Welcome to the three hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with writer, editor and publisher (of Sheryl Browne, Bruce Moore, Will MacMillan, Will Sutton and others :)) Kim Maya Sutton. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Kim. Thank you for your time today.
Kim: No, no, thank you for having me. I sometimes still feel a bit strange about people actually asking me if they can interview me (I wonder “me? Why me? Am I famous? Do I have something interesting to say?”) And then I quiver in my boots about whether anybody actually reads what I wrote.
Morgen: I have c. 200 visits a day and I’m sure most are authors so I’m sure they’ll be interested to hear from the other side of the table. 🙂 Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you became involved in the creative writing industry.
Kim: At the moment, I still live in Cambridge and am preparing to move to the North Sea coast of Germany at the end of May. Safkhet will stay in London, because the beauty of the internet is that we can really work from just about anywhere.
My being a writer, an editor, book producer and then eventually publisher started really early actually. I wrote poems and memorized other people’s works when I was two years old. In high school I participated in the student paper as an editor and every so often wrote a piece myself. And when I was 22 or so, I decided to write my dad’s biography. Don’t ask me why, but it took me years to gather all the information and I only got around to actually writing it up the year before last, while I was waiting for my Master program to start.
Morgen: My father took eight years doing our family tree which is wonderful. I keep saying to my mum that she should write her autobiography as she’s done things like work for (British racing driver) Stirling Moss’ sister’s riding stables but I don’t know if she ever will (she’s 80). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kim: Personally, I have never been rejected by other publishers, but that’s because I never submitted anything for publication. Actually, I have. An academic paper to an academic magazine. At first, they said they loved it and suddenly they said they didn’t want it. I asked why. They told me. I fixed the issues, resubmitted and they turned me down again. Again, I asked why and fixed. This went back and forth a bit and the editor must have been quite annoyed. In the end, she said she’d take my article because she loved how persistent I was, AND because she ended up liking it. I guess this might be the reason why I try to handle rejections I have to send out in a very similar way. I usually do not just flat out reject, but rather give a reason and suggest that they might resubmit when the issue is fixed or when there is a submission call, fit on the list or whatever is wrong with the submission in my eyes. Or, I just start a list because I am so impressed with an author’s persistence (thank you, Sheryl for Safkhet Soul; that one is all your fault!).
Morgen: Ah yes, Sheryl is why I’m speaking to you today. 🙂 Are the Safkhet books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Kim: The books we produce at Safkhet are available as eBooks, except in very few cases such as For Those About to Cook (there were just too many pictures in there and a focus on the design; however, the second one – For Those About to Cook Pure Metal – will be available as an eBook.
Morgen: Bruce Moore (I’m interviewing him next Saturday :)). I love AC/DC so recognised the ‘For Those About to Rock’ analogy. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Kim: Teehee… In my dad’s biography, I would love to be played by Emma Thompson; and my Dad could well be Joseph Gordon-Levitt at a younger age and then maybe Sting later? Several people have pointed out that Sting looks just like him (or does he look like Sting?).
Morgen: Sting looking like him, definitely. 🙂 I had to Google / Wikipedia Joseph_Gordon-Levitt as I couldn’t remember who he was – I first saw him in 3rd Rock from the Sun… so funny. John Lithgow’s one of my favourite actors. I’ve just added Bruce’s cover, how important do you think titles and covers are?
Kim: The most important marketing tool, probably, considering that a reader only picks up the book based on either that or because they knew about it beforehand.
Morgen: In amongst all your publishing duties, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Kim: Yes, I write every day. Emails, website entries, press releases, book bits, blurbs,… Writer’s block? I don’t have time for that. Seriously. If I ever feel that coming, I just grab my keyboard and start writing something. After five minutes, I usually have a good idea and can go back to the beginning and edit whatever may not have worked.
Morgen: Having a variety certainly helps. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Kim: If I wrote fiction, I would plot. In fact, I have had an idea for crime fiction and got exactly as far as plotting said book.
Morgen: Oh great. I met three agents at Winchester Writers’ Conference last July and they all told me they wanted more crime. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Kim: Sometimes I wish I was an author only, and not an editor, publisher, dog lover, dungeon master, knitter, cook, photographer, prop organizer, event manager, marketing specialist, … sometimes I even wish I was something rather straight forward, like a florist. That feeling usually only lasts about 2 seconds and then I am glad again that I get to do so many different things. I mean, wouldn’t I get bored otherwise?
Morgen: Will (Sutton – interview 28th April) told me about the Dungeons & Dragons and the knitting (or crocheting in his case!). 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kim: Write! And stop calling yourself aspiring. You either are a writer or you’re not. You may not be published but you are still a writer, so please don’t submit anything (particularly not to me) with “I am an aspiring writer” in your submission. Wouldn’t let you cut my hair if you were an aspiring stylist either. I’d like to point you to Kristen’s blog as she said what I think quite nicely.
Morgen: That’s very true. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it like that. 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Kim: Don’t know really; my best friend suggested that I should invite Cleopatra and Pope Joan because they are women who fight for themselves and “take no shit” (that’s what he said, not me). Makes me sound like a crosspatch, really. Another friend said he’d invite Picasso and van Gogh for me because they are so my style. Having thought about it then, I would like to invite Pope Joan, Picasso, and my grandfather (to ask him all those questions I forgot while he was still alive).
I’d serve goats yoghurt with blueberries. Hassle-free dinner, delicious and, I mean, who doesn’t like blueberries?
Morgen: <puts her hand up> I’m not really a berry person. More for everyone else. I adore cherries though. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kim: “I don’t like to repeat myself”. Sadly, I have to repeat that all the time and am growing quite fond of the sentence itself. Also works well modified “didn’t I already say that”, “why do I feel like I’ve said that already”, “cripes, why do you make me say this over and over again”.
Morgen: <laughs> What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Kim: I sleep, eat, walk or work out. Or I paint, sew, think, cook, play Dungeons and Dragons, spend time with my friends, teach, prepare lectures,…
Morgen: A never-ending list, hey. I know that feeling (blog, shower, emails, blog, dog walk, blog, eat, blog…). 🙂 Speaking of blogging, are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Kim: I see networking sites as a picture of reality. In the old days, you went to conferences to meet new people and exchange ideas. That’s what you do on Twitter or LinkedIn. But would you really have climbed onto a table and yelled “look at this beautiful girl of mine”? Probably not. You’d have shown that to your friends only. So that’s where Facebook comes in – you have a group of friends and people you met (or didn’t, at least not in real life) and share your thoughts, photos, … with them. As a company, it’s much the same, really. People follow you (meaning they express an interest in you, come to your old-fashioned convention, etc.) and you show them stuff you think they are interested in. Personally, I like Facebook best because to me, it is more of a reflection of reality; Twitter is more of a stand-on-the-table-and-shout kind of platform to me. I do stand on the Twitter table (and ask my authors to do it too, though), but I feel awkward doing it and understand those who want to avoid it. Wouldn’t want to force them, but I would seriously nudge them to become active on Facebook. For marketing, Twitter is only really important when an author’s audience is very active there. However, Twitter is a very powerful tool to spread the word about something, to stay on top of the news and to connect to some wonderful people because you can virtually hear what they have to say. I’d like to point out that I found the Kony 2012 campaign to help the Invisible Children that way, for example.
Morgen: I agree. Facebook is more intimate (but then I have 700+ friends on there as opposed to 2,400+ Twitter followers) and some people do tout tout tout on Twitter (then wonder why they get defollowed). 🙂 I like LinkedIn too – twice I’ve put shout-outs for interviewees (which I don’t think as touting as I’m providing a free service – that’s my excuse anyway) and it’s done me proud (I’m currently four months ahead!). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thanks for that. We’ve concentrated on the writing side of your life and I’m sure anyone reading this would like to know more about you with your publisher’s hat on. 🙂 Can you please briefly explain the structure of your publishing house… perhaps who’s involved along the process of an acceptance to the book / story being published.
Kim: Briefly, yes, sure. It’s very brief. There are two of us, really. Will is responsible for the fantasy list and I am responsible for Safkhet Soul. All other books we divide based on personal liking and time. Mozart is our office mascot, she lies around and makes sure we don’t suffocate in books. She also keeps us focused and arranges regular workout sessions (ahem – editorial meetings) in the park.
Morgen: Ah, that would be the dog in the photograph then. 🙂
Kim: Otherwise, we work with freelancers. When we have a submission, it travels a very subjective route. Usually, I pre-screen the submission, provided it was sent to the proper address (firstname.lastname@example.org). If the submission is not according to our guidelines, I turn it down. Sounds harsh, but we have our reasons. If it is, I forward it to Will if it’s not my cup of tea. Once a submission is with the editor, we have different approaches. Me personally, I read it immediately (nothing worse than a pile of submissions yelling out for me) and if I like it, I request a sample chapter. If I like that too, I request more. If I still like it, I tell Will about it and try to convince him. At this point, we already think about possible outlets, reviewers, market,… and if we can think of people who might like to help working on the book and promote it, we talk to them. If we can convince them of the project, Will goes to the drawing board for a contract and we contact the author with said contract.
Morgen: The $64,000 question: out of all the submissions you receive, what makes a book / story stand out for all the right reasons?
Kim: The first hurdle for a submission at Safkhet is: the author needs to have followed the submission guidelines (if they did, I can somewhat safely assume that working with them will be easy, as they follow instructions and trust me to begin with). Second hurdle: no typos, general etiquette, polite yet firm tone. Third hurdle (and possibly the most difficult for us): do I like this book, does it have potential and is there a market for it. Doesn’t help if I like it and nobody else does, we are, after all, all in this to make some money, right?
Morgen: That must be a really hard decision to make, especially if you have more appealing books than budget (if that ever happens). And then, without naming names, what makes a book proposal / story stand out for all the wrong reasons? 🙂
Kim: Let’s have an example speak here:
I would like to work for you as a writer of prose and poesy and sign a contract for 20 years.
I write a one book on year and cost a 50.000 $.
I write prose and poesy since little and I educated myself privately for American literature.
Prose and poesy is just for a connoisseur and a lover of reading.
You can find more of these onhttp://safkhetpublishing.wordpress.com/category/publishing/submissions.
Morgen: Oh yes, I see what you mean. Google translate perhaps at work for the last two. 🙂 What genres do you accept? What would you suggest an author do with a cross-genre piece of writing?
Kim: Fantasy, Cookery, Romantic Comedy, and very few select titles for a niche audience. Cross-genres pieces are very interesting – do submit them but highlight where they fit into an existing list.
Morgen: And Sheryl’s definitely falls into the cookery / romantic comedy section. I have her book (yet to read it though <slaps wrist>) and loved her book talk / signing, especially when we got on the subject of second person viewpoint. 🙂 How can an author submit to you?
Kim: Our submission guidelines are outlined on http://safkhetpublishing.com/publishing.htm.
Morgen: Presumably no mention of $50,000 one-book poesy contracts. 🙂 Can you suggest some do’s and don’t’s when submitting to you.
Kim: Don’t not stick to the guidelines. Don’t be rude. Do be personal, funny, quirky, different. And please be short and succinct!
Morgen: Common sense. Are there authors that you deal with on a regular basis and / or perhaps represent directly?
Kim: We deal with all of our authors regularly – one email a day keeps the misunderstandings away 😉
Morgen: I think everyone likes attention to detail and knowing that someone’s thinking about them. 🙂 What do you feel about an author writing under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to their profile? And would you recommend an author writing under different names for different genres?
Kim: Whatever they want to do really. I personally don’t understand writing under pseudonyms. Going back to what I said about social networking – I would never have attended one type of conference under a different name than another just because they are not related. I might also lose my overview. Online nicks are about the maximum I can handle and I only have two nicknames I use, so once you’ve found me, you can find me on other sites as well.
Morgen: I agree that it’s easier to stick with the one name as getting people to know that one exists is hard enough. 🙂 We touched on eBooks earlier, what’s your opinion of eBooks as a way forward?
Kim: Love them, find them helpful, they are additional though and not replacing books.
Morgen: Do you have to do a lot of editing to the stories you accept or is the writing usually more or less fully-formed?
Kim: I can’t answer this generally. Sometimes there is a lot and other times not so much. We do strive for a more global English though so in that regard, when we sign an author, we have to edit quite a bit to ensure this global house style.
Morgen: That makes sense. For your purposes, does it matter what point of view a story is written in? Have you ever printed any in second person? What’s your opinion of second person?
Kim: I like either first or third. I read a submission in second person once. Couldn’t stand it.
Morgen: <crosses that off her list> 🙂 I love writing it but it’s definitely acquired taste. I went to a new writing group the other day and read out a piece in second person (my story from Telling Tales charity anthology actually) with mixed reactions… well, only one person said they didn’t like it (and was converting to first person as I went along), others murmured appreciation (out of politeness perhaps) but there were some who were bemused by a point of view they’d never heard of before. 🙂 Given that more emphasis these days is put on the author to market their published works or indeed themselves as a ‘brand’, how involved are you generally with your authors post-publication?
Kim: We try to stay in contact as much as possible, come up with ideas, cross-promote, help setting up events if necessary, talk to libraries, stores… we also help the authors if they have any questions or when they want to know what to write next.
Morgen: This is where being self-published misses out. We’d have to find our own sources. A rather global question, but are there common mistakes an author can make?
Kim: The easiest to avoid and yet most common mistake I have met so far is to disregard the publisher’s house style.
Morgen: Yes. I’m sure a lot of authors do little or no research on that. Now with your editor’s hat on, how much notice do you get (would you like / need) for editing a project?
Kim: Ah, well, since I am in house and also have so many other roles and so much other work to do, I sometimes only notify myself that something needs to be edited a few minutes before I should start. Seriously though, we also edit for other publishers and then sometimes get very tight deadlines and very short notices. Trouble with those is that the fewest customers recognize the trouble this can mean and usually don’t pay extra which I think is a shame.
Morgen: It is but I suppose you just want to do your best to please them. I’ve heard numerous authors say they can self-publish without an editor – what would you say to that?
Kim: Don’t do it. There are so many editors out there who would be happy to get this work assigned even on a commission / royalty basis. There is no reason to throw your work on the market without a second pair of eyes having scrutinized it first.
Morgen: Absolutely. I have a great editor and she not only finds (fortunately few) errors but comes up with some great suggestions. How do you edit – on screen or on paper?
Kim: Always on screen – we believe in a paperless office.
Morgen: Oh dear. <she looks around her currently paper-cluttered office> What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kim: I am currently working on Somebody to Love by Sheryl Browne, For Those About to Cook – Pure Metal by Bruce Moore and Metal Missionaries by Bruce Moore.
Morgen: Do you work every day?
Kim: We take one day off from the office, but this is a floating day. I personally love to work Sundays, because my inbox stays quiet and I can really get some manuscript on the way.
Morgen: Me too, although I’m in Jane Wenham-Jones’ chat room 10.30-12 every Sunday morning (the clocks went forward so we lost an hour today) 😦 then record my podcast (every other week, today’s is four short stories) and Radio Litopia 7pm-9pm. Somewhere in there is usually a trek round the old racecourse with the dog, so a bit of r&r. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Kim: Thank you very much for your effort. I really enjoyed the cup of tea – ginger is my favourite, so thank you for that!
Morgen: My grandfather’s favourite too. 🙂 I’m a berry girl when it comes to fruit tea although lemon & ginger has nice tang. You’re very welcome. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Kim: Where do you buy the extra time to do all these things? I need to set up an account with them and get some myself!
Morgen: Oh, that’s easy: a huge bottle of passion and short nights – go to bed and they automatically refill the next morning. 🙂 Thank you, Kim.
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