It’s no secret that the landscape of publishing is rapidly evolving. With thousands of new books joining the marketplace every day, millions of bloggers vying for readers, and the ease of sharing words, how do writers connect with readers? In an environment where readers are either pigeonholed into selecting from an infinitesimal best-seller list, or bombarded with choice, how can one writer rise to the surface and capture the readers who will come back looking for more of the same?
There is no easy answer to this question, but with a little creativity and hard work, some authors can carve a niche for themselves. Sean Demory, Kansas City slipstream/horror author, is finding his audience with the creation of Pine Float Press. He started the small press “to publish self-contained stories that stick with the reader and fit within a relatively tight timeframe.” For instance, many of us have limited time in our lives – perhaps we only have a twenty minute commute to work, or a half-hour lunch break, or just forty-five minutes between dinner and the gym. Readers now have a fully completed story to read without the responsibility of dragging themselves across the finish line of a 500-page commitment. “A few thousand well-chosen words” can leave a reader satisfied, and Demory hopes to help “those stories [find] a home and a forum in which they can be enjoyed on their own terms."
His short story The Ballad of the Wayfaring Stranger and the Dead Man's Whore is available for free on Smashwords and worth taking a peek-see . It’s both strange and wonderful, and worth a second read. Which, at 5250 words is entirely possible. I spoke with Demory as he was putting the finishing touches on his newest anthology Slow Boat to Fast City and was struck by his unique approach to writing and publishing.
- What inspired you to start Pine Float Press? What do you hope to achieve?
Pine Float Press is, in my eyes, a way to present unique genre fiction out to the public in a manner that's supportive of the author and the reader...
... which, really, sounds like facile ad copy. So, breaking it down: unique genre fiction's longish short stories, stories that tread the fine line between prose and poetry, work that's not quite horror and not quite science fiction and not quite one thing or another but that is evocative, meaningful and self-contained. It's that work that you carry with you and that bubbles up when you least expect it.
I'm also interested in supporting the author where possible. Pine Float authors have access to chapbooks and promotional material, they're paid up front when possible and they're given a pretty reasonable cut of profits. Being able to say "Sign with me and you get 80 percent of profits and all the postcards you can carry" feels right to me. We'll see how it shakes out in Act 2.
- Where did the name Pine Float Press come from?
A "pine float" is a glass of water with a toothpick in it. It's a joke cocktail, the sign of a cheap date. In the best of all possible worlds, a Pine Float story's something that can be picked up for the cost of a cup of coffee and finished by the time the reader's done with his coffee break, leaving nothing but resolution and a sense of time well spent. "Pine Float Press" is, ultimately, a cheap date that's still a good time.
- You’ve implemented two kickstarter campaigns to publish anthologies. Would you consider either campaign successful? How did you set each of them up, and what have you learned?
Kickstarter success is an odd thing. We hear so many stories about people who crank out a campaign and raise a scrillion dollars or stories of campaigns that raise big money and then flame out for one reason or another that we ignore the reasoning behind seeking out investors on a project: to do what we can't do ourselves and to build community through shared effort. To that extent, both campaigns were successful.
I'd call my second campaign more successful than my first because it's more polished. I went into both with solid goals and schedules, but I made radical changes to my book that slowed things down. The campaign for "Slow Boat to Fast City" raised less money, but I asked for less and took on more of the initial expense myself.
I've always appreciated clarity in a Kickstarter campaign. Being able to say "The stories are done and they're fantastic. Here, read one. We're in edits and need this much to reimburse our investment in art and editorial service, but the work's been paid for and is done" is comforting to the potential contributor. It's the sort of thing that inspires a contributor to come back, which is always a plus.
- You don’t belong to a writing group or have a critique partner. How do you ensure your work is ready for the public eye?
Blazing hubris and a very good professional editor. I've got writers I've met to whom I send pieces on occasion, but I tend to contact them more for commiseration or as a way to show off to people who'll support my literary urge to say "Hold my beer. Watch this." But, ultimately, the knowledge that a piece is ready and needs to be read instead of fermenting for a few years lies with the individual author.
Of course, "needs to be read" really means "needs to be read by an editor." It's useful to find someone who can't instinctively decipher one's literary oddities and can cut to the heart of writing. I tend not to ask friends to read with an eye toward editing, as they know my voice and will be more forgiving. A good editor will love without forgiving and, ideally, help cut away waste.
- You write short stories, as opposed to novels. Why are you a fan of the short story?
Lou Reed said "Nothing beats 2 guitars, drum and bass." For me, that's short fiction. I love the discipline of the form, I love the payoff and I love the sense of motion that you get from a good short story. I've pulled in a tabernacle choir here or a string section there, but there's nothing that beats two guitars, drum and bass.
- Do you have a favorite author or a favorite short story collection?
There's an amazing amount of good short fiction out there right now. Genevieve Valentine's just incandescent... I reread her "Armless Maidens of the American West" every two weeks or so. Priya Sharma is a British author whose work is funny and baroque and incredibly moving. I covet her ability to a degree that edges on creepy. Ferrett Steinmetz is a uniformly strong writer. His "The Cultist's Son" taught me to appreciate Lovecraft by focusing on the human wreckage inherent in the stories, and it did so with immediate, muscular prose that's hard to beat.
Long-form stuff is a mixed bag. I'm a big fan of Jack O'Connell's neo-noir stuff. He focuses on forms of media as the MacGuffins in his novels and incorporates stylistic points from whatever media in his prose, which is less wonkish and more wonderful than it sounds. I've always got time for Walter Mosley, who's able to work within rigid stylistic and genre conventions and make them sing. I'm big on James Ellroy, as he's simultaneously spare and florid with an incredible ear for a turn of phrase. John Crowley's "Little, Big" is about as close to a perfect novel as I can find, enough so that I don't even bother trying to surmount it. I reread Kenneth Calhoun's Black Moon and was blown away by how immersive and real he made his central conceit. Samuel Delany is more relevant every day.
I would be remiss at not mentioning the work of Orrin Grey, A.E. Ash, Marshal Edwards and Steven G. Sanders. The authors I recruited for "Slow Boat to Fast City" are all outstanding, and I was lucky to get them.
- What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
As an aspiring author myself, I'd say "Watch your back, kid. WATCH. YOUR. BACK."
Once that's out of the way, though, I'd advise people to take "Writers write" with a grain of salt. Write with a purpose. Write and pass your work on to someone who doesn't know you, doesn't love you and cares about words more than s/he cares about you. Write what you feel and then craft it into something better.
- What do you find most surprising about the writing life? What do you find the most rewarding?
Don't have a good answer for this. Everything
- What are you working on now?
I'm finishing up editing "Slow Boat to Fast City," a science fiction anthology set in an alternate 1958 that's best described as "James Ellroy's 'The Martian Chronicles.' " It's the first Pine Float piece that has involved other authors and the first piece that started life as a Pine Float publication. Working on the business side has been a good time, as it's allowed me to try to nurture quality talent.