The inspiring Sara-Jayne Slack of indie press Inspired Quill was recently kind enough to take our Q&A challenge. Wisdom follows…
- Why publishing? Or, to put it another way – if, a decade ago, you were asked the question: ‘What do you see yourself doing in ten years’ time?’ would you have answered ‘managing an independent press’?
Probably not! Ten years ago I knew I wanted to work in the publishing industry, but saw myself as a fiction editor, rather than running something for myself. I have always been an avid reader, but honestly the thing that tipped me over the edge into creating a press of my own was the indignant rage I felt while talking to authors (IQ was a book review blog prior to becoming a publishing house). Both self-published and traditionally published authors used to tell me horror stories about the industry, and I remember thinking “how hard can it be to run a company that doesn’t screw people over?” And thus, Inspired Quill was born.
- You mention ‘ethical publishing’ on your submissions page. Can you go into more detail about what you consider ethical and unethical in publishing? And what are the guiding principles, or ethos, of Inspired Quill?
A lot of it has to do with radical transparency. To me, ethical publishing is ensuring that money flows to the authors, who in turn are treated as people and not numbers on a spreadsheet. We also do our best to ensure that our carbon footprint is as small as possible, and that we work to actively dissipate some of the ‘smoke & mirrors’ that a lot of the publishing industry at large is responsible for. Our ethos is, quite simply, to be a force for positive publishing. For authors, for volunteers, and for readers.
- Inspired Quill publishes in a range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, literary fiction, LGBT fiction, YA. Is there anything that links all the books you publish? What makes a manuscript a good fit for the Inspired Quill list?
Back when we started, we were open to all types of submissions, but a couple of years ago we decided to narrow our focus so that we could carve out a better niche for ourselves, and also gain the required expertise in different genres rather than trying to be a ‘jack of all trades’, as it were. Our titles are all linked by the authenticity of their characters. We have an excellent range of diverse (but non-tokenistic) casts that we’re continuing to prioritise and strengthen. Our books are definitely character-driven, and I have to admit I enjoy reading manuscripts that play with their genre tropes.
- Do you read all the submissions yourself? Or do you have a team of readers who sift through submissions? And how much of a submitter’s manuscript do you actually read?
I do read every submission myself. It’s one of the reasons why we only open for 1 month each year – otherwise I fear I’d always be too swamped to work on current projects! When a full manuscript is requested (we initially ask for the first 2 chapters), if I’m on the fence about something, or need a sanity check, the title will go off to my two amazing editors, who will report back and let me know how they feel about it.
Regardless, I have never spent less than 15 minutes reading and making notes on a submission (although it’s probably closer to 30 minutes per sub). It might not sound like a great deal, but when you consider we usually get close to 200 submissions over the course of a single month, that time adds up!
- Which brings me nicely on to my next question: You’re currently open to submissions. Why should a writer submit to Inspired Quill?
Many of the authors we work with release their debut title with us. We’re keen on skills development (skills are for life, not just for book launch!) and spend a lot of time working 1:on:1 with an author with not only editing, writing and general marketing, but also on things such as public speaking, understanding how to update websites, and create a longer-term ‘brand’ for themselves. We’re also committed to quality publications, so each manuscript has three rounds of edits (plus two proofreaders), a professionally-designed cover, and careful market placement. But we are human, which I think gives us an edge over the more numerical approach a lot of other publishers seem to have.
- What has been one of your greatest challenges while running the press? And greatest successes?
The greatest challenge for me has actually been mindset. I have a few folks who are amazing, and help a lot with proofreading and sanity-checking some of my ideas, but day to day it’s just me sat in a room (often after returning from my day-job) trying to do a million things and be proactive at the same time! I commented recently to some industry friends about how guilty I personally feel if a book doesn’t sell as well as I think it deserves (spoiler: they never do!)
The greatest successes don’t come in the form of sales or prizes (we’ve not done badly in either count), but rather when an author is happy with the finished product. To me, success only happens when the author believes it to be the case – because that’s why Inspired Quill is still around! Because of our amazing team and authors.
- Do you solely work on managing the press, or do you have other employment?
The only time I’ve ‘only’ been working on IQ was after university when I was job hunting for the first time! My ‘professional’ background is actually in digitial marketing (community engagement, SEO, content writing – that sort of thing), and every now and then I’ll also take on some editing projects for folks who want to self-publish (which is something I’m also a great believer in, despite the dirty looks I sometimes get from other folks in the publishing industry!)
- Any hard-won wisdom (about life or publishing!) that you’d like to pass on?
Everything takes longer than you think and costs more than you want it to. Deadlines are so very important, but as Parkinson’s Law states: “A piece of work expands to fit the time given.” So give yourself some breathing room. Burnout is real. If there’s just one thing I wish I could wave a magic wand and bestow on folks, it would be self-awareness. It’s so incredibly important, but unfortunately it’s something you really have to work on, but barely anyone makes time to.
Oh, and trust your gut. If a publisher is giving you an awkward vibe, don’t waste time with them. There are plenty of other presses out there that would be a good fit for you.
- As a publisher myself, I know it’s hard to single out any one title as being a ‘favourite’, but if there is one Inspired Quill book that we should all go out and buy right now, what would it be?
Ughh… I hate these questions because I’m a ridiculous fangirl for pretty much everything we’ve ever published! Hmm… the one book that folks should grab right at this moment would probably be Heroine Chic by James Webster. Not only is the cover awesome, but the stories/poems inside don’t hold any punches. Some are lovely, some are fierce, some are painfully clever… but all of them have a true lightness of touch that I absolutely adore.
Plus, it’s going to be part of our currently-top-secret-new-project, so that’s exciting!
- Lastly… tea or coffee, sangria or shandy…?!
You’ve just listed my four favourite drinks!
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