Indie Spotlight: Unbridled Books

imgresUnbridled Books was founded in 2003 by co-publishers Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson, who together have more than 50 years experience in publishing plus a terrific track record for finding and promoting literary fiction that sells in the commercial market. Self-described as an independent publisher focused on producing books that are “moving, beautiful, and surprising,” Unbridled’s list is an international patchwork of well-told tales set everywhere from Cuba to Iceland to Afghanistan, as well as America coast-to-coast. For the Ploughshares blog, Ramey and Michalson share the secrets of their indie success as well as what makes a writer Unbridled.

KF: While your press publishes stories from across the country and around the globe, what seems to bind Unbridled books together is a life-affirming humanity. Even in the inherent tragedy of Solveig Eggerz’s World War II-era novel Seal Woman or in the dark criminal underworld of Ed Falco’s Toughs, for example, there exists a spirit of hope and survival that can be difficult to find in these cynical times. What attracts you, as editors, to these types of novels? 

GM: I don’t mind dark, but I’m not much interested in “despair and die.” I’ll leave that to other publishers. If a reader is going to invest the time and energy into a book I publish I’d prefer there was some pay-off that affirms something about the world. Writing, after all, is in the end a hopeful enterprise. 

FR: We’ve published a good many novels that go to dark places in the heart, but I think you’re right. We’re probably less interested in novels that are all razors and needles. It seems we’re drawn more to the story that is finally in some way affirming and that knows full well why and how it got there. This isn’t a question of our being—or the authors’ being—idealistic.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Leapfrog Press

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Leapfrog Press began in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1993 as the brainchild of writers Marge Piercy and Ira Wood, whose initial goal was providing an outlet for literary fiction overlooked by the big New York houses. While Piercy has served as judge for Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest, the press currently is in the hands of Managing Editor Lisa Graziano and Acquisitions Editor Rebecca Schwab. Now based out of Fredonia, New York—in storied Chautauqua County on the shores of Lake Erie—Leapfrog’s list has moved on as well. In addition to literary fiction by both new and established writers, Leapfrog publishes a smattering of nonfiction and poetry and a diverse list of middle grade and YA fiction.

What makes Leapfrog stand out as an independent press is their refreshing lack of fear when it comes to compartmentalization. Despite publishing a small number of titles per year, they’ve put out everything from mysteries to memoir, science fiction to how-to, hardboiled exposé to tender and poignant story collections. When Leapfrog says they simply want “writing that expands our webs of connection with other humans and the natural world; books that illuminate our complexities,” they really mean it.

For Ploughshares, Lisa Graziano helps readers understand the why and how of their editorial decisions, provides details on Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest (deadline is May 1!) and gives the inside scoop on Leapfrog’s future.

KF: From Mary Malloy’s historical fiction/mysteries, starring adventurous academic Lizzie Manning, whose expertise and mettle could put even Indiana Jones to shame, to Michael Mirolla’s fascinating and frightening sci-fi tale The Facility, where the future is filled with Mussolini clones, to Li Miao Lovett’s powerful novel In the Lap of the Gods, set in China during the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam project, Leapfrog’s list is wonderfully quirky. What qualities do your divergent titles share? What marketing challenges does this wide range of titles bring you?

LG: Good storytelling first, and we do like quirky, as you put it. But our books share a few themes to which we are partial. Many have a grounding in science, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Some are based in important cultural and/or historical questions, whether or not they are “historical.” We don’t perceive these themes as separate. They tend to run together in many our books. Continue Reading

What’s Done is Done is Done Again

yawnAs a creative writing instructor, I get asked two questions more than any others. The first is easy enough to answer: “How do I find time to write?” There’s no secret here—set a schedule and get to your desk. The second question, however, continues to stump me, both as a writer and as a teacher. “How do I know when I’m finished?” This question seems as open as it is insoluble, and yet we writers need to tackle it if we’re ever to move past our first attempts.

During my stint teaching academic writing at a university, my undergrad students never asked me how to know whether their essays were complete. The answer was quite simple—they’d work until the deadline, hand it in, and that was it. My students worked hard, and they cared about the success of their arguments and the grades they received. They just didn’t have the luxury of worrying whether or not their papers were complete.

Still, they learned the necessity of revision and how to diagnose the effectiveness of their arguments. To help them do so, I devised a list of five aphorisms to consider before turning in their work. The list aimed to help identify lazy thinking, which inevitably leads to lazy writing. We memorized them as a group and used them as we provided feedback for rough drafts throughout the semester. I’ve found these truisms equally helpful for my own creative work, and I hope they’ll do the same for you. Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round Down: Short Stories as a Path to Literary Success

Throes of Creation by Leonid PasternakI’m going to let you in on a little secret about the submissions in my slush pile. When one comes in, the first thing I do–before I have even read the first sentence of the letter–is skim it for the name of a publication I recognize. If I don’t see one, I go back and start reading the pitch, looking for a reason to reject it.

The main thing I’m looking for in new clients is an existing following clamoring for a book from this writer. If the writer has a great idea, however, and understands what it means to be a professional writer, I might still be interested. That’s why I’m looking for the names of publications I like in the author’s bio. If you had twenty-five submissions to read, which one would you start with? I’ll be you’d start with the guy who’s written for Ploughshares and then move on to the staff writer from the Boston Globe, too.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: Stop Fearing the Business of Writing

don't fear biz Last week, Guernica published an interview with art critic Ben Davis, which begins with Davis questioning the premise that “the central tension of the art empire is that between creativity and money.” Davis says there can obviously be tension between what sells and what an artist wants to express, but he argues that money also funds innovative creative work. “If things were as simple as the equation ‘success = corruption,’” he states, “then you wouldn’t need [art] criticism.”

The same misguided equation has long haunted the writing world. It’s with trepidation and/or resignation that writers dip their toes into Literary Business, and it’s often with suspicion that readers observe the marketing tactics of writers we love. Why? Mainly because we’ve been told for ages that financial success implies selling out, and that any desire to make money from literature (or even to amass readers!) is indicative of having devalued Lit for the sake of consumerist advancement. We assume that “business”–a fast-paced, bottom-line-focused enterprise–is fundamentally opposed to the slow-paced, journey-is-the-destination mentality required of deep reading and serious literary engagement.

Fortunately, none of this is necessarily true.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: Why Lena Dunham’s New Book is Worth $3.5 Million

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena DunhamWhen I talk to a new potential client, one of the things we go over is potential advances. Most nonfiction writers get between $25,000 and $75,000; fiction writers, a fraction of that. Everyone who gets more than that did something remarkable to get there.

During this conversation, many writers have joked to me that they’re hoping for Lena Dunham money. Dunham, the driving force behind the show Girls on HBO, received a reported $3.5 million dollars for her book, Not That Kind of Girl. The advance made headlines, and so did the proposal, which was leaked and linked to all over the internet.

The book could fairly be called “hotly anticipated,” and with the book releasing today, the reviews have started pouring in. Those reviews are generally positive, if not overwhelming. And for the publisher, they do something important: They are all written by people who had assumed that the book would be a cultural phenomenon. Because that’s what Random House paid millions of dollars for–a cultural phenomenon.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Hobblebush Books

hobblebushtypecaseHobblebush Books, founded in 1991 by author, editor and publisher Sidney Hall, Jr., is a small press in southern New Hampshire known best for its Granite State Poetry Series and its eclectic list of prose titles. While its poetry series only publishes authors who live in or have a strong connection to New Hampshire—most recent titles are the dark and playful Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Falling Ashes by James Fowler, a collection primarily of haiku and haibun on “war and love and the rest”—prose offerings are slightly more wide-ranging.

For prose at Hobblebush you’ll find Poor Richard’s Lament, a fascinating novel by Tom PRL_DJFitzgerald exploring the what-if scenario of Benjamin Franklin plunked into the twenty-first century; you’ll discover Creating the Peaceable Classroom by Sandy Bothmer, a wellness guide for educators, parents and students; and finally, you can pick from an assortment of memoirs that take you anywhere from the top of Mount Washington to the ports of New Orleans and Nova Scotia to the plains of East Africa.

For the Ploughshares blog, Sidney Hall, Jr. discusses Hobblebush’s mission, acquisitions, and its increasing public presence in the region (let’s just say they have a reputation for throwing great readings).

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Episodia 2.9: I’m Not a Writer, I Just Play One on TV

PersonaI’ve spent the past few weeks preparing for the publication of my first book this fall, and a key ingredient of this process is the “public” part. I’ve been updating my website, beefing up my social media presence, and reaching out to people to spread the word about the book I believe in so passionately.

On good days, I see that I might be evolving into a more potent version of myself—a writer who is able to talk about her own work articulately, one who can move seamlessly between her public and private worlds. On tougher days, the whole thing can feel fake, like I’ve been hired to portray myself in some sitcom or drama loosely based on my life. Despite the best intentions, opportunities for fraudulence arise at every turn. Can I make myself look stronger, wiser, funnier if I try hard enough?

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How To Fall in Literary Agent Love

2461371857_8aa8dfbd06_oIn my last post, I shared with you the checklist I used to put together my own book proposal. It contained all the building blocks I’d become familiar with when working as an editorial assistant for an academic book publisher, plus a few other tips I’d picked up over the years from former writing professors and how-to books.

So I can only assume that, by this point, you have an amazing, solid book proposal ready to go, and are already daydreaming about the book advance and lit parties in your future.

Not so fast, word nerd. While academic publishers—and some small presses—accept unsolicited book proposals and manuscripts, most traditional book publishers won’t look at your work unless it comes to them via a literary agent.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: How To Screw Up A Book Proposal

When I first start working on a proposal or a manuscript with a writer, I tell them I have two stages of advice: breaking things and fixing things. At first, I’m going to keep asking hard questions and recommending big changes, until I think the writer has said what that writer wanted to say. Once we’ve gotten all the big pieces in place, I start making recommendations that are simple to deal with, like choosing a new word or deciding to cut something or not.

mhhdjy9That first stage is often eye-opening for writers, as they may never have had someone—even if they are a working journalist—tear up their work and show them a different way to put the pieces back together. An agent, after all, may be the first person they’ve worked with who had more faith in them as a writer than in any particular piece of writing. If you find the right agent, he or she might teach you more about your own writing than any writing teacher, peer, or editor ever will. That potential relationship means it makes me happy to see someone find an agent—even when it’s not me!

That’s why my favorite piece of writing from the past two weeks was another Ploughshares post, “A Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials to Go Through Before You Start Schmoozing Agents.” Written by one of my fellow bloggers, Steph Auteri, the blog post offers solid guidelines on how to get an agent, which she successfully did using the same steps she recommends.

I can’t recommend her piece strongly enough, but I also thought I could enhance it by offering a similar list of things NOT to do in a proposal.

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