A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Lynn Price is Editorial Director of Behler Publications, a small independent publisher based in California. I have known Lynn for quite some time since we both hang out over at Litopia Writers’ Colony. But we’re not here to chat about that, I want to hear all about her adventures in publishing and the books she has fallen in love with…
Eve: So Lynn, first off, what drew you into this strange business? It had to be love, since there’s not a lot of money about… tell us your story.
Lynn: It was ¾ love and ¼ outrage. Years ago I was the very author that I warn people not to be. I was taken by a scam publisher who made all kinds of wild promises. The ink was barely dry on the contract before I realized my dreams of independent wealth and adoring fans had gone up in smoke. While gnashing my teeth one day to my husband, I blurted out, “I could do better than these leech sucking sewer dwellers.” I was outraged at how they could treat authors like slabs of beef.
He looked at me. I looked at him. Oh dear. “Am I thinking what I think you’re thinking?” He smiled and replied, “I think so.”
Fine, I told him, do what you want. Go play. But I want NOTHING to do with it. I. Am. A. Writer. Of course, I got sucked in from the very start. That’s the great thing about loving the man for thirty years. I’ve too much of an investment in him to kill him.
We were very lucky. While I sued the scammer to get my rights reverted, we were being mentored by some high-ups from the mainstream publishing industry. Without their guidance and experience, I’m certain I’d still be sending out a search party to find the tip of my nose.
Eve: I’ve had a good look round your website and see numerous prize winners on there… not least your own novel Donovan’s Paradigm. Since you are also a writer do you think this has helped you be a better publisher?
Lynn: Being a writer puts me on instant footing with my authors. There isn’t any amount of angst, frustration, glee, and terror that I haven’t felt as well. It makes me more empathetic with my authors whenever there’s a hint of meltdown. Fortunately, I work with fabulous authors who are bright, articulate, and very professional. This means the meltdowns only occur when we run low on tequila.
Eve: It looks as though you work in partnership with your husband, how exactly do you manage to agree on manuscripts, editing, layout, e.t.c. and then go home and be civil?
Lynn: This is a match made in heaven. Literally. He’s the money bags end of the business, and I’m the creative element. I tell him what I want, and he tells me whether we can do it. I can barely balance a checkbook, and he wouldn’t recognize a dangling modifier if I dumped it in his cereal bowl.
If there is a manuscript I’m in love with and want to sign the author, we discuss it. I have to justify my decisions. This means I define the marketplace/readership, I outline its unique qualities, and talk about the author’s platform. He needs to feel certain that the book makes financial sense.
He’s tough. If there’s something I can’t justify, I have to go back and do more homework. After seven years of this, I’m getting to the point where I don’t make him sleep on the couch when he second-guesses me.
Eve: What did you hope to achieve when you started Behler? Have you been delighted or disappointed (or somewhere in between) so far? And… was it more difficult than you thought?
Lynn: As I mentioned before, ¼ of my reason for getting into this crazy business was outrage. I wanted to be everything my scam ex-publisher wasn’t. Honest, quality choices, good distribution. We wanted bookstores recognizing that we consistently put out a quality, identifiable product. We did that by creating a niche where we and our editing team felt the most comfortable.
The toughest thing is sales. Given the size of the US, the vast number of publishers, and the dwindling number of bookstores, we’re all vying for the same precious shelf space. It’s hard to stand out because it takes money, good contacts, and well-oiled relationships. When we first started out, we had no idea it would be so hard to attract an audience. But we’ve been very fortunate to sign on with good distribution partners who could get our titles in front of the genre buyers.
Eve: The mood in publishing just now is a little bleak, how is it affecting you and are you seeing less or even perhaps more submissions from writers because of it?
Lynn: Publishing never remains static, and I get a bit weary hearing everyone crying that the sky is falling. It is not falling. It’s progressing. Yes, money is tight, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see it as Darwin’s theory of evolution at its finest – only the fittest survive. It demands that we be the best we can with what little capital we have. While I never wanted to be Random House, I always believed – and still do – that quality indie trade publishers have their place because we can publish great books without requiring that we sell a half million just to break even. Our overhead is much lower, so our terms for success give us a lot more freedom.
But just because we have more freedom in terms of what qualifies as a success, we’re careful about how we spend money. Our advances are modest, and we vigilantly assess our print run numbers against sales and potential returns.
Since we have a specialized niche, I’m not as swamped with submissions as a publisher who publishes all genres. Most of my submissions these days come from well-known agents, and this is lovely because the quality of the writing is top rate.
I’ll tell you what I am seeing as a result of the economy is a huge group of authors who are looking at vanity or POD publishing without even trying to query a trade press. I’d much rather see them learn the business and enhance their chances of trade publication than seeing them go down Alice’s hole to oblivion.
Eve: So, one for all the writers out there… what happens when you sit down to read the slushpile? What turns you on? …And off?!?
Lynn: I never call it a slushpile because it sounds like a giant muddy pile of worms. I think authors deserve more respect than that. I call it my “goody pile.”
What excites me is a well-prepared author. They know my name[ http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/sayyy-who-was-that-masked-editor/ ], which is a particular bugaboo of mine. Next comes the pitch. It’s well-organized and professional.
They’ve defined whether their story is character or plot driven [ http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/the-tale-of-two-stories-character-vs-plot/ ]. They understand the elements that go into a pitch:
A query should consist of:
They understand that I need to know why this story is unique and exciting – a “gotta have it.”
Things that drive me nuts: Anyone who queries before they know what they’re doing. They banged out their first draft and are rarin’ to go. They don’t know my name, haven’t investigated the type of books we publish, don’t know how to write a query – meaning that they give me very vague descriptions and zero plot.
And worst of all – they don’t know us. This is just plain scary. Every author should know exactly who they are querying. They should be familiar with the books they sell, know whether they have partnership distribution, and whether those books are getting to store shelves. There are too many publishers who aren’t anything like what they project.
Eve: I’ve been reading your website and you say… “We publish personal journeys with socially relevant themes: stories dealing with how people are influenced and changed by their experiences, and how they deal with those repercussions.”… I’m guessing this is an area specifically close to your heart – why exactly did you decide on this niche market?
Lynn: As a psych/sociology major from back in the early Jurassic Era, I’m intrigued with how people react to challenges. Face it; life is challenging, and I like tapping into stories about people who persevere against all odds. I like stories that make me think, make me a better person, and make me remember their stories long after I finished their book. I call it “scratching my soul.” And that’s what our books do.
One of our earliest books, Dr. Zastro’s Sanitarium, still touches my soul every time I think about vibrant, independent Yana – a woman who didn’t need or want anyone – become transformed by the forbidden love of her doctor and how that love created its own karma, both exhilarating and tragic. Haven’t most of us been transformed by love? It makes us better people in spite of ourselves. Author Ludmilla Bollow brilliantly tapped into that theme with a literary tenderness I could only wish to achieve in my own writing. Still can’t think about it without grabbing for my Kleenex box.
That same Kleenex box is being used on our new book Jan’s Story by Barry Petersen – coming out in June. The love he has for his wife as she sinks into Early Onset Alzheimer’s in her mid-fifties is why Noah had to build an arc. He deals with tough issues – how do I care for her while I’m still working? I’m still young, so what about love? What about caretakers? Most are designed for senior citizens, not a young woman. This will be a bible to those with a loved one suffering from this horrible disease.
Charting the Unknown by Kim Petersen – out in July – is an amazing memoir. She and her husband did the unthinkable – sold everything and moved themselves and their two teenaged kids on to their homemade boat to sail 4,000 miles of the Atlantic. While this book is quite reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love, I found Kim’s book impossible to put down. First time I’ve ever read a full manuscript in one sitting. Utterly amazing story of bravery, family, love, and fear.
Nothing Short of Joy by Julie Genovese put me squarely into the heart and soul of one whose life was considered “a bad hand” from the minute she was born. Suffering from a rare form of dwarfism, Julie endured physical and emotional uphill battles until she punched out on the other side. Her book taught me that no matter how bad things are, or how much I feel like giving up, there is some spark in our spirits that yearns to break free from stereotypical expectations. Upon finishing her book, I felt like taking on the world – but settled for mopping the floors.
I could go on about our books forever because each of them are so special to me for a variety of reasons. But the golden thread through all of them is that they made me think, they made me feel, they made me humble.
Eve: I see that one of your books East Fifth Bliss by Douglas Light is being made into a movie starring the utterly gorgeous Michael C. Hall *sigh*… tell me about that, and how many margaritas were sunk the day that bit of news came though?
Lynn: E5B – as well call it around here – yes, we nearly wet our pants when we heard MCH was starring in it. The book is so fabulous, and I knew it was going to require the perfect star. They couldn’t have done any better than Michael. My daughter had hooked me on Dexter over the summer, and I sat and watched all three seasons so I could get caught up. Filming was to have started last October, but his cancer precluded this. Instead filming will begin in April. We’re hoping to get back to New York to hand out free books to the cast and crew and watch some filming. I’d like MCH to autograph my bra. Le sigh…
Eve: You also have a Get-It-Write series aimed at helping writers and I know your blog which is full of exceptional writing advice is much visited plus you have written The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box why not just sit back, read the slushpile and take the best ones? Why are you so keen on helping writers get it right?
Lynn: I don’t want authors to experience the same horrendous things that happened to me due to my stupidity and lack of research. I was lucky and made lemonade out of some pretty tart lemons. Most aren’t that lucky, and every time I speak at writer’s conferences, I hear their stories. It’s a bit of passion for me to educate writers about issues that plague them. Having been there, I can easily put myself in their shoes.
Eve: So, with all you have going on, I’m guessing that leaves very little time for relaxation… what do you do to unwind? What’s down-time like for Lynn Price?
Lynn: Relaxation…a lovely word. I had to go look it up in the dictionary. Sadly – pathetically – I often work seven days a week. But I do go to the gym every day to swim, work out on the machines, and ogle all the chiselled chests and hard butts. On the weekends, my husband and I go bike riding, have date night which usually consist of dinner and a movie, or walking along the beach. Gad, I sound like a Hallmark card.
Eve: 2010 is going to be a good year; I can feel it in my bones. How is the year shaping up for you and what can we look forward to from Behler in the future?
Lynn: Oh 2010 is definitely going to be our greatest year yet as well. We have a fabulous lineup of four new books coming out this year that we expect to sell extremely well – along with the titles we released last year and our active backlist. We expect to continue on in the same tradition of producing great books. Eh, sound like a Hallmark card again. But more agents are finding out about us and placing their lovely memoirs and nonfictions with us. This adds to our commercial viability. And that…sells books!
Eve: And finally, we ask all Vulpes Libris victims to give us their top five reads of all time… so take it away…
Lynn: Yikes. I get so little time to pleasure read. And when I do, it tends to be competitive titles of our own books.
Let’s see, while on vacation I read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, which I adored. There is nothing worse than blubbering while sitting around a lovely pool in the desert and having small kids asking their mummies why the strange lady in the straw hat is sniffing like a runaway faucet.
Eat, Love, Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert was a personal journey that made me scream with laughter and ponder life’s weird twists. Also made me grateful that my head is screwed on a bit tighter.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova was gripping. Even though Publisher’s Weekly was a bit brutish in their review, I found it completely engaging.
Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor by Matthew Latimer was very engrossing. I found it quite insightful to read about what goes on behind the scenes of the world’s most powerful government. Gawd, I hate politics, but this was worth reading.
John Lescroart is always a favorite of mine. One of our lead sales people told me the style of my dialog in Donovan’s Paradigm reminded her Lescroart’s. Heaven could have taken me right then and there because he was a huge inspiration to me when I wrote that book. John graciously reviewed Donovan’s, telling me “we dialogers have to stick together.” Swoon. As payback, I read A Plague of Secrets and loved every bit of it.
Eve: Thank you very much to Lynn for sparing the time to talk to us in such a fascinating interview. If anyone has any follow up questions, please don’t hesitate to ask, I’m sure Lynn will be happy to answer them.