The ReviewerBill Kieffer‘s website.
Introducing Catherine Lundoff of Queen of Swords Press
Catherine is the award-winning author of four short story collections and one novel (so far). In addition to being the publisher/editor-in-chief at Queen of Swords, She is the editor of Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories and co-editor, with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic. She has nearly a hundred published short stories under her own name but she also writes erotica and romance under the pen name of Emily L. Byrne.
In addition to all this, she manages to find time to collect action figures!
Catherine Lundoff on Her Bookshelf
My Book Shelf is one of the shelves above my desk. It includes some of the publications that I’ve written for and a couple of books that I’ve written and/or published: Silver Moon, Out of This World, Murder on the Titania and other titles. I’ve also included a sampling from my collection of action figures.
My Shelfie (below) is a photo of me standing in front of one of the bookshelves in our office. We have lots of books! This is something of a representative sample of fiction and nonfiction, along with some artwork including a pencil drawing of the Lady of the Lake and a carved wolf that I found at an antique store. Amongst the visible titles, I’m particularly proud of my copy of Howard Pyle’s Pirates (top shelf) and my signed copy of Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun.
On Queen of Press
Please describe Queen of Swords Press briefly and what genre(s) you serve.
Queen of Swords Press - genre fiction, with a primary focus on fantasy, science fiction and horror with historical elements (steampunk, alternate history, Weird West, mannerpunk, etc.) and a preference for LGBTQ+, POC, older women and other nonmainstream protagonists.
How did you come to found Queen of Swords? What titles and writers did you start with?
I was traditionally published (still am) by other presses for a number of years, but after running into some issues, decided that it was time to take my editing and marketing experience in a new direction. Queen of Swords Press is now a little over a year old. I started in 2017 with my own award-winning backlist - 3 collections of short fiction in different genres and my menopausal werewolf novel, Silver Moon. This year, I will be publishing Alex Acks, whose Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures, will be available on April 1, 2018, as well as a novel of my own under my pseudonym and an anthology of pirate stories, historical and fantastical.
How focused is your company on your chosen niche or genre? How do you define what you are looking for? What happens when you come across a great story that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
At this point, things are pretty flexible. My own backlist covers multiple genres, so I'd expect that Queen of Swords books will be somewhat eclectic as well. There are definitely genres that I'm more comfortable with and feel more confident about my ability to market books in than others so I'd say that the bottom line criteria is "stories I can get excited about and do a good job of selling to readers."
As a small indie publisher, I expect your company and your home may be somewhat juxtaposed. How much of your place has been given over to publishing? Is it fairer to say that (your company) allows you to have a cot in the break room? Or, perhaps, there’s a clear separation between the two?
I have a home office, which is also a shared home office (as in shared with my wife and cats). It also serves as my writing studio, at least part of the time, so it gets a lot of use. The big dream at the moment (for me, anyway) is to get the Press doing well enough that we can justify remodeling the attic as my new office. In the meantime, since our home is powered by 100% wind energy, hey, so are our books, at least at the early production phases. I can also roll into the writing and publishing portions of my work in my pajamas, which is always nice.
Tales of Yourself
What did you read before you even thought of publishing? How did becoming a publisher change your reading habits?
Actually, becoming a writer (which predates me becoming a publisher by quite a few years) changed my reading habits. I didn't start writing fiction until I was in my 30s, but I jumped in with both feet. I spent my early writing years writing lots of short stories for tight deadlines and generally by invitation for various publications. I had to learn to self-edit quickly to turn things around in those timelines so I went from being a somewhat forgiving reader to being a much closer one. It's harder for me to find works I can get lost in now as a result. I keep looking for ways to make stories better and it's hard to turn that off in my head. I still read a lot, but I’m more inclined to give up on a book that isn’t working for me and rereading old favorites has become harder.
What character from fiction are you most like? Which character from fiction would you most like to be? What fictional character would you most like to meet?
I'd like to meet Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I think she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with, seeing as she is full of lots of snark and trenchant social observations. She is, in a few respects, also a character I share some similarities with. I am also rather cynical about people, enjoy a good novel and find snobs tiresome.
Which character I'd like to be is a much harder question! Ideally, I'd like to be a sort of Thursday Next type character (from the Jasper Fforde novels) and get to move in and out of a bunch of stories. As a bonus, I'd get to meet a lot of characters too. I'd never get bored! I’d also get to spend a lot of time in a gigantic library, so there are few downsides.
What historical person would you most like to meet for dinner? Would it be all about the conversation or would there be a little footsie going on under the table?
Hard to pick on this one too! I'd love to meet Aphra Behn, Restoration-era playwright and spy and the first woman known to make her living from her writing (in English, at any rate). Meeting Jane Austen would also be great; I suspect she would have been fascinating to talk to, once she warmed up to you. Others I can think of off the top of my head: Emily du Chatelet, scientist and math genius; Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein and the novelist Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. Playing footsie would depend on my reception, I suppose.
Has becoming a publisher changed you or your social life in any way?
Somewhat. I have less of a social life since my weeks are taken up with working full time at my day job and I also write in addition to publishing. My life philosophy has traditionally been: "I'll sleep when I'm dead," but some weeks, this feels like that will be sooner, rather than later. I'm hoping to get some aspects of publishing into more of a groove as I go along so the juggling gets a bit easier. Ultimately, I’d like to transition from my day job into writing, editing and publishing full time. Even my most optimistic projections puts this a few years out, though. But we’ll see how it goes.
On Community Interaction: Readers/Fans
Q: How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?
Probably a bit of both? As I noted above, I kicked off the Press by publishing some of my backlist so the initial readership was people who knew me and were familiar with my work. I’ve been writing professionally for many years now so I had built up a smallish fanbase, won a couple of awards and appeared at a lot of events. It doesn’t all carry over to the Press, or at least, not yet, but it’s been something to build on. Because the Press is now open to submissions (for an anthology) and is now publishing other authors, there’s a lot more visibility for my/our work than there was this time last year. I’m really hoping to get that growing and hopefully tap into a wide range of readers who are interested in the Press’s titles.
How do you interact with your readership? Do you have a forum? A newsletter? Pen-pals?
Queen of Swords Press has a monthly newsletter (you can sign up on the website!), as well as a Facebook page, a Goodreads page and a Twitter account. If I can carve out the time, there will eventually be a blog or perhaps, a Tumblr. Right now, there is a news section of the Press website that functions as a very pithy blog. All of these are pretty active and get checked regularly so readers can reach us with relative ease. I also table, read and do other events pretty regularly.
What conventions or conferences do you attend where you meet fans? Do you tend to appear on panels, or do you prefer to revert to a fan yourself?
Traditionally, I go to three or four local conventions, plus one or two out of town conventions in an average year. Since I started Queen of Swords, however, I’m trying to mix it up and go to more out of town conventions. In general, I do anywhere from ten to twenty appearances a year, including conventions, bookstore readings, podcasts, panels, book festivals and so forth. If I need to travel and I’m not on panels or there as a vendor, events are out of pocket and I prefer to concentrate on the ones that pay for themselves to one degree or another. In 2018, I’ve done four appearances so far (one radio interview, two podcasts and a reading) and have three genre conventions upcoming as well as two nongenre events (book festivals), plus an out of town library writer’s panel. I expect to pick up a few more events soon.
On Community Interaction: Writers
How do you attract writers? Or do they tend to find you? From submission to publication to marketing, how closely to you tend to work with your creators?
I think that will be a great question as we open up to new authors later on this year. Alex Acks, who I will be publishing this year, is someone that I’ve known for a few years and whose earlier work I have really enjoyed. We started talking about the possibility of Queen of Swords publishing Murder on the Titania and their other stories before the Press launched. We’ll be doing another one of Alex’s books next year. We’re working closely together on timelines, publicity and event planning.
In addition to that, we have a call out for an anthology of pirate stories, fantastical and historical, called Scourge of the Seas of Time (And Space) and for that, I sent invites to some authors and posted an open call for others. Later on this year, I’d like to open up for book proposals for 2019. I’m hoping to do 3-4 books a year going forward a long as I still have to work full time so we’ll see how that goes.
In the winter of 2017, another small publisher announced that they'd no longer be working with agents and set off a Twitter storm. Do you have any opinions on that?
Without weighing in directly on that specific situation, most agents don’t work much, or at all, with small presses. Unless a press is big enough to pay an advance or some other significant compensation to an author who can then pay their agent, there’s not a lot of value for an agent to represent their authors to small presses. It does occasionally happen and certainly if you are an author with representation, you might want to ask your agent’s advice about a given press or their contracts. That said, you still have to figure out how to pay them for their time, so that factors in. Would Queen of Swords Press be willing to talk to an author’s agent? Sure. But I suspect that we’re going to be too small potatoes for that to be worth everyone’s time for the foreseeable future.
Even ebooks have to have covers. How much say do your creators have in selecting a cover artist? How much say in the layout and design?
Well, at the moment, that’s one other author and me. In the course of publishing the original 4 titles, I built some relationships with cover artists and book formatters. These were people whose work I knew from online or from work they did for colleagues. The new author that I’ll be publishing in April got to see the cover design for their book when it was in the final stages but was not yet complete. Of the books that I’ll be doing later on in 2018, one is one of my previously unpublished novels and the other will be an anthology of pirate stories that I’m editing. I would say that going forward, I want my authors to be happy with their covers. I want them to be proud of how their work looks and enthusiastic about how it looks. I think that’s easier if they get to see it in the earlier stages and can comment at that point, but I also think it’s important to choose artists who do good quality work.
Do you have a regular release schedule or is each release customized for each book?
I hope to get to a regular release schedule soon. Right now, scheduling is tailored to each book in the sense of piggy backing off events and promotions. For example, I released two books in 2017 to coincide with a StoryBundle promotion and a couple of events. The other two were released to correspond with some award nomination deadlines and other considerations. This year, I’m releasing Alex’s book in time for two events and a promotion and one of my books shortly after that, if all goes well, for another promotion and event combination. So far, I’ve found that kind of timing to be helpful to give the books some lift while I figure out ways to get the word out about them. It helps make my marking budget go farther.
Have you and yours won any awards or titles? What was that like?
My books, past and present, have won seven awards, so far. One of those went to a Queen of Swords Press title, Silver Moon, last year. I have two more books that are current award nominees. Winning is amazing and there’s no getting around that. It’s great validation for one’s work. That said, it’s not something you can depend on and there are a lot of different reasons that a book can be passed over - it’s not always about quality. I’ve also been a judge for several awards, which can be pretty helpful for understanding how books win or lose. You get to a see lot of books that may work for other people, but not you, and vice versa. It clarifies the extent to which personal taste impacts what gets picked and what gets passed over. That said, I always hope that each new book entered for an award will turn out to be another winner.
Community Interaction: Local Real World Stuff
Do you, as a publisher, reach out to locals through bookstores, craft fairs, or the local chamber of commerce? Do you maybe sell your books at farm markets and the like?
There is a very lively and active local book scene here in the Twin Cities. We have a literary center, several book festivals, multiple science fiction conventions and several indie bookstores. There are also a number of local presses, small and medium-sized. The hard part can be getting attention for your books in an arena with a lot of competition. I work with one of the local bookstores, have tables at local events, get announcements into local newsletters and so forth. I’m hoping to expand all of that this year and am talking to libraries and event planners for things like pop-up stores at local breweries and the local Renaissance Festival. I’m considering farmers markets and craft fairs, but only if I can get a group together because running a stall as a festival is a lot of work!
Have you done any readings at local schools, hospitals, or senior center? How did they go over?
I read every year at a couple of different reading series in Minneapolis, as well as at conventions and other related events. Creating and participating in successful events can be tricky. There are a lot of things that factor into it: venue, timing and visibility being key amongst them. I did a talk at a local bookstore last November on starting up a small press that was very well attended with a crowd of nearly thirty and was recorded for YouTube. Then I followed that up with an author reading at a local library in December, also on a weeknight, also promoted, and I got five people in the audience. You just have to keep trying and checking out different options to see what works for you. Thinking outside the proverbial box can also result in a great event, but it’s important to be aware that you’re building an audience and that may not go fantastically well the first few times out.
On Business vs Passion, Publisher vs Creator
Do you publish your own work? If so, do you handle the work differently from idea to distribution?
I do. For the first four books that Queen of Swords Press published, I used my backlist. I didn’t push as hard on getting reviews and getting promotion as I am with new titles, but it was a good learning experience. I learned a tremendous amount about formatting and working with various platforms and using promotion effectively and I expect to learn a lot more. As for ideas, I’m working on a sequel to my novel, Silver Moon, and finishing up revisions to another novel that I plan to put out this year. I haven’t decided if that one will be print as well as ebook yet. Stay tuned!
How often do you get the chance to write for other markets? Do you do so grudgingly, or do you prefer the change of pace?
I’m still doing a lot of writing for other markets. My own writing is very important to me and I have no intention of giving it up. Writing for other publishers and editors helps me improve as a writer and further develop my career. It’s also part of my grand plan for moving to writing and publishing full time. From what I’ve seen so far, it also helps sell the books of my own that I publish, so win-win all around.
What’s your day publishing like? How many days or hours of publishing are you able to get in per week?
Anywhere from 3-10 hours a week, on average. It depends on deadlines and what else is going on. I do a lot of marketing and publicity in the evenings and weekends, along with reviewing manuscripts, formatting, working with designers and our copy editor. And writing. My weeks are pretty full at this point.
On That Damn Slush Pile
How often is your “open” period, and where do writers find your latest story needs? Do you announce on sites like Horror Tree or Submittable?
I’m working on Queen of Swords Press’s first anthology right now, as a matter of fact. The call is posted on Ralan.com, Market Maven, several Facebook groups, our newsletter and social media and our website (see below). I will be opening up Queen of Swords to book submissions later on this summer. My projected window will be six to eight weeks, depending on what comes in during that time.
Anthologies? Love them or hate them?
Working on my third anthology as editor right now. I love things about anthologies like discovering new to me writers and reading great stories. I also love writing for other people’s anthologies and do so quite a bit. They are, however, a lot of work. I hope to bring in other editors for future anthologies as well as to explore crowdsourcing. I think that will make for a diverse and interesting lineup on future titles as the Press grows.
I’m sure you have this posted in at least two places on the Internet, but what is an acceptable format for you and how easy-going are you about it?
Standard manuscript format, email subs if possible and doc/docx format or rtf. I’m not particularly easy going. For any group of submissions, there are the stories that rise immediately to the top, a bunch in the middle and some that are automatic rejections. The easiest way to end up in the later group is turn in a manuscript in Comic Sans, ignore the guidelines or equivalent. There are editors who will try to read those, but I’m not one of them.
What’s your methodology for pruning your slush pile? Do you have a page limit or time limit per day? Do you break them down to different, smaller piles? Or do you keep digging in until you find “the one?”
Right now, I’m reading one story at a time and doing a preliminary sort into different categories. I’ll be waiting until the deadline to see what all the submissions look like before I send out acceptances and rejections. Anthologies have a flow, particularly if they have a specific theme, like this one. In this case, I’m looking for a range of time periods, including the future; I also want a diverse group of authors, protagonists and plots, as well as good stories. I expect that I’ll have a much more elaborate sorting system as I get closer to deadline.
Current and Future Plans
What was 2017 like for you and Queen of Swords? What were some of the highlights for you and your genres?
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I’d been working on starting up Queen of Swords Press for several years, but hadn’t reached the stage of actually publishing books until January of 2017. It’s been amazing to see the cover art in progress, interior design work by our designer and the reception the books have gotten so far. I’m not sure that small press publishing had a great year, however, Lots of small publishers have folded recently, some of them quite dramatically. I think that’s always hard on readers as well as writers and the whole publishing ecosystem. It’s been a tough year for me personally, with lots of juggling and some health issues, but I’m hoping that I’ve got enough of a handle on things to apply what I learned last year to this one and work smarter.
What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
On April 1st, Queen of Swords Press released Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures by Alex Acks. Titania is a terrific collection of linked steampunk adventures and mysteries, set in an alternate American West.
In late May, if all goes well, we’ll be releasing Medusa’s Touch, a romantic space opera by Emily L. Byrne.
In December, if all goes well, we’ll be putting out Scourge of the Seas of Time (And Space): A Pirate Anthology.
I may put another collection of my short stories as well, but we’ll see how my time and energy holds up.
Do you have any long range plans in the works?
In 2019, we’ll be releasing the second volume of Alex’s steampunk adventures, as well as Blood Moon (sequel to my novel Silver Moon), another anthology and hopefully, a novel by an author new to the Press. I’ll keep submitting books for awards and working with other small presses at events and work on growing the readership for our books. My long-range hope is that I can transition out of my day job into full time writing, editing and publishing, but we’ll have to see how that goes.
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