by PWC board member Gregory Frost
You’re teaching a workshop about the best ways to pitch your book. Were you motivated to do this because you’re a small indie publisher and it will make your life easier, too?
Well, never let it be said I’m not a fan of making my own life easier… But the truth is, helping people write and deliver an effective pitch is something I just feel passionate about. Don’t forget, I was once a new writer with a book I desperately wanted to see in print and no idea what would get me successfully to the next stage. Somebody was kind enough to give me the right pointers to get me started on my pitch. (Well, okay, I paid for a class, but still.) I suppose it also has something to do with the fact that my first career – I went on to become an executive in the biopharma industry – was as an instructor at Rutgers. The joy of seeing people learn and master a new skill, being part of their “Aha!” moment, is a real motivator for me. Once I’ve figured something out, I can’t wait to share that with others.
After giving your original question due consideration, though, a great pitch is as much a piece of art as the work it represents. So teaching people the secret to creating their strongest pitch might not make my life easier, but it will certainly add to the enjoyment of hearing pitches.
Would you talk a little about how you became a small press publisher?
I’m not sure this answer will win me any points for strategic thinking, but I decided to become a small press publisher the same way I’ve made all my other mega-life decisions – I saw an interesting opportunity to try something that was new for me and promised to be a big challenge. The fact that it also offered a possible means for me to move some frustrating obstacles out of my way was an added bonus. At the time I decided to take the plunge, self-publishing was still considered a form of “outsider art”, and the traditional channels for selling books were not very interested in anything that didn’t come from well-established publishers. But I was lucky to find a few extraordinary mentors, and I was determined never to give up, and never allow myself to feel anything but proud of doing good work.
As the marketplace for books from non-traditional sources has grown (and rapidly) over the past few years, it has actually become more of a challenge to run a small press. That’s because there are so many more options for distributing books, and the opportunities are growing every day. A publisher has to work hard to stay on top of things in order to do the best job for her authors and her publishing house. It’s not enough anymore to just have a current list of who buys books at some indie bookstores – though the people who run indie bookstores remain some of my favorite people on the planet. How can you not admire people who are willing to devote their lives to the love of books? But that won’t make your publishing house a success the way it once might have.
What sort of work does Rule Bender Press look for? Are you open to genre fiction or are you inclined to more reality-based, (and I hate to use the term but) “literary” fiction?
It’s so funny that you have some hesitation around the term “literary” fiction. Personally, I balk at classifying fiction at all. I know that’s not a very sound business strategy these days, and I will grant you that it is important to know the proposed target market. But think about this for a minute – who paid for all those Harry Potter books that made J. K. Rowling the wealthiest woman in England? And did you read The Hunger Games? I did. So while it’s important to know what type of book the author is aiming to write, I firmly believe that a good book is a good book. To answer your question, Rule Bender Press was established with the goal of…bending the rules. I’m looking for work that grabs my attention and pins my restless butt in a chair and won’t let me go, even when I put the book down. I’m looking for writers who love, but respect, language. Who comb through their work over and over again, removing anything that isn’t critical to the beating heart of their story, who can draw me a picture of a reality that invites my imagination to fill in the gaps.
Boy, that was a wordy answer. The bottom line is, I’m not particular about genre or not genre, YA vs. women’s fiction, or any of the other boundaries that are typically drawn. I want to see a great story (or memoir).
Will you be moving the operation back to Doylestown, PA now that you’ve left Marblehead, MA?
Rule Bender Press has physically relocated to Doylestown along with me. But I’m working to keep my contacts in Massachusetts active. There is a very vibrant and supportive indie bookstore scene up there, as well as a strong writers’ community based in and around Boston.
Beyond getting their pitch right, what advice would you give writers of fiction?
Ah, one of my favorite soapboxes – the most important piece of advice I can give, which I’m sure many of the people reading this have heard ad nauseum, is be open to changing your work. I have had to turn away two books I was interested in publishing because their authors did not want to make changes. In the first instance, the author had already done what he felt were a sufficient number of rewrites, and was eager to get his book in print. With the other book, the author had a very specific format she wanted to follow, and did not feel that my requested changes were consistent with her vision for her book.
Were either of those authors wrong to feel the way they did? Absolutely not. And I would be delighted for them if their books get published by someone else. But the critical thing to understand about getting published is that writers are both artists AND artisans. They have to create something beautiful, but it also has to be something that will sell. And every publisher you approach is going to have her own specific idea of what will sell. She’s going to believe in that idea so strongly that she’s willing to put a lot of time and a fair bit of money into producing the books that fit her vision. It says a great deal about the quality of your work if someone is interested in investing that time and money in it. But what it doesn’t say is, okay, you’re all done now. Instead, it says, I’d like to form a partnership with you to produce something wonderful. So don’t feel frustrated when an editor or agent or publisher asks you to revise your work. Feel proud that they think highly enough of you to ask.