Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kellie Doherty interviews Vered Mares of VP & D House

You studied Visual Arts in college. Have you always been interested in illustrating and art-related projects?

I did study visual arts in college, but I focused primarily on ceramics and printmaking. Art (and the creation of it) has been a huge part of my life practically since birth and since I was raised in a writer’s home and among artists and musicians, it seemed fitting to incorporate writing and artwork into a single field.

I think art-related projects and the art of illustration (something I’m not terribly good at, honestly) have always been of interest along with music and poetry, the audible and textual equivalents of fine art.

Your specialty seems to be in designing illustrations, why did you decide to create a full blown publishing company when you could have focused on being a book artist instead?

Although I do immensely enjoy the process of design from concept and layout to paper choice, printing and typography, there was something missing from my day to day routine, and I wanted to think more about the bigger picture. Why can’t a writer earn a living from just writing? Why isn’t there more excitement about the local writers? How can we establish a broader writing community that celebrates new writers? It was in the lack of answers to those questions that I started seeking a broader challenge. 

Another factor in starting a publishing house was an intense desire to affect a change in how people read, who they read and where they get their books from. I think in every community there are highly talented writers and creative people who simply need the venue and community support to find success. In the current dog-eat-dog climate of publishing where writers spend less time writing and more of it in exhausting searches for agents and get rejection after rejection in the dim hopes that they might just hit the big-time seems absurd to me. I firmly believe that if the local population is made aware of just how incredible their local writers are, that they may just shed the need for the national best seller who lives somewhere else, and opt to purchase the newest title from the guy or gal down the street. That’s not to say I don’t want my books to spread like wildfire, I do. It’s only that thinking locally first is a good way to create and maintain a thriving market for the long term.

Another friend likened my company to the book equivalent of a farmers market, showcasing the local talent, focusing on supporting local writers, reading local writers and supporting and growing this community one book at a time. That fact that we have a terrific tourist market certainly helps spread the word about our local writers outside Alaska.

When did you decide to create a publishing house?

The timing was a little over two years ago when I met the writer, Jim Sweeney. I had started offering my editing skills as a hobby and a way to occupy my spare time.  A mutual friend of mine and Jim, Kathy McCue, mentioned that Jim had this book… an epic climbing story. She referred him to me since his manuscript needed editing, work and shape. So I connected with Jim and we decided to work on his first book, “The List,” which was unknown to me prior to meeting him. We thought “The List” would be a good starter book, while planning for his epic, “Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity.”   It was some time after we were thick in of editing “The List” that the publishing house idea was planted more concretely.

Why Alaska?

Ahh, Alaska! It’s simple really. I live here and there are so many talented writers and artists right here that it just seemed to fall into place rather neatly. I suppose I could have done this elsewhere, but Alaska is home now, and I don’t think I’d have had as quick of an early success elsewhere.

How did you start up?

It was during the process of illustrating the cover of “The List,” coming up with ideas for the book and looking at the rich array of options a publisher had to produce a work, that Jim mentioned starting a company. We were having coffee one afternoon while he was looking at my initial proofs and he said, “Vered, you should start your own company. You’ve got a good name. Name it after yourself, Vered Publishing. You can start with my book.”

Initially, I wasn’t fond of the idea or the financial investment that would come with it, but it really grew on me and I started thinking about all the ways I could impact the local writing community and the local readers. When I saw the way “The List” took shape and how the woodcuts (by Angela Ramirez) jumped off the page, I warmed up to the idea pretty quickly.  A few months later, another friend helped me incorporate and get the business licensing and legal filings all in line and VP&D House was born. 

What’s the best thing about publishing in Alaska?

The best thing is that Alaska has an incredible market, both in terms of the reading and purchasing public and the tourist market. The market coupled with an abundance of superb writers really makes for a golden combination of “acting local and thinking global.” 

In addition, 49 Writers, Cirque and the growing low residency creative writing program at UAA have really done a great job of building a close knit writing community and a reading community that is tough to find elsewhere. 

The current appeal of all things Alaska to the world outside Alaska also presents a unique opportunity to break the traditional molds of the “wow-Alaska” type of book and push the boundaries in a positive direction. We have a stage here. We have an audience. We have the talent. Now we just have to shine the light where it needs to be and let the magic of it all take flight.

What’s the worst?

I think I can sum that up quickly. Expense of production and shipping as well as wide-scale and cost effective distribution, are the most difficult things any small press has to contend with anywhere. Those issues are amplified in Alaska. The Alaska factor aside, I think the other issue is convincing retailers that it is in their own interest to deal direct with the publisher and carry local writers’ works. Large distributors take a significant chunk of change on top of the wholesale discounts which ultimately comes out of the writers’ pockets. Demonstrating the benefit of supporting locals to the retailers and their customers continues be a great challenge, though slowly, people are coming around.

On to the books you publish, how do you decide what type of books to move further with?

So far, I have sought out directly the books I wish to publish based on how good I think they are, how relevant, and most importantly, how well it speaks to me as a reader. Once I find that “ah ha” manuscript or combination of writing and language, personality and voice, I push it forward.

I have urged new writers whose work I’m interested in to step up their game and produce a manuscript. Since it is my goal to find and showcase new writers, women writers and Native writers, I go out of my way to pay attention to the work coming out of the conferences, university, the Press and especially word of mouth.

How often do you get submissions?

I receive about a dozen submissions per year thus far, most of which I have to decline for myriad reasons, not the least of which is a lack of time to really dedicate to each project. In cases where I feel the book is good enough, but that I can’t produce it in a reasonable time, I refer the writer to other small presses and encourage them to continue to seek publication.

How does your process of publishing a work take place?

Once I have a manuscript and writer I think I can really work with, the writer and I get together and discuss editorial issues and timelines, expectations, etc.  If the manuscript needs significant edits (and most do), I discuss those major edits with the writer. The idea is that they will take that conversation home with them, make the necessary rewrites and then only after they feel they’ve taken it as far as they can, they’ll submit it back to me. At that time, I will issue a contract that outlines the legally binding things, royalties, self-imposed deadlines, production goals, etc.

From there, we edit, edit, edit, edit… then edit a little more. I rely on two other editors to help me with the editing, though I handle the final round of edits myself. The last thing I do is require an out-loud read-through from start to finish of the work. In other words, I or another individual reads the entire book out loud to the writer. In this final and sometimes painfully tedious process, we clean up any rough spots, make last minute changes and move it into production. Hearing the Work out loud really helps to find repetitive phrases, clunky text, and so forth and it is a highly valuable tool.

Lastly, I design the book, solicit any artists or illustrators, cartographers or other creative talent to make the book complete and send it to the press and if applicable, create the e-book and launch it on Amazon or B&N.

Concerning Weathered Edge, your new publication dealing with three novellas by Alaskan authors, why did you decide to combine the novellas?

Writer Kris Farmen, my boyfriend Dave Kennicott and I were sitting around my kitchen one evening discussing the next book project. I knew I wanted to do another book with Kris, and he had mentioned that he had a collection of short stories. I wasn’t excited about doing a complete work of short stories by one author mostly because I wasn’t sure if I could sell it just yet.

The notion of a single novella seemed to be a lot of expense with a dim prospect for selling books. But Kris mentioned he was working on a novella and Dave, I think, raised the idea of a collection of novellas rather than short stories. That’s when the light clicked....Martha Amore had been telling me about her desire to publish a book, but she only had linked short stories. It dawned on me to push her to put them together, flesh them out and expand them into a novella. Her stories themselves were terrific and I felt her style complemented Kris’s style.

Martha told me about Buffy McKay and made the introduction. I pushed Buffy in the same way I pushed Martha, and in the end we came up with something really unique and special. Dave Kennicott pitched a few ideas about artwork for the cover, and I loved them! From there, it was just a matter of logistics, editing and production.

But, with three, wrapped in a common (even if subtle) theme, I felt the trio of novellas worked beautifully as a unit, each taking the reader through adventures, trials and profoundly complex emotions. The reader gets the gift of not having to read it cover to cover, but rather to be able to choose where to start even though the ordering is intentional. I feel the novella is vastly underestimated in the marketplace, but with a little elbow grease, I think this book has the potential to take off!

Was it difficult to work with three different authors?

Ha! Funny question. The short answer is that any creative group can be a challenge to work with, but I think that goes with the territory of publishing or any creative field where more than one person is involved, and no book is published by a solo act. It’s also true that organizing three writers and one artist at times felt a little like trying to catch a baseball with chopsticks… There were so many ideas and so much editing coming from all directions, that it was an avalanche of work right to the last word before production. But, the writers themselves were not difficult at all. Scheduling time for editing with each writer and bridging the four hour time zone gap for Buffy was a challenge, but those kinds of things were hardly worth kicking up any dust over. In all honesty, they were an absolute joy to work with and the rewards for all the hard work will pay back in spades! I will work with any of them on nearly any writing project they wish to move forward with in the future.

How long did it take to go from the submission of Weathered Edge to presenting it to the public as a finished work?

The book is still not yet on bookstore shelves, but it is shipping as I respond to this question with expected arrival in Anchorage over the coming week.  That said, the entire process took about six months from final manuscript to finished book. In the publishing world, that’s nearly the speed of light. Everyone worked so very hard to make sure we were all on the same page.

Each novella has a different voice, a different tone, how did you get them to mesh so well within the book itself?

I wish I could take credit for that serendipitous bit of success, but really, it was born out of the writers own minds. In the very first round of edits, I had the writers read the others’ work and give brief (VERY BRIEF) comment on it. From there, it was up to the writers to edit with me directly to achieve the finished form. I quite intentionally wanted to avoid an “edit by committee” type of process, so limited the writers input to one another to the very first read through. That they work so well together is a testament to the quality of the writers and their intuition about how their piece fit into the whole.

What words of wisdom do you have for budding writers who want to traverse the (sometimes intimidating) world of publishing?

Mostly, I think budding writers need to have a thick skin and a serious passion for their own work. Fear of failure and tender feelings are a recipe for never producing anything. The most successful, highly praised writers suffered through editing and rewrites and being a novice with all the pitfalls that comes with. Through it all, they simply kept on going. And that’s what all budding writers need to do. Keep on keepin’ on.

Though it may seem obvious, if someone really wants to be a writer, they must write often. Period. If they want to be a professional writer, they must also give it the respect it deserves, treat it with deference and accept the weight of what it means to be a writer, then go beyond just accepting and take ownership of their role as a writer… and run with it.

1 comment:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Weathered Edge sounds great--looking forward to reading it!