Today’s post highlights Elephant Rock Books, one of our publishing partners for The Great Novel Contest 2015. Not afraid to have a little fun, Elephant Rock describes itself “like Penguin Random House, minus the huge overhead, 60 percent market share, enormous backlist and German overlords.” We caught up with publisher Jotham Burrello to learn a little about the press and what it’s been up to recently.
ERB’s tagline is “Stories You Won’t Forget.” What catches your eye in a submission, and what’s new in your catalog that particularly excites you?
We have a small list because I only publish books I can support (read: market). Publishing is ultra-competitive. It’s a buyers’ market so in addition to good writing, professionalism is very important. When I sign a writer, I am signing a long term agreement with that person, so I want to work with writers who are professional and flexible and will work to make the book a critical and commercial success. Writers need to also understand revision is a partnership between author and editor.
Writers should read our books to get a sense of my sensibility; an engaging voice is paramount. It’s a cliché, but those first few pages should leap off the page. Editors read so many manuscripts, we’re a jaded bunch. That said, I open each submission hoping it is the best book ever written. It’s why I got into this business.
Currently we’re excited about our debut YA novel. It has earned national recognition because we put in a lot of work editing, designing and marketing. It is a case study in how a small indie can compete with the big boys. The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, check it out.
What made you decide to be a participating publisher in CCC’s Great Novel Contest? Is this a relatively new form of outreach for ERB, or have you paired up with other contests before?
We have not partnered with a contest prior to the Great Novel Contest. We have run our own. The excitement and amount of quality work accumulated in a contest is a treat to read and consider. I expect the Great Novel readers will have a number of tough decisions to make reviewing manuscripts. And nothing beats calling up the winner with the good news. It’s like that Publishers Clearing House knock at the door, minus the jumbo check for one million bucks.
Could you talk a little about the significance of contests like this to independent publishers and emerging writers? How do they benefit (or do they) both sides of the business?
I find contests are a democratic way to generate, sort, and find the best submissions. They have been a strategy for publishers since the dawn of moveable type. They bypass agents and endless networking, and provide authors with direct access to publishers. They’re also great for publishers, because guidelines restrict submissions to be exactly what we’re looking to publish. And of course, they are terrific for debut authors. Publishers want to discover new voices; contests allow for such discoveries. This is what happened with our YA contest. And now Carnival is nominated for best YA debut of 2014.
For those discovering ERB for the first time, what are the most important things about your press you’d like them to walk away with? What’s on the horizon for Elephant Rock Books?
I want readers to walk away with a book. As a farmer friend recently noted, “Readers enjoy my social media, but they must exit through the gift shop to make this work.” Readers don’t care who published the book they love. Readers don’t browse by publisher and inspect the tiny logo on the spine of a book to decide what to read next. At ERB we have a small list, but our books are handsomely designed and carefully edited, and I hope readers appreciate the care we put into each work of art.
We’re dedicated to publishing contemporary literature for diverse audiences. Our interests are vast, and we like to collaborate, as we did with the Chicago Theater Collective 2nd Story on a book of essays. (With perhaps the greatest title ever, Briefly Knocked Unconscious By a Low-Flying Duck).Young adult literature was a category I had interest in. Another interest is finding a novel of the caliber of Jacob Appel’s The Biology of Luck. We’re also excited about new media forms and making ebooks really multimedia experiences beyond text on a screen. In 2014 we published the enhanced ebook The Writers’ e-Handbook. The book is only a hundred pages, but if readers followed all the in-text hyperlinks, videos and appendix resources, they would have years’ worth of reading material. We have two enhanced ebooks in production for 2015; as well as our second YA contest starting in May. In late 2015 I hope to track down a work of narrative nonfiction. It’s a form I’ve taught for many years, and I am eager to land a quality manuscript.
The future is tough to predict but I hope there is a place for indie publishers, and authors who, as James Baldwin said, want to change the world.
We’re thrilled to have Elephant Rock Books as a participating publisher in The Great Novel Contest 2015. The contest opens on January 1, 2015 and closes on January 31, 2015. Get your manuscript submission-ready now!