The ReviewerBill Kieffer‘s website.
Let me introduce you to Morissa Schwartz of GenZ Publishing, an amazing New Jersey publisher.
Yes, I know that I JUST did an interview with another New Jersey based publisher, Peter Frycki of Out In Jersey magazine, but I love my state and I'm not above pushing New Jersey ahead of others. Just don't tell our mascot, Talpa, OK? I'm supposed to be unbiased.
I met Morissa the same way I met Peter, through the magic of networking. Friend of a friend deal, and I'm a big believer in word of mouth (and pixels). Morissa proved to be an energetic believer in social media, and I've learned a lot from what she's done in two short years. I know you'll find her totally engaging.
Certainly, she has the funnest bookcase that I've seen so far.
About Morissa's bookshelf
In the next few years (when I graduate), I am going to build a nice big library organized by color and genre. For now, though, I have my GenZ and autographed book shelves. And then I have a box with thrillers, a box with comedy, a box with inspirational, a box with memoir, and a box with short stories all to be read. Then, I have boxes with my favorites in them. I usually read about four books at a time so I don’t get bored of any one genre. I devote my last hour or two at night to reading.
On GenZ and Innovative Writing
How did you come to found Genz? What titles and writers did you start with?
I self-published my first book in high school and had a book published by a national publishing company in college that went on to be a ‘bestseller.’ When others hear this, many ask the same questions: How did you do it, and how can I publish too? The truth is, it is very tough to get published, especially for young people looking to have their writing taken seriously.
Being published has been an amazing experience for me that has opened many doors, and I want to allow other young people to have the same experience to share their words with the world. That is why I started GenZ Publishing. We are an innovative technology-based publisher focusing on releasing works by new generation writers.
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?
I started my company a week after I graduate college. I grew up a lot while doing this, and you can see that your books have matured quite a bit. It started out as just a place for young people to be published, but we’ve grown to include a lot more types of authors. We now focus on books by innovative authors rather than limiting our authors by age. These authors span the globe and are about as diverse as you can get. That makes their books extra interesting. I learned not to limit my company to a certain kind of author, because this diverse group has formed quite a community that brings a lot to the table.
What was the first time you really felt like you were a publisher?
It took me a while to say that I was publisher. I actually had trouble call myself an entrepreneur even. I started out as a freelancer when I was in high school, and it never dawned on me that my freelance business was an actual business. So that’s why when I started my publishing company, I had the same kind of thing…I didn’t think myself as a publisher.
I would say that I started taking myself and my company seriously though when we had our first number one bestseller on Amazon in American poetry. Then another milestone that made me realize that we were forcing reckoned with was when some writers who I admired from reading their articles and writing online actually started sending queries to us. Then Barnes & Noble asked me my writers to do readings there and to attend their events and sign books. That’s when I realized, holy cow! I have a real publishing company.
I think the final straw, and this will be actually a big part of my book, Be a Digital Entrepreneur. Today, which we coming out in a few months, was when I posted search for interns, and I didn’t think that anyone was really going to apply. I was pleasantly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the volume of applications we got from people who wanted to work at GenZ.
On Tales of Yourself
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 raised in an entrepreneurial household. I grew up in my parents’ carpet store from a week old. My parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams. I went to a specialized high school for students who wanted to be doctors, but, deep down I always enjoyed literature. I had my first national story published when I was 12 years old, had a position working for Scholastic at 13, and self-published my first book when I was 17, so literature was always a big part of my life. I started taking it really seriously, though, when I was in college. As an English major, I won some great awards for my writing in college and that encouraged me to write my book which was published by a midsize publisher and success. The success of my book made me want to help others with their books.
Imagine that your ultimate destiny is a window-less, suspicious-looking van for a moment. Instead of “free candy,” what would be written on the side of it to lure you inside?
What was the Young You like? Would Young You recognize Current You? What would you tell Young You?
Young Morissa was similar to current Morissa. She was very driven, always with the book in her hand. She was an introverted extrovert, meaning that she was not afraid to get up and speak in front of a large crowd, but at the end of the night, she enjoyed nothing more than reading a novel. Young me would definitely recognize current me. I think she would think that the publishing company was really cool. The one thing I would tell young me is not to worry so much…That everything works out
What did you read before you even thought of publishing? How did becoming a publisher change your reading habits?
Before publishing I largely read nonfiction; most of the fiction that I read was because I was an English major. But now I try to change it up. The way that I read, is I read for different genres of one time. So I will read a memoir or biography, a novel (usually a thriller), a non-fiction book full of facts, and a humorous book. That way I mix it up, and keep myself from getting bored of any one book. I did not do this before I became a publisher. Before, I would find just one book and stick with it until I was done. Now, I have to be reading a few different things at once or I get bored.
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 friends and family are very supportive of GenZ Publishing. In fact, the other night I was out with my family at a fair and my father stopped and got a custom GenZ shirt made for me. GenZ would not have been possible without my father. He helped me with my business plan, he pushed me to actually accomplish these dreams…he helped me every step of the way. As for my mother, she can recite every fact about my authors. She knows it all. Other people are definitely supportive, but sometimes they don’t quite get what I do. I say “I’m a digital entrepreneur”, and they don’t know what that means. Especially, if they’re from older generations. But then when I show them the books, they get it.
Has becoming a publisher changed you or your social life in any way?
I am now friends with many of my authors. Whether we chat online or travel to meet each other for coffee, I can honestly say, I consider my authors to be among my best friends.
Community Interaction: Readers/Fans
How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?
GenZ has been largely built through social media. I started this company a week after I graduated college. That means I didn’t have a budget for marketing nor did I have the knowledge of how to do that. So I did what I knew how to do, and that was social media. By utilizing the right hashtags, building the right lists, and contacting some of the right people, GenZ attracted a fanbase relatively quickly. GenZ will be two years old in just a few months and I anticipate this fanbase to continue growing.
How do you interact with your readership? Do you have a forum? A newsletter? Pen-pals?
Again, social media. We do a lot of interaction on social media, a newsletter, our blog, live videos, etc. I also encourage my authors to actually get out there. Do readings. Sign your books. Look at your fans directly in the eyes. All this interaction cannot be done strictly online.
What is the typical fan of GenZ like? Do you even have a typical fan? Are your readers attracted to different authors (or imprints) differently? Or do your readers tend to be attracted to the whole she-bang?
Typical fans of GenZ are really passionate about literature. These are not the kind of people who are amazed by blockbusters. These are the kinds of people that want to read something edgy, something artistic, something different.
What sensations or experiences do you hope to evoke in your readers? What’s your favorite feedback so far from one of your customers?
Mainly, I just want to get the readers thinking. If I can engage them in a meaningful way, start dialogue, and allow them to feel like they read something different, my job is done. My favorite feedback is when someone says our books helped them personally. I had a teenager who was on the verge of suicide tell me that one of our books helped her to get through that really difficult time. I had another individual who read one of our books about mental illness and easily related. That helped her through her dark time. When you can change a life through words, that’s why why we do what we do.
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?
Social media. That was how he started finding our authors in the beginning. They would see our posts and were intrigued. From there, through word of mouth, we began getting a different kind of query.
We work very closely with our creators. We edit the books, format the books, design covers, make up the proofs, help to market, and so much more.
Tell me about some of your favorite authors that you have worked with.
I don’t want to pick favorites. Really enjoy working with these authors. We all collaborate and talk about our process in videos like this one on Facebook.
Most indie authors understand that they must do some marketing of their book, once it’s published. If publishing was a pool and marketing was swimming, are you the doting parent that shows them a video, buys them water-wings, and eases them in? Or are you more the uncle that throws them into the deep end with a slap on the ass and a hearty “Sink or Swim!” shout?
We help a lot with marketing. And each author is different. We help authors find blogs, venues to do readings, and newspapers to publish the press releases that we write for them. We produce book trailers for some, press packets for others.
Where do you recommend indie writers go to market their books? Are there any types of services that you suggest that they avoid?
Indie writers should do what feels natural. They should build up their followings through their online presence, do in-person readings to build up their personal presence, and treat their readers as they would like to be treated. I tell my authors to stay away from lit review nonsense. I’ve seen a number of authors pay a book blog to review their book, and it is just a complete waste of money and time. You need genuine connections with readers, not paying someone to say what they thought of your book. The charges can be astronomical and unproductive.
On Community Interaction: Local Real World Stuff
What is your area like? What attracted you to it? Do you find it inspiring in any way?
I am in the sixth generation of my family to live in New Jersey. I was going to go to NYU. I was going to do it. I was going to be a city girl. Wasn’t for me. I’m too Jersey. I like the suburbs. I like being able to have the quietness while also being able to go and do things. The city is too loud to live in all the time but to visit it’s great and only a quick train ride away. I say I have the best of every world here. I can work on the beach, go to the city, visit the library...go anywhere really, whenever I please.
Do you work with any local writers or know any? Does the area find its way into their work?
It’s funny, because my first year of GenZ, I didn’t meet a single author. And then this year I signed a number of local authors. And the first time I saw one of my authors actual faces in the flesh, it was an amazing feeling. They were real!
Do you do press releases locally?
Yes, we do. I feel that is very important for building up support and readership for authors.
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?
Yes, I do. I am publishing a new book “Be a Digital Entrepreneur Today” later this year. I handle it just the same as any other book. I tell all the readers not to go easy on me, to tell me what they really think.
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 write every day. I really enjoy writing, and it was my writing that lead me to open GenZ.
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?
We are open to queries year round, but we do no promotion of the fact that we are accepting submissions. Authors usually just find us via social media, our website, word of mouth, or interviews like this.
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?
A good cover letter is tailored to our publishing company (not just a copied and pasted form), has great detail without being too long, and gives us a true sense of the writer’s capabilities.
The last one that really blew my mind was one by a writer who did his homework. He knew everything there was to know about GenZ …even addressed the query to me. Plus, his writing was great. No grammatical errors and the story was something different.
The worst was by a teenager (which makes the rejection even harder). She wrote these really long run-on sentences. Basically the whole query was a run on. There was no discernible plot. And it felt like she was pitching this same query to many publishers.
How do you dole out rejection letters? Do you ever say “maybe with revisions”?
I HATE rejection letters. It makes me feel awful. I usually send a query out to my readers and ask them to give advice for this writer to improve, so the rejection letter comes out to a rejection with four paragraphs of pointing out constructive criticism to help them improve. And in my experience a lot of writers do not take it well…they usually ask me to reconsider, and that is when I add in the ‘maybe with revisions’ part.
On Current and Future Plans
What was 2016 like for you and GenZ? What were some of the highlights for you and Innovative Literature?
2016 was our first year in business, and it was fantastic! I met and signed many talented authors, we had our first bestsellers, and I learned that I could actually have a successful publishing company on my hands.
What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
We have a number of great books coming out. Some YA, some thriller, some poetry. K.W. Peery will be releasing his fourth book with us!
Do you have any long range plans in the works?
Visit GenZ on the Web!
Bill Kieffer‘s website.