publishing

What’s Your Poison? (an interview with Karen Lillis)

Karen Lillis selling books at her pop-up bookstand, Small Press Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Laura Zurowski

Karen Lillis selling books at her pop-up bookstand, Small Press Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Laura Zurowski

Last month I brought news of Small Press Roulette, a new service designed by Karen Lillis to add the element of chance to the business of connecting readers with small press books and journals. Personally, I love the idea. Confronted with the wide range of indie offerings that the 21st-century publishing world has to offer, it’s almost impossible to decide what to read next. Sure, it’s a bit of a gamble, but playing Small Press Roulette means I don’t have choose, which is a big deal for me because I’m the poster-child for indecision. Curious about Small Press Roulette, I placed an order (reviews to come!) and emailed Karen with a few questions…

How would you describe Small Press Pittsburgh?

Small Press Pittsburgh is an evolving small press showcase. It’s a bookstore that started out as a web resource. Right now it is four things: a pop-up street bookstand (in Pittsburgh) selling indie press books, zines, and journals; a curated bookstore service (“Small Press Roulette”) for small press readers everywhere; a web directory for literary Pittsburgh; and a Facebook page for Pittsburgh literary announcements.

The bookstand has a heavy emphasis on Pittsburgh authors and publishers, and browsers so far have been most excited by discovering Pittsburgh authors. With the bookstand, I’m interested in bringing the larger indie lit world to Pittsburgh, while also making Pittsburgh’s emerging authors (and publishers) better known to Pittsburgh readers (especially outside the lit scene). With the bookselling service, Small Press Roulette, I want to introduce the best of the underground small press to readers who aren’t over-familiar with the authors I’m sending them. There are more great writers than the ones who are getting all the hype. Or, sometimes a writer is getting the hype, but not in a wide enough area—they’re some city’s local celebrity while remaining a national secret.

The mission of Small Press Pittsburgh (in any form) has always been to promote small and micro- presses and make them more visible—easier to find for anyone who’s looking. It started with the web directory, creating listings for all the indie publishers of Pittsburgh. Now I guess I’m getting impatient—it’s not enough to passively promote. Now I’m willing to stand on the street with all those indie publishers’ books and talk to people until they buy one. “We’ve got fiction! We’ve got poetry! We’ve got graphic novels! What’s your poison?” I’m like a carnival barker once I smell a passerby who’s genuinely curious about the books.

Small Press Pittsburgh has also been interested in cross-fertilization from the start. One big aim of the website is to help writers and publishers from outside Pittsburgh who are planning book tours and readings—I want to demystify Pittsburgh’s reading venues and bookstores in order to bring outside readers here. Now I get to cross-fertilize readers and writers through the bookstand and the roulette bookselling. I get to sell Baltimore zines to New Orleans, Pittsburgh memoirs to New Jersey, Pittsburgh graphic novels to San Diego, and San Francisco fiction to Pittsburgh. And so on.

How long has it been in operation?

The website started in 2008, and expanded a few times. The Facebook announcement page has been around for a couple of years. The pop-up bookstand started in early July 2013, and Small Press Roulette began in late July 2013.

What gave you the idea to do it?

The website came about because I came to Pittsburgh and saw a small but vibrant, dedicated but balkanized literary scene. It seemed like the academics kept their distance from the underground writers, and the “literary” writers didn’t always associate with the zinesters or the slam poets. I was in library school when I created the website for a cataloging class. Thinking as a librarian, I wanted to show what a healthy literary scene Pittsburgh had by democratizing each facet. To a librarian, each of those literary scenes is equal. Whereas the people inside the scenes can be blinded by concerns of the ego: Worrying whether their scene has enough clout or convinced that their scene is so much better than the others.  As an outsider, I thought it would create a point of strength just to show how much was going on in Pittsburgh, to record it all in one place.

Evolving into the pop-up bookstand happened much more recently. I was inspired by a few different sources. I was following Mellow Pages Library really closely, a new small press library in Brooklyn. And I kept organizing Pittsburgh’s small presses to give me copies of their books, and I’d send them as library donations en masse. I’d label the packages “from Small Press Pittsburgh.” Next the Polish Hill Arts Fest was coming up, a street fair here where I had tabled as an author the previous year. The organizers were asking me to come back, but I wasn’t convinced it was worth it to sit there with my own novels. One of the organizers, Laura Zurowksi, knew about the packages I’d been sending to Mellow Pages. She suggested I could do the same thing—get books together from local publishers and showcase everyone’s, not just my own. I loved the idea, it made me excited about tabling again.

I think sometime after hearing about The Newsstand in Brooklyn, I bought a book/magazine rack, supposedly to augment table space at the arts fest. But as soon as I bought it I felt like I could sell books anywhere. Since then I’ve been popping up at events like gallery crawls—my next event is the grand opening of a library.

What are some challenges you face with the SPP bookstand?

Rain, wind, gravity. Every outdoor event has been under threat of severe thunderstorms. The first time we set up the bookstand, a good gust of wind came through and blew almost every book off the stand and onto the sidewalk. We clipped a trash bag to the back of the stand, which helped that dilemma. The physics of the bookstand itself is something I’m still working out—the “shelves” are very shallow, which is good for face-outs, but it’s easy for a book to start a domino effect. One book leans forward at the wrong angle, and in a few seconds, twenty books have fallen off. This is tedious because the books start to get damaged if they fall two or three times. Not terribly so, but visibly. It reminds me of another challenge—when the books are threatened by damage from falling or rain, it makes me see a very-low overhead operation (a lot of consignment books) as hundreds of dollars of stock I’m suddenly responsible for. Which is fine, as long as I adjust my thinking.

What do you enjoy about it?

I love connecting people to books. Readers love discovering new books, so I love watching people get curious, start to browse. I try to gauge how much book talk they do or don’t want. Some people want to be talked into a book, others feel like that’s condescending. Often it’s more like conversation between book lovers—”I loved X book for Y reason, you should check it out.” Other times it’s just describing the basics so it piques interest without sounding like arm-twisting. “This is a true crime novel about a group of misfits working on an underground newspaper.”

Part of the enjoyable work is behind the scenes—curating a selection of books I know are great reads, or interesting small press items. I want books I can stand up for, and book design that’s bold and eye-catching, books that feel good in your hand. There’s books that are good reads but that have terrible design—they’re too POD, they have terrible font or colors, or they’re way too stuffy looking. Some books have a cover so dull it screams, “I CAN BE SOLD AT A READING OF SYMPATHETIC PEOPLE BUT NOWHERE ELSE.” I don’t always have time to convince people what’s between the covers. There’s a brief window where my potential customers might stay interested in my bookstand or might keep walking on to wherever they were actually headed. I want books whose design suggests in a glance how urgent and interesting the content is. I want books whose design is half the sell.

What gave you the idea for Small Press Roulette?

The Polish Hill Arts Fest was a big event for the bookstand, and I had gathered a lot of books for it. There was a lot of anticipation. I was checking the weather, which was calling for 0% chance of rain—I kept checking all week and that’s what it said, over and over, “0% chance of rain.” We ended up having five excellent hours of selling books—our area was always busy with browsers—and then a deluge came out of nowhere. Hard rain for over an hour. The stands weren’t quite all the way under a tent, and I had overstock sitting on a lawn….It was very stressful getting the books put away quickly and unharmed, and it was really disappointing to be cut off from the best day yet for the bookstand.

The next morning I took the momentum of all the browsers and invented Small Press Roulette. I wanted a rain-proof way for people to have access to the books. But at the same time, I’m not interested in promoting the books individually on the internet. Why are readers going to enjoy my jpeg book cover over Amazon’s jpeg book cover, over Powell’s jpeg book cover? Internet book sales is a cutthroat game. People want the lowest price, or they want their go-to bookstore, or they want to buy direct from the author or the publisher. One bookseller can knock themselves out hyping a book online and the customer will still go to Amazon or Ebay looking for a lower price. I can’t compete with those things. But I knew I could try to harness the excitement that far-flung readers had expressed when the news first came out about the Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand. I think that the Kickstarter phenomenon has shown us that people want to support ideas they’re excited about, and the people behind those ideas. And publishers Richard Nash of Cursor/Red Lemonade and Matthew Stadler of Publication Studio have both talked about giving customers a chance to support the author or publisher at different price points or different levels of involvement. Readers want to be involved with the writer, but different readers will have different financial capacities. Some people want to be involved for $2 and others want to be involved for much more. Right now Small Press Roulette goes between $2 and $15, but I’m planning to expand it. I already had an order from a bookstore for $75.

What makes it fun?

Connecting people to books I think they would genuinely like thrills me. I sometimes do a lot of research when I get an order. In a way, it means I’m working as a Small Press Librarian for the first time. A lot of people think I am a working librarian because of the title of my blog, but library jobs are scarce in this economy. I’m trying to invent the small press library job I’m built for. This is like Reader’s Advisory meets bookselling.

Helping writers and books I believe in find readers who devour them is another thrill. I hate watching talented writers work hard to languish in obscurity.

Photo Credit: Robert Lee Bailey

Photo Credit: Robert Lee Bailey

Links of interest:

Twenty Four Hours Zine blog interview about the Small Press Pittsurgh bookstand: http://twentyfourhourszine.blogspot.com/2013/07/small-press-go-go-talking-with-karen.html

Gigantic Sequins interview about the Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand:

http://giganticsequins.com/spotlights-2/spotlight-karen-lillis/

Karen the Small Press Librarian blog:

http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/

Small Press Pittsburgh website:

http://smallpresspittsburgh.wikispaces.com/

Small Press Roulette:

http://smallpresspittsburgh.wikispaces.com/Small+Press+Roulette

Small Press Roulette

Here’s a new game from Karen Lillis, a.k.a. Karen the Small Press Librarian: Small Press Roulette. Visit the Small Press Roulette page on Etsy, choose your price point and your basic genre, and Karen will send you a small press item from her indie press pop up bookstand, SMALL PRESS PITTSBURGH, that she thinks you might like. Many books are from Pittsburgh’s best authors or indie publishers, but Karen also has books, zines, and lit mags she’s carefully selected from other cities like SF, NYC, Baltimore, Chicago, LA, and more.

Karen Lillis rocks Pittsburgh with her pop-up small press book stand. Play Small Press Roulette and get one of the titles on her rack!

Karen Lillis rocks Pittsburgh with her pop-up small press book stand. Play Small Press Roulette and get one of the titles on her rack!

Realistic Goals and Reasonable Deadlines: An Inteview with Kourtney Heintz

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination. She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working in financial services provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

Her new novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin follows the exploits of a telepath named Kai and her husband, Oliver, in their quest for a normal life. When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Kourtney recently dropped by Small Press Reviews to answer a few questions about her work…

Marc, thank you so much for having my on your blog. I’ve been a follower for a while now and I’m so excited to be here!

Glad to have you! You got pretty far in Amazon’s breakthrough novel competition. How did that experience shape your thoughts about writing in general and your approach to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular?

It definitely was a confidence booster. But I also realized I wanted to give my readers an experience they wouldn’t forget. So I took all the feedback and went to work on the manuscript. Around the same time, I got a revise and resubmit from a top agency. Two pages of editorial-style feedback. It made me more determined to revise until I had the best book I could create.

I learned that if a reader has an issue, there is an issue but they may be incorrectly identifying the solution. Listen and mull over their feedback. Marinate in it before making any changes.

Usually the stuff I’m most resistant to is either garbage or gold. But it requires a lot of time and effort to separate the two.

As anyone who’s visited your blog might notice, you’re a very goal-oriented individual. Does setting goals and achieving them come naturally to you, or is it something that you’ve had to learn how to do? How does this practice relate to your writing, and how do you maintain a healthy outlook on those occasions when you don’t quite reach your goals?

I’ve always been a Type A person. I think it’s why I gravitated into consulting and auditing as my career for a long time. I love planning and fixing.

It definitely keeps me on schedule with my writing.

My goal is always to meet or beat a deadline and the key to that is setting realistic goals and reasonable deadlines. Saying I’ll have an agent in a year sounds ambitious, but it also sets you up for failure. I tried that route once–very disappointing. Saying I’ll query 30-50 agents over this year is a measurable and attainable goal that doesn’t rely on any one but you to achieve it.

When I miss the mark, I hold myself accountable. I beat myself up for a bit. But then I dust myself off and move forward. I examine what went wrong and figure out how to mitigate the problem going forward. If I didn’t properly set the goal or didn’t allocate the right amount of time for it, that’s something I can learn from and improve on the next go-around. As long as I get the bulk of things done and am constantly improving, I’m almost okay with the occasional failure.

What is it that attracts you to writing in general, and what attracted you to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular? Along similar lines, what made you stick with that project and see it through to publication?

Writing is a great way to work through things. At the time, I never realize I’m doing it. But when I reread a scene months later I realize what issue was being worked out on paper. I also wanted to leave a legacy behind. Something important. Something worthwhile. Hopefully, my novel will be that.

Six Train was the short story that wouldn’t let me be. I sat down and wrote a brief outline and realized I had a novel here. A novel that was dying to get out of me. I spent months pre-writing and making sure I wanted to spend years with this plot and characters. I did.

I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. And all that positive feedback from the Amazon contest reinforced my belief that it was a story people would enjoy reading. That and agents kept saying it was beautiful writing, but not a NYT bestseller. So I knew indie was the best route for it.

What have you learned from the experience of publishing The Six Train to Wisconsin? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who might follow in your footsteps? 

Make sure you are prepared to work 7 days a week. Being an indie author is a full time job. Promoting requires lots of planning and groundwork laying. There will be tons of rejection too.

Hire people you trust–the will make all the difference during crunch time.

And however long you think it will take, double that.

What are you reading right now, and what do you like about it?

I’m halfway through Audrey Kalman’s Dance of Souls. I really love Ms. Kalman’s writing style. You know you are in the hands of a master craftswoman as you read her book.

What’s next?

Well, the book tour is taking up a good chunk of my summer and fall. I’m also going to be doing revisions for my YA time travel murder mystery, Reckonings. I’d really like to start drafting Six Train’s sequel this winter too.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kourtney!

Connecting with the Author Online

Website: http://kourtneyheintz.com

Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomkourtney_heintz

Amazon Author Central Page: http://amazon.com/author/kourtneyheintz

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kourhei

Paperback available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Ebook available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iTunes

SixTraintoWisconsin

Farley’s Bookshop: Friend of the Small Press

Given the ups and downs of both the publishing industry and the business of bookselling over the past few years, it’s no wonder that a lot of attention among book lovers has been turning (or returning, as the case may be) to independent bookstores. A recent headline in Salon.com exhorted readers to support indie bookstores, while the poet Will Nixon recently issued a holiday appeal to not only buy local but read local as well: ” ‘Buy Local,’ yes. But why not ‘Read Local’ too? I wish that the enthusiasm so many people share for local businesses and independent enterprises could find its way to books.”

In a similar spirit, Farley’s Bookshop of New Hope, Pennsylvania, has recently begun to work with a handful of small, independent presses to provide readers with what the store’s website describes as, “the best reading material possible.” With this in mind, Small Press Reviews recently chatted via email with William Hastings of Farley’s Bookshop about the Farley’s decision to feature small press titles.

You’ve dedicated a big chunk of prime real estate in your store to books from small presses. What was behind this decision?

The decision to bring in as many small presses as we can came about primarily from our being fans of the books we were reading on small presses. We were looking for ways to diversify our stock and it seemed natural to reach out to the small presses that we were reading. We were also trying to come up with new models of buying and highlighting books within the store, since the old models of publisher and bookstore relations seem to be getting dated very fast. Once we started figuring out a plan that would allow us to bring in the small presses at no risk to either the press or ourselves, we reached out to some of our favorites. They all bought the idea with great enthusiasm which only served to make us more enthusiastic about the project. After that we were pretty much up and running. As for using the majority of the very front of our store for the small presses, that too was a pretty natural decision. What better way to turn people on to them than to not hide them in the genre sections, but give each press their own real estate at the front of the store? It’s a bit like buying records that way. Used to be you’d know something would be great when it came out on your favorite record label, even if you didn’t know the band or act. Small presses work the same way.

What attracts you to small presses?

The risk taking, the quality of literature, their hell-or-highwater stand behind their authors. After 2008 when the economy tanked, many great writers who weren’t big sellers found their way to the small presses and haven’t left. Between that and the profusion of print-on-demand technology that allows a press to run without overhead there’s a boom in small press activity right now. They’re taking bigger chances than the major presses in many ways. While the big presses still house wonderful writing there’s certain things they aren’t doing and much of that is found in the small presses. From a bookseller’s point of view it’s a wonderful scenario. As voracious readers it’s like being a pig at the trough.

What has the reaction among customers been to your small press initiative?

At this point it’s really incredible to see. At first we could see that some customers didn’t know what to make of it. But they asked questions, we made recommendations, we walked them through it and now we have many customers that come in regularly just for the small press offerings. We’re always making new converts as well. People come in all the time, check out the presses and walk away with something and they’re very excited to be discovering something new. We put shelf talkers—brief descriptions/recommendations—about the books beneath them and since they are from us that helps. People shop here because they know we’ll make a great recommendation for them. And they trust us enough to help them branch out into presses, or genres, styles, they might not read regularly. One of the coolest things we’ve seen is a woman who drove almost three hours round trip because we had her favorite small press in here.

Do you get the sense that readers make a distinction between small and big press books, or are they just looking for something good to read?

They make the distinction only because we’ve highlighted the books in a different manner than large press books. There’s certainly an aesthetic to each of the presses and people have figured that out, but for the most part people just want a really good book to read.

Are there any small press titles that you’ve personally fallen in love with or that you think more people should be reading?

There’s so many. Here’s a quick list:

  • Eric Miles Williamson “Welcome to Oakland” Raw Dog Screaming Press
  • Larry Fondation “Unintended Consequences” Raw Dog Screaming Press
  • Michael Gills “Go Love” Raw Dog Screaming Press
  • William Matthews “New Hope for the Dead” Red Hen Press
  • Kwame Dawes “Wisteria” Red Hen Press
  • Steve Kistulentz “The Luckless Age” Red Hen Press
  • Pinckney Benedict “Miracle Boy and Other Stories” Press 53
  • Meg Pokrass “Damn Sure Right” Press 53
  • Surreal South ’11 anthology Press 53
  • Shelley Stenhouse “Impunity” New York Quarterly Books
  • Luke Johnson “After the Ark” New York Quarterly Books
  • Adam Hughes “Petrichor” New York Quarterly Books
  • Rene Char “Furor and Mystery” Black Widow Press
  • Paul Eluard “Capital of Pain” Black Widow Press
  • Dave Brinks “The Caveat Onus” Black Widow Press
  • Ha Jin “Wreckage” Hanging Loose Press
  • Robert Hershon “The German Lunatic” Hanging Loose Press
  • Shooting the Rat anthology Hanging Loose Press
  • Karen Lord “Redemption in Indigo” Small Beer Press
  • Raymond Hammond “Poetic Amusement” Athanata Arts, Ltd.
  • Lucius Shepard “A Handbook of American Prayer” Concord Free Press

And for every one of these there’s five we left off the list that we loved. It’s simply too big a list….

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the experience of working with small presses?

It’s been an incredible experience as both a bookseller and as a reader. We’ve been turned on to incredible writers, incredible books, made some wonderful friends, been able to offer free writing workshops and poetry readings to our customers (small press writers we have in stock have been coming from as far away as Mississippi to do those), we’ve watched our customers get amazed and fall in love with certain books, we’ve had wonderful late night bar discussions over some of the small press books we’ve read. And most importantly we’ve been able to help support great art. For any of your readers out there they should be asking their local bookseller to support and stock these writers. And if their bookseller doesn’t know how to go about doing it so that it is at no risk to them financially, have their bookseller contact us here at the store, we’re more than happy to pass on how we did it. We’d love to see this all over the country.

For more information about the small press initiative at Farley’s Bookshop, read “Farley’s Bookshop Goes Big with Small Presses” on the American Booksellers Association website. Better yet, visit the store at 44 South Main Street in New Hope, Pennsylvania, the next time you’re in the neighborhood!

A Few Words With GF Smith

GF Smith, the author of the Subjected trilogy, recently dropped in on SPR (in the virtual sense, anyway) to chat about his “sci-phi” series, writing, and e-publishing. Here’s what he had to say…

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Small Press Reviews. Let’s start with your books. What is the Subjected series all about, and what inspired it?

The cover copy for the first book, SUBJECTED: Eye of God, pretty much gives the overview of the entire series:

*Daniel Jeremy Sayer has gone through more than his share of pain, loss, and frustration. Which leads him to ask some “Big Universe” questions: Why have we been subjected to this life? What on Earth is happening? Why the big mystery? Is anyone out there even listening?

When the answers start coming, in the form of a mysterious, seemingly benign, yet oddly inane individual from another dimension—Alien, or Angel, he’s not sure which—Daniel suddenly begins to question whether he really wants to know the answers after all.

Through tragedy, loss, coincidence and consequence, through frustration, anger, courage and faith, along with a touch of humility and humor, Daniel Jeremy Sayer unexpectedly finds himself being shown the metaphysical edge of human existence, whether he wants to see it or not.

The three book series delves sensitively, objectively, and sometimes humorously into the historically controversial and dichotomous relationship between Religion and Science, though it’s not a proselytizing or dogmatic work by any means. In quick terms, it’s about a guy who genuinely wants to know what life is all about…yet is really ticked-off at God for the way everything is—in his life, as well as in the rest of the world.

The inspiration for the series came from my own, life-long, internal struggle to—as Einstein stated best—to, “understand the mind of God.” On a side note: anyone who has ever been honestly mad at God will love this series, I think.

You describe your writing as “Sci-Phi.” Can you explain what you mean by that, and how it’s different from what might be considered more traditional Sci-Fi?

The term Sci-phi—which I like to use—denotes (as well as connotes) the relationships between Science and Philosophy. Simply put, the science part is like the lines of this text here…the physical part: the words describe, define, and delineate a particular subject or knowledge. Philosophy is like the spaces between the lines: there’s always the supposition that there may be more going on than what we know…more to a meaning. Philosophy asks the questions about the nature of being and knowing—origins, purpose, destiny.

Traditional Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), which is actually a huge genre, covers mostly technological advances—the real, or the imagined real—the future, space ships, space travel, astrophysics, etc. Everything from space operas, to time travel, to dissimilar life-forms on other planets, to whatever we can imagine those advances—realities—might be, given time and creativity. Again, that’s like the words in this text—matter and substance.

Again, the Philosophy part is the between-the-lines part: are the advances good, bad, infinite or finite? Are they purposeful? Do they enhance, or advance the Spirit, the Soul? Do they change us for the better…or the worse? Does the end justify the means? How did it all start in the first place, and where’s it going to end up?

Given this distinction, do you still see yourself as writing with the sci-fi tradition? Or do you see your work as separate from that genre?

Good question. I love both… always have. To me, the physical and the between-the-lines spiritual/essence side are not dichotomous at all—I personally can’t divide them into two mutually exclusive areas. So, I will be writing about both as long as I can. However, since a large portion of society still seems to suffer from the memetic programming of the past, and hence seem to prefer adherence to either one or the other, exclusively, I think I will continue to write about both as being two sides of the same awesome coin.

Along these lines, who are some of your favorite writers, and what books have influenced your work?

Oh, let’s see… Heinlein, Hubbard, Weber, Koontz, Roddenberry, Serling, Bach, Brown, Redfield, Cussler, Ludlum, Crichton, Carr, King, Baldacci, Von Däniken, to name only a few. I even like Sparks, Patterson, and Albom. Different books have influenced me for different reasons, as I suppose is the same with most people. Although they didn’t exactly write books, the most influential writers relative to my writing would be Gene Roddenberry (along with his show writers), Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, David Weber, and probably… I don’t know, all of them have had a huge influence on me.

I’d say I’ve read more of Dean Koontz than anyone else, though I don’t think I pattern my writing after his. I’m not into horror, but I love his other-than-natural, paranormal stuff: Watchers, Odd Thomas series, the Taking, Sole Survivor, One Door away from Heaven; there are a lot of them. And Robert Heinlein’s, Stranger in a Strange Land gave me a lot to think about. And of course, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series’ helped give me that between-the-lines curiosity and insatiable drive to question, which is dominant in my writing.

Where else do you find inspiration?

My own studies of Cosmology, Astronomy, Physics, and the Earth & Space Sciences have given me a lot of inspiration. I’m a big fan of Einstein, Hawking, Kaku, and of course Galileo, Copernicus, Hubble, Kepler, Newton, etc. all those guys from history. I also cherish the stories of the Bible, the life and passion of Christ, of Paul and the Apostles, and several of the Old Testament characters: Ezekiel, Moses, Enoch, David, etc. All of these—especially Christ—have driven me to question life, and purpose, and what the future holds for us…in life and after life.

But, I find inspiration from a lot of alternative things as well: Eastern and Islamic faiths, some new age stuff, mystical stuff, though it all makes me wonder about the nature of reality and being. I have to be humble and hold in reservation that my perspectives and interpretations may in fact be in error; just because I believe it may be so, doesn’t necessarily make it so!

How do you approach writing? In other words, how did you learn the craft, and where does it fit into your life?

I approach writing fairly methodically; this comes from the analytical/business side of me. When writing fiction or nonfiction I like to know where I’m going…for the most part. I like to have an overall understanding of what I want to accomplish and where I want to end up. But, within this method I still enjoy and employ the spontaneous eruptions of creativity that happen. And sometimes, these will even change the overall outline I’ve initially set. I try to be humble in my writing, and with the creative process. I think a balance of both brings about the best results. And it’s what makes writing such an enjoyable experience.

Writing, nowadays, is a huge part of my life. My children are grown and I feel a compulsion to get some of these things out of my soul and share them with others—especially my children and my grand kids. And, I somewhat feel a sense of obligation to do so as well. If it weren’t for all the aforementioned writers…I wouldn’t be who I am today. I just want to give back to life…not just be a taker, if you know what I mean.

At present, the Subjected is series is available only as an E-book. Why did you decide to go with this format, and do you have plans to publish a print version of the series?

Ebooks are the future. No different than Digital over VHS. It offers so much customization: font size, color, background, and style adjustment; they provide bookmark solutions, word meaning lookup, go-to page options, etc. It’s really a reader’s dream, and also the fact that I spent years querying agents and not getting one single request for even a chapter for them to review. Though I understand, it’s a tough business—publishing. They can only accept the best of the best to work with under their current business models.

I was adamant in my stand to NOT be self-published. But, after seeing the trends of publishing (Amazon just announced that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books) I changed my mind. Art is art, and all art is appreciated at varying levels of development. Ebooks are art, and although they should be as professionally created and rendered, as printed books historically are, I hold the belief that all art should have its forum. The art lovers have spoken! Plus, it’s a green technology, and that means a lot to me as well. One day my works will be available in print, but not until the demand requires it, and probably only in limited printings.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on marketing right now, for the SUBJECTED series. However, I am also outlining my next novel. No comment on the particulars, yet.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a question (and possibly an encouragement) for your Readers:

Which is more precious: a thousand answers, derived from one questions, or, one answer…from a thousand questions? (*Hint, read between the lines…)

Thanks for reading, everyone!

A Few Words with Steve Almond

A lot of readers probably know Steve Almond for  his fiction collections The Evil B.B. Chow and My Life in Heavy Metal (published by Algonquin and Grove respectively) and his nonfiction titles Candyfreak (Algonquin, 2004), (Not That You Asked) (Random House, 2007), and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life (Random House, 2010). Yet while maintaining a high level of success with works from major publishing houses (including a forthcoming fiction collection due this Fall), the author has also gone the do-it-yourself route with his most recent titles Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. With these DIY endeavors in mind, Almond recently took some time to answer a few questions about self-publishing and the effort that went into his labors of love.

You’ve published three DIY titles—Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. What led you to publish these titles on your own rather than seeking a more “traditional” publishing arrangement?

Initially, I did it because I sensed that it didn’t really make sense to partner up with a corporation to make these little, idiosyncratic books. The editors I spoke to didn’t get what I wanted to do, or how it was supposed to make money. They were probably right about the latter. But now that authors can make books pretty easily, I just said, The heck with it, and did it myself. Here’s a more lengthy explanation: Presto Book-O (Why I Went Ahead and Self-Published)

I love the dimensions and overall design of This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. The book has the feel of something religious zealots might hand out on the subway, or something meant to be concealed due to its subversive content. It also gives off a strong pulp-fiction vibe. How much of a hand did you have in the design? Was there dialogue between you and book designer Brian Stauffer? What was your process like?

Oh, totally. I always had in mind a book that would fit in someone’s back pocket, that folks could carry around. We experimented with a smaller size, then a bigger size, and finally settled on 4.5″ by 6.5″, which feels perfect. Brian’s a genius, so I let him do the interior design and covers. But I did talk with him a lot. It was a real artistic collaboration. As an example, in one early version of the cover for Minute, Honey, the lady in black is holding a “marital aid.” We both felt that was too overt, so Brian made it a whip instead. Much better.

Along similar lines, did you seek any outside help with editing your DIY titles? With marketing?

I show the manuscripts to my wife and three or four friends, all writers, all sharp editors. And I look over the inaugural edition of the book. As for “marketing,” I don’t do much other than look for opportunities to read from the books, and talk about them.

I notice your DIY books don’t have ISBNs. Was there a reason behind this decision?

Mostly sloth. But I also want the books to be regarded as artifacts more than commodities, and that ISBN number, with a serial code, is one of the things that signals that something is for sale.

Do you regard your DIY titles any differently than the books you’ve published through established houses?

Well, yeah. I think of them as much more personal and idiosyncratic projects. My intention isn’t to create a bestseller, but simply to find readers who might dig them. It’s a huge relief to set the bar a little lower in that way, to detach the work from the sales numbers.

Did you learn anything from publishing these titles on your own? Any advice you can give to authors or would-be publishers who might be thinking about doing the same?

All I’d say is that writers in the early stages of their career should really focus on the work, on making the best decisions they can at the keyboard, and not on how a book is going to move into the world. Those are separate issues. Also, as much fun as I’ve had with the books (a lot), it’s been a lot of work to take on the duties (design, printing, distribution, etc.) that a traditional publisher would handle.

To keep up with all of the latest news on Steve Almond, you can visit him on the web at stevenalmond.com. You can also click on the following titles to order copies of his DIY work: Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey.

Why I Love Small Presses

Just a quick note on one of the many reasons why I love small presses.

A few days ago, my friend and publisher Martin Shepard of the Permanent Press sent me a few books he thought I might like. One of them was a novel that was published in 2007 and sold about 400 copies. A subsequent novel by the same author, Marty explained, only sold 140 copies. Yet Marty and his wife, Judith, decided to go ahead and publish a third novel by the same author. In Marty’s words, “Hey, if you like a writer, no reason to give him or her up just because sales are almost non-existent.”

As someone who’s spoken to a good number of editors and agents (and who reads extensively about the publishing industry), I can say with complete certainty that I’ve never heard anyone associated with a major publishing conglomerate say anything even close to what Marty said in his brief note. He publishes books because he loves them — and loves sharing their work with the world — not because they might make a buck or two.

To me, this is what the small press movement is all about.