Publisher Spotlight: Columbus Press Author Samuel Snoek-Brown

As we hit the halfway point of The Great Novel Contest, we continue our spotlight The Great Novel Contest 2015series 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.

Learn more about Hagridden here.

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.

Find rules and instructions for entering The Great Novel Contest here.

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!

What attracted you to Columbus Press initially?hagridden cover new

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

Publisher Spotlight: Elephant Rock Books

Today’s post highlights Elephant Rock Books, one of our publishing partners for The Great ERB Logo GreenNovel 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!

Find contest rules and instructions for entering here.

Publisher Spotlight: Columbus Press

As we get closer to the opening of the Great Novel Contest 2015, we’re posting a few Q&AsThe Great Novel Contest 2015 with this year’s participating publishers. This post comes courtesy of Columbus Press, which has had an important partnership with Columbus Creative Cooperative for a while now. Columbus Press founder Brad Pauquette (who also happens to serve as CCC director) answered a few of our questions about Columbus Press, The Great Novel Contest, and the publishing industry.

Edit: The Great Novel Contest is now open for submissions! Find instructions for entering here. 

What makes Columbus Press different from other small presses?

There’s a big (and smart) movement among most small presses to really capitalize on the press’s brand.  That’s not our style.  I want the published work to stand on its own, and I want the credit to go to the author.  I want to build strong authors who can be the face of their own brand, not the face of mine.

When we published Hagridden, for instance, I didn’t want it to be Columbus Press’s Hagridden, and then in small print somewhere, by Samuel Snoek-Brown.  I want it to be Samuel Snoek-Brown’s Hagridden, expertly produced and marketed by Columbus Press.  I think Sam’s earned that, and it’s how I would want to be treated.

Our collection is also too eclectic to push our brand hard.  We’re small enough that I have the freedom to publish whatever I think is cool at the time.  If you liked Hagridden, you may hate the book that we release next.  And vice versa.  We have to find a new market for every book we produce (which is a ton of work), but I think we get the advantage of being totally stoked about every project we publish.  It’s never the same old slog, we’re always experimenting with new campaigns and initiatives, and we’re always exploring new ground.

Browse all of the Columbus Press titles here.

Why is Columbus Press participating in The Great Novel Contest?

Obviously, I have a close relationship with Columbus Creative Cooperative, since I’m the director, which is a volunteer position I do in my spare time.  When we started The Great Novel Contest, it seemed natural and easy that I could support the group by offering the prize.  As the name of the contest implies, it’s been a great experience every year.

I’m excited to see new publishers entering the mix, though. I think it makes the contest that much stronger, and it’s an even better resource for authors.

One of the advantages of small or mid-size press is that an author can find someone that’s really a good fit.  Your book doesn’t just make sense on a spreadsheet, but it’s something the publisher can really get excited about and roll with month after month.  With the group of publishers participating this year, the winning authors will not only have an opportunity to work with a great business, but hopefully they’ll find some people that really match their style.   I’m looking forward to the opportunity to review two manuscripts, which I’m confident will be exceptional, and to make an offer to somebody that I think could really groove with my company.

And of course, like every year, I’m hoping the contest will expose new readers and authors to our brand, and you’ll pick up one of our great books like Hagridden or Seven in a Jeep.

Can authors submit to you directly if they don’t want to participate in the contest?

Absolutely! We accept unsolicited submissions year round.  Just make sure to follow the guidelines and instructions on our website.

But, you should be warned, we receive hundreds of unsolicited submissions every year, and we only choose one or two to work with.  So the odds are slim.  Not to sell the contest too hard, but if you win this thing, your manuscript will come straight to me, I’ll read the whole thing, and we’ll make a decision right away.  That’s a tremendous asset.

We turn down exceptional books from the slush pile every day, because we just don’t have the time and resources to produce at a faster schedule (and frankly, I don’t think we’d want to move any faster).  This is a legitimate opportunity to bypass all of that.

What is Columbus Press looking for right now?

Good question.  We’re always on the lookout for work that is exceptional, regardless of genre or audience.

Right now I’m in the mood for a book that’s really funny.  I mean laugh-out-loud Kurt Vonnegut funny.  I’ve had my eyes open for this one for a long time and haven’t found it yet.

Also, I admit, I’m a sucker for a fast thriller—a la Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Dan Brown—I love a good page turner.  I also like socially relevant science fiction, and I don’t find a lot of that in the market today.  Who’s filling Isaac Asimov’s shoes?

I don’t go for a lot of navel-gazing, but I’m also on the lookout for excellent literary fiction that moves.  Some of my favorite authors run from John Steinbeck to Cormac McCarthy.  That’s a huge open space, and I’d love to find a book that excites me.  Something that makes me think.  Something that won’t leave my mind, and I ponder while I’m doing the dishes or driving to work or trying to fall asleep.

I’ve often thought that I’d like to publish a book with a strong spiritual component, something like what Donald Miller writes.  But I have yet to see a manuscript that can really pull that off.

So the answer is we’re open to whatever.  We want books that excite us, the rest is up for grabs.

We’re thrilled to have Columbus Press as a participating publisher in The Great Novel Contest 2015. The contest opened on January 1, 2015 and closes on January 31, 2015. Submit your manuscript today!

Find the the contest rules and instructions for entering here.

Interview with Community Partner Igloo Letterpress

The first and foremost function of Columbus Creative Cooperative is to provide support, encouragement and resources to our growing community of writers. One of the ways we pull that off is by partnering with local businesses who offer products that are useful to writers and other creatives – printing, photography, work space… you name it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship – our writers get an additional value to their CCC membership, and our community partners get to do business with some new and groovy clients. Everybody wins.

To help you get to know our community partners, we’re kicking off a series of interviews with the businesses who are working side by side with the CCC. You can find a complete list of our partners here, but we’re starting off this series with the good folks at Igloo Letterpress.

As their web site describes them, Igloo is a small but mighty letterpress and bookbinding studio, retail shop and commercial printer. In addition to printing nearly anything you can think of (check out their work on Etsy), Igloo also offers classes and workshops on letterpress and bookbinding for beginners and pros; custom printing, and a beautiful gift shop nestled in the heart of Worthington’s historic district.

Owner and ‘letterpress aficionado’ Allison Chapman has poured a lot of love and hard work into her business, not just as a way to make a living, but to honor her grandfather. When she was a young girl, Allison’s grandfather would hand-set and print her poetry on printing equipment that he had originally found in a barn. Although Igloo is now a modern printing operation, much of its products are printed on that very same press.

“I’ve just always had a love of paper, all the things you can do with it,” Allison said. “I have boxes and boxes of the stuff my grandfather printed. It’s important to keep track of that history; I love to see how our technique and skill has evolved over time.”

While any number of Igloo’s services could be useful to CCC members, our partnership with Igloo Letterpress provides you with a discount on the retail side of their business. Just show your membership card in their store, and you’ll receive a 15 percent discount off your purchase. And while you’re there, see if they’ll show you the presses – the aroma of ink and paper will put any writer in a great mood for the rest of the day.

Once again, thanks to the folks at Igloo Letterpress for partnering with us, and for showing us around. It was a great visit – one we hope to repeat again soon. Once you’re done perusing their web site, make sure to follow them on Facebook as well.

Want to see the presses in action?

Click here to watch the folks at Igloo showing off their expertise.