We recently corresponded with Matt Betts, author of Odd Men Out to learn about his experience working with Raw Dog Screaming Press. As one of the four publishers collaborating on The Great Novel Contest, we were excited to hear more about this independent press from an author’s perspective.
Tell me about your experience working with Raw Dog Screaming Press. Why would you recommend RDSP to other authors?
The editors and owners of Raw Dog Screaming Press and Dog Star Books have a great eye for stories and how to improve them. They have a pretty wide array of genres that can fit well into their various lines, so they can really pick and choose what stories they want to take on. I think I would recommend them to other authors because they are big enough and experienced enough to really be able to get books out there in front of readers, but they’re still small enough to really be able to get to know and support each of their authors. They’re constantly out there at cons and events, selling books, meeting readers and getting their name out there. RDSP’s John Edward Lawson and Jennifer Barnes have been enormously kind to me and amazingly supportive of my work.
What’s your favorite part about working with RDSP?
RDSP can be a lot of fun to work with. They started a reader’s poll, where readers voted on their favorite titles from the publisher. After that, voting moved on to other rounds, and for 2013, Odd Men Out won the poll. It was really exciting. Part of the award was a nice trophy to put on my desk, but the other part was a belt. This was a real WWF-style humongous belt with a dog picture on the front and my name on the side. The belt gets shared each year with the new winner. I don’t always take it with me when I go to cons or events, but it’s really a conversation-starter when I do.
RDSP really supports their authors and does whatever they can to get the word out on their releases. I feel like they have confidence in my work and I never feel lost in the shuffle of their catalog. I also think the authors themselves are very supportive and go out of their way to help promote each other. I’ve always felt like I could approach RDSP authors with questions, or ask them for advice. It’s a great group of talented and generous people.
Why did you choose to submit to RDSP?
It’s extremely important to do your research to find the right publisher when submitting your work, but it’s also important to make contacts and get your name out there. In fact, that’s how Odd Men Out found RDSP. I was slowly making my way through my list of agents and publishers I felt were right for the book. I wasn’t getting accepted, but I was getting notes from agents and publishers about what they liked and didn’t like. While I was working on some of their edits and suggestions, I heard from Heidi Ruby Miller.
I had met Heidi at a conference many years before. She and a number of other attendees at that conference really got me excited about writing, and also introduced me to writing speculative poetry. I stayed in touch with Heidi for years, but we hadn’t actually run into each other in person again. So, she knew I had a book and asked if she could take a look for RDSP’s new science fiction line, Dog Star Books. Since I knew and trusted Heidi, and I was already familiar with a number of RDSP authors, it was a no-brainer to send Odd Men Out to her. She read it, had great things to say about it, and they took it on as one of the titles that would launch Dog Star Books. It was a great honor to be one of their first titles.
How does it feel to be a Hoffer Award finalist? What words of encouragement do you have for other authors submitting to contests or awards like this?
It was a great surprise. I really was thrilled with the reviews Odd Men Out was getting, but I really didn’t think too much about the possibility of awards. It’s very exciting to be on that list of excellent books, and having that gold seal on the front of the book is wonderful. I certainly recommend that authors and their publishers look into awards. There are a number of them out there, and many are very specific and might fit a particular author’s situation. There are awards specifically for science fiction, for self-published books, for first-time authors, for residents of a particular state or area. The competition is pretty tough, but winners and finalists get a lot of extra attention and publicity. Check out their guidelines and see if they are free or require an entry fee, then weigh whether the return is worth it for your situation.
What advice do you have for writers?
You know, I’ve been giving the same advice to writers for a long time. Read. Read whatever you can get your hands on. Read outside your genre, or outside your comfort zone to see how/why a certain novel works. Maybe there’s a book out there that is wildly popular, but doesn’t sound that great to you. Read it. Find out why it’s on the bestseller list. That author must be doing something right, even if they aren’t your cup of tea. Better yet, figure out why a book doesn’t work. Is there a novel that’s getting killed in reviews? See if you can determine where they went wrong. What don’t you like about it? Read all you can in your genre to know the tropes and clichés so you can avoid and subvert them. Read. Read. Read.
I think my other advice for writers is to get involved in the writing community when you can. I was a member of a critique group for years and attended every week. That can be a big time commitment, and I had to scale it back eventually, but the things I learned from those critiques really helped my writing. Going to those meetings helped me learn to meet deadlines with my writing, among other things. Nearly everyone in that group was at the same sort of level with their writing, that is, we were all beginners. We learned the ins and outs of writing, as well as the business of publishing, together. It was a tremendous help.
Tell me about your novel, Odd Men Out. Where did the idea for a steampunk, zombie-filled, post-Civil War story stem from?
You know, there were a lot of things that contributed to Odd Men Out. It was really an homage to a number of my favorite things, and ultimately an effort to write a book mashing those things into one fun story. I’m a pop culture junkie, so that really contributed to the book. I was a big fan of watching old horror movies on television on the weekends when I was a kid. I watched Godzilla and other giant monsters that way. I loved the action and adventure of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I enjoy zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead and TV shows like Firefly or Alias. My job, basically, was to put all of those together somehow. Simple enough, right? I just wanted to get the feel of the excitement of those shows. I wanted a good plot, good characters to root for and a fun setting. All of that eventually gelled into Odd Men Out.
This is your first published novel, do you plan to continue writing novels? What’s the next project you’re working on?
I have a few things coming up. This summer my next book, an Urban Fantasy called Indelible Ink, comes out. It’s also from Dog Star Books/RDSP. I’m excited about it, because it was so much fun to write. It’s a little scifi, action, UF, and horror mixed together. We’re looking at the edits and I know the cover is underway, so that one is pretty much done, at least as far as my involvement in the manuscript. I’ll get back to it closer to the release date to get the promotions going.
I’m writing a sequel to Odd Men Out, which should be published in 2016. It’s a continuation with the same characters pretty close to where Odd Men Out left off. It’s been fun to brainstorm where their story could and should go next, and the first several chapters have gone pretty well. There’s an outline for another Odd Men Out novel after that one that’s taking shape. I also have a few short stories I’m working on, with at least one of them featuring characters from Odd Men Out as well.
Interested in working with Raw Dog Screaming Press? Submit your manuscript to The Great Novel Contest before January 31, 2015. The grand prize winner and the runner-up will both receive priority consideration from RDSP, in addition to three other publishers.