As we hit the halfway point of The Great Novel Contest, we continue our spotlight series with a sit-down with Columbus Press author, Samuel Snoek-Brown. Sam is the author of Hagridden, which has been garnering a lot of great reviews lately.
Columbus Press is one of four participating publishers in The Great Novel Contest 2015. The contest winner and runner-up will receive priority consideration from these four publishers, in addition to cash prizes.
Sam shared some of his time to talk about working with Columbus Press, his experiences with the publishing industry, and what he’s been up to lately. He’s also got some helpful advice for anyone on the fence about entering The Great Novel Contest. Thanks, Sam!
My agent is the one who found Columbus Press, but he ran presses by me before sending my novel anywhere. I was actually pretty excited by Columbus Press when he brought them to me, because I liked their balance of quirk and professionalism. Some small presses focus so much on the “independent” part that they go to some strange lengths to distinguish themselves, and they can sometimes privilege quirk over everything else. They’re weird for weird’s sake, which is fine, but it makes figuring out their business model difficult and you’re never quite sure what they’ll do for you professionally. Other presses are so concerned about being taken seriously as a business that they take all the fun out of their work, strip down everything to contracts and guidelines and marketing schemes. There’s so little artistry in that.
Columbus Press is absolutely a serious, professional business — they have ambitions, they have a plan, and they know how to articulate that. But they also have a banana as their freaking logo, and there’s an ease and conversationalism to their guidelines and their blog posts that make you feel like you’re dealing with human beings. That really appealed to me. It felt from the beginning like I’d found a place that would let me play and would play with me, but that also knew the rules of the business and could guide me through that, too.
What did you most appreciate about working with Columbus Press?
I’m going to put that in the present tense — what DO I appreciate — because that’s one of the things I actually do appreciate about Columbus Press: we’re still working together. Publishing Hagridden was not a one-time event for them; they didn’t just work with me until the book came out and then kick me into the world with a box of paperbacks and wish me luck. They continue to work with me, not only on promoting the work as it is but also on some of my nutty ideas for carrying the work further. (I’d say more, but irons are still in fires and I don’t want to give away too much just yet.)
In your experience, what’s unique about Columbus Press compared to other publishers you’re familiar with?
That “nutty ideas” thing is another thing I appreciate about Columbus Press, and something I think sets them apart from a lot of presses. They’re willing to do some exciting things you don’t normally see from presses big or small. For example, when it came time to do my launch party in Columbus, they organized a freaking city-wide game of tag! The event already exists — it’s called Journey to the End of the Night — and it’s nationwide, but Columbus Press had the brilliant idea to turn what is ordinarily just adults running around playing tag into a novel-themed chase based on the rougarou werewolf myth in my novel. And afterward, everyone enjoyed werewolf movies and bayou-themed drinks. It drew a huge crowd, drummed up a lot of interest in my book, and was a hell of a lot more fun than most release parties. I can’t wait to see what they come up with to promote their next book, whatever that might be!
Any advice you’d have for someone thinking of entering the contest? What have you learned or how have you benefited from contests during your career?
Academics like me have to worry about our curriculum vitae, our academic résumé, and contest placements (if you can get them) look great on those. But even non-academic writers have to worry about the CV: it’s called their cover letter. If you can place in a contest — you don’t even have to win, just get shortlisted or make it to the finals — that lends you terrific credibility and makes it more likely that some future editor or publisher will give your work a stronger read. It’s no guarantee of anything — nothing is — but it absolutely does help.
And if you do win, that opens a lot of doors. When the early drafts of Hagridden received an Oregon Literary Fellowship from Oregon’s Literary Arts organization, it brought a lot of interest my way, from fellow writers and magazines and even a few agents. If something like that happens for you, know that it’s not something that sets you apart from other writers — it’s actually an invitation into a much larger literary community. It makes your writing world bigger.
But even if you don’t place in a contest, entering is a great experience. The stakes feel higher in a contest than in regular submissions (they’re not, usually, but they feel that way) so you tend to obsess a little more over the details. Is everything spelled correctly? Is your format right? Have you followed all the guidelines? A contest can train you to focus on the details the way you need to with ALL your submissions.
Which is really the only advice I have: treat the contest seriously, and submit like a professional. And if you don’t get anywhere with that contest, then — like a professional — revisit the work, give it another polish, and send it out again. And again. Because it’s all just a normal part of the writing and submitting process.
Also, what have you been working on lately, and what’s new with Hagridden?
I’ve been (slowly) working on a new novel. This one is also historical, this time set in Reconstruction-era Texas, with forays into Oklahoma, Arkansas, and northern Louisiana. It’s not a sequel to Hagridden, but Hagridden fans might like to know that there’s at least one character from that book who makes an appearance in the new one.
But that’s still very much in early draft stages.
In the meantime, the newest thing for Hagridden is that I’ve written a series of short stories featuring minor characters from the novel. Three of them have appeared in online publications this past fall — you can find links to them on my website.
If you’re interested in working with a small press like Columbus Press, entering The Great Novel Contest is a great way to get your manuscript into the hands of their editors. Learn more about how to submit a novel to The Great Novel Contest here.