If we know anything about the interviews we publish, it is that posting them often prompts writers to ask each other questions. Many of these questions are about publishers—the kinds of questions writers should be asking publishers, not each other. Unfortunately, writers do not have access to publishers—they are hard to track down and less vocal than a mime in a glass box. Even if it were easy to get a publisher’s attention, which one?
This week we interviewed Glenn Livers of Prolific Press.
Good morning Mr. Lyvers. Can I call you Glenn?
Glenn Lyvers: Feel free to call me anything you like, and thank you for giving me the chance to be here. Let’s get to it.
(Smiles all around.)
How do you decide which book to publish when you have two very different titles?
Glenn Lyvers: You mean, when I can only publish one but I have two in contention. (Nods)
That’s always hard. I think the decision is difficult, and the resulting rejection letter is even harder. Having to tell a writer we can’t publish them because of budgeting, or some other marginal reason, is the worst kind of letter to write.
Assuming both titles are equally compelling in content, I have several methods I use to decide. I write up a synopsis for both and ask for opinions. I have staff give me notes. We look at the market to try to size up the competition for a title. Ultimately, the decision is about both the book and the circumstances. I have to make a decision. Sometimes it comes down to which writer is easier to work with. I get it. People want to know the recipe, but there isn’t one. It’s different every time.
I can say this. Every project requires a lot of time and financial investment. Those decisions are never made by flipping a coin. I always have some reason that edges one book out.
Why are publishers so hard for writers to contact?
Glenn Lyvers: We’re not hard to contact. Most publishers and editors I know are easy to contact. The email address is listed, sometimes a phone number. Someone will generally reply. I think your question is a different one. You want to know why writers don’t get to chat with the decision makers. There’s no blanket answer. Sometimes it comes down to the size of a press. The press I work for is smaller, so people do get to speak with a decision maker.
The larger the press, the more layers between the decision maker and the writer. Each layer insulates the money from the passion. The decision makers at the biggest publishers are making fiscal decisions. The smaller the publisher, the more passionate the decision maker is about the writing. I believe that.
So, you are saying that big publishers don’t care as much as small publishers?
Glenn Lyvers: They care just as much, but it’s not about the writer or the work. It’s about the money. They are passionate about money.
What was the last book Prolific Press published?
Glenn Lyvers: We just released a book of poems by Deborah Guzzi. The book is filled with great poems. It’s titled, The Hurricane. That just came out this month.
Would The Hurricane have been published at one of the big publishing houses?
Glenn Lyvers: I don’t think so—no. I say that with a sense of pride because it helps make my point. It’s not that Guzzi’s work isn’t good enough to be placed with a major publisher; it is. But they probably wouldn’t take her because she doesn’t have a big following. Big publishers want guaranteed sales. They don’t take risks on poets like Guzzi—but if you think about it, almost all the great poets were discovered by small presses first. That’s my job. I feel lucky to have The Hurricane in our bookstore. I’m passionate about Guzzi and her work. She’s a good poet. Maybe the book will sell a million copies, maybe only a dozen, I don’t know; and those numbers don’t change my passion for the writer or the work. That’s what I mean when I say smaller presses care more about the work. Hers is a book that deserves publishing. We saw that and took the risk.
Do you remember why you picked Guzzi’s book? Was there something special about The Hurricane that was better than everything else you received?
Glenn Lyvers: The decision to publish Deborah Guzzi was made on several grounds. First, she regularly contributes to some of the Prolific Press publications. We already had that relationship. Her manuscript was solid and as good as anything I had read during that reading window. I do want to publish our regular writers when I can. That was in her favour. It felt like a good fit for the press, both because of the high quality of the work and the existing relationship with the writer. Make no mistake; we published it because it was a great book of poems. It helped that it felt like a good fit for the press.
One more thing about that, since I brought it up. Writers spend a great deal of time trying to decide what press is right for them. The reality is, presses also consider whether the writer is right for them.
Are there any other regular contributors in the pipe for publication?
Glenn Lyvers: You mean writers who are regular contributors to our journals?
Yes. Do you have any of them slotted for forthcoming books?
Glenn Lyvers: Not formally. I do have a couple in the slush pile that I have high-hopes for. I also have one under consideration. I can’t make that decision until I can fairly compare it to the other books in this reading window. So, not formally but maybe soon. That answer will have to do.
It sounds like writers should try to build relationships with presses if they want to be published. Are you saying that?
Glenn Lyvers: It doesn’t hurt—but no, I’m not saying that. From the writer’s perspective, being published is a great deal of work. Writers can’t depend on presses they have relationships with. They have to send out their work and keep pounding away until they break in somewhere acceptable. That said, from the presses perspective, it’s nice to build relationships with writers. Some good books are born that way.
I seem to have neglected a few questions from the writers. OK. Mr. Lyvers, what should a writer say in the cover letter to get your attention?
Glenn Lyvers: Just like anything you send to an editor, you should get to the point in the query letter or cover letter. Keep it organized, as brief as possible, and don’t embellish too much. You get points for knowing who you are writing to.
I suggest you keep your bio short. List only a few acknowledgements and link to your full bio online. Write the book synopsis for your publisher, not the reader. You can try to build anticipation for the reader with that kind of language—try to make them curious or whatever…
B….u….t…. as the publisher, that kind of sales language means nothing to me; and anything that doesn’t tell me what is going on is just an irritation. I want to know what the book is about.
Just include nicely formatted blocks. Include your real address, real name, and verifiable biography. Include the word count for fiction and page count for poetry. Make the synopsis factual and informative. Don’t add much more. Show the publisher you are an efficient communicator. If you have a real reason for choosing to send to a particular press, let them know.
Also, keep your manuscript clean and organized. Don’t splash copyrights all over the place. It makes you look paranoid and difficult to work with. Just use your name and page number in the header like you did back in college. I prefer headers to be washed out, grey text that disappears to my eye. Clean double spaces text in a normal font is best. Keep it simple, neat, organized, clean and easy to read. Did I say clean and simple, because I meant clean and simple. (Lyvers smiles)
I have time for one more question. Make it a good one.
Just one more?
Glenn Lyvers: Yes, sorry. I’ve got books to read. (Lyvers looks at the clock for the third time in five minutes.)
OK. One of the writers asks, what is the biggest mistake writers make in fiction manuscripts?
Glenn Lyvers: Starting too slow. Don’t start with some belaboured backstory, or a list of all the character’s features. Don’t tell me about the blue vase etched with ivy trim and the cracked leather dog collar hanging from the wall hook. Books should start with something going on. Work exposition into the scene, frame it among the action. If you start slow, and drag on, the chances are good your manuscript will not be received well. That’s absolutely the biggest mistake I see writers make all the time. They don’t know how to grab the reader from page one. They imagine they have time to do it later. They don’t. And before they have the chance to grab the reader’s attention, they need to grab the professional reader who is evaluating the book. Write for THAT reader. That’s your audience. That one reader. Grab them, and don’t let go.
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