Welcome to the five hundred and fifty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with writer and publisher Rosemary Kind. 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, Rosemary. 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.
Rosemary: All submissions come into a common mailbox. Although I do a lot of the reading personally, I will farm out stories which are based on subjects I’m less familiar with, or genres that are I think another pair of eyes would be better looking at. Ultimately the say on acceptance is mine and as far as possible I will give feedback to writers telling them where more work is required, rather than simple rejections. A surprising number of stories are later accepted following rework. Most of the work from there is done by me. I do the formatting and final checking for errors as well as much of the uploading to the internet. We have other technical support when I come unstuck, but fortunately I can cover most things.
Morgen: It’s great that you can give some feedback. Most don’t, or can’t because they simply don’t have the time. I mentioned in the introduction that you also write, does this help with deciding which projects to take on?
Rosemary: Yes I do, although since launching www.alfiedog.com I’ve had precious little time to write. What I write has little bearing on what I accept, but there will always be genres that are personal favourites. My own writing is an eclectic mix and in many ways was the trigger for the project. I was all too aware how limited the paid outlets are for short stories, particularly if you don’t write for the classic magazine market.
Morgen: It is indeed, and even that’s been shrinking. In the UK, even in the time that I’ve been writing (seven years) we’ve lost (for fiction) the likes of Bella, Best, Woman, Woman’s Own, Chat etc. The $64,000 question: out of all the submissions you receive, what makes a story stand out for all the right reasons?
Rosemary: The ones you remember are the ones that move you. If they inspire me, challenge me, make me laugh out loud, cry, or scare me witless then they are the remarkable ones and the ones you promptly tell everyone about.
Morgen: My favourite story from last year’s H.E. Bates Short Story Competition was called ‘The bus driver who stopped and then didn’t’ (I later found out was by Dan Purdue and we’ve since got in contact). Having flicked through the titles, that was the one I was looking forward to reading so I saved it ’til last and was one of the few I marked 10/10. Unfortunately it didn’t make the top 10 (I was one of a handful of first round judges) but I still remember it clearly. And then, without naming names, what makes a story stand out for all the wrong reasons? 🙂
Rosemary: Sometimes a story is completely flat. The characters don’t come to life. The scenery is grey and there is nothing to transport you from the real life surrounding your desk. You can very often tell from the email that accompanies the submission if it is going to be very hard work. If you groan before so much as opening the attachment, then you begin reading the story looking for excuses to turn it down. First impressions are everything. I do still try to read to the end, but every so often you reach a point where you realise no amount of time spent reading and making suggestions is going to bring a story up to scratch.
Morgen: I read to the end of all the stories I receive for the H.E. Bates but on some (rare) occasions it has been hard. I start at 10/10 and work downwards, including punctuation etc. because it should be word perfect, but then I’m a hard task master and silly mistakes (missing / adding a rogue word) is unnecessary. It shows it was either submitted in a hurry or without due care. What genres do you accept? What would you suggest an author do with a cross-genre piece of writing?
Rosemary: We accept all but the most violent and totally exclude erotica. Our aim is for the site to be a place the whole family can go. We aren’t afraid of difficult issues, but gratuitous violence or sex is not what we are about. Cross genre is not a problem. We can put a story against multiple categories and every so often we receive something and think – ‘great, let’s create a new category’.
Morgen: That’s how I like to view this blog as I know I have viewers of <13 and >90 (I’ve interviewed one of the latter!) and have only had to put content warnings on two pieces so far, only done major edits to one short story submitted and not refused anything so far (not such a hard task master on that score). Is there a genre that you haven’t published and would like to?
Rosemary: No, we have had submissions right across the board.
Morgen: Is there a genre that sells better than others or that you can’t get enough of?
Rosemary: As a reader I just love receiving humour and we do have a very strong humour section, but as far as sales go they are fairly evenly spread.
Morgen: How can an author submit to you?
Rosemary: They need to read our submissions guidelines http://alfiedog.com/submissions/submission-process. We only accept submissions by email, but everything you need to send and the file formats we accept are all outlined.
Morgen: Very helpful, thank you. Can you suggest some do’s and don’t’s when submitting to you.
Rosemary: We have covered some of the key faults which occur in blog posts on our ‘Alfie Dog Bites’. This link will take you straight to some of our writing tips http://alfiedog.com/category/writing-tips. Unsurprisingly it is the old faithfuls of show v tell, spelling, correct tenses and punctuation.
Morgen: Ah yes. I have a new page of tips (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/tips) which mentions some of these. I think as a writer (or really any other profession… or life!) you never stop learning. 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?
Rosemary: Personally it was Poems for Life, a book of poems to raise money for Age Concern www.poemsforlife.co.uk. Under the guise of www.alfiedog.com the first short story we accepted as by Patsy Collins.
Morgen: Do you run competitions, do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Rosemary: Not at present, but we are thinking of launching one next year. I think they can be a good way for a writer to gain confidence and of course, there is the financial reward for those who secure prizes.
Morgen: There is. I’m involved in two; a short story (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/competitions-calendar/he-bates) and poetry competition (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/competitions-calendar/nlg-poetry-competition), although the latter may turn into poetry and flash fiction, and it’s interesting seeing it from the other side of the fence, juggling entry fees against prizes and judge / postal costs etc. It’s not as simple as it looks. To your knowledge, have any of your published books / stories won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Rosemary: Yes, many have.
Morgen: Excellent. 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?
Rosemary: This is a tricky one. If you do use a pseudonym you need it to be appropriate. If you write a story in voice which is clearly male, then calling yourself Elizabeth is unlikely to fool the reader. There can be perfectly good reasons to take a pseudonym, it is entirely the choice of the writer – although if they suggest something highly inappropriate that would damage their sales then we would point that out.
Morgen: I’ve come across some strange ones (mentioning no names :)) but I think if your name is John Smith then it’s worth considering because you become a brand. Try and Google John Smith. 🙂 Now for, in theory, a simple question: what’s your opinion of eBooks, do you publish them and do you read them?
Rosemary: I read them, we publish them. The main focus of our publishing is the e-story market, but with the possibility of a printable format. Interestingly we sell more of the printable format, but these can still be read on screen.
Morgen: That is interesting, especially in the days of Amazon selling more eBooks than paper books. 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?
Rosemary: I wholeheartedly agree. I started www.alfiedog.com because there is a need for a real market for short stories where writers can earn royalties and where readers can be sure of the quality.
Morgen: As (predominantly) a short story writer, I totally agree. Since I’ve been writing (seven years) I’ve seen the market in women’s magazine fiction dwindling. It’s really sad. Is there a plot that’s written about too often?
Rosemary: There are plots that are repeated. If you take something that is obvious you need to have a different angle. Find me a reason to want to accept your version of events. Even the most commonly covered subjects can have a worthwhile angle that a reader will enjoy.
Morgen: They can. There are only so many scenarios (boy meets girl etc; West Side Story = Romeo & Juliet). Do you have to do a lot of editing to the stories you accept or is the writing usually more or less fully-formed?
Rosemary: It varies from author to author. There are some we can accept without change, but many need a little assistance.
Morgen: Unless we have a second opinion we’re usually too close to our own writing, and another person will often come up with some great suggestions. 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?
Rosemary: Second person if very hard to make work and writers rarely manage to stick to it exclusively and fluently. We have no preference, except that writers have some understanding of what point of view involves.
Morgen: True, and I’ve seen some stories where they switch unintentionally. If the writer (and reader) imagines they are that person, it does make it easier. Have you had any surprising feedback about any of your published works?
Rosemary: Yes. I never cease to be thrilled when people enjoy my own writing and I have had some wonderful encouragement for the work we are now doing with Alfie Dog.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. Most of us write to be read and when a reader takes the time (and effort) to let us know they enjoyed (or otherwise!) that we do then it makes it all worthwhile (or makes us learn!). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rosemary: Never give up. Be prepared to learn from everyone and everything. Don’t keep your writing in a drawer. If other people don’t read your work you won’t have the chance of feedback that could improve your writing. If you don’t succeed first time round that is not necessarily an indication that you won’t succeed next time. Rejection is part of the game, learn from it if you can, but don’t give up.
Morgen: Absolutely. Get your work out there (says she who has files of short stories and three and a bit novels!). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rosemary: A need to evolve to meet whatever markets develop. Over generations writing has developed from the preserve of the elite, to availability to the masses. Now many people take their entertainment from films, TV or video clips, but behind all good fiction sits the writer developing the story.
Morgen: We do, and for me there’s nothing like it, especially if I’m ‘winging’ it. I think it’s never been a better time to be a writer. We do have to work harder than ever before at the marketing but we have so many more opportunities. 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?
Rosemary: We stay close to our authors and have tried to build a sense of belonging. Those authors who promote their work definitely sell more copies than those who don’t and we are now trying to share tips from the more successful ones with all our authors. We also write press releases and flyers that the authors can adapt by adding their own details so they can promote their own work on the site in any publicity they may do.
Morgen: That sounds like a great topic for a guest blog post if you have time sometime. 🙂 Apart from your website, how do you market yourselves? Are your authors involved in marketing for you / themselves?
Rosemary: We encourage our authors to do as much promotion as they feel able to. In addition to that we use flyers, social media and press releases for all key events and achievements. Funds are tight, so whilst we would love to do a full scale advertising campaign that will have to wait until a little further down the track.
Morgen: I’m sure it’s the same for every company. It all comes down to resources and why wouldn’t the author want to make themselves known? In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about, or distributing, your publications?
Rosemary: As we are internet based we could be anywhere. We are in the UK, but we have good links across the globe and have writers and readers in a surprising number of countries covering every inhabited continent.
Morgen: Most of my enquirers are in the US and they assume I am so are (hopefully pleasantly) surprised when I say I’m in the UK but as you say, we could be anywhere. 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?
Rosemary: You avoid being involved at your own risk, but they are very time intensive for the return they bring. You have to be there, but if you could devote the same energy to other approaches the time might be better spent. The reason you use them is that they are low cost and enable easy access to a very wide potential audience. What you really need is the tipping point effect. Once you cross into global brand territory the same time investment reaches many more people. You have to climb the mountain first.
Morgen: It is that. Marketing is usually the answer to ‘what’s your least favourite aspect of your writing life?’ because it’s so time-consuming. Are you involved in anything else writing-related?
Rosemary: I’m part of the online writers group Alpha Writers and love our annual challenges. It is a closed group, often with a waiting list for places and we all find ourselves counting down to the days in the month that the challenges are issued, last month’s entries sent anonymously for judging and eagerly open the results of the month before to see what our colleagues thought of our efforts. It’s addictive.
Morgen: I keep thinking I should join an online writing group. I run or belong to four local (in-person) ones and get so much out of it. I should investigate what’s out there. What do you do when you’re not working?
Rosemary: I am Chairman of the Entlebucher Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain and work to develop the breed here. When I came back to the UK from living in Belgium, four years ago, there were just 10 of the breed in the country. We’ve built that number to 31 with more litters planned over the next few years. It’s very exciting to see the breed gaining recognition. We have four including two breeding bitches, so we have litters each year to bring up too.
Morgen: Oh how sweet. I have a rescue dog (a 12-on-Boxing-Day Jack Russell / Cairn cross) and I’d love to live on a farm (a writers’ retreat) with loads of dogs. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Rosemary: If you have any thoughts of things we need to change or improve we are always happy to hear them.
Morgen: Please do let us know… comments section below. Thank you, Rosemary. I’m chuffed you could join me today.
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.
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