Spotlight on Making Time to Write with Anne Lyle and Elspeth Cooper

When the holiday jollies are long gone and the weather is ceasing to be an excuse for binge-watching Buffy, thoughts turn to finally making good on those New Year resolutions. Perhaps this is the year you promised yourself you would write that fantasy novel that’s been simmering away in the dark corners of your brain, or dust off the old sci fi you started in college.

And then reality sets in and you hit the mother of all snags. Just when are you supposed to write this shiny beautiful thing of words and ink? You have a full time job; the kids are small and need constant attention; the chronic migraines are making your life a hell on earth; you’ve taken on way too many commitments to fit in writing time; the demands are incessant and never, ever seem to stop. The shiny beautiful thing starts to fade into the distance and lose its sparkle. “Someday”, you tell yourself. “Some other time.”

But there is no perfect golden time to write that novel. Very few authors have the luxury of endless free hours in which to write. But they carve out their moments. They find a way. I’ve invited two fantastic authors to tell us a little about juggling time and making it all fit in, somewhere, somehow.

Anne Lyle is the author of the Night’s Masque trilogy (Angry Robot), the story of swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn. The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, and The Prince of Lies lead us in and out of the intrigues of 16th century politics and the international affairs involving the mysterious skraylings from the New World. Anne’s exciting prose is a lot of sword-swishing fun, and paints a great picture of life during the Elizabethan period.

Epic fantasy fans will find Elspeth Cooper’s The Wild Hunt quartet (Gollancz/Tor) an absolute treat. The first three novels, Songs of the Earth, Trinity Rising, and The Raven’s Shadow, tell a tale of magic woven deep into the world around us, and those caught in its song: Gair, an orphan brought up by the Church to be a Knight, and Teia, a clanswoman fighting against both her own fate and that of the entire land.

Juliana: Welcome Anne and Elspeth. Now, a lot of people never even begin writing in the first place because they think they can’t find time. Could you start by telling us about when you first began writing? What made you decide it was a good moment for it?

Elspeth: I’ve always maintained that if you really want to write, you will find the time, because you can’t not write. But that’s just the way it happened for me; others’ mileage will vary, of course.

I was still at school when I started writing stories. It began as the kind of ‘What I Did on My Holidays’ homework that ends up five or six times longer than that of the rest of the class, and is still not finished come Monday morning. By 14, I was tackling novel-length fiction, and the die was well and truly cast. Epic fantasy, here I come!

But I have to say, there was no conscious decision to start writing. As a teenager, I wasn’t anything like self-aware enough to know what I was doing. It was more a case of stories leaking out of me, and having to put them somewhere.

Anne: I started writing back in my teens, but like many people I didn’t take it all that seriously – I just had a vague dream of being published one day – and then of course career and family got in the way. In 2002 a major milestone birthday was looming and I realised I was still no further forward with my dream than I had been as a kid, and I knew I would still be in the same position a decade later if I didn’t do something about it. Right there and then I vowed I would get a novel written and published before the ten years was up. Technically I missed that deadline by two weeks, but I did have the review copies a couple of months before that, so I’m counting it as a win. 

Juliana: What are currently the biggest hurdles you face in order to write? 

Elspeth: There isn’t one big one, so much as a collection of little inconveniences that mount up and eat away at the days. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004, but it took another five years before I could give up the day job. So I should have all day to write, right? Uh, not really. A big part of this disease is fatigue, which can manifest itself as muscle weakness, cognitive issues/brain fog, and problems with balance and stamina. It’s also a fluctuating condition, so some days I can get a full five or six hours at the keyboard, and on others I’m lucky to be able to make myself a cup of tea without hurting myself. It’s frustrating!

Anne: For me, it’s my day-job. I’m a web developer on a bioinformatics resource used by scientists around the world, and whilst that’s very rewarding it also demands a lot of mental energy and concentration. It’s far too tempting to spend my spare time doing something less demanding than wrangling a 150,000-word manuscript! 

Juliana: What’s an average week like for you, as a writer? 

Anne: My week varies hugely depending on where I am in a project – I’m somewhat of a binge writer, so I’m generally more productive if I power through a draft and then take a break for a week or two to recharge my batteries. That said, mornings and weekends are my usual time for writing; I’m lucky enough to have a study of my own where I can shut myself away, and no small children demanding attention. The cats, however, are a different matter… 

Elspeth: As you can probably guess from the last answer, it tends to vary. I’m usually up at about 8am, ease myself into the day with a bit of social media, then work until my husband comes home. We have dinner and a bit of family time, then I put in another couple of hours before clocking off. If things are going really well, I might get another hour or so on the laptop in bed, whilst hubby gets his beauty sleep.

Some days can be really productive; others feel more like digging coal with a teaspoon. With MS, there’s no such thing as “working faster” or “trying harder” because it’s not laziness or distractions that I have to overcome. I simply cannot do it. Consequently, I don’t work to word-count or page-count targets, because it’s too stressful when I don’t hit them. I’ve learned to be happy with just feeling I’ve achieved something, whether that’s 50 words or five pages of editing.

Juliana: Could you share some tips with those who are struggling to fit writing time into their lives? 

Anne: Basically you just have to suck it up and do it. Chuck Palahniuk famously wrote “Fight Club” in 15-minute stints during his breaks at work. If you can’t find a few minutes here and there during the day, you need to either get up earlier or go to bed later (depending on whether you’re a lark or an owl). If you want it badly enough, you _will_ find time.

Also, don’t wait for the muse to strike. Get out your notebook or laptop or phone or whatever, and focus on getting something – anything – on the page, no matter how clunky or dull it reads; you can always polish it later, once you have the whole story worked out. The more you write, the easier it becomes to slip into the zone, and the better your writing will be. 

Elspeth: The best thing I’ve found is to carry around a notebook and pen, or even just a note-taking app on your phone, and use it to record your ideas. On the bus, in the bath, in your lunch-break at work. It mounts up. I wrote a good chunk of my first book on a Psion Series 3a organizer on the train to work (that’ll tell you how old I am!).

Another good tip is to carve out a block of time for yourself and make it absolutely sacrosanct: this is your writing time, and nothing short of the end of the world as we know it should interrupt it. Every day is best, once a week if you have to, but try to make it a routine. You will quickly find yourself looking forward to it.

And don’t forget thinking time! I find showering, washing the dishes or weeding the garden can be particularly productive. My story-brain is always processing, especially whilst my hands are busy with something boring or repetitive. 

Juliana: What’s the strangest place or oddest snatched moment you’ve used for writing? 

Elspeth: The strangest was in the ladies’ loo at my old job. No lie – that scribbled idea led to a pivotal scene in my first book! 

Anne: I’m not sure I think of anywhere as a strange place to write – I’ve become so used to always having a notebook or my phone with me, so I can jot down ideas as and when they come to me. For example I wrote the entire first draft of my first published short story on the way to work one day, using my iPhone. It was only 400-odd words, so I had to flesh it out later, but that’s usually the way I work anyway. 

Juliana: With all your dedication to carving out writing time, are there any upcoming projects you can share with us? 

Elspeth: I am hip-deep in finishing my four-book Wild Hunt series at the moment, so my future projects are no more than a twinkle in my eye. However, I have plans for a standalone novel in the Wild Hunt universe that features a down-on-his-luck gentleman assassin and a mark who’s not quite what she seems, and another, slightly more literary thing that I’m calling a ‘historical fantasy road movie’.

Anne: I’m still working on the first book of a new fantasy series, this time set in a wholly invented world, though it borrows from our history. I guess you’d call it clockpunk, since the setting is pre-industrial and somewhat 17th-18th century in flavour. It’s a bit different from my previous series in that there’s not much romance and swordplay, but there’s plenty of action and intrigue and some really cool stuff that draws on my science background but with a fantasy twist.

It takes me a long time to get into a new series, since I don’t know the characters’ motivations and personalities, so I have no clue when it will be finished (or published). Before another decade has passed, though – I think I can promise that much! 

Juliana: Besides all those stolen moments for writing, writers also need to find time to read! What’s on your current to-read pile? 

Anne: I’ve just finished “Of Noble Family” by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is an excellent conclusion to her Regency fantasy series – so gripping, in fact, I read the whole thing in a couple of days. Next up is either “Labyrinth of Flame” by Courtney Schafer or “Shards of Time” by Lynn Flewelling, depending on whether I fancy ereader or dead trees. The latter is also an end-of-series novel, and the former is the third in what I think is a trilogy, so a lot of fictional goodbyes coming up! I also need to buy a copy of “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen” by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is the latest (and possibly last) in her Vorkosigan series. 

Elspeth: I have a dreadful habit of buying books faster than I can read them, and then I can’t decide what to read next because there’s always something new. That said, I’m eagerly awaiting THE SILVER TIDE, the conclusion to Jen Williams’ Copper Cat trilogy, so that’s probably first up. After that, I think I’m going to dive into Courtney Schafer’s THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING, which has been waiting far too long. 

Juliana: A big thank you to Elspeth and Anne for sharing a little of what it takes to get those words down. So there you go, folks: always carry a notebook with you…and maybe leave one in the bathroom just in case!

Find book information, interviews, and blog posts at Elspeth Cooper’s website, www.elspethcooper.com. Elspeth tweets as @ElspethCooper and she has an author page on Facebook.

Check out Anne Lyle’s website – www.annelyle.com – for further information on her work, as well as blog posts on writing and technology. You can also find Anne on Twitter @AnneLyle.

 

 

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out January’s Spotlight on SFF Gatherings with Alex Davis, Joanne Hall, and Steven Poore. Next up in March: Spotlight on Writing Horror.

Spotlight on SFF Editing with Teresa Edgerton and Richard Shealy

So you’ve finally finished that shiny first draft of your novel. Or maybe it’s not your first draft, but your tenth, and you’ve already submitted it to several places and the rejections are piling up. Perhaps you have no intention of submitting it anywhere, but have chosen to self-publish instead. Whatever your reasons, there comes a point in the process where beta readers and peer critiques can only get you so much further. And eventually you start listening to the whispers that say, “Get thee to an editor.”

There are many different facets to a novel’s post-production, and editing is a crucial step toward publication. Two important sides of this particular coin are developmental editing, which handles the wider plot issues such as ideas, story flow, pacing, characters, and other ‘big-picture’ aspects; and copyediting, which takes the micro rather than the macro view, and will not only check your spelling and punctuation but comb the details for inconsistencies. If you are traditionally published your publishing house will handle all this for you. If you are going it alone, you’ll be in charge of deciding who gets to do these things and how much outside help to bring in.

Online, I frequently see people asking about editing, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about what it entails. So I’ve invited two guests to explain a little more about this rather mysterious and often underappreciated side of the writing process.

In the developmental corner, fantasy author and freelance editor Teresa Edgerton is here to share her expertise. She has nine novels published under her own name, and two more under the pen name Madeline Howard. These include The Rune of Unmaking duology (Harper Collins, 2004-2007) and the Mask & Dagger duology (Ace, 1991 and revised edition by Tickety Boo Press, 2014-2015). Teresa has taught numerous workshops and writing classes, and has worked as a developmental editor for many years. Currently she juggles her freelance work with her own writing, and has just accepted a third role, as editor for a brand new speculative romance imprint, Venus Ascending at Tickety Boo Press.

In the copyeditor’s corner is Science Fiction and Fantasy specialist Richard Shealy. With dozens and dozens of books under his belt, Richard has worked with many top present-day SFF authors including Chuck Wendig, Kameron Hurley, Aidan Moher, and Laura Anne Gilman. After doctoral work in linguistics, Richard taught French and English and worked for years as a translator before dipping his toe into editorial work. Now he works both for established publishing houses, such as Tor and Hachette, and for independent authors, editing a variety of genres although his main focus tends to be speculative fiction.

Juliana: Welcome Teresa and Richard. Could you start by sharing what led you to begin working with editing? And why specialize in speculative fiction?

Richard: I’ve been a lifelong reader of SF/F; I quite literally cannot recall a time when I did not read it. I’ve also been an equally longtime word nerd; it’s just a mindset where I absorb and analyze linguistic aspects subconsciously, hence the eventual realization that I liked linguistics enough to do grad work in it. As a result, I’ve always had a bit of a twitchy reaction when seeing glaring multiple errors in a published genre book, so when it finally came to my conscious attention that there was a profession where 1) I could read SF/F all day, 2) point out the warts on other people’s babies and 3) get paid for those, I couldn’t sign up fast enough!

Teresa: Editing is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I can’t remember exactly when and why I decided it was finally time to make the leap into freelance editing.

I started editing for Tickety Boo Press because Gary Compton, the publisher, asked me to, and offered me two manuscripts to work on that I thought would be exciting to do: Jo Zebedee’s space opera, Abendau’s Heir, and Susan Boulton’s Gaslight fantasy, Oracle. Two very different books, but I’d edited all sorts of speculative fiction as a freelancer, so in that way it was what I had been doing all along, and the concepts and particularly the characters intrigued me. Both Jo and Sue were a pleasure to work with.

Then Gary and I thought up Venus Ascending together, an imprint to publish science fiction and fantasy romance, and it was his idea that I would be heading up the imprint as well as acquiring and editing the manuscripts. I am thrilled at the opportunity.

Why speculative fiction? Because it’s what I know, since most of my reading for many years has been fantasy and science fiction, and because it is what I write. I feel that I have more to offer speculative fiction writers than other editors might. I understand the genres and sub-genres, and I’ve educated myself on a lot of things, researched many subjects that are relevant to the fantasy especially and that often come up in the manuscripts I edit.

Juliana: Would you mind giving us a quick breakdown of what your job as an editor involves, from the moment you receive a new manuscript to delivery of completed work?  

Teresa: When working on a manuscript I have two goals: to help the writer make that particular story the best that it can be, and to do so in such a way that it will also help the author to improve his or her writing skills. Part of it is teaching as well as editing.

I do developmental editing, concentrating on the big issues like plot, characterization, style, world-building (which is where some of my research often comes in), pacing. I leave the grammar and punctuation, the word usage and the like to the copy editors.

I read through the manuscript making notes as I go, addressing problems as they come up: an expository lump, an out of character action, a mixed metaphor, and so forth. I used to print up hardcopy and make my notes in pencil, then translate my scribbles into something more coherent as I typed my remarks and suggestions into the manuscript file. Now I save paper and ink by sending the manuscript to my Kindle and reading it that way, highlighting anything that catches my attention and making my pencil notes in a composition book. From there, the process is the same as it used to be. Then I write a separate, in-depth and wide-ranging assessment of the book, covering everything I think is of particular importance to that particular manuscript. I make a lot of suggestions for improving the story, and I explain why I think a change ought to be made. If I can help them to understand why, they are more likely to come up with their own solutions, which is the best possible outcome. I send all that to the author and they can decide how much of it they want to take on board. If the author has questions, I answer them, but I’ve done my best, I have no responsibility for what the writer chooses to do with the manuscript after that.

When editing a manuscript for Tickety Boo Press, I do have a responsibility for the end result, so there may be more than one editing pass, working with the author to find satisfactory solutions — ideally more than satisfactory to us both — to any remaining problems. Because I have a responsibility to the publisher to produce the best possible result, I’d say I am more vigorous in presenting my suggestions, and I hope more persuasive.

With the new imprint, where I will be responsible for choosing the manuscripts as well… we’ll see how that process evolves.

Richard: While this varies from client to client and even project to project, there’s a general workflow that obtains. As a freelancer, I get queries from potential or repeat clients—“Can you do a project of X number of words by Y date?”—and can usually juggle my schedule enough to fit it in somewhere (although, too often, I’m booked solid throughout the entire set of possible dates for the client; this is not said to brag but to bemoan the tragedy of being physically unable to copyedit everything!).

Once I’m able to turn to the project, I start a style sheet (contains general and work/author-specific grammatical/typographic/etc. preferences, a list of characters, places, preferred variant spellings, invented words/phrases and so on—partly as a bit of a cheat sheet for myself to confirm spellings and such while I work but also to provide the client with a definitive list of observations, as they may, when seeing a word/phrase/name out of context, decide that they want to modify it). If I know the author personally, I give them a heads-up before diving in that I may have questions/concerns to bounce off them as I work; this is a huge time-saver for both me and the author in the end, as it keeps unnecessary modifications or stets from being needed. Most authors I’ve encountered are actually quite happy about this, as a short query in a margin comment may not actually raise the question that needs to be raised, and an ongoing dialogue works around that and ends up producing a more-informed copyedit.

During the work itself, it’s fairly simple: read, verify (spellings, fact-checking, internal consistency/continuity, grammatical tendencies and the like), SAVE SAVE SAVE. Just like authors, I live in paranoid fear of a crash that eats everything I’ve done, and nobody gets paid for redoing work! This can be a low-key or terribly intensive step, depending on how familiar I already am with subject matter, terminology, etc. At any rate, once I reach the end, I double-check for certain things (belt and suspenders, thank you very much!), then finalize the style sheet and invoice, create an edit letter (occasionally, there are issues broad enough that they bear making a clear heads-up for the client) and send the whole shebang.

Juliana: What do you find are the most common misconceptions about your work?

Teresa: That my services are very, very expensive. That it matters whether my style as a writer matches theirs in any way. I’m not there to teach them to write like I do, but to write like themselves, consistently, to help them find their own voice if they haven’t already, and encourage them to write with all the power and eloquence that is already inside them. But most writers who come to me have no real expectations, they wait for me to tell them what I do and don’t do. Then they decide if that is what they want. There are a few who have had bad experiences with previous editors who charged them a great deal of money and did practically nothing. Those writers tend to be wary.

Richard: That there are rigid rules for language. Language in general is a messy thing; English takes that standard and wallows in it until utterly filthy. Then add artistic and even poetic (authors who like to appeal to spoken language in their writing make what is simultaneously the most rewarding and most frustrating kind of project!) aspects, and the rules get trampled into the mud by necessity. As a result, much of the copyediting process is a juggling act between perceived/accepted rules and the artistic intent of the author, not to mention trying to predict what the typical reader is going to extract from those. 

Juliana: What is your favorite part of the process? And, conversely, what do you find to be the most difficult aspect of the job? 

Richard: As I said above, the best part of this work is the ability to 1) read SF/F all day, 2) pick nits and 3) get paid for doing both of those! The most difficult part arises from that first point: I got into this racket precisely because I wanted to help make genre work just that little bit better, so there’s a constant level of uncertainty regarding whether I have, in fact, correctly divined the author’s intent on a multitude of items and caught all of the inevitable errors, typos, slip-ups and such. To illustrate this: I was recently praised (publicly!) by a client for catching so many of those, yet what was foremost in my mind even then was the fact that I had not caught all of them. I want to do the best job possible, so the inevitability of missing something still sticks in my craw. And it is inevitable; there is no such thing as a perfect copyediting pass. This still troubles me, probably far more than it should, but there it is.

Teresa: My favorite part is when the author takes one of my suggestions, gives it their own special spin, and comes up with something that surprises and excites us both.

The most difficult aspect is when they think the book is one quick draft away from being publishable when the fact is that they don’t even know all the writing basics yet, and I am the one who has to tell them this as tactfully as possible.

Juliana: I know you’re both actively involved in the SFF world, online (social media, internet forums) and in person (convention and event participation). Do you also read a lot? And how important is genre involvement in your line of work? 

Teresa: I read a lot. Since I am more or less housebound much of the time I have the opportunity to do a lot of reading, and I take advantage of that by devouring dozens of books a year. As for genre involvement, SFF readers, writers, editors, and publishers have always been a community, probably dating from the days when most speculative fiction was published in pulp magazines, first a tight-knit little community, but expanding with the growth of science fiction conventions, and later with the internet. But at every stage it has been a supportive community of generous individuals, happy to share their enthusiasms, their time, and their knowledge. Why wouldn’t I want to be involved? Of course there are occasionally controversies, some of them quite bitter, because people really care about the genre, it’s not just a way of making money, and feelings run high. So far I’ve avoided getting too deep into these controversies, so my experiences have almost all been good.

Richard: Paradoxically, I think I read less now than before I began this work (although that’s the difference between a category 4 hurricane and a category 5). I can copyedit roughly a novel a week, so “me-reading” is necessarily when I’m taking a break or during the evenings and weekends…but I stop the pleasure reading when there’s too much interference (too-similar subgenres, characters, plot or even authorial voice), as I don’t want to risk cross-contamination between the two. As a result, I’ve been known to suspend pleasure reading for a week or two.

As for genre involvement, those are essential to my work. On the most basic level, much of the decision-making in the aforementioned juggling act of writing vs. rules comes from decades of absorption of genre standards, the things that are so essential to genre fiction that the typical genre reader isn’t even consciously aware of them but is nonetheless expecting them. So, reading truly is fundamental…but being involved in the public side of genre is becoming just as fundamental, as it brings to light a number of those aspects. And let’s not forget the pragmatic (even mercenary) side: getting to know the players in genre means 1) I begin to have a better idea of their attitudes, their thought processes and other things that contribute to the on-site decisions made during copyedits and 2) exposure. Think about that latter: when a potential client is looking for a new copyeditor, it pays to have been visible to as many industry people as possible (“Hey, there’s this one guy who seemed not to be too stupid and wasn’t a truly intolerable twit” can get you work, folks!). Still, for me, the biggest personal payoff in being involved is that I’m as immersed as I can be in something I love and improving how well I do my work. That’s something you can’t buy.

Juliana: Following on from the last question, what advice would you give to those just starting a career in editing? 

Richard: Read! And pay attention to what you’re reading! For a copyeditor, it’s obvious that knowing the rules (in fiction publishing, The Chicago Manual of Style reigns supreme) is a (not the) sine qua non of being able to do the job, but knowing when, how and why the author can or even should bend or outright ignore those rules…well, that’s at least just as important, and possibly vastly more so.

And then get out there. Engage with people in the community: authors, naturally, but also editors, publishers, publicists, illustrators and so on. Knowing the field, as I’ve said, is potentially even more useful than knowing the rules in both the execution of your work and possibly getting more of it!

Teresa: Make sure you are prepared. If you don’t have years of critiquing in writer’s groups, haven’t attended workshops, or haven’t had any professional experience in book publishing, then the fact that you were, for instance, an English major in college counts for nothing. Your involvement in writing, one way or another, should have been intensive. And then, if you specialize in specific genres, know those genres very well.

Juliana: Which science fiction and fantasy authors – past or present – would you have loved to work with?

Teresa: With my favorite authors, all I see is the finished result, so I don’t know how much input the editor had, how that writer was to work with. But I suppose I would have loved to work with some of them just because it would have been fun to get to know them, and find out more about how their minds work, what inspires them, by what process that turns into such wonderful stories. So I would say Patricia McKillip, Tanith Lee (I did have the opportunity to do an interview with her a few years ago, and the way stories just seemed to well up out of her was fascinating. I would have liked to learn more), Robin McKinley, Tom Holt because I am intrigued by the books he writes as K. J. Parker.

Richard: Are you kidding? All of them. I’m not joking. I’m still relatively new to this field (I’ve been doing this professionally for under three years), but I’ve already been remarkably fortunate to have worked with an amazing variety of writing and writers (read: people). That aspect is so richly personally rewarding that I want MORE, and I see no reason whatsoever to be terribly picky about where that “more” comes from. I want to COPYEDIT ALL THE THINGS!

Juliana: Thank you both very much for taking part, and for giving us a fascinating peek at what goes on behind the editing curtain. 

Check out Richard Shealy’s website, http://sffcopyediting.com, where he does a much better job of explaining his line of work than I ever could. Richard is active on Twitter, both as @SheckyX and @SFFCopyediting, and you can also find him on Facebook either as shecky.exbetai or SFFCopyediting.

Look for more information on Teresa Edgerton’s work as a writer and editor at http://teresaedgertoneditor.com, as well as lots of great blog posts with writing advice. You can find Teresa on Twitter @TGoblinPrincess, and she is also a regular on the SFF Chronicles forum.

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out October’s Spotlight on Cover Art with Aty S. Behsam and Gary Compton. Next up in December: Spotlight on Mythology in Fantasy.

Spotlight on Small Press Publishing with Gary Compton

Tickety Boo Press is on fire! Well, not literally, since that would be tragic and not something to celebrate here on the blog. Launched on 30th January 2014, the UK-based publishing house is quickly becoming a busy, busy hive of all things speculative. Do you like science fiction? Try Ralph Kern’s Endeavor. Maybe a little space opera? Have a peek at Jo Zebedee’s Abendau’s Heir. Prefer fantasy? No problem. Teresa Edgerton can tickle your taste buds with Goblin Moon and its sequel, Hobgoblin Night. How about a dash of romance, or even gaslight? Give Indigo Heartfire by Jo Marryat or Oracle by Susan Boulton a try. And if you’re looking for darkly delightful, then the Biblia Longcrofta by Simon Marshall-Jones may be your cup of tea. TBP isn’t afraid to tackle any sub-genre.

The brave and motivated guy behind Tickety Boo Press is Northumberland native and proud basset owner Gary Compton, who juggles the roles of acquiring editor and graphic designer far more skill and aplomb than I could ever dream of. And Gary, himself a speculative fiction writer, is getting ready to add author to that list of achievements. Tickety Boo is very much a family business, with Gary’s daughter Emma taking charge of author royalties and the selection of US and UK-based editors, among other tasks.

I’ve followed Tickety Boo’s journey from the very start, and have always thoroughly admired Gary’s openness in discussing his ideas and plans, his sensitivity toward his authors, and his willingness to consider suggestions and constructive criticism. So when I decided to tackle small press publishing in my Spotlight series, my thoughts naturally turned his way. With 12 published novels and anthologies in 18 months, Tickety Boo is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Juliana: You’re probably tired of answering this by now, but why start your own press? What were your personal motivations?

Gary: I have always run my own businesses since 1983 and feel I am virtually unemployable in the real world. I could not just be satisfied being a kitchen fitter. I had to have my own kitchen company. Once I had that, I wasn’t satisfied just buying the cabinets, I had to make them – hence a fully operational, innovative cabinetworks where we machined the rawest of materials into beautiful bespoke cabinets. I am very much hands on, so that’s the reason I do as much as I do.

Juliana: In this world of big corporate publishing, where do you feel that small presses like Tickety Boo fit in? What is the role of the independent publisher among all the big fish?

Gary: Good question. I think publishing is changing and I think Tickety Boo has some ideas that if successful will shake it up a little. But to answer your question – quality of the words/books and sales are the only things that matter. There is no point in creating activity just to massage mine and the author’s ego. So every book is taken on with the goal of selling a lot and making the press and the author some hard-earned cash

Juliana: TBP has chosen so far to stake out a spot in a particular market niche, that of speculative fiction. Do you feel it’s important for the smaller independent publisher to specialize, or do you have plans to eventually branch out into other genres?

Gary: We will be branching out. We have an imprint planned for crime and thrillers. You heard it here first. It will be called Homicidium. That’s Latin for murder. So watch for an announcement on that. Also Romance is being discussed between the team.

Juliana: Are there rivalries among smaller independent publishers?

Gary: I haven’t come across any rivalries. Ian Whates helped me immeasurably in the early days, and Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral and Graeme Reynolds at Horrific Tales have also helped a lot.

Juliana: And following on from the last question, how important are partnerships and networking?

Gary: Massively important! You are building a brand and you need friends and acquaintances to buy the books and hopefully share your news as well.

Juliana: Starting out from scratch must have meant a pretty steep learning curve. What do you feel have been your biggest hurdles so far?

Gary: Yes for sure. I could write a book on my mistakes. I think getting the systems in place so authors have access to their sales data and to make sure royalties are paid on time. My daughter takes care of that but I watch over it on behalf of the authors who can message me at any time with queries or requests for updates. You have to remember, I am doing a lot – covers – formatting, editing – marketing etc. It’s a lot of work so if I have forgotten to do something I prefer it if the authors give me a nudge rather than festering on my incompetence. So lots of mistakes, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Juliana: What are the best things about running a publishing company? The stuff that makes it all worthwhile?

Gary: My most favorite job is doing the covers. I love that. It satisfies my natural desire to be creative. I also like finding new talent.

Juliana: Would you like to tell us about some of Tickety Boo’s upcoming projects?

Gary: Well, in October we have Erebus, which is the second of the Sleeping Gods novels. Endeavour, the first, has been our most successful title in terms of revenue. Ralph is great to work with. He’s tough but honest. We also have the second book from Ian Sales: his first book, A Prospect of War, has done very well too so I am looking forward to that. Also a previously unannounced Space Opera: coming out in October/December is Uncommon Purpose by P.J. Strebor. There are ten books in this series and so far the editorial team have waxed lyrical about it. There was a virtual fight between the editors to get the job. Thankfully, it has just been edited by J. Scott-Marryat so it’s in great condition, and Teresa starts on it 1st September, so hopefully she will add value.

Juliana: Who are some of your own personal favorite authors? Not Tickety Boo authors; I’m not that cruel to make you choose among your ‘children’!!

Dan Brown is my favorite and Martina Cole not far behind.

Juliana: Thank you, Gary, for giving us a tiny peek behind the curtain. I look forward to all the new releases, and to continuing to see Tickety Boo Press grow and expand.

You can find more information on Tickety Boo Press books on their website, Ticketyboopress.co.uk, as well as submission guidelines for both novels and anthologies. Follow Tickety Boo Press on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/GSCompton) and Twitter (@GarySCompton) for launch and submission updates and sales promotions.

oracle hob nightgoblin malevolence ralphbiblia

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out July’s Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor with Jo Zebedee and Anna Dickinson. Next up in September: Spotlight on Imagining the Future.