Editor-in-Chief Nik Morton joins Writer Working today to talk about what it’s like to head the literary operations of a successful modern publishing house. A click on the titles, will take you to reviews of two of his latest novels A Sudden Vengeance Waits and Bullets For a Ballot. (Yes. He doesn’t merely sit in judgment, but gets right down into the trenches with the rest of us scribblers.)
My own novel, The Second Vendetta, will soon appear as a Solstice offering, and I want to acknowledge the help of fellow Solstice author Lesley Ann Sharrock in preparing this interview as well as urge you to snatch up her fine novel The Seventh Magpie ASAP.
NOW FOR NIK:
WW: Most folks still think of NYC as the publishing mecca driven by big names like Little Brown or Simon & Schuster. But you live in Spain. The Solstice mailbox address is in Missouri. Other staff members are scattered hither and yon, yet you all operate as one company. Is Solstice the future of the publishing business?
NM: There are now two publishing models, and neither is exclusive of the other. Print and e-book.
For print, the long established publishers such as Little Brown have massive overheads so they must opt for the mass market publication – employing economies of scale to make the price per book commercially attractive. Publishers like Solstice can’t compete against that cover price. However, the POD product is attractive and durable.
For e-book, the marketplace is wide open and publishers like Solstice can and do compete on price and product.
As for the future of the publishing business, I don’t envisage print books going the way of the dinosaur. Perhaps trees still need to be worried – well, those not in a sustainable forest.
I’m sure Solstice isn’t alone in employing staff from diverse places. Instantaneous communication worldwide helps – though naturally time zones should be taken into account! I find it useful being able to work on editing and such during the morning, which is night time in the US, for example. And then in the afternoon, the emails start coming in…
I still find it odd that so many publishers don’t accept electronic submissions. And I’m amazed that certain sci-fi magazines don’t!
WW: What are the difficulties and advantages of operating as a cyber company as compared, for lack of a better term, to a brick-and-mortar operation?
NM: Speed of response and adaptability is a big bonus in the e-business. Things tend to be slower in the old established publishing business. As crime writer John D MacDonald said, ‘If you would be thrilled by the galloping advance of a glacier, then you’d be ecstatic watching changes in publishing.’ So the modern model is better. Yes, of course, there are holdups, delays due to the availability of editors, cover design and maybe the odd queue for setting up the print version. But they pale into insignificance when compared to the long-established publisher. When my UK publisher (estab.1936) accepts one of my books, I then wait for 8 months before I get to see the proof (I don’t have any interaction with an editor, fortunately the ms only requires minimal editing), and it’s usually another 4 months before publication day. Most of Solstice’s acceptances tend to be faster than that (yes, there are exceptions, naturally).
The possible downside to the cyber approach is that many people think that every aspect can be as quick. Communication is instant – so why can’t the publisher’s process be fast? Because there are individuals at the publisher’s end, and neither reading nor editing should be rushed. It’s stating the obvious, I know!
Happily, the vast majority of authors understand and are patient.
WW: At some point it became de rigeur for many publishers to accept manuscripts only from agents rather than dealing directly with authors. When houses like yours cut out that middle person, where does that leave the agent industry?
NM: I’ve never had an agent, though I’ve tried many times. Maybe the fact that my writing can’t be pigeonholed into a single genre doesn’t suit. I was burned by an agent many years ago, but it didn’t put me off them!
I believe the majority of agents do a great job, not only encouraging their authors but guiding them also. Agents do much of the work that used to be covered by publisher’s editors.
Solstice does accept work through agencies, as it happens, and my assumption is that since the ms has been passed by that ‘gatekeeper’ then it bears early scrutiny. However, with regard to Solstice, an agent won’t be able to barter a more favourable financial deal.
WW: About how many Manuscripts do you read each year, and what approximate percentage of them do you accept?
NM: Most publishers and agents read the first 5 pages – if you’re lucky. I usually read the first 3 chapters, at least. Of the 287 submissions received in the year Feb 2011-Jan 2012, 26% were accepted. That’s quite a good acceptance rate compared to many in this business. Yes, many were debut authors.
WW: I’ve heard it said that there are just too many damned books being published in the English speaking world, which makes it incredibly difficult for an individual author to get noticed in today’s diverse marketplace. Your thoughts.
NM: I agree, now that e-books and POD can be released by virtually anyone, the marketplace does appear swamped. No bad thing, perhaps. Yes, there will be books out there that are very badly written, lacking in conflict, tension, characterisation and visualisation, to name a few essentials for a good page-turning story. Very few readers will return to that author.
Solstice books have been vetted – not blindly accepted, as vanity publishers tend to do. Solstice books are assigned an editor; several are then checked by the EIC. Solstice books are proofread. Solstice book covers are designed in consultation with the authors and the great majority are very happy with the result.
Plenty of famous authors self-published, but they used editors or were trained in editing standards. Most individual authors who self-publish should use an editor before they press that ‘publish’ button. Perhaps they should also bear in mind what one literary agent said: ‘I know everyone has a book inside them; actually, that’s the best place for it.’
How to market the books? Think about it. Thousands published every week. The traditional review outlets might carry 40 reviews a week, some duplicating titles. The only place where your book is going to get noticed is in cyberspace – or if you promote it locally. Adverts in magazines? Too expensive – and you’ll only see the big names advertised, usually. Some authors are slow burners – picking up a readership as book follows book. Many established publishers don’t have time for those, it seems – the mid-list. That’s where publishers like Solstice come in. Discovering new names, nurturing them and moving forward, slowly, but surely. Fame isn’t always instant. Sometimes, an overnight success takes years.
WW: How do you manage to bear the time- and energy-consuming burdens of an editor-in-chief yet still publish novels as well as integrate family, hobbies, and so on into your life?
NM: I’ve allotted a certain number of hours per week to Solstice and I maintain a timesheet for that purpose. I tend to exceed those hours most weeks. I’ll often read submissions on my Kindle, which gives me time away from the computer. I’ll be editing up to 5 novels at the same time, communicating with the respective authors with each tranche of edits.
The remaining few hours in the week are spent working on my current writing projects. I maintain a spreadsheet for the books I write, so I know how long is spent on each, and how many words produced per session.
My hobbies are fairly basic: reading, writing, watching movies. I like drawing and listening to music but they tend to get shunted to ‘later’. I alternate cooking and some other chores with my wife and do most of the garden work and cleaning the swimming pool. We baby-sit our grandson sometimes and see the family over the weekend. The other day I felt guilty when we spent a few hours doing a jigsaw puzzle! Needless to say, my current writing projects are taking the hit. Solstice has agreed to reprint a couple of my spy thrillers but I haven’t found time yet to change the spelling to US-English (I’ve been on page 62 for quite a while now!)
WW: If you could boil down to two or three points your advice to those multitudes of writers typing away and submitting to places like Solstice, what would you say?
NM: Persevere. It’s a cliché, but those who succeed are those who never gave up.
Do the time. You must put in the hours.
Be harsh with yourself. Stand back from your work and be critical.
Visualize. If you can’t see what’s happening in a scene, the reader can’t either.
Prepare. Have you read some writing guides and writing magazines? There’s a wealth of experience lying there in those cherished printed words. Maybe they can save you some time and anguish. Not to mention the writing websites – those that encourage but don’t blaze, of course.
Grow a thick skin. Nobody likes criticism. If it’s intended constructively and not maliciously, then take it and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, fine, discard it and move on. Rejection is subjective, as is reading and reviewing; ever been to a movie that was slated and wondered if perhaps the anti critic went to a different film?
Basics. Get them right.
Belief. Believe in yourself, be true to yourself.
WW: Great stuff, Nik. I knew you’d be a fine interview, but this far surpasses my expectations. Thanks for the insights, the inside info, and the wise counsel.
A brief biography of Nik appears below, and you can find more information about his fascinating career and current projects at these links.
Writing as Ross Morton, Nik has 5 western novels published: Death at Bethesda Falls, Last Chance Saloon, The $300 Man, Blind Justice at Wedlock and Old Guns, and a western e-book, Bullets for a Ballot. Writing as Nik Morton, he is the author of the crime thriller Pain Wears No Mask and two psychic spy Cold War thrillers The Prague Manuscript and The Tehran Transmission, a collection of 21 crime short stories that feature Leon Cazador, Spanish Eye, “a perfect TV vehicle for Antonio Banderas,” he says! He’s also the author of a modern vigilante crime thriller, A Sudden Vengeance Waits, an anthology in aid of Japanese earthquake/tsunami survivors, When the Flowers are in Bloom, and, as Robert Morton, a vampire horror-crime thriller, Death is Another Life, which he’s also written as a screenplay. As Robin Moreton, he’s the author of a World War I erotic thriller – Assignment Kilimanjaro. He’s the editor of A Fistful of Legends, 21 stories of the Old West. He sold his first story in 1971 and has had many articles and 120 short stories published. Nik is Editor in Chief of Solstice Publishing. He lives in Spain with his wife Jennifer.