(I’ve often recommended that authors consider a self-interview as a good add-on for a website or blog. So I’ll follow my own advice.)
Self-interview with Philip Martin, editorial director of Crickhollow Books
(conducted by himself)
Q: Why interview yourself?
A: I could butter you up by saying I couldn’t imagine a more brilliant interviewer. Mostly, it just seemed like a good way to answer questions I really wanted to answer.
Q: Such as “What is Crickhollow Books all about?”
A: Yes, thanks for asking. In a nutshell, Crickhollow Books wants to publish books that have a positive impact on people. Our tag line is Good Books. Great Stories. Fine Purpose. The “fine purpose” part is important to Crickhollow. This can be an inspiring story, a call to action, a useful guide to help people do something that is really important to them and those around them.
To give an example, Saving Sailing (2009) by sailor, market researcher, and social philosopher Nick Hayes is a powerful book that is having a real impact on sailing communities across the U.S. and abroad. It’s a call to action for people who enjoy the outdoors – especially being out on the water on a sailboat. It asks readers to examine why sailing has been declining, and offers a way individuals can do something to reverse that. Its message (for sailors, parents, or anyone involved in a complex, group-oriented pastime) is that to do the things we truly value, we need to make choices.
Or, for instance, Crickhollow would be more likely to publish a booklet like Grant Writing Made Simple, to help beginning grant-writers for nonprofits and social causes to do better, rather than one on how to make a lot of money for yourself. In part, it’s because it takes us a lot of work to publish a book, so it should be worthwhile and justify that, for you and for us and for the reader.
I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about changing the world. But as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And from activist Dorothy Day: “We must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” In our case, we work to have an impact on one reader at a time.
Q: Does this mean nonfiction only?
A: No, fiction can often have as big an impact. Think of works like To Kill a Mockingbird or Catch-22 or . . . . Stories are often the best way to convey a message. Or to share a passion for a place or topic or person that more people should know about.
Q: But didn’t movie mogul Sam Goldwyn say, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”
A: Baloney. (And do you really want to take advice from a movie mogul?) Tell that to Mark Twain, who wrote the great American novel Huck Finn. The message is intertwined in the story.
Q: Where did the name Crickhollow come from?
A: I was brainstorming ideas, looking for a regional-sounding name that suggested the Midwest. Creeks (“cricks”) and hollows are part of the terrain of my youth. And it’s an homage to my Appalachian roots. Both sets of grandparents came from there, from Kentucky and West Virginia. Those who have lived in the hills know how comforting it is, and how a cool, meandering, tiny creek is a sacred and yet familiar, comforting place.
(A few have also noted that it occurs in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as a cozy hobbit village somewhere in the Shire. Makes sense, as the land of the hobbits always seemed Midwestern to me – full of down-to-earth folks who enjoyed a good breakfast or two, a good pint of beer, or a bit of conversation and fellowship.)
Anyhow, it sounded to me like name rich in tradition. Myself, I started out working with traditional arts, mostly with folk music documentation. In fact, I went back to West Virginia to live for a summer, lived in a hollow with a friend in a ramshackle house. Wanted to get back to my roots, learn to play banjo, etc.
Q: Banjo? Did you learn to play it?
A: Harder than it looks. Actually, I ended up a fiddle player. And a truly mediocre one . . . playing a beat-up fiddle that’s barely a step up from a cigar-box instrument. To boot, mine has a mouse-hole chewed in it, from a time I left it out at a schoolhouse overnight after a dance. Oops. But it’s only a little hole.
Q: I’ve heard your fiddle also has skid marks on the back?
A: I’d rather not tell that story. Makes me look too forgetful about things I set on the roof of the car when I’m loading up for a gig.
Q: Back to Crickhollow Books, what’s the best way for someone to pitch an idea to you?
A: Many authors don’t understand that, especially with a small indie press, it’s not the pitch, but the pure quality of the manuscript involved. Many authors think that the art of pitching is a magical art, with secret spells and mumbo-jumbo. But what really catches the fancy of an editor like me is the sterling quality of the writing. Which should be obvious quickly, in a pitch or in the first pages.
“Sterling quality” does include having a concept for something in the booklet/book range that’s reasonably clear, somewhat original, and can be summed in a few appealing sentences (like what we’ll put on the back of a finished book). So a good pitch is naturally related to the underlying quality.
In addition . . . in fiction, I personally like to see a strong sense of place. A book shouldn’t be generic in setting, but specific.
And as noted, Crickhollow is attracted to stories that are positive in what they hope to achieve, whatever that is.
Q: More about the submission process?
A: Send me an email query. (You can find my email at the main Crickhollow Books website. I respond to queries I think are likely in our interest area (and may ignore the others, due to lack of time; sorry.). If I think it’s possibly a match, I ask for more sample material. Then, I make a gut call.
As I tell the writers whose submissions I reject, unfortunately I often have to turn down work I personally enjoyed reading . . . but that didn’t seem like a good fit for Crickhollow Books and what we can do well.
Q: Last tip?
A: Like many publishers, something that fits well with books we’ve already published (and have developed reader interest for) might have a leg up. But we’re open to new directions, too.
Q: Thanks for answering these questions. I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent together.
A: Likewise. I hope it was helpful.