Publisher Spotlight: Columbus Press Author Samuel Snoek-Brown

As we hit the halfway point of The Great Novel Contest, we continue our spotlight The Great Novel Contest 2015series with a sit-down with Columbus Press author, Samuel Snoek-Brown. Sam is the author of Hagridden, which has been garnering a lot of great reviews lately.

Learn more about Hagridden here.

Columbus Press is one of four participating publishers in The Great Novel Contest 2015. The contest winner and runner-up will receive priority consideration from these four publishers, in addition to cash prizes.

Find rules and instructions for entering The Great Novel Contest here.

Sam shared some of his time to talk about working with Columbus Press, his experiences with the publishing industry, and what he’s been up to lately. He’s also got some helpful advice for anyone on the fence about entering The Great Novel Contest. Thanks, Sam!

What attracted you to Columbus Press initially?hagridden cover new

My agent is the one who found Columbus Press, but he ran presses by me before sending my novel anywhere. I was actually pretty excited by Columbus Press when he brought them to me, because I liked their balance of quirk and professionalism. Some small presses focus so much on the “independent” part that they go to some strange lengths to distinguish themselves, and they can sometimes privilege quirk over everything else. They’re weird for weird’s sake, which is fine, but it makes figuring out their business model difficult and you’re never quite sure what they’ll do for you professionally. Other presses are so concerned about being taken seriously as a business that they take all the fun out of their work, strip down everything to contracts and guidelines and marketing schemes. There’s so little artistry in that.

Columbus Press is absolutely a serious, professional business — they have ambitions, they have a plan, and they know how to articulate that. But they also have a banana as their freaking logo, and there’s an ease and conversationalism to their guidelines and their blog posts that make you feel like you’re dealing with human beings. That really appealed to me. It felt from the beginning like I’d found a place that would let me play and would play with me, but that also knew the rules of the business and could guide me through that, too.

What did you most appreciate about working with Columbus Press?

I’m going to put that in the present tense — what DO I appreciate — because that’s one of the things I actually do appreciate about Columbus Press: we’re still working together. Publishing Hagridden was not a one-time event for them; they didn’t just work with me until the book came out and then kick me into the world with a box of paperbacks and wish me luck. They continue to work with me, not only on promoting the work as it is but also on some of my nutty ideas for carrying the work further. (I’d say more, but irons are still in fires and I don’t want to give away too much just yet.)

In your experience, what’s unique about Columbus Press compared to other publishers you’re familiar with?

That “nutty ideas” thing is another thing I appreciate about Columbus Press, and something I think sets them apart from a lot of presses. They’re willing to do some exciting things you don’t normally see from presses big or small. For example, when it came time to do my launch party in Columbus, they organized a freaking city-wide game of tag! The event already exists — it’s called Journey to the End of the Night — and it’s nationwide, but Columbus Press had the brilliant idea to turn what is ordinarily just adults running around playing tag into a novel-themed chase based on the rougarou werewolf myth in my novel. And afterward, everyone enjoyed werewolf movies and bayou-themed drinks. It drew a huge crowd, drummed up a lot of interest in my book, and was a hell of a lot more fun than most release parties. I can’t wait to see what they come up with to promote their next book, whatever that might be!

Any advice you’d have for someone thinking of entering the contest? What have you learned or how have you benefited from contests during your career? 

Academics like me have to worry about our curriculum vitae, our academic résumé, and contest placements (if you can get them) look great on those. But even non-academic writers have to worry about the CV: it’s called their cover letter. If you can place in a contest — you don’t even have to win, just get shortlisted or make it to the finals — that lends you terrific credibility and makes it more likely that some future editor or publisher will give your work a stronger read. It’s no guarantee of anything — nothing is — but it absolutely does help.

And if you do win, that opens a lot of doors. When the early drafts of Hagridden received an Oregon Literary Fellowship from Oregon’s Literary Arts organization, it brought a lot of interest my way, from fellow writers and magazines and even a few agents. If something like that happens for you, know that it’s not something that sets you apart from other writers — it’s actually an invitation into a much larger literary community. It makes your writing world bigger.

But even if you don’t place in a contest, entering is a great experience. The stakes feel higher in a contest than in regular submissions (they’re not, usually, but they feel that way) so you tend to obsess a little more over the details. Is everything spelled correctly? Is your format right? Have you followed all the guidelines? A contest can train you to focus on the details the way you need to with ALL your submissions.

Which is really the only advice I have: treat the contest seriously, and submit like a professional. And if you don’t get anywhere with that contest, then — like a professional — revisit the work, give it another polish, and send it out again. And again. Because it’s all just a normal part of the writing and submitting process.

Also, what have you been working on lately, and what’s new with Hagridden?

I’ve been (slowly) working on a new novel. This one is also historical, this time set in Reconstruction-era Texas, with forays into Oklahoma, Arkansas, and northern Louisiana. It’s not a sequel to Hagridden, but Hagridden fans might like to know that there’s at least one character from that book who makes an appearance in the new one.

But that’s still very much in early draft stages.

In the meantime, the newest thing for Hagridden is that I’ve written a series of short stories featuring minor characters from the novel. Three of them have appeared in online publications this past fall — you can find links to them on my website.

If you’re interested in working with a small press like Columbus Press, entering The Great Novel Contest is a great way to get your manuscript into the hands of their editors. Learn more about how to submit a novel to The Great Novel Contest here

Guest Post: R.K. Blessing on The Great Novel Contest

We recently had a chat The Great Novel Contest 2015with Columbus Publishing Lab author R.K. Blessing to get his perspective on The Great Novel Contest, and learn about his writing process. Check out his guest post below, and don’t forget to submit your novel to the contest before the January 31 deadline!

Find rules and instructions for entering The Great Novel Contest here.

It was brought to my attention that this month CCC would be hosting The Great Novel Contest. I was recently asked, what’s so great about The Great Novel Contest? Why do it? Well, here’s my answer.

Writing is difficult. It takes time and dedication, and for those of us who can get past those two humps, we then have to deal with the process of publication. For those who are sitting at home, staring blindly at the Internet and wondering what to do next, this contest offers a great opportunity to get yourself out there.

I completed two manuscripts before I published my first book, Clare R. They were goofy and clunky with poorly developed characters, but the inspiration I had to write Clare R. was incredible. I kept at it until finally a story started coming together that I thought was much more fun and well thought out.

If you keep an open mind, inspiration can come from all sorts of places. I had a lot of really awesome story ideas come about while traveling last year. One of my characters was born while I was traveling down south on an airplane.

Writing may not seem that hard, but the difficulty is in avoiding distractions. I find writing to be very therapeutic and so I make time for it, especially after a frustrating day at work. I get a kind of high after writing something that I hope will make people emotional.

So if you have an idea, get a move on and get writing. CCC hosts a great team of supportive folks who can answer questions along the way, and they want writers to be successful. You have two weeks to put something together. If you have been holding onto something, waiting for that right moment, here’s your chance!

Happy writing, folks, and GOOD LUCK!

-R.K. Blessing

R.K. Blessing is the author of the romantic comedy Clare R. (Proving Press, 2014). Find it on Amazon.com here. His second book is currently in production, and will be published by Boyle & Dalton in Spring, 2015.  

Guest Post: Have Fun and Become A Better Writer—Enter The Great Novel Contest 2015!

Tim Vargo — author, CCC Writer Member and Finalist in The Great Novel Contest 2014 —novel_contest_2015 wrote this guest post on his writing process and how it relates to The Great Novel Contest 2015. Find the original post on Tim’s author website here

If you’re a member of the growing horde of artists who write fiction, let me fill you in on a few secrets. First, your chances of becoming rich or famous are about the same as becoming a professional athlete. Really. So get that out of your head. Second, you’re not smarter than your workshop, class, or writing group. Even if you’re a genius, the group is and always will be smarter than you. That’s just the way it is—sorry.

As a writer myself, I’m aware that many of you stopped reading after I wrote that you won’t be rich or famous. Writers are a particularly delusional lot (as are most artists), and newbie writers are especially prone to believing they’re the next big thing. No amount of reason or logic will sway them. But the bald-faced truth is this—if you’re a writer, you’re a member of the creative class, which is a veritable MOUNTAIN of a class. To get an idea of how titanic it is, log on to Amazon’s book selling machine, check out that ever-expanding galaxy of novels, and then realize that the books on Amazon are an infintesimal speck of the literature being produced by the great unwashed masses. Published work represents approximately three or four percent of the universe of literature. There is a great unseen tidal wave of novels out there, my friend, and if you’re a writer, you’re part of that wave. It’s a scary proposition. You work your tail off only to be part of a teeming mass of dreck, with no way to determine if your work has any merit. The random nature of this process breaks many writers. “What is the secret?” they cry, shaking fists of rage as their novel dies the slow death of apathy, ignored by agents and publishers alike. “What am I doing wrong?!”

Well, unclench your fists you big dummy. The secret is simple. From this point forward your job is simple—do your best work and learn from your mistakes. That’s all. The best part is it doesn’t matter what your skill level is. Unless you’re unable to work up the gumption to put words to paper or are locked in the delusional throes of your own genius, you can always do your best work and learn from your mistakes.

There are a couple options on how you can master your writing talent, or (as is often the case with me) figure out how to—ahem— skillfuly hide your lack of talent. If you’re interested, my strategy is as follows:

  • Write something
  •  Have it critiqued
  •  Rewrite it
  •  (and the fun part)—Enter it in a contest

We’re going to skip over the writing part. If you haven’t written anything, stop reading and get busy—we’ll be here when you get back. For the rest of you, the first part of this strategy—critiques—vary in efficacy depending on the source. Critiques from agents, publishers and book reviewers are notoriously hard to get, but they’re the best. They’ve helped me really understand why I stink and how I can write stuff that’s less stinky.

Unfortunately, getting critiques from agents, publishers and professional reviewers is hard and sometimes impossible, so the next best route is to get critiques from fellow writers at workshops. If you follow this strategy, your job is to filter out the nonsense and focus on the real input.

Rule of Thumb—If more than two fellow writers think your thirty-year-old Shaolin monk-turned-assassin talks like an eighty-year-old Yiddish housewife, take that input as gospel and fix that unfortunate misconception.

Once you’ve completed the rewrite phase, you’re ready for the real fun of being a writer. If you’ve written a novel, had it critiqued, and rewrote it, then contests are your next order of business. Yes, you heard me right, CONTESTS. They’re the perfect vehicles for having your work weighed and measured against the competition. I mean, what the heck are you writing for anyhow? You want people to read what you’ve written, don’t you? Contests will get that done for you, and they’re also a ton of fun. I came late to this realization, entering my first contest after writing fiction for twenty plus years, but once I did enter a contest, my eyes were opened. It’s exciting. Contests gives you a buzz for the entire length of the competition. Even when I’m having a bad day I think to myself, “Hey, maybe a judge is right now laughing at my story—hopefully because it’s funny—and is passing it along to the finalist round.” You will not believe how much it boosts your creativity when you enter your work in a contest. No joke. Maybe it’s because I feel the need to fill the vacuum created when work leaves my computer, but whatever it is, I write more when I enter a contest. Which brings me to today.

I am currently in the midst of preparing a manuscript for The Great Novel Contest 2015. If you have a completed novel, you need to do the same. This contest is legit. Last year I creeped on all the writers who were finalists. It was a sobering experience. Writing professors, established fiction writers, and highly-regarded graduates of MFA programs from all four corners of the U.S., as well as at least one or two from Canada, were among those in the finalists round. Let’s put it this way, these people knew what they were doing and trust me, that’s what you want when you enter a contest. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to know how your work measures up against people who are serious about the artform. In addition to stellar competition, this contest also has some pretty cool benefits if you win or get runner-up status. You get $1,000 if you win and a bunch of publishers consider your novel for publication. The runner-up gets $500 and a letter of recommendation that can be used for contacting publishers and/or agents.

Find rules and instructions for entering The Great Novel Contest here.

This is the third year of the contest and the past two winners have had their novels published. That’s a good track record. What really attracts me to this contest is that manuscripts are judged blind. This means that the judges are reading the story and giving it a thumbs up or down based on the writing. It’s like that show “The Voice” where judges pick singers for their teams without seeing them, in effect selecting singers based on the quality of their singing rather than how they look, dance, command the stage or any of the other extraneous stuff. The Great Novel Contest 2015 follows this model. There are no names on the manuscripts. No listing of prestigious degrees or honors and previous writing glory to sway the judges’ opinions. It’s nothing but your writing put to the ultimate eye-test.

Believe it or not, I’m entering the first novel I ever wrote. Yes, I know—it’s a fools strategy. First novels are often atrocities, and mine definitely falls into this category, but I’m taking the time to work through it and see if it’s salvageable. And once I’m done, I know of only one way to find out once and for all if I was able to transform the stinking heap of words I called a first novel into something readable—I’m entering it into The Great Novel Contest 2015!

If I can do it, you can too. Hope to see you in the finalist round. Good luck and happy writing!

The Great Novel Contest opens on January 1, 2015 and closes on January 31, 2015. Find the contest rules and details here, and join the Facebook event here. Questions? Contact emily@ohiowriters.org.