SHELFIES: J.F.R. Coates of Jaffa Books

See full issue for 2017 09-18

Jaffa Books is an independent publisher/retailer of fiction based in Brisbane, Australia. They have a lot of genres, but I know them mainly as a Furry publisher. But that might be because J.F.R Coates and I both belong to the Furry Writer's Guild. Plus, Jaffa Books will be publishing my collection of furry noir crime stories in the next few months: Cold Blood: Fatal Fables


My bookshelf is organized poorly! Itís in desperate need of an upgrade, and has been overflowing for about a year now! I do get a reasonable amount of time for reading, especially during lunch breaks and quiet times at my day job.
In terms of what I want to read next, itís usually a random selection based on what new title I see first. Sometimes Iíll feel like a particular genre and choose based on that, but I do try to keep things varied as much as I can.

J.F.R. Coates on Jaffa Books

Please describe Jaffa Books briefly and what genre(s) you serve.

Jaffa Books is a publisher of speculative fiction. We specialize largely in fantasy, science fiction, and anthro (furry) stories, though we do have a few books that fall outside these genres. We publish novels and novellas, and have produced a few short story anthologies in the past too.

How did you come to found (your publishing company)? What titles and writers did you start with?

After completing a university course in creative writing, I found there really werenít any jobs in Brisbane in the field. The options were to move to Sydney or Melbourne, or stay in Brisbane and create my own job. I chose the latter, and Jaffa Books was created about six months after my graduation.

A few of the foundation authors and titles still remain with Jaffa Books, including Stephanie Parks (The Garden Maze and Blood Choice), Millicent Harricott (Tortured Teenager), and the authors in the New Horizons anthology.

How has the company changed over time? Was it because of lessons learned? Did changes within the publishing world force you to adapt as well?

To begin with, Jaffa Books was very much ebook-only, as I tried to jump onto the growing trend that appeared to be shifting away from print media. I am glad that wasnít the case, as I had a growing demand for print titles to follow after the ebook releases. Now, print books sales are every bit as strong as the digital versions.

How focused is your company on (insert chosen niche or genre)? How do you define what you are looking for? What happens when you come across a great story that isnít in your wheelhouse?

While Jaffa Books is primarily focused on speculative fiction, there are a few titles that fall outside this. Sometimes it is just luck that I read the submissions, rather than dismissing them straight away, but if the quality of the story is high enough, then I will still look at publishing it, if I feel I can do the story justice. Basil Rosaís series of books falls into this category, as does E.J. Chadwellís fantastic crime thriller, How the Might Fall ñ which was in fact our biggest seller last year.

J.F.R. Coates on Himself

Tell us a bit about yourself before you put on your publisher hat. Where were you raised? How did you relate to others from your age group?

I was born and raised in South-West England until I was 15, when I moved to Queensland, Australia. I was always a massive reader, so it was only natural that I progressed onto writing and publishing. I never tended to have too many friends at school, but I naturally gravitated towards those who shared similar ënerdyí interests to me ñ people who loved fantasy and science fiction as much as I did.

Imagine that your ultimate destiny is a window-less, suspicious-looking van for a moment. Instead of ìfree candy,î what would be written on the side of it to lure you inside?

Free books, definitely. Or that thereís a freshly brewed cup of tea inside.

What do your friends and family think of your publishing endeavors? Are they supportive? Have they tried to hold an intervention? Or do you find yourself reminding them of your true calling?

My parents were certainly behind the decision to go into publishing ñ in fact, I wouldnít have gotten this far without their support. My dad especially was most helpful, as he built the first website we used, and has been very useful in the technical side of things in the first few years.

Has becoming a publisher changed you or your social life in any way?

Itís certainly cut down on a lot of my free time for social life! But I still make sure I find time for fun and social activities.

On Community Interaction: Readers/Fans

How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?

Thatís the big question! I think it would be a mixture of both really ñ you have to make yourself attractive to new readers, so when they do find you, they want to stay. Good quality books are naturally the best way to do this.

What sensations or experiences do you hope to evoke in your readers? Whatís your favorite feedback so far from one of your customers?

I donít think thereís any one sensation Iíd like my readers to have ñ there are too many different books published that invoke a wide range of emotions and feelings. I think though, in general, I hope the readers complete one of our books feeling somewhat satisfied that what they have read is worthwhile. This could be from a happy ending with characters they care about, creating thought provoking questions in their mind, or hoping to read more from the same writer.

As for feedback, I always enjoy any form of feedback ñ positive or negative (so long as itís constructive). Of course, itís always nicest to hear when people enjoy the books I put out, so any positive feedback always becomes my favourite.

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?

FurDU and Supanova Brisbane are the two conventions I regularly attend. I am looking to add a few more, but given the size of Australia and the distance between cities, few are financially feasible at this stage. Hopefully that changes in the future, as I have had a few requests to attend conventions in Melbourne and Perth.
As much as Iíd wish to be a fan, usually thereís not much time for it! I did manage to get to meet some of my favourite authors at Supanova, at least.

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 like to work closely with my writers. These works are their creations, and as such I want them to have a say in the final product. I always ask for their suggestions on major design features ñ especially the cover. I certainly donít want a writer to be unhappy with something as important as that!
Itís usually a case of writers finding me, though I do try to maintain a presence in certain fandoms and groups, which helps keep Jaffa Books in the minds of a number of authors, or can assist in new writers finding out about me through second-hand referrals.

Tell me about some of your favorite authors that you have worked with.

I have been lucky that most of the writers Iíve worked with have been fantastic. They have been helpful in promoting their books, providing lots of good ideas for cover work, and generally been a pleasure to work with.

Without naming names, tell me what your worst author interaction was. Was bail money involved?

Thereís always a flip side. Thankfully these have been very few, but one author in mind stands out. Their work was rejected several times, for a multitude of reasons. There were some quality issues I had with the submission, but it was also not a format we publish in (graphic novel), nor a genre we publish in (childrenís fiction). The same manuscript was submitted on three or four occasions, unaltered in every way. Thankfully they got the hint eventually.

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?

As mentioned before, my writers have a good degree of control over covers. If they already have cover art produced for their book, then that is taken into consideration, and is often used if it is of a good enough quality. I always endeavour to use their suggested cover artist if it is feasible.

On Marketing

Where do you recommend indie writers go to market their books? Are there any types of services that you suggest that they avoid?

I think a good social media presence is a great tool for a writer, but at the same time I think social media can also be one of the worst things for a writer. It can be so easy to fall into a promotional robot, only ever talking about their book and tweeting links to it. Potential readers disengage from that. Build up a personality and engage with readers, and that can be a fantastic base.

Have you and yours won any awards or titles? What was that like?

As of writing this, no Jaffa Books title has been an award winner, but one book has been an Ursa Major Award finalist (Impossible Magic, by J.F.R. Coates), and one has been a bronze medalist in the Global Ebook Awards (How the Mighty Fall, by E.J. Chadwell). Claw the Way to Victory and two of the short stories contained within are up for an Ursa Major Award for 2016.

It is a wonderful feeling finding out one of the books has been recognized for the effort put into it by the author. As amazing as it is for the writer themselves, it is also a point of gratification for the publisher too, that other people recognize the skill and talent they found.

On 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?

I attend a few local conventions, and do have some books available in a few of the local bookstores, but the markets are beyond me ñ Iím not very good with the early mornings required for such things!

Have you done any readings at local schools, hospitals, or senior center? How did they go over?

I have done some readings before, at a local bookstore and a couple of the libraries. They were a lot of fun, and allowed me to interact with some of the local readers. Picked up a few submissions through them, as well as some sales too.

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 publish my own work ñ at the moment three of my novels have been published through Jaffa Books, with a fourth on the way. In terms of distribution and marketing, I donít treat my books any differently to others. Naturally I have a more intimate connection to my own writing compared to the other published works, so I generally have a better idea for details like cover work, etc.

Whatís your day publishing like? How many days or hours of publishing are you able to get in per week?

Every week I try to dedicate two full days to writing and publishing. Juggling it all between my regular job can be difficult, especially as I do try to keep one day free for just rest and relaxation. Itís a tough balance, but one Iím getting better at.

That Damn Slush Pile

How often is your ìopenî period, and where do writers find your latest story needs? Do you announce on sites like Horror Tree or Submittable?

We are usually open for submissions for most of the year, generally with a month closed around the Christmas/New Year period.

Iím 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?

I tend to be fairly strict about the basic format type, as this will allow easier work if the submission is accepted. Some poorly formatted submissions can add several days of additional solid work to tidy them up for publication. Formatting guidelines are found quite easily on our website.

What makes a good cover letter or query letter? What was the last one that really blew your mind and made you want to read the whole book? Do you have any examples of the worst?

To me, a cover letter isnít as important as the contents of the submission. A cover letter should simply provide some information for the publisher that may not be evident from the rest of the submission. Other publishers may be different, but I rarely read anything beyond the basic facts that are contained, so an author ëselling themselvesí here wonít make any difference. Sell yourself in the submission, not the cover letter.

How do you dole out rejection letters? Do you ever say ìmaybe with revisionsî?

Rejection letters are always the most difficult thing to write. I always try to soften the blow by providing some constructive feedback for the writer to improve. Sometimes, if I can see potential, then I do allow re-submissions after revisions have been made ñ a few have since been published after this.

On Current and Future Plans

What was 2016 like for you and (your company)? What were some of the highlights for you and your (niche)?

2016 was the most successful year for Jaffa Books so far, and we certainly have big plans for the future. Highlights have to include a successful FurDU 2016, and the incredible sales of How the Mighty Fall, including becoming an award finalist.

What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?

We have a number of books being prepared for publication for both the furry and fantasy markets. Four new writers have been accepted for publication within the next twelve months, and at least two returning writers will have a new book out. There are also early plans for a new short story anthology.

Do you have any long range plans in the works?

Long range plans have to be continuing to grow and develop the company. Eventual goals would be to build a strong presence in the mainstream markets, allowing Jaffa Books to promote our stable of talented writers to wider audiences. It is also a long-term goal to be able to make Jaffa Books my full time job, but I am still some distance from that, sadly!


Bill Kieffer

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