I am ever so happy to be able to welcome the wonderful Jane Spencer of Eyrie Press to the blog today, and since Eyrie Press has just now opened to new submissions I hope that this Q&A inspires some writers to get submitting to them. Many thanks to Jane for taking the time to answer my nosy questions!
1. You’ve been involved in publishing in various forms for twenty years now. What prompted you to set up your own press?
It came from home educating my four children. As they were growing up I noticed that there were very few books that depicted home educated characters and, with a few notable exceptions, those that did tended to use inaccurate stereotypes, or were books that were published decades ago and which bore little resemblance to home education today. I wanted to see books which featured characters whose educational background, whilst clearly a part of their makeup, didn’t automatically mark them out as the token weird kid!
I was a technical writer many moons ago, then moved on to desktop publishing, proofreading, and formatting and design, and I realized that my experience gave me a good grounding in the foundations of publishing, so I set about finding writers and illustrators!
2. On your About Us page it states that Eyrie Press is a Community Interest Company (CIC). Can you expand a little on the communities that are of interest to you, and why the CIC status helps you to focus on them?
Eyrie Press is particularly interested in three communities.
The first is any group which feels underrepresented in fiction (or non-fiction, come to that). That includes the home education community, but is very open really. We’re not outlining any strict criteria – if a writer feels they are representing a community, we’re interested.
The second community is geographical – the rural areas of the fens and the wider East Anglian region of the UK, which is where we’re based. These are typically areas of geographical isolation and social deprivation – put simply, not many creative or cultural events come to us, and it’s hard for us to get out to them! There are many local organisations striving to create fantastic cultural events locally, and we’ve joined that movement by running workshops and getting involved in festivals to reach writers and illustrators who might otherwise find such opportunities difficult to come by.
Thirdly, we want to support writers and illustrators who are at the beginning of their careers.
Although we need to be profitable in order to be sustainable, we’re making it clear that our main aim is our creative output and in reaching our communities. Being a CIC, and having two other directors on the board with me, gives an element of accountability which helps to focus on that aim.
3. You set up Eyrie Press in 2014, so the press is relatively new to the publishing scene. What can Eyrie Press offer readers and writers that other publishers don’t?
And due to other commitments the first few years were very slow going too, so I still feel very new to the scene!
Well, we very much want to publish books by writers in our region, so if you live in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk or Lincolnshire you’ve already got a greater chance of catching our attention! Similarly if you’re writing about stories featuring underrepresented groups (especially characters with alternative educational backgrounds!).
Aside from that, I think we offer what most smaller indie presses offer – a more personal experience, the opportunity to be more involved in every aspect of your book. Each book we publish is a team effort, and that includes the author.
4. What do you think of the indie publishing scene so far?
It’s just so incredibly innovative! Small presses are competing against huge corporations, but they don’t have the same resources and can’t work in the same way. So they come up with other ways to reach their audiences, to spread the word. And they do amazing things!
And despite not having the same resources (or is it because of?) they are still taking risks and publishing work for its intrinsic value, rather than simply because they can see the pound signs.
And lastly, it’s a very supportive community. I’ve been bowled over by just how welcoming everyone has been, willing to share their ideas and lift each other up. It’s a great place to be.
5. Home education, clearly, is a theme in your publications. Are you planning to publish more about home education or will future authors be focussing on other topics?
Yes to both really.
We’ve already branched out a little. We’ve published two volumes of children’s songs by local writer and musician Jon Lawrence, and just recently we launched The Hospital Hoppities, which is a book for children who spend a great deal of time in hospital. We’ve also published Between Darkness and Light, a novel that highlights the involvement of the Chinese Labour Corps in WW1.
As to the future, I’d very much like to see submissions with an alternative education as a theme, but certainly not exclusively. We have three books going through the publishing process at the moment and they’re all varied. I’m keeping an open mind and looking forward to seeing what comes my way.
6. Did you find your current authors through general submissions, or did you approach them?
A little of both. Our first author was Ross Mountney, who I knew personally from my home education days. She is a well-known blogger and was already a published author, so when I was first thinking about starting the press I talked to her. She already had a children’s books she had written, she generously took a chance on me and that became our first book, Who’s Not In School?
Since then, most have come through submissions, although Jon’s Music Man’s Songbooks came from his involvement in our workshops and short story competition, and from meeting the winner of our first competition, Gemma Wells, who became the illustrator!
7. Which leads me nicely on to submissions. You’re currently open to fiction and non-fiction submissions. What makes a submission ‘zing’ for you?
Ooh, that’s a tricky one! I like a story that starts right in the middle of the action. It doesn’t have to be action-packed, but I like to find myself thrown into the story and questioning what’s going on. To me, a good story doesn’t spend ages setting the scene but instead reveals it gradually. I also like a strong sense of place and time and characters I can believe in.
If it’s fantasy, sci-fi or similar, then worldbuilding is very important. The author needs to know the intricate details of the world his characters inhabit. Is there a religion? What kind of money do they use? What’s the climate? What’s the legal drinking age? If any of these have a bearing on the story, no matter how small, you need to have thought it out and be consistent or the reader’s not going to be convinced.
8. You also outline a number of things that an author should consider before submitting to you. Do you find that, in general, submitting authors follow those guidelines?
Yes, on the whole. And it’s important. The guidelines are there to give us the information we need to assess the submission. Also, I’m afraid, as I said before, each book we publish is very much a team effort. If an author can’t follow the submission guidelines then it casts doubt on how well they’d work as a member of that team.
9. How important to you is a submitting author’s fanbase/following? Is it something you consider when mulling over which manuscript to take forward to publication?
Yes, it is something I consider. I think most small presses, and writers, will agree that publicizing and marketing a book is very challenging. There’s a lot of competition out there. So while my first thought is how good the book is, my second thought is how well will it sell. Although we’re not all about the profit, we have to be realistic – our source of income is sales and we do need to know that the author can help us reach readers. We’re always happy to work with an author on developing their following though.
10. What has been one of your greatest challenges of running the press? And greatest successes?
At the risk of being repetitive, the greatest challenge for me is the marketing. Selling books is not an easy task! It’s also tricky sometimes to juggle all the jobs that have to be done. The day to day work is all down to me – I’m the acquisitions editor, project manager, webmaster, dispatcher, financial controller and a dozen other things! I’m grateful to my two wonderful directors, David and John, who help with the big picture and are always on hand to help.
Greatest success? There are different challenges within each book, so literally every publication day is a big success!
11. Do you solely work on managing the press, or do you have other employment?
I also work as a freelance editor, proofreader, and book formatter.
12. Any hard-won wisdom (about life or publishing!) that you’d like to pass on?
Don’t be constantly comparing yourself to others. You are walking your own path, and it’s the right one for you.
13. How can we best find out more about Eyrie Press? Any big plans for the future? (I’ve heard that a Nottinghamshire-based writer friend has been signed by you, which is rather exciting!)
You can follow us on social media, or sign up to our newsletter. And yes, the rumours are true. I am very excited to be publishing We Wait by Megan Taylor in November. Can’t wait!
14. Lastly… tea or coffee, wine or beer?
Tea please – loose leaf Assam preferably. As for wine or beer – usually wine at home, pints of ale in the pub!