Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Publisher Interview: Dindy Robinson of Swimming Kangaroo Books

I am a copy editor at Swimming Kangaroo Books, a small, independent publishing company. I asked the owner/publisher, Dindy Robinson if she would mind answering a few questions about her life as a publisher and advice for authors, and she was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time.

If you are considering submitting to Swimming Kangaroo Books, I can tell you that Dindy is very nice, and the authors and editors all get along quite well. It's just like having an extended family! And now for the interview...

Jennifer Walker: What was your experience in the publishing world before you started Swimming Kangaroo Books?

Dindy Robinson: Not as much as it probably should have been. I had written a teacher’s resource book that was published by Teacher Idea Press, and written and published numerous short stories and articles. I’d written and not published several novels, some in partnership with my husband and some on my own. I actually hadn’t written seriously for several years because I was working full time at a very demanding job, attending graduate school and raising two kids. Writing fell by the wayside.

Jennifer Walker: Can you give us a brief history of how Swimming Kangaroo Books was born?

Dindy Robinson: Through a rather uninteresting series of events I found myself unemployed in late 2005. By that time my kids were out of the house, I had my masters degree and since I no longer had a job where I could put in 50-60 hours a week, I needed something to do. I took out the books I had written and not touched for years with the intent of polishing them up and trying again to get them published. I discovered that in the ten or so years I’d been out of the business, the internet and digital technology had revolutionized the world of publishing. I’ve never been good at following rules, and following the unwritten rules for genre fiction was no different so I decided to publish my books myself. I started researching how to do so and realized that if I was going to publish my own books I might as well publish other people’s as well. Since my daughter, Jaala, is a whiz at web design, I tapped her to be my partner and in February 2006 we launched

Jennifer Walker: What is your job like as a publisher?

Dindy Robinson: I love being a publisher. I spend probably about a third of my time communicating with people via email. I also spend a lot of time dealing with editors—answering questions for editors, making decisions as to style or settling disputes between the author and the editor. I also deal with cover artists—soliciting bids for cover art, selecting an artist, working with the artist and the author to make sure the cover properly reflects the author’s vision. I have to format manuscripts for print, and then reformat them as many as four different ways for the various eBook formats (that’s the part of publishing I hate, by the way!) I have to interface with the various vendors who sell our books, work with the wholesalers to ensure the books are listed, solicit book reviews and send out review copies, and handle the various listings with the Library of Congress and other registration agencies. I also have to find time to market the books—I don’t spend as much time on that as I should because there are only so many hours in a day and I need to get at least 6 hours of sleep each night.

Jennifer Walker: What is your favorite part about your job?

Dindy Robinson: I love working with first time authors. They are so excited at each phase of the process and when they get their first book in their hands, it’s like holding their first baby. I love being a part of making people’s dreams come true.

Jennifer Walker: How many submissions do you receive?

Dindy Robinson: Depends on the month. There’s kind of a rhythm to it. During Spring Break and summer we get a lot of submissions from teenagers who are out of school and have nothing better to do. After NaNoWriMo, in November and December we receive a lot of submissions from the NaNoWriMo writers. We also generally receive a lot of submissions after the Muse Online conference, or if we attend some other convention or conference we’ll receive a rush. However, in the general course of events, we’ll receive about ten to fifteen submissions a month. While we are always open for submissions, we don’t actively solicit them. People seem to find us without that and we are happy with the quantity and quality of submissions we receive. (By actively soliciting submissions I mean we don’t post notices inviting people to send things in.)

Jennifer Walker What makes a query stand out to you and make you want to read the whole manuscript?

Dindy Robinson: I- um- don’t actually read the queries, for several reasons. First, I don’t have time. Second, many of the queries come from people I’ve come to know through various on line events, and it’s hard for me to be objective. Third, I trust my acquisitions staff completely. They read all the queries and they are the ones who decide if they want the whole manuscript. If I were to ask them this question, they would growl at me and say, “Tell them not to write stupid stuff.” What they mean is, show your story and don’t tell it; write realistic dialogue, and check your grammar and spelling.

Jennifer Walker: Other than the subject matter you explicitly say you do not want (listed very clearly on the website), is there something the author can do or say that would be a definite deal breaker? Or do you tend to be flexible and work with authors on weak submissions?

Dindy Robinson: We like working with new writers. I don’t like to say we will take something that’s weak—I’d prefer to say that we will take something that shows potential even if it’s not quite there yet. Many times a writer has a good plot and good writing skills, but just needs a little help with execution. We have excellent editors who will work with the writers on strengthening their manuscripts to make the book even better.

Definite deal breakers? I think we’re pretty upfront about what we don’t want to see.

Jennifer Walker: What advice can you offer to aspiring authors who want to send you a query?

Dindy Robinson: Check your spelling and grammar. Have someone else read it and check it for you. Don’t tell us that your mother or your father or your best friend or your English teacher read it and liked it, therefore we should too. Don’t send me an email after we reject your manuscript telling me that we’ll be sorry. Honestly, who you know or who referred you to us isn’t really that important (I’m not the one who reads the queries, remember.)

Do your research about us ahead of time. I read a blog last week that was written by a guy whose novel we rejected. He stated that we probably wouldn’t have gotten along anyway because in looking at our website, we seemed to mainly be interested in making sarcastic remarks, and he didn’t care about how we got our name or what our kids were named and he didn’t see what difference it made that we were atheists anyway or why we felt we needed to state it on our website. So I have to ask, why did he even bother submitting to us in the first place? If all these things bothered him BEFORE he submitted his manuscript to us, then why didn’t he send it somewhere else to begin with?

I like the queries I get from people who comment about something on the website, and I like the queries from people who make me laugh. Since I’m not the one who reads the queries, it may not necessarily do the author any good because the acquisitions people don’t see those comments. However, it makes me feel good and making a publisher feel good is NEVER a bad thing.

Jennifer Walker: What's a personal fact about you that many people do not know?

Dindy: Oh jeez. Anyone who reads our website or my blogs knows a great deal about me. I’m a fairly open book. But here’s something that people in my publishing life may not know. I collect pelicans. I’ve been fascinated by them ever since the girls and I went through Florida many, many years ago and I saw them sitting on the piers out on the water. Although I don’t believe in spirit guides, if I did, mine would be a pelican. On the ground, they seem very gawky and graceless, but when they fly, they soar beautifully, heedless of the bounds of earth. I can so relate to that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How often do you count your blessings?

One of my philosophies of life that has always stayed with me through the hardest and the best of times is to be thankful. If I'm having a hard time, reminding myself of the good things in my life lifts my spirits. If things are going well, it is good to remember why that is.

Today I have been thinking about how thankful I am for the good friends I have who want the best for me, and who do what they can to help me reach my goals and constantly encourage me to keep striving for them. Michelle L. Devon, who is responsible for me having a freelance writing, editing and noveling career. Sandra Ketcham, who coached me on SEO and gave me work. Beth Sandland, who gives me work and advice and is going to fly me to her home so she can teach me how to build web pages. All the editors and other clients who decided to take a chance on me and pay me for doing what I love to do. The dance clubs and studios who think enough of my teaching to ask me back again and again.

On the horsey front, Ashley and Allyssa for helping me with halter training, finding me an amazing gelding at an even more amazing price, and giving me a great deal on a place to keep him and my darling mare. Patience, who has given me worlds of help in dressage and coaches me daily on my weight loss journey.

On a family front, I am grateful for my wonderful husband, whom I love more every say. My mom for taking care of us and my daughter for...well, just being her.

Wow, uncharacteristically mushy post. It's like an academy awards speech or something, but it's so true. I am so thankful to have these people in my life...and I can't help thinking maybe God might have a little to do with it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A different kind of freelancing opportunity: Elastic Lab

A few months ago, I was contacted by a woman named Marina, who read this blog and thought I would be interested, to tell me about her company, Elastic Lab. Elastic Lab hires filmmakers of all skill levels (literally--complete beginners to professionals) to complete freelance filming assignments. They call this "crowd sourcing". They take the filmed bits,which are often interviews, edit them and put them together into films or commercials or whatever they were hired to produce.

Every single person who signs up as a freelance filmmaker gets a trial $100 project, and the company claims subsequent assignments pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 depending on what is required ($1000 is in the professional realm). Once you receive your assignment, you complete it, burn the footage onto DVDs (they take care of all the editing) and mail it in. After the first project, they pay for shipping and DVDs. As long as you complete the assignment as directed and on time, you get paid whether they use your footage or not.

Greg and I did not have a video camera at the time Marina contacted me, but we made the decision to start shopping for one because we wanted one anyway. Marina recommended purchasing one that will film straight to DVD (or mini DV), but we found those were too expensive so we chose one that records to memory. It really was not hard to upload the videos to the computer and burn them, but it does add a little extra time.

Once we received the camera, we both signed up for the site and were each given a $100 project as promised just a few days later. The project was such that we were able to interview each other--the subject was creating digital content, which we do every day, so it was easy. We were also encouraged to film "b-roll", which is personality footage with your hobbies, pets, etc. It was a lot of fun to do! We had some blips along the way, but overall it went pretty well.

We sent in our footage on Christmas Eve so I did not expect an immediate response--I think it was maybe a week and a half later, which I felt was reasonable. They gave some tips to look out for next time and said they enjoyed our footage. We received our checks by the end of that week.

That was last week, so we have not received any new assignments yet. I don't know when we will or what they will be like, but I will report when I do! As of right now, I definitely recommend Elastic Lab. I have no filmmaking experience and Greg just had a little in college (which was *ahem* years ago), and yet we were able to make some decent money doing something fun.

Check it out! If you have any questions about our experience, please comment. Perhaps Marina will stop by again and give her input on anything I left out!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Blog!

I have decided to start a book review blog! Have a book you need to publicize? Send me a copy, I'll read and review it and post my review along with an interview with you. All I ask is that you send me a copy of the book (which I will keep) and link to my page from your blog or website if you have one.

Need a book to read? Check out my reviews! A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book...