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Please give a warm welcome to Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters, thank you so much for being here today. There’s also a giveaway of Pretty Monsters at the end of Kelly’s post so make sure you enter!
I’m the author of three short story collections. All three collections include ghost stories, stories of the uncanny and the fantastic, but this one, Pretty Monsters, is a first in two ways. It’s my first young adult collection, and it’s also the first collection that I didn’t publish myself. What I want to write about here is my publishing career, which is somewhat atypical. Tomorrow, to provide some perspective, I’m hoping to put up an interview with debut novelist N. K. Jemisin. Her book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is just out, and I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, romance, or character-driven fiction.
I’m the product of various writing workshops: undergraduate, an M.F.A. program, the Clarion Writer’s workshop, and various peer workshops since then. Workshops are short story friendly, so they were a good place to figure out what worked and didn’t work — in other people’s stories as well as in my own. But I think I would have ended up a short-story writer in any case: I like novels — I love novels, in fact — but I love short stories more. Ghost stories, especially, get under my skin. So do fairy tales — and the various reinterpretations of fairy tales by Angela Carter, Shelley Jackson, and many, many of the writers included in the Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling fairy-tale anthologies.
So do I recommend workshops and M.F.A. programs if you’re a writer? I do, although I’ve met other writers who felt otherwise. Later this week I’m going to write about how to go about finding the right kinds of workshops and M.F.A. programs at www.gwendabond.typepad.com.
By 2000, I had published a number of short stories. Some of them had won awards. I’d started to get emails and letters from agents and editors, who said that they loved my short stories, and they wondered if I was working on a novel. I wasn’t. What I was doing was writing more short stories (and most traditional publishing houses get antsy at the thought of publishing collections. Conventional wisdom is that nobody likes to read short stories.) I was also putting out a zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, with my future husband Gavin J. Grant. We were living in New York and had a number of friends who worked in publishing. Some of them had started their own small presses, lost a lot of money doing so, and eventually picked up other kinds of work. For some reason this sounded attractive to us: our friends had explained all the ways that they’d lost money in publishing, and so surely we could avoid this. We wouldn’t get rich, but at least we could aim for breaking even. (The joke everyone knows: How do you make a little money in publishing? Start with a lot.)
I had enough short stories to make up a collection, and I loved the idea of producing my own book — overseeing every aspect from the selection of fonts to cover art to trim size. But it wasn’t quite that we were going into publishing because I wanted to see my stories published. Instead, we ended up intrigued by the fact that there wasn’t a publisher in New York who felt that they could successfully publish a collection of the kind of surreal short stories that I not only liked to write, but that both Gavin and I wanted to read — this suggested that there was a niche that we could successfully occupy as a small press, that we would be able to find work that we wanted to publish and see find an audience.
I was the fan of the writer, Ray Vukcevich, and so we asked if he had enough short stories for a collection, and if so, could we publish it. He said yes. Our contract was one page long. Gavin and I spent a couple of months getting a crash course in publishing from friends in the business, reading books on publishing and design, and hanging out in bookstores, taking notes on which covers made us want to pick up a book and which covers were a turn off. Spines: especially tricky to design.
After my first collection came out in paperback, it sold well, as did Ray’s collection Meet Me in the Moon Room. We continued to publish two books a year, and I wrote more short stories and sold them. I got an agent, Renee Zuckerbrot, in part so that she could tell editors that I wasn’t working on a novel. When I had a collection’s worth of new stories, Renee sent them out, and we got an offer. It wasn’t a very large offer, and after we sat down and did the math, we realized that the advance the editor was proposing suggested that they thought they would be able to sell about as many copies of the new book as we’d sold of my first collection, Stranger Things Happen. So why not publish Magic For Beginner ourselves? We turned down the offer and published my second collection in hardcover. Harcourt bought the rights to publish the paperback.
The revolution in desktop publishing, and the growing presence of an online media that began in the late 1990s has a lot to do with why I have a career as a short-story writer. It’s quite possible that in the next decade, writers will have even more control over their own work, and the shape of their careers. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my experience with Penguin and Pretty Monsters. Being published by a major publisher has obvious advantages: it’s terrific to be paid up front; I don’t have to warehouse the books, deal with distribution, come up with a marketing plan, etc. Do I recommend that other writers self-publish? Not unless you are going to take publishing as seriously as you do your writing. If you think you might be interested in some aspect of publishing, try putting out a zine. See if you have fun. If you decide you want to investigate book publishing, there are some pretty good small press e-mail lists. Gavin has an article up on www.strangehorizons.com about starting up. (The hardest thing will always be distribution, and making sure that the readers who will enjoy your book know that it’s available and that they want to read it.)
You can find out more about the author here:
Thanks to Penguin US, I have a copy of Pretty Monsters to giveaway – all you have to do to enter is leave a comment for my guest and then fill out this form!
This giveaway is only open to the UK, USA & Canada (publishers request). Ends 3rd July 8am BST!