A lot of writers (I know I did) have groaned over the frustration of rejected submissions. What catches an editor’s eye? What are publishers and readers looking for? And so tonight, I will be chatting with SDP editor Cathy Buburuz. Cathy has been sending poetry, fiction, and art to Night to Dawn since I became editor in 2004. Her work has appeared in magazines across the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Romania, Japan, Yugoslavia, and other countries. Along with her horror writing and illustration, she edits Champagne Shivers and other magazines for Sam’s Dot Publishing. Cathy’s got some interesting insights on the industry, so let’s hear what she has to say.
BARBARA: You wear several hats – editor, illustrator, fiction writer, and poet. Do you have any one favourite?
CATHY: I don’t have a favourite task and I’ve always enjoyed that luxury of going from one creative project to another. Doing all four keeps things fresh and interesting. To me, all four are meaningful and fulfilling forms of creativity, but it’s the writing of fiction that helps me work off the anger and frustrations associated with the aches and pains of our society and everyday life.
Right here in my hometown there was a news story about a man who beat his toddler to death for touching the family’s television. The story stayed with me far too long and writing was a way to deal with it. I wanted to draw attention to the problem and promote the idea that as parents we need to pay more attention to our children, our own little world, and the world around us. We often forget how important love and kindness are to a child and how easily they can fall prey to sly monsters that single them out because they’re starved for affection, or even a little attention. This thought resulted in my story Jesus God in Heaven, about a little girl who falls victim to the least expected villain. The story has seen publication no less than six times in three different countries, so I have to believe it succeeds in its intent and purpose which is to make a solid connection and to awaken readers’ emotions.
I don’t always write with a serious goal or purpose in mind. Most times I write for the natural high that it brings. When you’re on a roll with a great idea, it’s an unequalled magic, a thing that has a way of blocking out all else, taking you to places you wouldn’t otherwise explore.
BARBARA: Some folks say Stephen’s King’s writing has changed since his accident. I beg to differ, although I couldn’t get into the Dark Tower Series like the others. In particular, I enjoyed Duma Key. What say you?
CATHY: Stephen King’s earlier novels were his most impressive, and his short story collections were outstanding. His sense of humour and his ability to connect with readers through convincing fiction are his charm. I loved Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, and Dolores Claiborne, and I thought Nightshift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual were fantastic. King writes for the common man and in doing so he’s gained the world as his audience because, when you cut it to the bone, we’re all emotional beings faced with everyday decisions and dilemmas that could change the course of our lives in a flash.
My first experience with Stephen King was a well worn copy of Salem’s Lot, probably read by a dozen others before I discovered it. I own a lot of his books, and movies based on his books, and I still enjoy going back to these year after year. The movie Stand by Me (based on his short story, The Body) is among my favourites. In so many ways, that story reflected my own childhood and the things that were going on in my head at the time. I loved Dolores Claiborne for its high level of believability and the authenticity of its characters. King’s characters are always memorable.
Years ago, Inscriptions held a poetry contest. To enter, all you had to do was submit a poem by e-mail about Stephen King. My short tribute won the contest and netted me the prizes, $50 and a hardcover copy of King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have won because I enjoyed that book immensely. The poem that won went something like this:
Ink is blood
the thought, an artery
as psychotic razors
slash his creativity
gushing a story
on a winter white page.
Do I admire the man and his work? Most definitely.
Am I awestruck by every word he has ever written? No, I am not.
For a writer to please every reader 100% of the time is an impossible, unattainable task, simply because we all have different tastes in fiction and in writing styles. Still, when you look at the man’s career, it’d be impossible to deny that he’s done an amazing job, is envied by many, and ultimately deserves respect.
BARBARA: The economy has hurt paperback sales in the USA. Have you noticed any of this in Canada?
CATHY: Chapters is my favourite Canadian bookstore because you can enjoy a Starbucks coffee while cruising its many bookshelves for the latest releases. There’s something special about the aroma of coffee in a bookstore. Whether it’s the sale of books or the sale of coffee, or a combination of the two, this phenomenal bookstore has survived despite the challenges. I can’t deny that the cover price of a book is downright depressing sometimes, but a book is a unique form of entertainment, a journey, an often intimate experience between writer and reader that opens minds, changes minds, and expands minds. To me, it’s worth the price of admission.
Despite harsh economic times, book lovers continue to read. The only difference now is that more and more used books are being traded or sold, and that’s having a negative impact on sales of new books. More and more avid readers are turning to garage sales, yard sales, flea markets, libraries and used bookstores to fill the need.
BARBARA: What advice would you give writers hoping to get into Sam’s Dot Publishing’s books and magazines?
CATHY: All it takes is a well written story that’s in harmony with each publication’s guidelines.
It’s important for writers to know that an editor can read just a few paragraphs of your story and know whether or not you’ve bothered to read the guidelines, whether or not you’re a professional or an amateur. The opening paragraphs of your story send signals about whether or not you’re serious about your craft, or whether you’re just another wannabe. The great thing about Sam’s Dot Publishing is that we take pride in publishing stories and art by new and upcoming writers as well as the seasoned pros, but you have to be willing to perfect your manuscript, to work with us on it if it needs work. If your manuscript needs a major rewrite, chances are we’ll decline it, not because we don’t want to help, but because we believe it’s your responsibility to learn the rules of good writing and submission beforehand, and our time is just as valuable as yours.
BARBARA: I notice a lot of writers/illustrators promote their work through www.cafeshops.com. How does that work for you?
CATHY: I believe that self-promotion that could fill an ocean is the key to success.
If you type your name into a search engine and only about a hundred web pages come up, you’ve failed miserably in online promotion. Getting your name and your product all over cyberspace is time-consuming but it can be done. Work toward a presence on as many websites as possible, preferably reputable websites that have their origins in several different countries. If your work is leaving an impression on those who experience it, typing your name into a search engine will help you locate those comments. Although reviewers are fast becoming a rarity, they can be found, but searches do take time. Not so long ago, there were many more science fiction, fantasy and horror magazines with review columns – even entire magazines dedicated to reviews – but the world is ever-changing and good reviewers are few.
If you’re an illustrator, focus on what counts. Paint, market, and sell. If you sell your art on products, strive for representation by many different companies and galleries, preferably those who take advertising and promotion of their artists seriously.
If you’re a writer, the same applies. Write, market, and sell. Seek out reputable publishers who go the extra mile to promote the work of their contributors.
If you’re an editor, you have to take the time to comment on manuscripts and work with potential contributors to perfect their craft so that you can produce a noteworthy and memorable publication.
There are hundreds of writers out there who relentlessly market the same old manuscript to dozens of editors, sometimes simultaneously, instead of admitting to themselves that their manuscript needs work before it will sell. The only way they’re going to know that is if the editor they submit to makes the decision to offer an honest assessment of the manuscript, even if that honesty comes in the form of a single sentence. Don’t look at it as rejection; look at it as constructive criticism. When an editor takes the time to point out the problems with your manuscript, learn from that. Do not continue to make the same mistakes over and over ’til death do us part.
BARBARA: Could you talk a little about Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) and its current projects?
CATHY: Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) is owned and operated by Tyree Campbell, who took over all responsibilities and changed the company name when James B. Baker of ProMart Publishing passed away. Mr. Baker had many admirable goals, but the one that meant the most to him was to publish and promote new talent. Mr. Campbell has carried on in this tradition and has expanded the numbers and the kinds of publications produced each year. He publishes upcoming artists and writers alongside the pros. We have several editors on staff, and we take pride in the publications we produce. The novels, anthologies, and magazines have in recent years progressed to perfect bound publications, most with full colour covers. I’m responsible for the editing of Champagne Shivers, Expressions, the Potter’s Field anthologies, and the Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre anthologies.
Our publications are sold in the electronic store on the SDP website, in a couple of brick and mortar bookstores, and in The Genre Mall. Mr. Campbell also travels across the USA each summer to promote and sell SDP publications at many conventions.
BARBARA: Where do you see the publishing industry five years from now? Do you think e-book sales will outrun those of paperbacks?
CATHY: I love paperbacks. I don’t read e-books. I’ve paid $35+ for a book written by someone whose work I admire, yet I decline the generosity when writers and publishers offer free e-books. In my line of work I spend anywhere from six to fourteen hours a day looking at a computer screen, so a paperback will always win me over. And for the record, that goes for review copies as well; especially review copies.
BARBARA: Your illustrations have drawn many compliments from NTD readers. What do you find most enjoyable about the work in process? The most challenging?
CATHY: All art is a challenge for me, simply because I’m one of the slowest artists on the planet. It takes me two to five hours to design a piece of filler art, and a minimum of ten hours to complete a full page artwork. For some, art comes easy. For me, it does not. I’m hard on myself as an artist and because I have a deep love for the physical aspects of drawing, I never want the painting to end.
I’m not as flexible as most artists, nor am I as talented, and it just blows me away when I receive a compliment, a kind review, a fan letter, or someone actually takes the time to hunt me down to ask if they can buy one of my originals. The truth be known, the reason why I became an artist in the first place was because I dared to send a small piece of filler art to an editor and he published it on his cover. That editor changed my life because he gave me the confidence to continue, to experiment, and to submit more of my work to other publications. American artist Marge Simon saw that very first cover and invited me to collaborate with her. At the time, she was the most published artist I was aware of – she’d won great recognition and awards for her art and her cartoons – so I was as nervous as hell about working with her. I gave collaboration a shot. I loved it, and I learned from it. Over the years I’ve worked on art collaborations with more than a dozen artists and illustrators, and I’ll always be grateful for that experience because it served as an education in its purist form.
BARBARA: Could you describe what a typical work day is like?
CATHY: My typical work day is spent multi-tasking. One day never resembles another. I chose to work on what I’m interested in at the time, what my mood or creative energy dictates, and the job I feel I’m best suited for on any given day. I might spend three or four hours reading and responding to submissions to my projects or spend an hour researching potential markets for my own work and my online monthly newsletter, Expressions. Every now and then, to give my work variety, I take on a private job editing a novel or a chapbook.
I tend to do artwork during the day because I prefer natural light. I write the majority of my stories, poems, and reviews in the evening because that just happens to be the time when I’m the most creative and productive, and it’s also a time when the phone or the doorbell is less likely to ring. When I need a break, I wander out into my flower garden and pull weeds or water the lawn, or go on facebook to play a few rounds of Word Twist or to learn more about what other creative people are working on. To dump the junk in my head, I read a good book or magazine, watch a movie or an episode of North of 60, Bones, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, or CSI Las Vegas.
No matter what I’m working on, I like to take breaks every three or four hours. The only exception to that rule is when the writing is going well. I never stop writing when the words are coming faster than I can type them. I’ve also been known to dive out of bed at five in the morning because of an idea I fear losing. I’ve also been known to work until six in the morning because I’m on a roll.
I seem to thrive on maximum overload so, in an effort to hang on to my own sanity and stay grounded, I try to spend as much down time as possible with my family, and I always shoot for one to three short vacations each year.
BARBARA: Which forums would you recommend to authors hoping to promote their work? Any other advice?
CATHY: I choose forums that suit my particular wants and needs, places where my levels of privacy and comfort aren’t in jeopardy, a forum that feels like home. While I believe that a writer can’t spend too much time on promotion, I think writers have to allot a fair amount of time to their craft. In fact, most of us work so long and hard at our chosen professions, we wish we had more time for self-promotion. There are those of us who would much rather work on an illustration, a short story, or a novel than tackle the chore of marketing and promoting ourselves.
Still, I’d have to say that the absolute best form of self-promotion is publication. The more you’re published in reputable books and magazines, the wider your audience, and the more likely you’ll be acknowledged as someone who’s serious about their craft.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to remember that readers don’t admire you because you’ve had 500 or 600 illustrations, poems or stories published. The reality is, truckloads of crap are published each year. Readers admire writers simply because they enjoyed their work, they could relate to it, and it lit an emotion in them.
It’ll always be quality, not quantity that counts most in this business. If you can accomplish both of these simultaneously, you’ve more than done your job.