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Welcome all, to my first ever blog interview/guest post! My friend Siri is an editor, a writer, and a founding member of Turtleduck Press. Turtleduck is an indie publisher with an intriguing, co-operative publishing model. I figured that my fellow indie writers and publishers might be interested in reading about their particular approach and methodology. Enjoy!

Tell us about your latest release. (e.g. what are you most excited about; what inspired the collection; what is it themed around, etc.)
Our latest release is Winter’s Night, a winter-themed anthology that includes work from all four of the Turtleduck Press members. We had an empty slot in our schedule for December, so we initially thought of doing a Christmas anthology, but, well, Turtleduckers are all about the unconventional.

We ended up with a wonderful mix: two fantasy stories about winter mythology, three poems that use winter imagery to explore love and loss, and one science fiction story – which is the only one about Christmas – plus a teaser chapter for our next novel. We’re donating most of the proceeds to UNICEF, so we’re curious to see if that leads to more sales.

Tell us a little about Turtleduck Press–who are you and what kinds of books do you publish?

We’re an indie press that publishes speculative fiction and poetry. More specifically, we publish books that wouldn’t have found a home in traditional publishing, not because of a lack of quality, but because they don’t fit neatly into the kinds of slots that major publishers are looking for. Ours are the books that would otherwise fall through the cracks and disappear.

How did Turtleduck Press come into existence and what inspired its formation?

One of our members, KD Sarge, had a narrow miss with an agent who decided she wasn’t able to sell a gay science fiction romance for market reasons. When KD decided to self-publish the novel and mentioned this to other writers, several of us expressed interest in exploring alternative publishing models together. We decided there was strength in numbers…and Turtleduck Press came into being.

How does it function? (e.g. structure, approach, etc.)
Turtleduck Press is a collective. By putting a common label on our books, we vouch for the quality of each other’s work, thus putting our own reputations on the line and (we hope) providing some of the filtering and quality assurance that traditional publishers normally do, so that the onus isn’t all on the reader to sift through piles of self-published books. I strongly believe that there’s still a place and even a need for some kind of filtering, and Turtleduck Press is an experiment in that vein. So I do a thorough edit on all the longer works for sale – editing is also my day job – and all the shorter works (the freebies on our website) are read and approved by two members before they go up.

We’re also a collective in a business sense – decisions are made through discussion and consensus, and we all pitch in to make use of our various strengths. I’m the editor and the person in charge of the production schedule, Erin Zarro coordinates the marketing, KD does all the website back-end stuff, and Kit Campbell handles the business end.

At the moment we are not taking submissions, but now that we’ve been up and running for a full year (or a year and a half, counting the planning stages before we had a website), we’re working on a process for taking on new members without overwhelming ourselves. We hope to open up to submissions early in 2012.

What facets of the business and/or marketing model do you think work well?

I think in some ways we have the best of both worlds. Authors are responsible for their own covers and formatting, so they have creative control. But they also get the benefit of the filtering I mentioned above, a common website, my editorial expertise, and the power of cross-marketing, since we work hard to promote each other’s books.

Are there things you would have done differently?

We’ve had a few bumps regarding the collective aspect of approving each other’s works, which is why I’m now the sole editor for longer works. I wish we had been able to continue with the mutual vouching model for all our works, but it wasn’t possible.

We’re still working on our marketing strategy – it hasn’t been as effective thus far as I’d like it to be. Of course, marketing is one of the biggest hurdles for self-publishers, and in that regard we still have an uphill battle even though we see ourselves as an indie press rather than self-publishing per se.

Any tips for indie authors/publishers/publishing collectives on how to go forward? (lessons learned, etc.)

We’ve learned to budget more time for editing and approvals than we originally thought we needed. For novels, one month to read and one month to edit is all well and good…unless the edit is extensive enough that another read-through and then maybe a few more tweaks are required!

Having said that, it helps to have a set schedule. We release long works for sale (novels, poetry chapbooks, or anthologies) every four months, put up a short freebie in every month that we don’t have a long work out, and have a regular blog rotation. I’m not sure how much of that readers are actually noticing, but it certainly goes a long way in making us feel like professionals and treating our own deadlines seriously.

What are your thoughts about the current indie, self-pub revolution and its future? Where do you see things going in the next few years? (or alternatively, what are the thoughts of you and your fellow Turtleduckers about such issues–do you discuss them at all and in what terms?)

Now that I finally own an e-reader, I can safely say that stories aren’t going anywhere. Sure, I miss the physicality of books. But if the story I’m reading is good, I simply do not notice what I’m reading it on. I can still curl up with my e-reader on the sofa or take it on the subway with me, and it will suck me in just like a paper book does. So I’m no longer worried about that aspect. (Side note: I am worried about the power of Amazon, which is why I opted not to buy a Kindle. And I will still buy paper books from my favourite indie SF&F bookstore, Bakka Phoenix, whenever possible.)

I do think there’s still a place for not only filtering (as already discussed) but also the marketing power that publishers still hold, as well as the expertise that both publishers and agents bring to the table. People can and do put out very professional-looking self-published books where they’ve done every step of the process themselves and/or paid for it themselves. But with publishers, all of those steps are already contained in one spot and the author doesn’t have to pay for any of them. Acquisition, big-picture editing, copy editing, internal design, cover design, author branding, marketing and promotion, printing, distribution – that’s a lot of steps that somebody has to do, and publishers have a lot of experience doing them all.

It’s quite likely that in five or ten years the companies who are doing publisher-like things will bear no resemblance to the ones that exist now, or the royalties and payment distribution will look completely different, or entirely new categories of publishing professionals will have arisen. But I suspect that some kind of mass publishing infrastructure will always be needed.

Beyond that, though…it’s anybody’s guess. I’m following publishing blogs and news as avidly as the next person. A few years ago, I used to tell everyone that self-publishing was for impatient people who just didn’t realize how bad their books were and how much money they were losing. That’s just not true anymore, and things are still changing so fast. I’m working on more than one novel myself, and when I eventually produce a polished manuscript that I think is marketable, I have absolutely no idea which way I’m going to jump – it’ll depend on the state of publishing that week! It’s a heady, intimidating time, and I’m excited to be part of it.

Siri Paulson is the editor at Turtleduck Press…and not, as is commonly assumed, a program for the iPhone. She is currently juggling a historical paranormal and a YA space opera, and is in denial about how close Christmas is (amazing how fast it arrives when one is doing NaNoWriMo). Her short fiction can be viewed at Turtleduck Press and she can be followed on Twitter.

Winter’s Night is available in print and on the e-reader or app of your choice. You can read a full 20% of it for free at Smashwords, but proceeds from sales go to UNICEF.

Post Script from Kat: I should add that I purchased a copy of Winter’s Night last evening. It looks absolutely fantastic, and I’m looking forward to curling up with it and a nice cosy cup of tea, once my exams and papers are done! With proceeds to charity, plus what looks to be a great read, of a hibernal evening, *and* a price tag of $0.99, it’s kind of a win-win-win…