Patricia Morrison is not exactly older than dirt, but has been around for a while. Married more years than not, with a college degree in (Would you like fries with that?), she has moved around a lot, but is now burdened with enough personal possessions to make a quick exodus difficult. She has always enjoyed reading purely for escapism or curiosity and has been known to read the labels on bathroom products if nothing else is available. An avid supporter of readable writing, she has been called ‘grammar queen’ on more than one occasion, but will ignore the tried and true rule that does not make logical sense or works against reading clarity. Despite enjoying the ease of ereading and the lure of shiny techno-gadgets, she still appreciates the look and feel and heft and smell of a real printed book, even though the type size is not adjustable for the sake of her tired, overworked eyes.
- How does being an author/artist help your ability to edit books (if applicable)?
From an artistic perspective, having been involved closely with nearly all aspects of the behind-the-scenes production of Penumbra Publishing, I have become familiar with the software used and the processes involved with conceptualization and execution of cover designs. A lot of times the author will have specific ideas in mind for a cover, and knowing what goes into making a cover come together, I can steer the author away from ideas that would be too complex to carry the visual impact a cover needs to maintain, especially in a small thumbprint size for online sales listings. A cover needs to be visually distinctive as well as nicely suited to the theme and feel of the story. Color choices and image elements must all work together to form a cohesive yet striking statement in small and larger sizes.
Working with various authors for several years in a critique capacity as well as editorial capacity, plus maintaining an analytical view when reading for pleasure aids in spotting story problems and figuring out how best to fix them to enhance the overall flavor of the story while maintaining the intent and voice of the author. Editing involves not only thinking like an author, but also thinking like a reader. The editing process is not simply fixing grammatical errors and typos, it is a constant analysis of how various passages and the overall storyline will be interpreted and received by a typical reader new to the story.
- What are your favorite genres to consider for publication?
As an acquisition editor for Penumbra Publishing, I see most of the submissions we receive, and I end up personally reviewing and assessing most of these for a publishing decision. A big part of that decision rests with personal taste, and luckily I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, which gives me a broad basis for making decisions whether to accept or reject particular projects for publishing. The decision is based in equal part on my assessment of the successful storytelling capability of the author, as well as my opinion of how the story might be marketed.
We receive many books that defy categorization in known genres, and the fact that such books may present a unique challenge in finding ways to interest potential readers has a bearing on accept/reject decisions. However, if the story is well written and engaging, no matter what genre or presumed market potential, we will entertain the prospect of publishing it. If we run across a work that seems to have particular commercial potential, what we often do is advise the author to seek a larger more well established publisher, simply for the fact that the author may have a better chance of the book reaching a larger readership with broader distribution through an established larger publisher.
As a general rule we do not dismiss any genre based solely on the genre but do steer away authors who want to publish book formats in markets where we clearly have no marketing or production experience. These include children’s picture books and comic/graphic novels where illustrations are not already part of the submission package. Putting a picture-intensive book into ebook format presents special challenges that we have not yet mastered. Other genres such as erotic romance and alternative lifestyle romance are heavily represented by other publishers, and we see no reason to try to break into a market that already appears saturated. For those types of books, we will generally advise the author to query a publisher known to concentrate specifically in those genres.
Our current catalog is an eclectic collection of different genres that include romance, paranormal, horror, thriller, suspense, science fiction, and women’s fiction. This eclectic nature is a result of available books from our submission pool that we felt were worthy of our publishing attention. In the spirit of maintaining an open submission policy, we try not to invite submissions of one genre over another, but are always looking for well written and engaging books no matter what the genre.
- How did you get into the publishing business?
I had some experience with a small ebook company before starting with Penumbra Publishing when it officially opened for submissions in January 2009. Before that, I had contributed to several different genre reading/discussion groups and served as a critique contributor to several writing groups, as well as providing personal critiques for many different authors. I’ve been involved in some way with books and writers for many years, with many friends who are authors. I have had to privilege to work with many budding authors before they became published, and to see them go on to enjoy fruitful writing careers. It’s been a learning experience and a passion of mine to help other authors achieve their writing and publishing goals. At Penumbra Publishing, I am able to do all of that.
- How many submissions do you get a month?
The submission rate can fluctuate wildly from one month to the next. Sometimes we have received ten submissions in one week, followed by several weeks with no submissions. I would say that over the past year we have received over fifty submissions, so that averages out to about four a month. Considering that it can take a week or more to review a single submission if it has promise, while others can be rejected on the basis of reading the first chapter, it is a very uneven process that must be sandwiched in with existing projects under production. That’s why the response time may vary from one week to three months.
- What are the qualities you seek in a manuscript?
The number-one criterion is subjective – do I like the story? If a story is well written with compelling characters, and I find myself drawn into the story, then I know there is something about the book that will probably work for a lot of other readers too. On the other hand, if I have to force myself to read through the first chapter, I know there’s something not ‘clicking’ with the story, and it is going to need work. Just how much work is the decisive factor in judging whether or not to accept a story for publication. If the storyline seems marketable, but the delivery is lacking, then other factors come into the equation when deciding whether or not to accept the project. Usually those other factors involve the author’s maturity and professionalism and apparent willingness to be flexible and take on the task of self-promotion. I have, on occasion, accepted books for publication that I knew were going to be a nightmare to edit because of the amount of work that would obviously be involved. But the story itself was so strong, and the writing talent, however raw, promised to be worth the trouble. Sometimes the sheer tenacity of the author plays a huge role in whether or not a book is accepted. An author who shows raw storytelling talent plus the willingness to do whatever’s necessary to learn how to fix a story is an author I feel is worthy of my investment of time to coach and develop.
- If you could have dinner with any author(s), who would they be and why?
That is a difficult question, because many authors whose work I enjoy and even admire might be bored with me as a dinner guest. And the last thing I’d want to do is be disappointed in someone I looked up to, only to realize he/she was a creep or a self-centered putz. Enjoying conversation over dinner is such a personal thing, I think it has more to do with wanting to analyze and enjoy the personality of the dinner companion more than wanting to have dinner because I liked the person’s book. I’d rather sit as a guest at a dinner party and observe some honored literary guest opine and engage in discussion with others without being pressed to personally engage that person as the only other guest of dining conversation. So, in the spirit of a dinner party at a small table of no more than six, I’d probably go with Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain) for wit and pith, and Albert Einstein for sheer genius of intellect – and ask him to please reconsider lifting the universal speed of light limit so that time travel could indeed become possible (without paradoxes, of course).
- Have you ever read a manuscript and found a character particularly memorable (for either good or evil qualities)?
Oh, yes, many times. I catch myself dreaming about characters and story settings I’ve read, and also trying to figure out ways to fix problems with them in my sleep. When I do that, I realize I do very desperately need a vacation.
- What is the best way for authors to contact you with submissions? Please include a link to your publication’s website.
Our publishing web site is…
At that web site on every page is a link to our submission guidelines. Our submission guidelines are quite lengthy and detailed, but contain imbedded navigation links so that pertinent passages can be reached without wading through the whole mess. The ‘whole mess’ is there in an attempt to answer many questions we know most authors will have. We try to organize that information with links so that authors can discover what we are looking for in a manuscript, including a discussion of common writing flaws we hope we don’t find in a manuscript. Additionally, there are explicit instructions on how to send us a manuscript, with specifics on what to include. The submission doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should include the author’s full manuscript with a summary of the story and the author’s contact information, plus some hint that the author has some kind of idea of what’s involved with self-promotion of the author and his/her books. The specific link to our submission guidelines is…
Thanks, Pat, for a wonderful insight into the world of publishing!