Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2018 finds you well-rested and looking forward to an exciting and productive year.
And now a belated Christmas gift: My publisher extraordinaire, Meredith Maslich, recently sat down for a Q&A with Write Despite. Here she offers up some great insights into indie publishing, info on navigating submissions and rejections, and news about all her company has to offer.
Please welcome Meredith Maslich to Write Despite!
What made you start Possibilities Publishing Company?
I am, at my core, an entrepreneur, and right before I started Possibilities Publishing, I was working at a desk job, recovering from burnout from the previous company I’d started and run for seven years. Sitting at a desk, working for someone else is kind of soul crushing for an entrepreneur, so I was trying to figure out what my next move would be. Around this time my dad asked me to help him write and self-publish a book based on his career as a sales trainer. I found I enjoyed the work immensely and also started to see that publishing could be a good home for an entrepreneur—there was a lot of structure, a lot of information on best practices, but there was also infinite opportunity for innovation and creativity. As I was finishing my dad’s book, another family member mentioned that he’d already finished a book but needed help publishing and marketing it, so I volunteered to help him as well. Working on this second book gave me more opportunity to poke around in the publishing world, and I became even more intrigued, but I was still a little hesitant. Running your own company can be hugely exhausting and stressful and I wasn’t completely sure I was ready to dive back into that.
A few weeks later a friend posted on Facebook that she was looking for a publisher to take on the digital rights of a book she’d published in paperback, and a mutual friend commented on her post that I’d just started a publishing company and I could do it. That little (public) nudge from my friend was exactly what I needed. I contacted the original poster and we started making plans, and everything else has just flowed naturally from that moment.
We’re a small, independent publishing house, and we have no interest or aspirations to be like the big, traditional publishing houses. Often small publishers try to mimic the “big guys” on a smaller scale, but that doesn’t make sense for me. Habits, practices, and policies of the big traditional publishers are often based on inputs that don’t apply to us—much bigger marketing budgets, bigger staff, and universal name recognition and legitimacy, for example. But at the same time, many of their practices are also based on old, inflexible ways of thinking about publishing, writing, and marketing and I don’t want to get caught up in any of those.
We try to always start from a place of “yes”—from a place of seeing endless possibilities, which means always innovating, always asking why or why not? We love it when an author says “I’ve never seen anyone do this, but what if we tried X?”
We also see our relationship with our authors as a partnership where we each play different roles to help us both achieve our goals of selling books. Our primary role in the partnership is to bring experience, knowledge, and resources to the table, so that when the author brings us a creative marketing idea we can look at what we already know, or provide some context and framework for making decisions. So that, while we’re starting from place of yes, it’s a reasoned yes, or a “Yes, as long as xyz things are set up” to increase likelihood of success.
What are you looking for in a manuscript?
We look for really good writing and really good storytelling. Even in our nonfiction, we want books that flow, and see language as a tool, and thus are pleasing to read. We love novels that are engrossing, that take us to other time periods or just totally put us inside someone else’s life.
But we also look at the author when evaluating a manuscript. We look at whether they have an existing audience, if they seem comfortable with social media, and if they seem like they honestly want to work with a small, nontraditional publisher like us, or if they’ve just come to us because they think they have a better shot getting published by a small indie publisher. We’ve found that the spirit and personality of the author can have as much impact on success as the quality or content of the book itself.
What makes you reject a book?
The most common reason we reject manuscripts is that they have come to us too soon. The story isn’t fully fleshed out, so the arc falls flat, or the characters are one-dimensional, things that working with a professional editor or even a strong writer’s group could catch. The next most common reason is that it’s in a genre we don’t feel we can work with, like science fiction or a very niche sub-genre like “experimental fantasy realism” (that’s an actual phrase someone used to describe a submission). I’ve found that we do much better when I publish books I like to read, because I intuitively understand how to connect with the audiences.
What advice do you have for writers just breaking into publishing?
First, think carefully about what path to publishing is best for you. A lot of writers automatically start with trying to get published by one of the big traditional publishers, but that’s not the only, or best, path for many writers anymore. Many writers are a really good fit for self-publishing or working with indie publishers and I hate to see writers dismiss those options or see them as consolation options when all else fails. The best recipe for success as a published author is to find the path to publishing that works best for YOU, whatever that is.
Second, when deciding to approach a publisher or submit your manuscript, carefully read their website, look at other books they’ve published, look at their relationships with their authors, and be honest with yourself about whether or not it feels like you’d be a good fit with that publisher. And third, make sure you are following whatever submission guidelines they provide, especially with smaller publishers like myself. I’ve designed our submission process to be the most efficient process for us, and to gather important initial information about authors and their work. When authors try to sidestep that process, whether on purpose or because they didn’t see the submission instructions, it tells me a lot about them, and not usually positive things. We like creative authors who think outside the box, but we also need authors who, when necessary, can follow systems and directions, and be a bit inside the box.
Can you tell us about your new imprints—Thumbkin Prints, and Eaton Press?
I’m really excited about these new imprints because they let us build on what we’ve learned and have already built, while continuing to learn new things and take on new challenges. Thumbkin Prints is our new children’s imprint, geared toward readers up to age 13. This past November we released our first two titles—one for early readers (Journey to Constellation Station by Lindsay Barry) and one for the 12-13 age range (Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters by Christa Avampato). Both have done really well and it’s been exciting to see the ways in which this market is different from the adult market, but also the ways in which it overlaps. I’m really optimistic about the future of this imprint and looking forward to continuing to build it.
Eaton Press is our new self-publishing imprint, and we started it in large part as a response to feeling bad for all the authors we weren’t able to work with, either because they were a better fit for a self-publishing model, or simply because Possibilities Publishing was at capacity (we only publish three to four titles a year). So Eaton Press allows authors to access the expertise and experience of everyone who works with Possibilities Publishing, but on their own terms. We can hook them up with editors, or cover designers, or we can help them with every element of writing and publishing start to finish. We’ve ended up working with a lot of business professionals who want to publish books as tools to advance their careers or get more speaking engagements. It’s been a wonderful experience, and so different than what we do through Possibilities Publishing that it’s been really invigorating and rewarding.
You’re having your first Possibilities Conference on April 7, 2018. What will it be like?
I’m beyond excited to see The Possibilities Conference: Transforming Writers into Authors come to life. It’s the result of almost five years of working with a huge variety of authors with varying levels of experience, introvertedness, and enthusiasm, and seeing them all stumble at similar points in the process of transitioning from being a writer (being on your own writing your book) to being an author (publishing and marketing that book). After delivering some short workshops on the topic and getting a hugely positive response from attendees, I began putting together a full-day conference made up of workshops, networking, and skill acquisition. We’re having workshops and study groups that will let attendees not just learn, but practice things like strategies for overcoming fear of public speaking, or strategies for pumping yourself back up after rejection or experiences that fell short of your expectations. The ability to keep going, to persevere after setbacks, or to overcome fear is the single most important factor to achieve success in publishing. But authors need more than pep talks and inspirational quotes. They need to develop new skills and create personalized road maps, and that’s what we want to provide through this conference.
We picked a really small venue for our first time, so when we say space is limited, that’s not a marketing strategy, that’s the straight truth. We only have space for about 50 participants max. But we’ll announce on the website and social media as space starts to fill up.
We’re still finalizing workshop descriptions and exhibitors, so the best place to stay up to date on the conference is our website: ThePossibilitiesConference.com.
Anything else coming up we should know about?
If anyone wants a taste of what the conference will be like, I’m going to be doing a two-hour Writer to Author workshop at the Insight Shop in Vienna, Virginia, on February 5. Learn more and register here.
We’re always innovating and trying new things, so follow us on social media (FB/PossibilitiesPublishingCompany, Twitter: @PossPubCo, and IG: @PossibilitiesPublishing) to stay up to date on our latest endeavors!