Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Publisher Interview: The Crowood Press

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.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Author Interview: Matt Cole

This week I'm handing my blog over to author and fellow Black Horse Western stablemate Matt Cole.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am a single dad. I have wanted to be a writer since the 7th grade.  For the past 7 years I have been teaching English courses at the college level. I have taught at the University of Tampa, Hillsborough Community College, State College of Florida, Colorado Technical University, Ashford University and others.

How many books have you written?

I have written and published 14 books. The genres are Western, Historical Mystery, Horror, nonfiction and a children’s book.

Do you write under any other names?

Matthew L. Cole and Matt Cole only.

What is your latest release called, what’s it about and what inspired it?

Shadow Peak – inspired by all the past great Westerns.

Who is the publisher and where can we buy it?

Robert Hale/ Black Horse Westerns.

What’s your latest writing project?

Working another Western tentatively titled “Gunpowder Empire”.

Do you have any unusual writing rituals?

Not really, I write at different times as my schedule is always changing.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns?

They have to be based in truth, history, and be believable.

What advice would you give to a would-be western writer?

Read nonfiction about the West, read Westerns and make them feel like they could have really happened.

How many books do you generally read in a month and what are you reading now?

Depends on the month and the time, but at least 2 and in good months many more…can never read enough…last book I read was the Scott Eyman’s “John Wayne: The Life and Legend”.

Is there one book or author you’ve read that inspired you to write westerns and, if so, why?

Louis L’Amour – I have read just about every book he wrote. He is the master of pacing, dialogue and Western stories.

Which western(s) would you recommend to a first time reader? Why?

Shane…any Louis L’Amour…Shane is the best Western of all time and as I already mentioned about L’Amour…

If you could go anywhere at any time- past, present or future - where would that be and why?

I would love to see the old West towns of Dodge, Tombstone, Abilene, etc., when they were at their best and worst…just to experience that time for myself.

Thank you and good luck with your current and future projects.

Friday, 19 August 2016

About the author

I was lucky enough to be offered a spot on the Writealot blog this week. Nik Morton asked me some very interesting questions, the answers to some of which even surprised me.

Find out more here.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Book review: Dead Man's Eyes by Derek Rutherford

Ex-train robber Jim Jackson is fresh out of the tough Texas Convict Leasing System where brutal guards beat all of the courage out of him. Now good for nothing - except drinking - Jackson is known as 'Junk' by the townsfolk of Parker's Crossing. But Jackson has one thing going for him - he is the fastest gun that the Texas Rangers have ever seen. When a series of violent murders terrify the people of Parker's Crossing, it is to 'Junk' Jackson they turn. But can Jackson find the courage to take on the killers? And who is the mysterious stranger with new information about the slaying that put Jackson into the prison system in the first place?

Derek Rutherford is one of my favourite authors and never disappoints. His writing is well polished and his plots are exciting and packed with detail, action, worthy characters and emotion.

The title of this book intrigued me, to say the least. The fact that it isn't explained until the end of the story didn't bother me in the slightest. I was far too busy rooting for Jim, Amos, Rose, Joe and others caught up in the devious plot of worthy bad guys. I loved and hated the various characters in the extensive cast and easily got caught up in their troubles. And that's down to Mr Rutherford's obvious understanding and appreciation of detail. This isn't a story that throws a few stereotypical cast members together and let's them shamble about. Each one is carefully written with as much colour as they require and it's easy to get behind them. Even a walk-on player who met their demise in an understated way, left me feeling sad.

As you can guess, I'm definitely recommending this book, although I do have a bone to pick with Mr Rutherford who seemlessly left the ending open for a sequel. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Buy it now, is my advice. At 99p for the Kindle version, you've got absolutely nothing to lose and plenty to enjoy.

Author Interview: Chuck Tyrell

My guest this week is long time western writer Chuck Tyrell. Since I arrived on the scene and got to know Chuck via the Internet, his love and enthusiasm for the genre has impressed me, as does his particular writing style (read on to find out what that is). I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did the first time I read it.

Over to you, Chuck.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an Arizona boy from Show Low. My dad dreamed of growing up to be a cowboy, but his parents called him in one day and told him to go to college. Being a dutiful son, he did, and came back to teach and administrate at the Show Low Elementary School until his retirement. But that career didn’t keep him from running cows, and hogs, and horses, and chickens, and growing his own wheat and alfalfa and corn for silage. So I got to grow just like I was on a ranch, except there were lots of books in the house to read when I wasn’t milking cows or helping brand calves or lending a hand when we butchered a hog or a steer for the family. The kid horse was Old Spot, a three-color paint. When I got my first paying job, watering the shrubs at the Paint Pony Inn every summer morning, I rode Old Spot to work bareback. He waited in a grove of jack pines while I earned my 25 cents an hour. My personal horse was a filly named Pocahontas. I wrote in high school and won essay contests. In college, I fought with my English teachers when they tried to break down scenes for hidden meanings. They’d ask me what I thought the author was trying to do and my pat answer was, “to tell a good story.” So I didn’t pursue English or literature as a major. Instead, I took Asian Studies and Japanese history, especially after serving an LDS mission in Japan. Decided I wanted to write for a living in 1975. I was 34 years old. I took correspondence courses and wangled a job at a tourist newspaper in Hawaii. Won a national award for a direct mail campaign I did for the newspaper in 1976. Didn’t write a novel until 1979, when I entered a Louis L’Amour write-alike contest. Didn’t win, so I figured fiction was not my cuppa tea. I put the MS in the bottom drawer for the next 20 years. Pulled it out on a whim, revised it, and sent it off to a British publisher who bought it on the proviso that I’d chop it down to 35,000 words. I did, and it became my first published Western, Vulture Gold, from Black Horse Westerns. Now, I have one wife, two sons, four daughters, and 19 grandchildren. Happy am I.

How many books have you written?

Three in Japanese, two on Japan, 24 Westerns, seven fantasy novellas, and two volumes of short fiction, one on Japan and one Western.

What name(s) do you write under?

When my first Western sold, the publisher asked me to take an alias so that if I were to write more than four books a year, I could just change to another alias. The publisher’s rule was no more than four books from one author per year. At that time, I took my first and middle names and still write Westerns as Chuck Tyrell.

What is your latest release called, what’s it about and what inspired it?

My latest Western is called Blessing. The girl Blessing first appeared in my Western novel A Man Called Breed. I’d planned to do her backstory for some time, and finally got around to it.

Who is the publisher and where can we buy it?

The publisher is Edition Bรคrenklau in Germany, but the book is available through Amazon and other ebook outlets as well as in soft cover.

What’s your latest writing project?

I’m finishing up The Comanchero Trail, one of the Wolf Creek books from Western Fictioneers, and Stryker’s Misfits II for the Misfits series. As soon as I can, I want to start one called Starvation Trail, the fictional account of a real occurrence in which an Apache woman, taken captive by Mexicans, ran away from her owners in lower Baja California and made a trip of more than 1,500 miles back to her home Apacheria in the Chiricahua Mountains.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?

I like to write by hand at Starbucks, but I basically can write anywhere. These days, I prefer to write in pencil by hand. Don’t ask me why. People ask me how to write a novel and I say, “500 words a day.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns?

Get the details right. The firearms, the clothing, the backstories of your characters, the customs of the day, the history of the time you’re writing in. I think the two best books on writing Westerns are Matt Braun’s How to Write Western Novels and Nik Morton’s How to Write a Western in 30 Days, with plenty of bullets.

What advice would you give to a would-be western writer?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Listen a lot. Watch a lot of good Western movies. Learn a lot of Western history, from the viewpoints of White Eyes, from the viewpoints of Mexicans, and from the viewpoint of Native Americans.

How many books do you generally read in a month and what are you reading now?

I wish I read more. You’ve pointed out a weakness. I probably read one or two a week. On my desk at the moment I have Wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Basso; The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton; Give Me a Fast Ship by Tim McGrath; Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir; Calgaich the Swordsman by Gordon D. Sherriffs, and . . . well, you get the idea.

Is there one book or author you’ve read that inspired you to write westerns and, if so, why?

Louis L’Amour is always an inspiration, as is Gordon D. Sherriffs and Elmer Kelton. If I could somehow write in their league, I’d die a happy man.

Which of your books would you recommend to a first time reader? Why have you chosen it?

I guess The Snake Den would probably be a good start. It’s a prizewinning novel, and it came from a visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison on the way from San Diego to Show Low, Arizona.

If you could go anywhere at any time- past, present or future - where would that be and why?

Wow. I think I probably lived during the glory days. I suppose we look back on our lives remembering only the good things, but mine has been better than just good. It would be nice to write a million-seller, but I’m fortunate to have written and published 35-36 books, along with tons of articles in a wide range of magazines and newspapers. What more could I ask? I decided to earn my living with my pen in 1975, and by 1977, I was, and I have continued to do so since. The house is even paid for, but I don’t have a horse. I guess a man can’t have everything.

Thank you, Charlie. It’s been a real pleasure finding out a bit more about you.