29 November 2013

Traditional publishing research - University of Hell Press

This month I'm thrilled to bring you an interview with Greg Gerding, the founder and managing editor of University of Hell Press, whom I met at Wordstock earlier this year. Greg has been gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule (and around the holidays, no less!) to candidly answer some questions about his press, the publishing process, and selling books.

Welcome to the blog, Greg!

I think I remember from our conversation at Wordstock that you started the press to self-publish some of your own books. Why did you decide to expand to publish other people's books, too?
Yes, I decided to self-publish so I could represent my work the way I envisioned. I then came up with “University of Hell Press” to publish that work. As my books got around, I was often asked about “the publisher.” Who are they? Where are they from? There is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the name.

It wasn’t until Eirean Bradley asked me about University of Hell Press and said to me, “I would kill to be published by a press with that name.” I told him that if he ever completed a manuscript and sent it to me and I liked it, I would publish it under University of Hell Press. He did, I LOVED it, it was the I in team, and the first book published by UHell Press not written by me. It grew from there.

I got the impression from your website that you're mostly interested in publishing poetry. Is that right? How do you decide which manuscripts to accept? Would you accept a manuscript that doesn't resonate with you personally but you think would sell well? 
We don’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific genre, but we do represent poetry well. We are attracted to material that takes risks. We love great, solid writing that exposes the human condition in a raw way, however that is explored, whether poetry, prose, memoir, fiction, etc. It’s an overall aesthetic that excites us. We know it when we see it. When you spend time with our books, I think it’s evident.

There are three editors (myself, Amy Chadwick, Eve Connell) who decide what to publish. We assign the submissions and read every one in its entirety. Then we discuss. We respect writers and feel they each deserve their due. Plus, we want to respond thoughtfully if the writer wants to know exactly why we might have rejected their manuscript. We each have the power to green-light a manuscript, if we are moved by it. If there’s a submission we’re on the fence about, we pass it around until a decision is made.

We lend special weight to manuscripts recommended by our existing corps of authors. If it has their stamp of approval, we know it is something to be seriously considered. Plus, with every author that we publish, we hope that they continue to bring their work to us as they finish future manuscripts.

As for whether we would publish a book that doesn’t resonate with us only because we think it would sell well? The short answer is, no.

As I'm sure you're aware, there's a ton of self-publishing going on out there, and some of my readers are trying to decide whether to do that or go the traditional route. What are the benefits to publishing with a small press like University of Hell versus self-publishing? 
Our press allows our authors to stay focused on one thing: writing. I’m not saying we’re paying their bills, but I am saying that we don’t place demands on them except to continue writing.

We already have all the resources in place to get a book published. From editing, to layout, to artwork, to printing, to distributing, to promoting, we have a network of people ready to assist.

We also include our authors in the process. Our authors have creative control, if they want it. Sometimes they have a vision for what their book should look like, our aim is to realize that. Others admire the work we have already done and prefer to leave it all up to us, we’re happy with that too.

The benefits to being published by a small press is that they’re already established. We’re young, but there is growing interest in what we’re doing and what we’ve got coming out next. By accident and by design, we have produced noteworthy works and brought attention to exceptional artists.

As for self-publishing, if you are motivated and organized and interested in learning the publishing side of things, I encourage it, especially if you have a good eye for design. There’s nothing worse than a self-published book that looks shoddy. The cool thing is, there are so many print-on-demand providers out there, most of them have tools that will fulfill anything you can’t complete. There are tools for creating really strong cover art, there are templates for getting your book laid out properly, etc.

Where did you find your editors and what kinds of editing do they do on the manuscripts you accept for publication? Do you think it's ever a good idea for a writer to hire a freelance editor like me before they submit/query their work? 
Amy Chadwick and I have known each other forever. We share common interests, have a lot of the same friends, and share the same aesthetic sense for art. Amy took an interest in my writing very early in my career and is hugely supportive. She has been my personal editor with everything I have done.

Eve Connell and I have known each other since I moved here five years ago. We share a mutual friend who insisted we meet up. It was kismet. Eve and I only lament the fact that we delayed meeting. Eve is kin, and a rock star. There isn’t anything she can’t do.

The three of us are equally strong at editing, so we rotate assigning each other as the “primary” editor of a book, while another will be assigned as the final proofreader. The primary editor thoroughly pores over every aspect of the book, from grammar to structure to consistency to order, everything, and then circles back with the author to review. Once they are cross-eyed from this process and are certain it’s complete, the proofreader looks for anything that might have been missed.

It is absolutely a great idea to hire a freelance editor before submitting or querying work anywhere. In our submission guidelines, we encourage writers to share their work with others, especially editors, before submitting. This is crucial. As writers, we spend so much time with our work that we become blind to the little things. Overlooking them can kill a submission.

Would you please describe the process you go through from acceptance to publication of a book? About how long does it take?
Every book is different, and we pride ourselves on getting everything right. We’ve turned around books within a few months, and others have taken almost a year. If it takes longer than that, everyone starts to get grumpy. Everyone.

Our process is simple: 1) Submission is read and accepted. 2) Primary editor sweats over everything and discusses with the writer. 3) Once satisfied, project moves to proofreader. Proofreader nitpicks. 4) Book is considered finished. 5) Cover art and any interior graphic work is commissioned. 6) Book is laid out, illustrations (if applicable) inserted, cover art finalized, back cover copy completed, etc. The final product is two print-ready PDFs: the cover and the guts. 7) Book is uploaded to the printer, proof is ordered and reviewed, and books are approved and made available. That’s it!

Here's a question that's come up for me lately: What's the difference between book marketing and book publicity? What marketing and publicity strategies does U of Hell Press use? 
Book marketing is deliberately getting the word out yourself, through a website, through advertising, etc. Publicity is attempting to generate interest in a book through reviews, newspapers, magazines, radio, etc. We do both, and encourage our authors to do the same. We seek print reviews, encourage readers to write online reviews, and we utilize social media and update our website.

We also remain community-minded and donate our books, or our time, or our expertise. And we like to partner with like-minded enterprises; that could be another press, or an art gallery, or a performance space, etc. Plus, we exhibit every chance we get. We did Wordstock this year, next year we’re doing AWP, and we’ll work any other event that lets us man a table and talk about our press.

What do your authors need to be willing to do in order to help you sell their books? 
We don’t require our authors to do anything. We do, however, encourage them to do everything. We like doing book release parties and having our authors read out. We like in-store appearances. We love authors who set up their own thing, book their own tours, suggest book prizes they dream of someday winning so that we can submit to them on their behalf. But, we’re also okay if they don’t have the means or the capacity to do anything except write their next book. Writing is the most important.

What advice do you have for new and aspiring writers who want to get their work out there? 
Just write. And write some more. And edit. And read others, a lot of others. Find your own voice. Be passionate about your life and your work. When I talk to other writers, I often ask them if they’re working on a book. I’m surprised if they haven’t even thought about it. I find that imagining a book, a product of all that hard work, is a good thing to aspire to. Establishing goals is important.

Photo by Jill Greenseth
Whenever I get asked about advice for new writers, I think about my own path. I’m always hungry (literally and figuratively), I’ve always loved sex, and I always try to be interesting with everything I write. So, I recommend that you 1) starve yourself to understand hunger, 2) have as much sex as you can as often as you can, and 3) don’t be boring.

In addition to visiting the website, you can connect with University of Hell Press (@UHellPress) and Greg Gerding (@greggerding) on Twitter and "Like" the U of Hell Press on Facebook.

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