I’d like to introduce you to the co-founder of Evolved Publishing, Lane Diamond.
Hi, Lane! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. You are an author, editor, and publisher, and you are co-founder of Evolved Publishing. Can you tell us more about your background and how you became a publisher?
I started shopping my psychological thriller, Forgive Me, Alex, to literary agents in mid-2008. If you stretch your memory a bit, you’ll recall that was right when the U.S. economy was going straight into the tank. Times were bad in general, and the publishing industry was hit particularly hard.
When I got my 4th consecutive “positive” rejection, in which agents said they loved my book… but…. Yeah, there was always that “but” at the end, and it always had to do with the market in general, something over which I had zero control.
Rather than burn through my entire list of literary agents, I stopped submitting and went about other aspects of my life for about 18 months. Then, in late 2010, the eBook business really took off, and we started seeing stories about authors making significant money with them, even as self-publishers. This made me take notice and say, “Hmmm….” It was time, frankly, to rethink everything.
However, as I’ve written about on several occasions, and for many reasons, I did not want to self-publish. Instead, my eventual business partner, D.T. Conklin, and I started looking for a publisher who’d set themselves to take advantage of this new market paradigm in a way that made great sense to us as authors. Well, we didn’t really see anything we liked, so we made a list of attributes our “ideal publisher” would have, and ultimately formed Evolved Publishing around that model.
Evolved Publishing is growing. You’ve added more editors and authors, and you’ve redesigned your website. Where do you see the company heading in the next five years?
It’s always a difficult thing to gaze into that crystal ball, especially when the biggest constant in our industry is its constant state of flux. We believe in one thing above all else, however: if you provide readers with high quailty, professional books, they’ll eventually find you. So we focus on building our catalog, and on building our brand as a safe haven for readers who don’t want to wade through an ocean of garbage to find the occasional gem.
With that in mind, we naturally look for talent to help us achieve our goal. We’re selective and demanding, because we must be. Still, we’ve grown to 21 authors, 9 editors, 5 artists, and a supportive management team, all within about 18 months. It’s happened more quickly than we’d imagined.
Five years from now, we expect to be doing what we’re doing now, only lots more of it. I would anticipate that we’ll have 60-80 authors, and the necessary editors and artists to support those authors. I expect our current catalog of 54 books will have grown closer to 400.
As a publisher, what do you look for in book submissions?
We look for a story readers of that genre will enjoy, well written and fairly polished. In most cases, it will already have been through beta readers, revisions, and at least a modicum of editing. Competition is absolutely fierce, and we’ve recently rejected submissions that we probably would have accepted just a year ago.
We can only take on so much and still manage the workload, and our continuing organizational growth, in a proper manner. This means we’re rejecting work that may ultimately do well, because we simply don’t have room for it. We’re accepting books that we think will grab readers by the throat and not let go.
We also look for authors who will be a natural fit within our team. Our business model is so focused on the team concept, that we must find people who share those philosophies. We turn the rogues and recluses away.
Do you publish books by authors who live in other countries, or do you focus only on authors in the U.S.?
We have an author who lives in Belgium, and another who lives in New Zealand. So we’re global, in that regard. Indeed, we have no big office in downtown Manhattan. We live in an electronic world, and we do all our business via electronic venues. This means we can bring on quality talent from anywhere in the world.
Have you ever received a book submission that really ‘wowed’ you?
Absolutely! Every editor has his or her own preferences, of course, as readers, and the pieces that tend to wow us the most are those that fall within our preference range. Therefore, what wows one editor doesn’t necessarily wow another. So I can only speak for myself, and for my own personal preferences.
Having said that, Robb Grindstaff’s Hannah’s Voice affected me deeply, as did Angela Scott’s Desert Rice. I just plain got a kick out of Hot Sinatra by Axel Howerton—I loved the narrative voice and the protagonist, Moss Cole, just about from the first page. I also fell in love early on with the characters and culture from Ruby Standing Deer’s Circles and Spirals—there’s something so appealing and… relaxing about them.
If you talk to our other editors, they’ll undoubtedly have a different list of the books that really grabbed them. That’s one of the wonders of our business.
How long does it usually take for you to read a submitted manuscript and make a decision?
I would say 4-6 weeks from the moment we tackle it, and it may take 2-3 weeks to get to that point. We try to be as quick as we can, knowing how anxious authors become, and not wanting to delay (any longer than we have to) any other options they may be considering. We approach this business as authors, so it’s easy for us to empathize here.
As an author, you can probably sympathize with other authors when it comes to getting a rejection for a book submitted. Does that ever get in the way when you’re considering a manuscript?
No, it can’t. It’s never personal—a hard thing for many authors to accept. Our obligation is first to our readers, and second to our team, and we must never, never compromise on the high standards we’ve set. If a piece doesn’t fit for us, whatever the reason and whoever the author, we simply must reject it.
It does become frustrating for us when we have to reject a good piece for no other reason than that we just don’t have the room for it in our schedule, but otherwise, business is business.
When rejecting a manuscript, do you send out a form letter, or do you give a fuller explanation of why it isn’t right for your company?
I hate form letters. They always drove me mad as an author, and we vowed early on not to be those cold fish who couldn’t even offer a sentence or two of personalized language. When time allows, we try our best to provide specific, constructive criticism of the piece, designed to help the author improve it. We also include links to reference material, on occasion.
It’s interesting that some of our most grateful authors have been those we’ve rejected, because we provided them with something that would actually help them move their dream forward.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that writers make? What will cause a fast rejection?
Spelling errors (no excuse), poor grammar, sentence and paragraph structure that is a jumbled mess, excessive SOBs (state-of-being verbs), passive voice as a default, dialogue that is boring and doesn’t move the story forward, a plot that is weak, unexciting, or just plain absent.
Not to be harsh, but if a writer hasn’t taken the time to learn the craft well enough to put forth a professional presentation, we just don’t have time to waste on him. It needn’t be perfect (no such thing), but it must be clear the writer is a serious pro.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Read. Study. Learn. There are dozens of outstanding books about the art and craft of writing at your disposal. Start picking through them.
Too many writers think they don’t have to learn their craft. Imagine if doctors adopted that same attitude! Or lawyers, or plumbers, or electricians, or accountants, or…. You get the point. Professionals know their business.
Can you tell us a bit about the author/editor relationship? What do you like best about editing other authors’ work?
Every editor feels a certain minor pride of ownership for any piece they work on, and we’re always pleased when first the author is happy with the end result, and then when the readers respond postively to it.
The first key is for the editor to remember that it’s the author’s work, not the editor’s. The second key is for the author to remember that the editor’s job is not to pick apart their work for the sake of picking it apart, but for the sake of making it the best book it can be, while still belonging to the author.
On those occasions that an author and editor disagree on a point, unless it’s a truly glaring error, we’ll defer to the author. As en editor, my goal is for an author to accept 90% or more of my edits. That means I’ve succeeded in two areas: I’ve not hijacked the author’s work; and I’ve done a good job of climbing inside the author’s head to get a feel for her voice.
If an author rejects 25% or more of the edits, the author and editor have some serious work to do. If it exceeds 40%, they have a major problem, and are probably not a good fit for one another.
How do you feel about the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, limited dialogue tags, show don’t tell, no head-hopping, etc.? In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?
In the beginning, at least, they’re all important, and I adhere to them all. Until a writer has a firm and unrelenting grip on the rules, they’re not qualified to know all the times it’s okay to break those rules. This is true of every author that ever lived; we all have to start somewhere.
So the depth of the author’s knowledge and skill is the primary factor in determining how much free rein I, as the editor, will give him.
Your suspense novel, Forgive Me Alex, was published by Evolved Publishing in 2011. I’m reading the book, and find it interesting that you have two first-person points of view. What made you decide to do that? Can you tell us about the book?
I started the book as a third-person narrative because that’s what literary agents, by and large, insisted on. However, I got to a couple of critical scenes (something like 80 pages in), where the emtoion should have been running high, and they just weren’t doing it for me. I played and played and played with it, and finally realized that I could only create that emotion through a first-person account.
Then, as I went deeper into it, I realized that I really wanted not just the perspective of the protagonist, but that of the antagonist, as well. Once I made that decision, I went back to Page 1 and started over. So the simplest answer is that the story demanded it.
It’s a psychological thriller, so the psychological states of the two main characters, the primary combatants, if you will, were critical. I needed to climb right inside their heads, to give readers the most intimate inside glimpse possible.
It’s ultimately a story about love and loss, and the slew of emotions that get tangled in that web. It’s also a story of how, no matter what our plans may be, life occasionally takes us down a different road, whether we want to take that path or not.
Furthermore, it’s an examination of human evil. Yeah, I know… a lot of people shy away from the E-word. Not me. I wanted to dive right in.
My favorite description of the book was someone’s suggestion that it was a cross between Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and The Dark Half by Stephen King. I thought that was pretty cool.
That’s interesting. As I started reading the book, I thought it was a cross between Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay–I told my husband it was like ‘Dexter Meets Hannibal’. You’re working on a new novel, The Devil’s Bane. Is it related to your other book? Can you tell us about it?
It’s a sequel to the first book. I’ll leave it at that, because to go any further would be to give away parts of the first book. I wouldn’t want to spoil too much for those thinking of reading Forgive Me, Alex.
If you could meet any book character, who would it be, and what would you do with them?
Well, that’s an awfully difficult question, because I’d like to meet about a thousand characters. In the end, I suppose I’ll say Gandalf. I’d ask him to show me Middle Earth as only he knows it. Might take us a few years.
Thanks, Lane! If you have questions for Lane, please post them in a comment, and Lane will do his best to answer them quickly.