunity to read an early draft of this one, and it’s just so great to see it out in print,” he says.

And what other upcoming books is he excited about? “I’m looking forward to a new YA urban fantasy series from Charles de Lint,” he says. “One of my all time favourite authors.”


Interview at the TORONTOIST

Claire Horsnell interviewed me for the Torontoist website a while back, and the interview is up on the site now. The interview is a wide-ranging one, covering early influences, favourite writers, use of myth in fiction, my recently completed first novel, dystopian futures, corporate power, Avatar, the "By Her Hand..." movie, and, of course, Springsteen. And Claire does a great job of making me sound way smarter than I am. Here's an excerpt:

"Most science-fiction, fantasy, and horror fans can point to an early discovery period during which they came to their genre, but for prolific Toronto writer Douglas Smith, author of the recent short story collection Chimerascope, it seems fitting that he had not one, but two significant exploratory phases for his field. 'When I was eight, a friend introduced me to Robert A. Heinlein’s young-adult SF novels,' Smith recalls. 'They were essentially rocket and ray-gun books aimed at young boys. I devoured all of those, but then stopped reading the genre. Then in Grade 11, I had to do a paper in English comparing the works of multiple authors. Amazingly, the teacher actually included a group consisting of Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury, which, of course, was the group I picked. That assignment got me back into reading SF and fantasy.'

Read the full interview on the Torontoist site here.

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