I have to admit to being nervous when I heard that Hale had sold their business to The Crowood Press. I hadn't submitted anything for awhile and whilst I felt quite comfortable with Hale and their processes I was full of doubts about submitting to a new (to me) publisher. Would they like my style? Would they see flaws that Hale hadn't? Would they be looking to shake things up? New broom sweeps clean and all that. Most importantly, would they maintain the high standards that Hale had cultivated over many years?
Well, I needn't have worried. The Crowood Press is well established having been an independent publisher since 1982 and from first contacting them to enquire whether there would be any special requirements for making a submission, through acceptance, editing and proofing I have been highly impressed with their friendly, professional attitude.
Although I have had contact with several people at Crowood, I thought it would be appropriate to approach the editor and ask a few questions that new, would-be or maybe even existing authors might like to know about the publisher, their process for publishing Black Horse Westerns and future plans for the brand. Luckily, as well as being a thoroughly nice person, the lady is a fan of Alias Smith and Jones and willingly agreed.
So without further ado...
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your role at Crowood Press.
I’ve worked at Crowood for nearly ten years and am one of two editorial managers. My job is to oversee the editorial process from acceptance of manuscript through to sending the final files off to the printer. When we acquired the Black Horse list, Westerns were a fairly new genre to me, but I’m really enjoying reading the pacy exciting tales that the authors tell.
Could you outline the process that a manuscript goes through from acceptance to publishing?
Once a manuscript has been accepted, I send it out to a copy editor, who has a very close read through for any editorial anomalies, such as a character name or a place name changing during the course of the story (you’d be surprised just how often this happens!), as well as checking for typos, slips in punctuation, places where text seems to be missing, etc. If there is anything that the copy editor feels is in need of clarification, then she will insert a note into the text. The edited text will then be sent out to the author, just to check that nothing untoward has happened in the editing process and also to answer any queries. Once the author is happy with the text and any queries answered, the book is then sent to be typeset. A professional proof reader will then read the typeset book, and further queries may occasionally have to be sent to the author. Then when all concerned are happy that the book is as perfect as it can be, it is sent to be printed.
How many submissions per month are you receiving on average?
Sorry, Jo, that one is impossible to answer! It can vary so much. But all submissions are sent direct to Crowood and it is only after a book has been read and approved that I am involved.
How many do you accept?
Around six or seven a month, I’d say.
Who decides what you keep and what you reject?
Decisions are based on reports from our team of manuscript readers.
What are Crowood actually looking for in a western?
Here I can do no better than to quote from a recent Black Horse appraisal from an ex Hale editor, who occasionally reads for us: ‘Black Horse Westerns are, essentially, tales about how the West was won, about the migration westwards, conflicts between ranchers and sodbusters, Indians and the European invaders, North and South, the attempts to establish law and order, etc, etc. Obviously violence figures very largely in these conflicts, as does rape occasionally – or romance, but gratuitous violence or excessively detailed descriptions of sexual encounters are not considered to be appropriate or necessary.’ Basically, we want a good yarn that will appeal to everyone.
I've been very impressed with the latest covers, who chooses the designs and layouts?
This is my responsibility. The design of the Black Horse covers remains the same in terms of typography and layout – Robert Hale established a winning formula here, and I can see no reason to change it. When it comes to the cover image, we have a bank of illustrators who send in batches of generic Western-type artworks, which are then matched up with the appropriate story. The artists all work digitally, so can make minor adjustments if necessary. For example, at the moment we have one book in production where the hero is a youngster with flaming red hair and a temper to match. I had the ideal piece of artwork for this, but it showed a boy with dark hair – but thanks to modern technology, the artist was able to turn him into a fiery redhead more or less at the touch of a button.
The illustrators are all passionately interested in 19th century American history and are happy to do additional research where necessary. For example, a recent book had as its central theme an uneasy but necessary alliance formed between an American horse wrangler and a Jicarilla Apache warrior that slowly develops into friendship. The cover artist really enjoyed researching what a Jicarilla Apache should look like.
I was surprised by the quick turnaround time on my last submission, what is the average time from acceptance of a manuscript to publishing?
That will vary, but at the moment (mid August), manuscripts that are accepted are being scheduled for publication in the spring.
What is the biggest market for BHWs? Do you think this will change in the future?
At present we publish in hardback for the library market, but we are shortly launching a new website dedicated to the Black Horse imprint, and through this site we hope to develop new sales strategies and new audiences.
That sounds very positive. I’ve been thrilled to see the latest releases coming out in e-book format. Do you think e-books will ever eclipse the paper book market?
Personally, I love the portability and convenience of my Kindle (and also the price of downloads!), but to me there will always be something magical about the smell and feel of a printed book, not to mention the experience of browsing in a bookshop or a library. But our company view is that ebooks will not eclipse the book market; however, the book market is constantly changing, and some types of publication do better in ebook than others. Once our website has been up and running for a while, we shall have a better idea of ebook sales possibilities for BHWs, and in the meantime we have to be remain positive! It is certainly true to say that across the board ebook sales have plateaued recently, settling at about 10% of total sales (in terms of revenue).
Is there anything in particular that you believe BHW authors can do to promote the brand?
Today it is all about social media, blogs, and so on. And indeed interviews such as this. I also think it important to capture the imagination of the young. Keep the genre alive by telling the tales to your children and grandchildren.
Finally, is there any advice you would give to a would-be BHW author?
I would say to keep it plausible and mind your language! By this I mean keep an eye on your dialogue – our copy editors are always flagging up instances of characters using 21st century slang. But most of all, I’d advise authors to write the sort of book that they would like to read. Most of our authors seem to be keen Western readers themselves.
Author guidelines will be published on our new website, but as this is under construction, I cannot provide a link at this point. Ask me again in September!
Thank you for taking the time to give us some insight. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that The Crowood Press have a long and successful future.