Jean M. Golstrom is an author and former newspaper reporter, editor and publisher who now publishes print anthologies. Her company is Whortleberry Press and she publishes a number of themed anthologies in various genres every year. She has shown the wisdom to include my work in three of her anthologies (so far) and the kindness to answer questions for Writers Who Kill from the point of view of an editor/small publisher.
First of all: What is a Whortleberry? Why name a publishing company after one?
A whortleberry is a plant that grows in the Highlands of Scotland, the land of my ancestors. It looks somewhat like a holly tree with red berries. The whortleberry is the "badge" of my clan, Clan Mackintosh. (Back in the day, the Highlanders did not all have tartans in the family plaid. So the clansmen pinned their clan "badge" to their hat before they went into battle, so they would not be bashing their friends and relatives by mistake.) You can see a whortleberry bloom at the tope of this blog.
My dear spouse took me on a trip to Scotland in the 1990s, where I learned much about my clan and its history. When we came home, I wrote two books about it. About that time, I was thinking of starting a book publishing organization. I had to think of a name that nobody else had. Think, think, think, thinkity think think think...and I came up with Whortleberry Press! For sure, nobody else has that name!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? And about your company?
I am a retired newspaper reporter, editor and publisher. My main stint was with The Baltimore News American (circulation 180,000 daily, 230,000 Sunday) but after The News American folded in the mid 1980s, (along with most other afternoon dailies across the US.) I worked for a number of other publications. My favorite, of course, was my very own newspaper, The Knoxville-Mt.Oliver American, which purported to cover the two communities where I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. During its five-year existence, The American grew to fit the somewhat pretentious title of The South Hills Communities American. It was a monthly, and circulation ranged from 15,000 to 20,000, depending on how many ads I could sell. (You sell the ads to pay the printer, so if you sell more ads, you can order more copies of the paper.)
After folding the dear old American when I moved from my native Pittsburgh PA to Florida, I just could not stop publishing things, thus Whortleberry Press.
What does an editor/publisher actually do?
You post on your website (and on a couple of great websites for writers, like Duotrope and Ralan's Webstravaganza) that you're open for submissions. If it's to be an anthology, you tell what kind of stories you want (ours are science fiction, fantasy and horror), what lengths -- 2000 to 4000 words, and when the deadline will be for your book.
As the submissions come in, you read them and pick the ones that are the most suitable.
After the deadline, you look over your submissions, beg your copy editor (the person who reads for errors -- in my case, my dear husband) to start reading, and you start formatting. That means putting the stories into a form that will make a nice-looking book.
And you also get the cover artist working on a cover -- also, in my case, my dear husband Chuck. Talk about a Man For All Seasons -- he is that! (He also writes the occasional delightful story, usually about Sy and Arnie, the two little New York cats.)
Finally, you get all these things together, and send them off to the printer. When you get your proof copy back (meaning the one that shows whether you did everything right or not!) you do your dance of joy and post on your website that this wonderful new anthology is now available. If the proof copy shows you did NOT do everything right, well, you take another whack at it, and, one hopes, it comes out right this time, and then it's time for the dance of joy, etc.
Then you hope hope hope that somebody will buy it. And you start thinking about the next one.
I know you have written books, and published various types of books in the past. During the last couple of years it seems you have mostly edited anthologies. What is your current focus?
Anthologies, yes. Thanks to this @#$%$ recession, which has put many publishing organizations into early graves, we are only doing anthologies at present. That's because our dear writers each act as a promotion specialist and sales person for us, encouraging everyone they know to buy our books. That's how we have managed to avoid the dire fate of so many other publishers. If and when this wretched recession ever ends, we will happily go back to one-author books along with anthos.
What does your motto: Unusual books for unusual readers mean?
My personal favorite genres are science fiction, fantasy and horror. They are NOT the biggest selling genres. Actually, I think non-fiction is the big seller in the book world. But I dearly love sf/f/h. And those who read our sf/f/h books are definitely NOT the average, typical readers. They are looking for something interesting, different and -- unusual!
When you review submissions what are you looking for? What would automatically disqualify a submission?
I look for something clear -- you would be surprised how many people love to write incoherent babble. I look for something interesting -- not yet ANOTHER vampire story or anything else that has been done to death and beyond. And of course I look for something that meets my request -- the theme of the antho, the right number of words, the PG13 rating that I personally prefer.
Automatic disqualification? The overly-hackneyed vampire/zombie story; the gratuitous sex, violence, blood, gore, etc. As I have said in my Writers Guidelines, "nothing that makes your editor sick." And I stick to our "PG-13" guidelines -- not because I can't deal with the occasional bare rear or heavy breathing, but because many of our writers like to give books as gifts to their family and friends. And since family and friends tend to have a range of likes and dislikes, we try to hit the former and miss the latter.
I try to please our readers, inasmuch as I can tell what they like by what our most popular books are. That's why we do an annual "Strange Mysteries," as readers have shown they love those weird mysteries! We have just published our third annual Strange Mysteries collection, and we already have several stories accepted for Strange Mysteries 4. Readers also show (with their purchases) that they like our annual Halloween and Christmas books. To my pleasant surprise, something new we tried this year, "Dear Valentine," a love stories anthologies, proved to be a runaway top seller for us. You can bet there will be another one for next year! But of course these are science fiction, fantasy and horror love stories -- unusual stories for our beloved unusual readers!
Thanks so much for letting me tell you about my fun adventures with Whortleberry Press. I have really found a happy and exciting activity in corresponding with our delightful writers, and presenting their outstanding work to our readers. I really love doing this activity, and plan to continue with it -- indefinitely, if not longer!
http://WhortleberryPress.com -- Unusual Books for Unusual Readers
http://DearTabbyTheAnswerCat.com -- You have questions? Tabby has answers.