I am so happy this day is finally here. I’ve had this interview tucked under my hat for months. Do you want to know what traditional publishers are thinking, how they work, what they go through when picking stories to represent? I have all the answers right here.
This interview isn’t with an author. It’s with a paying, traditional publisher. Mugwump Press.
First a little about Mugwump Press. Mofo Pubs and Afrocentric are run by two courageous women who don’t pull any punches. They are in your face, loud and proud, and run a tight ship. Authors are clambering to get a contract with them, and you should go check them out for one of your stories. Their anthology calls are fun and pay 1 cent a word.
I went to their website and copied their manifesto.
Mugwump Press exists solely to allow writers to prostitute themselves—to write words and be paid for them.
Exposure without pay equals death, not a currency with which words can be bought and sold. And it is our love of words that motivates us.
We are arrogant and our expectations are high. Editing is an art. Paradigms are made to be smashed, genres transcended, limitations overcome, expectations subverted.
Mugwumps are malcontents—fence-sitters straddling the opposing worlds of literary legitimacy and actually being paid to write. We subscribe to the radical notion that literature can be both commercially viable and not totally suck.
Now that’s a publisher I can get behind. Please allow me to introduce the two women who run the show. Megan Lewis and Jem McBride.
The first thing I’d like to ask is… How did you first get involved with publishing?
Megan: When my kids started school, I began freelance editing. At the time, I was also writing a monthly creative nonfiction column for a (now-defunct) literary magazine and asked to take on the role of assistant editor. When I moved on from that publication, I decided to start my own publishing company.
Jem: I met Megan in a writing workshop, and we decided to join forces/pool our resources—her editing skills with my business background.
Why did you decide to become a publisher?
Jem: I was fed up with the lack of diversity in the characters published by most traditional publishing houses.
Megan: I wanted to edit only pieces that I believed in and loved. I also believed that it was possible to raise the bar on erotica and publish pieces that are both well-written and hot.
Did you start with a business plan?
Megan: Yes, although Jem threw out my initial attempt and came up with one that’s way better.
What is your favorite part of being a publisher?
Megan: Holding the finished book.
Jem: Being able to buck the lily-white establishment.
LOL! I can get behind that, Jem. What is the hardest thing about publishing?
Jem: The slush pile.
Megan: Definitely the slush pile. I never know when I open a new submission for Mofo whether it’s going to be brilliant or contain something really, really gross and/or offensive. And we read all of the submissions… Sexual harassment and dealing with entitled, aggressive, and (almost always) male writers comes a close second.
What are your pet peeves as a publisher?
Megan: Writers who either email us questions that are answered in our submission guidelines or who ignore the submission guidelines entirely.
Jem: Poorly written prose and pushy, demanding authors.
Now let me ask… Who is your role model, and why?
Megan: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Not only is he one of my favorite modern poets, the author of a kickass translation of Prevert’s Paroles, and the co-founder of the most awesome bookstore in the United States (City Lights in San Francisco), he’s the publisher behind some of the best twentieth-century American literature—including Ginsberg’s Howl, which Ferlinghetti was taken to trial on obscenity charges for and won. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is probably the coolest ninety-eight-year-old alive.
Jem: Dr. A.B. Scott-Emuakpor, because he’s my daddy. And he’s effing brilliant.
How long on average does it take you to publish a book once you’ve received the final copy from the author?
Megan: This honestly depends on the title (word count, the amount of copyediting required), the author (how long they take to review edits), and how many other items I have on my editorial calendar. Anywhere from three to eighteen months, with six to twelve months being most common.
Do you have any advice for writers looking to traditionally publish?
Jem: Just because J.K. Rowling got away with it doesn’t mean you can.
Megan: Read the submission guidelines. So many of our rejections (for both imprints) are due to the piece in question falling way outside the word count or genre parameters for that particular submission call. And submit your best work—this one really should go without saying, but we’ve received submissions with pretty basic flaws in them that make it clear that they were likely never work-shopped and have undergone minimal (if any) self-editing. It’s ok if your commas aren’t perfect; but if your subjects and verbs don’t agree, you have issues.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about self-publishing?
Megan: Self-publishing is a better fit for some genres than others—romance being a great example of a genre where indie authors can do quite well and where a traditional publishing deal might not make the most financial sense. Take stock of your objectives and resources before you take the plunge.
How involved/expensive self-publishing will be, depends hugely on your objectives. Do you just want to get your story out there? Or do you want book sales to be your primary source of income? How much time do you have to devote to the non-writing tasks associated with publishing? What standard of professionalism do you hope to meet?
Hiring a skilled freelance editor is a must even for a writer who’s fairly skilled at self-editing and one of the biggest cash outlays you’ll encounter. Experienced freelance copyeditors generally charge EFA rates (http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php); do your due diligence when selecting a copyeditor. Other book production skills (cover design, formatting, etc.) can be acquired, but most indie authors will need to outsource at least some of these.
The most successful indie authors are also excellent business people. Be prepared to treat it like a business and only enter into it if you have the cash-flow, time, and non-writing and organizational skills to do so. The indie authors who do the best are also fairly prolific—books sell books—so I’d recommend having multiple titles ready to go and the financial resources to produce and market them before you take the plunge.
Looking into the future 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious trends, what do you think will be the next big change in the publishing industry?
Megan: Amazon will become our overlord and have a complete monopoly on book sales—or is that an obvious trend? Seriously, support other retailers/distribution channels, and if you’re an indie author, please don’t grant Amazon exclusivity.
Jem: More diverse characters in mainstream fiction. The trend in big-budget movies starring actors of color shows that The Industry is starting to view people of color as a major demographic for products that The Industry previously insisted people of color had no interest in. I believe the publishing industry will move in that same direction, and we will begin seeing more diverse characters and cultures in mainstream fiction.
Thank you both so much for giving us this valuable insight into your world. I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by for a chat.
Biographies for both:
Megan is a neurotic know‑it‑all with an inordinate fondness for literature, pornography, and the mutated offspring of the two. Unlike most disgruntled writers who start indie presses, she founded Mugwump, not for her love of writing but, rather, due to an erotic fixation with the semicolon and a deep-seated need to cause trouble. When not pimping writers, obstructing traffic, or writing fiction, Megan works as a freelance editor.
Jem: was quietly content in a world of furry pocket pets, stethoscopes, and five-syllable words until Megan subverted her with the promise of shattered literary paradigms. She is the arrogant to Megan’s neurotic, the logical science to Megan’s creative eccentricity. And while she also has a fondness for semicolons, she’s not above getting it on with an exclamation point or a well-placed adverb. When not screwing up the themes on Mugwump’s website, Jem is licensed to do veterinary stuff. With animals.
They are publishing some awesome romance and erotica. I would love to have a contract with this publisher. Please click on covers for more details:
Please click on covers for more details:
From Mofo Pubs: