I’m joined today by Nathan Hystad, known on the Chrons forums as Ratsy, and a new entrant to the publishing game. [Disclosure: being a writer, I have submitted short stories for consideration in anthologies, and have a short story in The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel].
Thaddeus White: You’ve recently set up a small press, Woodbridge Press. Given how challenging things can be for small publishers, what drove you to establish your own firm?
Nathan: That is a very good question. I’ve been a reader my whole life, and always had aspirations of being an author growing up. While other kids wanted to be hockey players, firefighters, and astronauts, I wanted to tell stories. Then the reality of it hit and I became an adult. Fast forward to a few years ago when I decided to give my passion a try. I have worked hard at the craft, and have been blessed enough to see my short stories being published in some books, online, and in magazines. I learned a bit about the business from being on the other side of the anthologies, and for the most part, it was a hard one as a writer. For most of them, you get a rough theme, a word limit, and a deadline. Then you send a story in, try to fight your way to the top of the 500 submissions, and months later get a form rejection email. It can be disheartening but it also motivated me. I had an idea of doing some shared world collections, through invite only, and wanted communication to be key. I was going to be totally transparent to the authors about how many copies were selling, where, and all marketing details. I started Woodbridge Press, even while hearing about other niche genre presses going under, with high hopes and faith that if I put the work in, it will be successful. So far I have nothing telling me this won’t be a thriving business.
TW: As you’ll be aware, there are a hell of a lot of writers and would-be writers, so you must be swamped with submissions when anthology slots appear. How do you go about whittling down the number of submissions to a final list of stories to publish?
Nathan: I am only one man, and without hiring outside help I could not have the time to read through slush piles of submissions, so I have not, and may not, have an open submission call. For the two Woodbridge collections, I did open submissions to the SFF Chrons only, because that is the one place I want to give something back to. For Explorations I was so happy to have Ralph Kern on my team to help me read the submissions and make decisions on those last couple spots (which turned out to be four spots because the quality was just so high) Even the rejected stories were done with a heavy heart and some serious deliberation.
TW: I’ve seen the lineup of authors (selected rather than picked from general submissions) for the forthcoming sci-fi and fantasy anthologies. How many goats did you have to sacrifice to Apollo to get the likes of Julia Knight, Douglas Hulick, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ralph Kern, Stephen Palmer and Jo Zebedee on board?
Nathan: With Lake Manor, I invited authors. Some I knew from the Chrons, others I knew from the horror world, and I was so happy with the results. For Explorations, I first approached Ralph about it, since he is an active Chronner, and I love his books. I’ve been lucky enough to beta read his last two novels, and it was easy to ask him if he would be interested in taking part in a shared universe collection. He was immediately on board, and with his support, I canvassed a group of awesome indie and small press published Sci-fi authors. It really was like a snowball, and before I knew it, I had an amazing list of authors who wanted to take part. The same thing happened with the third collection. It is a fantasy themed anthology with the journey or quest as the central focus. I asked Teresa Edgerton, an editor and writer whom I truly adore and respect, to edit and contribute to the collection, and as I started to reach out to authors, I was getting people saying yes, who I have bookshelves full of their material. It was surreal, and it really just drove me to make the end product even better than I ever thought possible.
I didn’t have to sacrifice goats, so far, just my time!
TW: What advice, in general terms, would you give to authors who are thinking of submitting to anthologies (whether yours or another publisher’s)?
Nathan: I think it is to follow the guidelines. Make sure you type the proper thing into the subject line, follow the manuscript format they are looking for. Each anthology seems to have different rules and they can be tricky to get just right. And don’t take rejection as a failure. I have been rejected so many times. It is entirely subjective. The story may be amazing, but just not fit in the collection because it is slightly off theme, or they already accepted one with a similar shtick. Keep your head up, keep subbing it, and eventually you may find a home, but while you’re doing that, move on to writing the next piece. I couldn’t tell you how many shorts I have just sitting in a folder at home. All were not lost causes, because I learned from each and every one of them.
TW: Early days, so this may be tricky, but what’s been the best moment so far from a publishing perspective?
Nathan: I would have to say I’ve had a couple. The first getting unread, unpublished material from authors I have read for years. I remember getting the email from Julia Knight with her short story for the fantasy collection. I was like a kid in a candy store, and that was when I knew Woodbridge was going to be something special. I devoured the story and just sat there looking at the screen. I’ve repeated this feeling a few times since, and I don’t think it will ever get old.
The second was getting the final printed Lake Manor in my hands. I had put so much of myself into it, and obsessed over getting it done for the previous few months, and when all the hard work and dust settled, it was done, and I could share Woodbridge’s first book with the world.
TW: Self-publishing has never been easier. Given that, what are the advantages offered by being traditionally published, and are there any downsides for a writer?
Nathan: This is a great question and one that I really don’t have a definitive answer for. Yes. Self-publishing is easy. It’s the rest of it that is hard. Anyone can write a book and self pub, but then they need to get people to read it. Most get dropped on to Amazon and sit there, gathering virtual dust, never getting visibility, and that is key. If they don’t get an eye-catching cover, professional formatting, and editing, let alone a story people want to read, they will have a hard time selling it. That is what a good publisher will bring to the table. That being said, there are many awesome indie authors who make a great business from writing and do all of these steps, and invest the money to bring the world a good product. There is a lot of bad rap to indie publishers but like anything, there are many levels to them. Just like there are good small presses and bad ones. I think an author needs to weigh their options before making a decision, but at the end of the day, many end up self-publishing because they couldn’t get that agent, or Big 5, then small press to pick up the book. And they can have success that way too.
All of these things are very time consuming too, so there are some authors who would rather just write than worry about the ins and outs of the business side.
TW: One thing I struggle with when self-publishing is deciding on a price tag (there are arguments for and against just about every number). How do you decide on this, and do you vary prices with early/intermittent discounts, or just keep the price fixed?
Nathan: Well I am a sponge. I am new to this, but am a quick learner, and I keep an eye on what the big guys are doing, what the middle and small presses are doing, and what the indie guys are doing. I do know that it will vary with genre to an extent too. There are a few indie SF authors I keep a close eye on to see how they price, and what their marketing strategies are. You do need to think outside the box, and I have some stuff up my sleeves, but I also don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. The good news is, I am coming up in what I call a change of guard out there for book publishing. The big guys, who deep discount their paperbacks in grocery stores, while indie and small press are taking market share in ebooks. Adapt and be reactive is what I think. Keep your finger on the pulse of what the market is doing. There is a lot of data out there saying that 3.99 US for an ebook is the sweet spot. I will let you know better in a year’s time
TW: How difficult is it to decide how many books to release? Obviously you can take more care with fewer, but releasing more may help to build up a readership more quickly.
Nathan: I am taking it slow, and the reason for that is because I want each book to have my undivided attention. I have to commission cover artists, hire editors, format, and that is after the stories come in! There is a lot to putting a book together and then I have to promote, get reviewers, and work the social media angle. I do have a full-time job, which is my livelihood, so this is all done at 6am, after work or on weekends. So this year I have published Lake Manor, Explorations should be out late summer, and the fantasy collection will either be out in time for Christmas or early 2017. My goal is three books a year moving forward, but this may change as we go.
TW: Heart Blade by Juliana Spink Mills is Woodbridge Press’ first novel signing. What’s the premise of the story, and is it a stand-alone or part of a series?
Nathan: I am so excited about this book. Heart Blade is the first volume of The Blade Hunt Chronicles. I first beta read it over a year ago, and loved it instantly. When I started Woodbridge, I wanted to do some collections, and move into novels quickly. This is the book I thought of. When I asked Juliana what had become of it, we started talking and after another read, I had to make an offer on it. She is such a great person and author and I honestly feel so happy that she was willing to work with Woodbridge. Teresa Edgerton has been hired as editor, and this is going to be something special. Here is the summary:
The Heart Blade is the cornerstone of the myth-shrouded Blade Hunt prophecies. Once summoned, the sword will lead the way to light, or push everyone to the edge of a new Dark Age. Not many believe the stories, but those who do know the countdown has begun.
Two years ago, Del was gifted a demon’s blood on her deathbed. Now, pressured to sever the last ties with her lost humanity by making her first kill, the teenage half-demon escapes from her pack, the infamous East Coast Hunt.
Vanquisher Jimmy finds Del alone and penniless and gives her Sanctuary, despite having every reason in the world not to trust a demon. To complicate matters, Jimmy and Del are falling for each other. Soon Del is on the run again, except this time Jimmy is at her side and the demons and Vanquishers are on their trail.
But the pack has more than one quarry. For seventeen years the Brotherhood has done its best to hide orphan Lila from the demons. The centuries-old Heart Blade prophecy is supposed to take place any time now, and Lila is the key player.
The hunt for both Del and the Heart Blade is on, and when the threads tangle and demons, Vanquishers, and the Brotherhood converge, Del finds herself unwittingly in the center of things.
Heart Blade currently is scheduled for publication Late 2016/Early 2017.
To see more about Juliana, follow along her great blog at https://jspinkmills.com/ or twitter @JspinkMills
TW: The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel is out now and I mentioned Heart Blade above, but what else can we expect from Woodbridge Press in the next 12-18 months?
Nathan: Well as I said, Explorations: Through the Wormhole, is out this summer, then the still untitled fantasy journey collection, and Heart Blade on Valentine’s Day 2017. We plan on releasing the second Blade Hunt book later next year, and I have some ideas on other collections, depending on the success of these ones.
Thaddeus, thank you so much for having me on your blog, and if the world doesn’t know yet, your story Dead Weight will be in Explorations, making you the only author to appear in Woodbridge’s first two books! Pretty cool. I look forward to working with you more, and it’s been a pleasure so far. [TW: Very kind, although I do find your lack of goat sacrifice disturbing].
Nathan Hystad is an author from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. He is the founder of Woodbridge Press, an avid reader, and a writer of words. He has stories in the upcoming Aliens, and Space: Houston we Have a Problem from Tickety Boo Press, and A Walk in the Park, is in the new Nine Tales, out June 22. https://www.amazon.com/9Tales-Told-Dark-14-ebook/dp/B01F2IJUU0
Please follow along with his news at www.nathanhystad.com and at www.woodbridgepress.ca and read his monthly serial at Kraxon Magazine http://www.kraxon.com/writers/nathan-hystad/ Start with Arrival and work your way through them!
If you feel like trying Woodbridge’s first book, with Thaddeus’ awesome story, Forget Me Not, please click the link! [TW: at the time of writing Lake Manor is a #1 bestseller in 3 categories on Amazon UK]
Many thanks to Nathan Hystad for the interview, and keep tuned for Explorations and Heart Blade.