Welcome to the three hundred and fifty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with writer and publisher Will 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, Will. Please tell us something about yourself.
Will: My name is William Sutton (Will for short) and I’m currently based in Cambridge, England, although later this year, I’ll be moving to Wilhelmshaven in Germany.
Morgen: I love Germany. 🙂 How did you come to be a writer?
Will: I wrote my first book in grade school, when I was 11 years old. My friend and I wanted to write a few comic books and sell them to our friends at school. His contribution was to tell everyone and help sell the book, but I actually wrote and drew the comic, which later became Ollie the Octopus.
Morgen: What fun. 🙂 You run Safkhet Publishing, 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.
Will: Our company structure is very straightforward. Kim, who is both my business partner and my wife, and I are wholly responsible for the day-to-day activities of Safkhet. We’ve divided up management responsibility for the imprints: her imprints are Safkhet Cookery and Safkhet Soul, and my imprint is Safkhet Fantasy. We both manage books in the Safkhet Select imprint, as these are books that (a) don’t fit into the other imprints and (b) we believe in them anyway.
Morgen: “we believe in them”, I love that. How does a writer submit to you?
Will: Generally, we only accept submissions that follow our submission guidelines on our webpage. Submissions sent here are rerouted to the appropriate imprint managing editor, depending on the genre of the manuscript. If the manuscript passes our rigorous testing and analysis, it is discussed in editorial meetings that we have while we walk Mozart, the office manager and family dog, in the park. Assuming the book is a go, then we write up a contract, get it signed, and begin the arduous process of copyediting and proofing, cover design, text layout, and (most importantly) marketing the book to be.
Morgen: My dog thinks he’s the manager too so I let him and we have editing meetings like your editorial. 🙂 Do you write yourself? If so does this help with deciding which projects to take on?
Will: Yes, I do write myself. I think it only helps with deciding in that I understand what it is like to submit your “baby” – your manuscript that you’ve slaved for years over – to the publisher. Otherwise, we accept books that either fit our imprint or we personally like.
Morgen: The $64,000 question: out of all the submissions you receive, what makes a book / story stand out for all the right reasons?
Will: For me and for Safkhet Fantasy, I really only want to publish the books that really move me or stand out among the crowd. The work has to be grammatically and content-wise great already, the characters well-developed, and the storyline and plot gripping or downright hilarious. I’ve read quite a few fantasy books in my life and it’s got to be really, really good. Otherwise, I can’t put my soul and effort behind it 1000%.
Morgen: Absolutely. Like a writer, if you don’t care it’ll show. You mentioned your various imprints, what genres do you accept? What would you suggest an author do with a cross-genre piece of writing?
Will: We accept cookery, romcom, fantasy and some non-fiction. As non-fiction does not have its own imprint, it’s got to be really moving or interesting to get accepted. Cross-genre works might be accepted – that’s what Safkhet Select is for. I suggest authors submit if they’re willing to do what we ask them to do – help 1000% in promoting and selling their books, for example.
Morgen: Every author (bar one and she’s still active on Twitter / Facebook) I’ve spoken to has realised they need to actively market themselves. It’s a tough job but they know it’s a necessity these days. Is there a genre that sells better than others or that you can’t get enough of?
Will: I’ve just been recently convinced that romcom is a big seller. I used to think fantasy was a winner, but the hype over Recipes for Disaster is starting to convince me. Me personally though, I really like fantasy and science fiction. However, the sci-fi I want to see more of is the William Gibson / Philip Dick / Aldous Huxley types of sci-fi: near-future, post-apocalyptic or alternate reality. Also, I think I could get interested in steampunk, but only if it has a magical quality to it.
Morgen: I’m glad to hear about romcom – I submitted a chick lit I wrote to three agents at Winchester Writers Conference last July and was told by more than one (to my face) that “chick lit is dead”. I’m sure the chick lit authors out there would have been pleased to hear that (not). You mentioned earlier how to submit, can you suggest some do’s and don’t’s when submitting to you.
Will: Do follow the guidelines, be honest, be personal but respectful and be ready to take direct constructive criticism. Don’t not follow the guidelines (:)), flip out if we reject your work, submit horror or erotic works, send mass-mailings, or be impersonal. We want authors who are real people and who want to work for their book. If we can’t see that the author has taken the time to send to us directly, then that author will have a hard time fitting into our Safkhet family.
Morgen: And that’s the impression I get. I’ve interviewed three of your authors so far (Sheryl Browne, Bruce Moore and Will Macmillan Jones), and went to Sheryl’s book talk recently (which was great; we ended up having a conversation about second person viewpoint :)), and it does feel like a ‘family’ which an author would want from their publisher, an advantage perhaps over a larger publishing house. This is a question that I ask authors but I think is just as relevant to you as a publisher: what was the first book / story you published?
Will: Our first book was Ollie the Octopus. It can be downloaded for free on our website, and it is an interactive PDF, with the original artwork.
Morgen: I did, and it’s really sweet (so I ‘liked’ and tweeted it :)). To your knowledge, have any of your published books / stories won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Will: No, but we are looking for as many ways for our authors to get into these competitions.
Morgen: 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?
Will: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an author writing under a pseudonym. It is only important that the author is able to keep up with the social media contacts under that pseudonym. Having one identity in the world might be easy, but handle two – or even three, as I’ve seen with some authors – and the work involved in keeping those identities up-to-date becomes phenomenal. I don’t see any reason why an author would write under different names for different genres, especially because one name is hard enough to keep popular. I understand that an author might want a different name if the name was connected with a certain genre, such as Stephen King with horror. But then developing the following that the author has under the other name becomes a huge effort, once again because the other name has no following. In the end, it is not really relevant whether your fans read your horror fiction, crime fiction, fantasy or non-fiction political books, so long as they read them – and buy them.
Morgen: Ruth Rendell (Barbara Vine), Joanna Trollope (Caroline Harvey) and Nora Roberts (JD Robb) write under those pen names but their followers know that but I guess they don’t want their usual readers to pick up their book expecting one thing and getting another but yes, being known as one name is hard enough. 🙂 Now for, in theory, a simple question: what’s your opinion of eBooks, do you publish them and do you read them?
Will: I think eBooks are another great way to get a book out to the public. There are readers who want to read on computers, and would rather download and read on their technological devices than read a book in the paper version. Not providing material to these readers is cutting out a significant portion of the reading market.
Most of our books are available as eBooks on the Kindle. You can easily find them by going to the book’s page at http://www.safkhetpublishing.com and clicking on the links on the left side of the page.
Morgen: Most of the people I’ve spoken to (myself included… although that would imply that I talk to myself :)) say they read both formats. I love knowing when I go out that I have 400+ books available should I have some time to kill, but I have so many paper books at home that I don’t think I’ll get through them all in my lifetime. Poetry and short stories are, in my opinion anyway, the two most hard done by genres… what do you see as the future for them? Do you think the eBook revolution will help given that eBooks seem to be getting shorter?
Will: Poetry definitely has a niche and can still hold its own, but for the mass market, poetry may be just a bit too esoteric. Those publishers of poetry are strong in their market. They don’t try to hit the mass market, because they know that the mass market isn’t interested in poetry – they want easy and fast reads. So long as there are lovers of poetry, there will be a demand. Short stories are difficult to deal with, as they need to be in collections or anthologies – and the quality of the stories vary greatly, not just from story to story but from author to author. Take Ray Bradbury, for example. Ray Bradbury was a great writer, prolific in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He’s one of my favorite authors. His book “The Martian Chronicles” is a collection of short stories focused on Earth’s colonization of Mars, and the destruction of the Martian society in the process. As a whole, I think it’s brilliant work. But within, there are stories that are just too weird, too esoteric for the mass market. These days, only those who read it contemporarily even remember it – only those who either read it as a kid or are still involved in the genre even know about it. If you ask those readers, they’ll most likely say that Bradbury’s work is great stuff – but when pressed, they might just admit that not all of it was that great. Another popular contemporary short story writer is John Updike. Updike wrote some great stories, too, but some of them are just either too esoteric to understand, or just not very good. The stories are carried on as works of art, but not because the work was good, rather because they were written by John Updike.
EBooks are just another method of distributing content. The biggest issue I have with eBooks is that they are relatively easy to produce. I should mention that good eBooks are still just as difficult to produce as physical books are. However with the Kindle Direct Publishing and the number of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) software programs that convert Word documents into ePub files, the eBook market is literally flooded with unedited tripe that dilutes the great works out there with its mediocrity.
Ultimately, it is definitely more cost-efficient for poetry and short stories to make an impact in the eBook format than in the physical copy format. Other than that benefit, it is a customer demand issue.
Morgen: That’s probably why I love writing / reading short stories more than anything else; because I’m weird and esoteric… or at least my writing is. 🙂 Is there a plot that’s written about too often?
Will: In fantasy, it is the “Horrible evil threatens to destroy all that is good – a handful of rag-tag adventurers sally forth and save the day by killing the big bad evil guy and thus avert total disaster”. The part that really makes no sense is that by killing the one bad guy, the entire army of evil is wiped out.
Morgen: Like the hero never getting even a scratch in a movie shootout. 🙂 Do you have to do a lot of editing to the stories you accept or is the writing usually more or less fully-formed?
Will: We leave as much as possible to the authors, with comments and style guides. Safkhet has a style guide and we ask our authors to use it. As new common issues arise, we ask our authors to do those corrections. Otherwise, we do rigorous copy-editing and proofreading before layout (sometimes simultaneously). Of course, we try to find as many errors as possible before going to print, but we sometimes miss one or two. If our readers find errors, we’d love it if they tell us so we can fix those errors in the next edition.
Morgen: I hope the same for my eBooks because although they’ve been through at least two people (myself, my editor… sometimes other first readers) it’s always possible. 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?
Will: I personally like third person. I find it difficult to relate to a character that narrates in first person. I’ve never printed in second person, and I haven’t given second person much thought, as I’ve never even seen a submission in second person. The last time I saw a relatively successful second-person fiction was when I was a kid. I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series whenever I could. It is very much like a solo role-playing session. However, after a while, I feel like the plot is railroading me and I really don’t have any choice as to my future in the story. Interesting for a while, but it really loses steam in the end.
Morgen: I loved them too, which could contribute to why it’s my favourite viewpoint now… for short pieces anyway. It’s fairly unheard of so I’ve even given it its own page here. 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?
Will: I talk to all my authors at least once a week. Some I talk to on the phone for an hour or so at a time. Safkhet functions like a family. Our authors are just as involved in the business as we are – only to different degrees and with different responsibilities. We stay involved with them because all of us sell their books, not just us or them. It is very important to our business that we all integrate together and work together to sell the books.
Morgen: That’s refreshing to hear as some authors have said that although they’re with a publisher they’re pretty much left alone, which is a shame. You’re currently in the UK but moving to Germany, do / will you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about, or distributing, your publications?
Will: Thanks to the internet, we could be anywhere and still produce books for whichever market we want to be in. The only difficulty is in hosting a live event in a country where we are not.
Morgen: That’s true – maybe we’ll all go over to video conferencing or YouTube. 🙂 Speaking of technology, what do you think of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and more business-related such as LinkedIn? Do you think they’re invaluable or too time-consuming?
Will: Using social media is the core of our marketing. They are completely invaluable.
Morgen: 🙂 You mentioned earlier that you also write, what genre do you generally write and have you considered others?
Will: Currently, I write children’s books and academic articles. As of yet, I have not considered writing in any other genres, primarily because I am too busy running Safkhet.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Will: To date, I have published an eBook called Ollie the Octopus, which has been translated into German and also has a secondary storyline with the same illustrations, called Ollie Saves Sally. This book I published as William Banks, to honor my grandfather, William Banks, who was a printer and watercolour artist.
Morgen: Ahh… Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Will: I have not gotten any rejections yet. I imagine, though, that should I have gotten rejections, I would either continue on with representing my book to other publishers, and ask the rejecting publisher for feedback, so that I can possibly improve my next submission.
Morgen: They say it’s more difficult to get an agent these days than a publisher, do you think agents are vital to an author’s success?
Will: I think that agents might be useful for getting your copy to one of the Big Six, but otherwise, an agent is not vital to an author’s success. Many times, an agent represents the author incorrectly, or has other interests in mind.
Morgen: Or done very little, as I’ve heard in a few cases. We’ve talked about eBooks, do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Will: I like to read both eBooks and physical copy, although I don’t actually have an eBook reader; I read the eBooks on my laptop.
Morgen: It’s so easy, isn’t it. 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?
Will: My favourite character in my book is definitely Ollie himself, followed by the Offisher. I’m not sure who the voice over for Ollie would be – maybe Michael J Fox.
Morgen: That would be fun. 🙂 How important do you think titles / covers are?
Will: I think an author should have input into the title of the book, but not total control. This is because the author may have knowledge of his genre, but the publisher has knowledge of the market – and can tell whether a seemingly “cool” title is a winner or a flop.
Morgen: Absolutely. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Will: Right now, the next Ollie book is just in planning stages, as I’m primarily focusing on my day job as a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University and on my role as an editor / publisher at Safkhet Publishing.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Will: I usually just get ideas and run with them. If I have to stop for the day, I’ll write down my ideas at least, so I can pick them up again for next time.
Morgen: Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Will: I do write academic articles when I can find the time. And I blog. Other than that, I don’t write anything else.
Morgen: I’m not sure how relevant this is for ‘Ollie’ but do you have to do much research?
Will: Not really, although I want to make sure that I don’t make underwater characters do things that their real counterparts could never do (apart from the anthropomorphic actions like speaking English, of course).
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Will: I like to write in third person. I’m not a big fan on books that are written in first person, but I do see the value in it for some genres.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Will: Yes, but most are in my head.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Will: My favourite aspect of my writing life is when I can realise an idea and write the whole shebang in one sitting. My least favourite aspect is not finding time to write and watching the ideas and tasks pile up in my inbox.
Morgen: Time. Yes. My biggest bugbear. 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)?
Will: Assuming language is not a barrier, I would invite Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin and Socrates to dinner – and we would have a homemade roulade with braised green cabbage and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Will: I like the phrase that Uncle Scrooge from the Donald Duck cartoons says in German:”Wer den Kreuzer nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert.” (translated to English – Those who don’t honor the Kreutzer are not worth the Thaler.”)
Morgen: I’ve been to Germany loads of times and love the little cartoons they put in between programmes, even if I don’t understand every word (German’s my second best language after English) I get the gist. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Will: When I am completely off, I like to go on long walks with my wife and my dog in the park or through the city. Kim knits and I crochet. I also like to play Dungeons & Dragons on weekends with her and our friends.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thank you, Will, for being so thorough today. It’s been really interesting.
I then invited Will to include a short biography and he said…
People on the net are all into cloud tags these days, so here is my biography written in “cloud tags”:
Doctor of law; lawyer; Cambridge lecturer; role-player; writer; publisher; legal advice dispenser; friend to animals; dreamer; jogger; dog-lover; hiker; skier; child; non-smoker; non-drinker; lover; husband; organic-meat-eater; chocolate lover; traveler; Texan; IT person; web designer.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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