Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Small Press 411: Spencer Hill Press

Please welcome Kate Kaynak of Spencer Hill Press! 

Bio: Kate Kaynak is the Editor-in-Chief of Spencer Hill Press. She was born and raised in New Jersey, but she managed to escape. Her degree from Yale says she was a psych major, but she had WAY too much fun to have paid attention in class. After serving a five-year sentence in graduate school, she started teaching psychology around the world for the University of Maryland. While in Izmir, Turkey, she started up a conversation with a handsome stranger in an airport...and ended up marrying him. They now live in New Hampshire with their three school-aged kids, where Kaynak enjoys reading, writing, and fighting crime with her amazing superpowers.

Why does Spencer Hill Press exist?

We created SHP with the goal of discovering and launching the careers of talented new authors. It began with a conversation at a writers' conference. We talked about the attributes of our "dream publisher"--it ended up reading a bit like an eHarmony ad, with things like, "and they'll never give us a cover we hate" up there with "non-predatory contracts." When we looked into whether such a company existed, we realized that *we* could make that company.

What’s the process of deciding to take on a project?

We have open submissions every year, usually running the month of December; authors can send a query and the first ten pages of the manuscript. Our submissions editor (known in the company as the "Submissions Goddess") coordinates a fleet of readers. Every query gets multiple chances, and if anyone likes a query, he or she can request pages. Promising books get flagged for specific editors (we let the readers know what kind of projects each of us is looking for), and if the editor falls in love with a manuscript, we make an offer of publication. Back when we started, I personally read every query, but with the volume we receive now, that's just not possible anymore.

What do you think is the biggest misconception surrounding small presses?

It's actually not a misconception, just a generalization. Some small presses don't edit and polish their books to be top-quality products—they simply run spell-check and then throw the books out into the world through e-book and/or print-on-demand. However, there are a several small and mid-size presses who make quality a priority, and many of these are gaining market share now.

What are the benefits of publishing with a small press? What are the disadvantages?

The benefits are similar to attending a small college versus a big state school. At small presses, authors and their books get much more individual attention. But the football team usually sucks, and for the book world, that's distribution. Can the small press get their books into the brick-and-mortar stores and other retail venues? Any aspiring author who signs with a small press should ask about their distribution capabilities.

What’s the biggest advantage between signing with SHP (or another press) and self-publishing? What about signing with SHP and a big/medium sized house?

There are so many advantages to signing with a publisher versus self-pub! The book gets a professional editor, professional layout, professional cover design, professional marketing/promotion, full distribution to book stores--and the author doesn't have to put thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into doing it all him/herself. SHP is now considered a mid-sized press (or will be after this year, since we have about thirty titles coming out in 2013), but we've grown cautiously, so we won't lose the focus on the authors and their books. The big presses have much larger overhead, so they need to have a more profit-centered focus. As long as SHP stays in the black, we can focus on the mission of growing the careers of talented new authors.

What do you think the biggest obstacle an author at SHP (or another press) has to face?

There's a learning curve for the transition from writer to published author, and the parts that challenge each person may vary. Some writers have trouble with the editing process--they hate that someone has taken a red pen to their baby. Others don't recognize that authors at any level of publishing need to be part of book promotion--they resent actually having to do promotion. There's also a reality check--95% of all books published sell fewer that 5000 copies, so publishing that first novel isn't going to mean that the author can quit his/her day-job and lie around on a big pile of money like Stephenie Meyer.

Not that she does, of course, but she *could.*

A lot of people say small presses are only a stepping-stone to the "big six." What role do you think Spencer Hill fills in the publishing world?

We started SHP with the *intention* of being a stepping stone to the Big Six (or Big Five, if you count "Random Penguin" as only one). However, we were able to partner up with a wonderful distributor, Midpoint Trade Books, who has gotten our titles into hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores. We also stepped up our offset print production with an arrangement with Worzalla (a wonderful employee-owned, green-certified book printer), so we now have the capability to take a successful book as far is it can go.

Does SHP see sales in print books--or are sales more prominent in e-book?

It depends on the book--some have more appeal in print, some as e-books. But the majority of our sales are e-book these days.

What is your marketing system?

A marketing coordinator for each imprint creates a personalized marketing plan for each book. We use a combination of social media, online and print advertising, traditional marketing and promotion materials (catalogs, bookmarks), and some in-person author events.

What is the editing process at SHP?

Each new project is assigned either to a senior editor or to a two-editor team. The editors and authors work directly on the project, usually in 2-4 passes. The first is usually the "Big Picture" edits: cut this sub-plot, combine these two characters, expand the big scene, etc. The second is line edits--the editor spends quality time with every word and punctuation mark. The third is usually a clean-up pass, making sure that the editor and author have everything as strong as possible.

The manuscript then goes to at least two copy editors before being sent to our Closer, who is an amazingly detail-oriented person and is worth his weight in platinum. He sees everything from plot holes to grammar errors that no one else does. It then goes to the art department for layout, and the resulting galleys are proofed by at least two proofreaders.

Does signing with a small press inhibit an author from signing with a bigger press later? What about an agent?

Absolutely not--if anything, it's the opposite. When we first started signing authors, none of them had agents, now more than half of our authors do. Many of them got their agents after signing with us for the first book--getting that first big break with us made agents take them more seriously. And we NEVER sign authors to exclusives (exclusive contracts that say that, if the author doesn't publish with the publisher, they can't publish at all)--those can be nightmares for authors and often don't help build their careers. Many of our authors have deals with other publishers, including multiple books with Big Six publishers.

Anything else you would like to add?

Just that aspiring authors need to make sure that they don't sign a contract with a publisher of any size (from small to the Big Six) that isn't in their best interests. Do some research (Absolute Write, Predators and Editors, etc.), read and understand every line of the contract before signing, and remember that, with a reputable deal, the money flows *to* the author, never from him or her.

Thanks for stopping by Kate. 

Do you have any other questions about Spencer Hill Press? What do you think about their process and views? Was anything surprising?


  1. Great interview! I love the mission of SHP and you guys have been doing a fantastic job so far! (Love the story of how the Kaynaks got together, too!)

  2. Thanks for a great interview and a deeper look into SHP!

  3. I've been waiting to read about SHP! I love the story behind SHP :)

  4. Merhaba! It's wonderful hearing about SHP and to meet someone else with Turkish connections. Sounds like you have a great program.

  5. Thanks for sharing this interview, it has a lot of useful information, and I enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes of publishers. :-)

    When it comes to the selection process, I liked that you mentioned how SHP reads through queries. How do you go about selecting manuscripts? Are there any challenges you face in choosing the ones you like most?

  6. Thanks, everyone! It's hard to only take on a few manuscripts--there are so many out there with potential. In the end, it's a gut reaction, like the one I had with Jennifer L. Armentrout's HALF-BLOOD. If I simply can't put it down and the characters stay with me, haunting me, then I make an offer.

  7. I love Spencer Hill Press. I couldn't be happier to be one of their authors.

  8. How long, generally, does it take for an author to hear back from you, after a manuscript has been requested?

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