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SHELFIES: Thurston Howl of Thurston Howl Publications

See full issue for 2017 03-20
by Bill Kieffer

I want you to meet Thurston Howl of Thurston Howl Press. He's an amazing construct of energy and organization. I also strongly suspect that he's a speed reader. He is not only a writer and editor and publisher, but a grad student and an educator. He's also comes across as an incredible optimist.

My work has appeared in two of his anthologies; one non-fiction and the other fiction. With any luck, there could be more soon. After all, he's obviously already demonstrated a good deal of good taste.


Thurston Howl on His Book Shelf

I always read seven books at once, one from each of the following categories: literary fiction, nonfiction, sci fi / fantasy, LGBT / furry, horror, young adult, and experimental / poetry. It usually just cycles to the next book on the shelf, which forces me to read books I've had a while. My collection is presently around 2,000 books, and these bookshelves serve as the main furniture in the house. My partner and I have decorated the shelves with foxes, wolves, dogs, pandas, and even a spyglass. We do have a few "special" books, like the first printing edition of White Fang and a signed volume of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.


On Thurston Howl Publications (THP)

How did you come to found THP? What titles and writers did you start with?
THP started when I volunteered—after self-publishing two titles—to edit and publish a charity anthology for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition in 2014. Throughout the submission process, a handful of authors expressed interest in me publishing their work, despite my limited experience. C. R. Benson, Roland Jenkins, and Justin K. Arthur was some of the first ones to request my services. As more clients came in, I realized I needed a full staff to handle the clientele.

Do you have a staff? Can you introduce us?
We indeed do have a staff! It has roughly thirty freelance people presently: editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, a cover design team, a marketing team, and an accountant. The three top names in the company are Howl, Rayah, and Tabs.

Howl (myself) is the editor-in-chief and founder of the house, now working mostly on project management.
Rayah is the associate editor and handles many of the editing projects and organizational issues.
Tabs is the head of the cover design team and works on much of the website design for our marketing campaign, Project P.A.C.K.

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 THP allows you to have a cot in the break room? Or, perhaps, there’s a clear separation between the two?
Eh, THP is largely an online publishing house. There is a shelf of our books at my home, but we still have a little less than twenty titles out now. There really isn’t a need for THP to conquer my home. My own personal library does that already.

Tell me a little about what you’ll publish and how you come to a decision about that. Do you also include marketing?
First of all, our printing is entirely print-on-demand (POD), so we do not have an in-house printer, and Amazon handles most of our printing itself. Our house offers the following services to all of its authors: editing, proofreading, copyediting, beta reading, cover design, and marketing. We do not charge our authors anything (though they might have to pay for gas to a local signing or the small ten dollar fee to set up a website using our hosting).


On Thurston Howl himself

Howl

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?
“Free books.”

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?
At the risk of sounding trite for a furry author and sometimes furry publisher, I most identify with Kyell Gold’s slice-of-life character Wiley, a vanilla-latte-loving fox with an English degree. The way he thinks really jibes with my own thought process, and his careful yet quick tongue is similar to my own awareness of social awareness and business acumen.

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

If you meet someone for the first time and they introduce themselves as a writer, do you... a) say “Hey, funny coincidence...” b) talk about your “day job” exclusively... or c) point to a grouse in the trees and run away when their back is turned?
I am quite amicable to introduced writers and am usually rather engaging, interested in their stories to gauge whether it is a fit for THP or not.


On Readers & Fans

How do you find your readers? Or do readers tend to find you?
Often, the readers find us! The larger our clientele becomes, the more naturally our books spread. We have a significant social media presence, and this causes people to already know who we are when we do go to conventions.

How do you reach out to your readership? Do you have a forum? A newsletter? Pen-pals?
Our social media includes Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, a website, and a blog. We try to keep up with them and really communicate with our fans.

What sensations or experiences do you hope to evoke in your readers? What’s your favorite feedback so far from one of your customers?
Emotion. When it comes to horror, we hope to terrify. With fantasy, we hope to awe. With erotica, we hope to arouse. No matter what genre it is, we pride ourselves in evoking emotion in our readers.


On Writers

Without naming names, tell me what your worst author interaction was. Was bail money involved?
I indeed had the unfortunate experience of having a death threat once. A writer of ours threatened to send someone to the company —my house— if I did not meet their demands within the hour.

What are the demographics of your writers? How diverse are they, and is that diversity reflected in your books?
A wonderful question! Our demographics are diverse in some areas but not others. On one hand, most of our writers are white males. However, at the same time, many of them are of varying sexual orientations, gender identities, socioeconomic stati, age groups, and even furry status.

Have you ever worked with an agent? How common is that for you?
I have worked with two agents verbally, and they were both incredibly positive experiences. It is certainly a rarity, but not an unpleasant one.

In addition to being a publisher, do you offer any literary services for creators outside of your publishing company?
Eh, I do some freelance editing. That’s about it.

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?
*shrugs* We believe our authors generally should not have a say in their covers. Generally, they are pleased with it, and our cover team specializes in what sells. Occasionally, we consult with the author. Even more rarely, we allow the author to have say in the cover.

Do you have one perfect font for your books or do you work with the writer to find the best font for each book?
Comis sans…just kidding. We typically use Garamond for interior text.


On Marketing

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 often go swimming for them to show them how it is done. Typically with a book release, there isn’t time to “ease” a writer in. By the time they are prepared, the book has lost its selling momentum. So, we usually handle it and try to keep the writer up with us.

Have you and yours won any awards or titles? What was that like?
Furries Among Us (2015) won an Ursa Major Award earlier this year. A truly incredible experience!

Do you, as a creator, reach out to local community groups or art guilds? Is there an active art community there? If so, do you interact with it in some way?
This section is a little harder. As I move around each year, THP just doesn’t have roots yet. We do give authors book signings and press releases in their locales, but not so much ours.


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 it, but it still goes through the same editing process other works do.

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?
Oh, I write for other markets predominantly. I keep up with so many anthologies and write as often as I can. I enjoy hearing others’ critiques.

What’s your day publishing like? How many days or hours of publishing are you able to get in per week?
Hm, a day in the life…Typically, I spend twenty hours a week on publishing affairs. Most of this is griping at people for needing extensions to deadlines. It is a lot of putting out fires, too.


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?
*shrugs again* We have an open period all the time. I don’t believe in closed submissions. Just go to thurstonhowlpublications.com and submit based on the guidelines there. We are always working on various anthologies, and we always are looking for cutting-edge, evocative novels.

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?
.doc or .docx only. We prefer a query letter, first ten pages, and full synopsis (spoiler included).

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 query letter hooks me. It makes me excited to open the other attachments. If I see a bad query letter, I am not even going to read the first page of the story. It shows that a person isn’t serious about their own work.

How do you read a full book submission? Almost every book is going to need some work. How much interaction and work are you willing to give on a new book? And how do you make that determination?
It has gotten to the point to where I usually do first decisions on a work (aka, if we want to see the rest of the ms). Then, it moves to an editor who might work on it. I hardly even have the time to read full works of ours.

How do you dole out rejection letters? Do you ever say “maybe with revisions”?
Very frequently to the latter!


On Current and Future Plans

What was 2016 like for you and THP? What were some of the highlights for you?
It was busy. We will have published about ten books. Plus, we gained about ten people. Furthermore, we have a whole marketing team, a new associate editor, and Project P.A.C.K.

What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
Coming up we have the SPECIES anthologies, GENMOS: Gathering Storms, and Furries Among Us II. This year, we will have our first con presence, at Furry Weekend Atlanta, as well as working more with partner press, Weasel Press.

Do you have any long range plans in the works?
Yes, we have another fifteen books on the way, and we are slowly expanding our ebook market, marketing campaign, conference attendance, and social media presence. We also have two potential imprints coming out of THP in the future.

 


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