I’m delighted to have had the chance to ask Deena Fisher, the Publisher/Founder of Drollerie Press a few questions. Her answers mesmerized me, and I hope you’ll enjoy them too! I certainly look forward to the books coming from this brand new house and wish them the best.
Ciar: Deena, thanks so much for letting me pick your brain! The Drollerie Press site is absolutely stunning–a fresh modern look laced with ageless elements. How does the look of the site tie in with your vision for this new publishing house?
Deena: Thank you for the compliment! I’m going to have to change it when we get the store set up, but I hope to retain the elements of mystery and transformation that I want to be a big part of who we are. I call the young butterfly lady our transformative girl.
Do you remember going to the library when you were very young, maybe the first time in the big public library, when you got to pick out a book all by yourself, and finding just the right book…the way it felt in your hands, the way it smelled, maybe the ink smudged a bit on your fingertips? That aesthetic quality of books has been a touchstone for me all my life. I can’t express it online nearly as well as in a three dimensional space, but the website is an attempt to use all the tools the Internet has to offer to simulate that aesthetic experience.
Then, the best books I’ve ever read, throughout my life, explore who we are, why we think the way we do, what makes us compassionate, passionate, ethical, strong, weak, afraid, and gloriously human. All of those books that I love have some magical element in them that doesn’t take away from the struggle to be human, but adds some extra spark to the story. I remember being fascinated by Edward Eager’s “Half Magic” as a child. Every time the children in the story used the magic, something went wrong. How they dealt with that, and how they eventually chose not to use it anymore, made them real and interesting, and illustrated ideas I wasn’t quite sure how to grasp at the time, but the book stayed with me, and encouraged me to think, and dream.
I hope our website is indicative of that feeling; that inside our readers will find stories about thinking and dreaming and what it means to be human, and how we transform ourselves as we grow.
Ciar: Can you tell us why you decided the time is right to start a publishing company? Has it been a lifelong dream?
Deena: When I was very young, I wanted to be a bush pilot, and then I decided I wanted to be a missionary. And then I wanted to be a teacher. But during all of those times, I was writing and telling my brothers, sisters, cousins, children, nieces and nephews stories. I’ve always loved writing–I’ve even penned a few fanfics–but I find a strange and peculiar satisfaction, joy even, from helping a good writer connect things just a little better, or discover a new way to say things, or polish their prose a bit. So I’ve always loved editing, and when I was younger I thought it would be awesome to be an editor–even a slush reader!–in a NY publishing house. I even knew what I would wear to work.
My life didn’t go that way–I made other choices–but I love learning. I can’t seem to stop, and I ended up doing what I love, or working my way toward it, in one office after another, until I started my own business. I’d pretty much put the idea of publishing on that “dusty dreams” shelf since I couldn’t quite figure out how to end up in NY at this stage in my life. I’d heard about e-book publishers but didn’t really get the attraction though friends of mine loved having books in a digital format; small presses I’ve known about for a long time–and supported a few with my Christmas money. Then I developed a form of arthritis that attacks the hands, spine and feet, and found that e-books were able to keep me reading when I couldn’t hold a book. I’d thought about e-book publishing a little bit–ever since I first heard of Ellora’s Cave–but I didn’t have that creative spark, that vision, to do this that I think is necessary to hold you up when things are tough.
I started thinking about it a bit more when I started reading e-books, and then one of my clients told me he wanted to publish a book and he wanted me to help him do it. I started doing some research and realized that I knew how to do everything necessary. I knew how to lay out a book, how to design the page, how to edit, how to turn it into a printable format, how to design the cover–even how to turn it into a PDF, Mobipocket, html, or Microsoft Reader Document. Though I helped him publish the book under his own imprint, that was the beginning of Drollerie Press.
Ciar: What do you say to those who have watched “start-up” publishing companies struggle? How do you manage the growth of a new company? What are the pitfalls to avoid? I noticed that you aren’t offering a “guarantee” that brick-and-mortar stores will buy print books. That looked like a very smart warning to me. Do you think that epubbed/small press print authors need to pull back expectations in this regard?
Deena: I’ll honestly say that we’re not going to promise not to fail, or make mistakes, or wish we’d made different choices. I can say that we’re trying to grow things carefully. We want to be around for a long time and we want to be known for the quality of our stories and the enthusiasm of ourselves and our authors, our approachability and community spirit. So, we’re trying to be cautious. There are times I think Amy would like to take a brick to my head because I get a little carried away with the amazing stories we get. It’s really hard to turn down a story that’s good but just doesn’t fit with our vision of the company and who we want to be, but we are because we can’t afford to throw caution to the winds and publish everything we receive.
I started with a solid business plan and the advice of other business owners I trust. I know how much I can afford to pay out before it starts to hurt, and both Amy and I have a clear vision of what we’re looking for. It helps, too, that we both have “day” jobs, and that mine is my own business so I have room to work on this during the day … and sometimes at midnight when I go to check the submissions e-mail just one. more. time. hoping for that perfect story. The biggest help is that I have a husband who wants me to succeed at whatever I dream, and is supportive of everything I do.
I wish I could promise everyone that their story will be printed and be a million bestseller, but I can’t. What I can do is promise that everyone we accept will be electronically published, but then I’ll have to be as hard-nosed as possible (Amy will help me with that!) and choose which I can afford to print and bring out that way. The more successful we are at choosing the right books, the more we can bring to print. I’ve honestly only had a few authors ask for a guarantee that their story will appear in print and be available in brick and mortar stores. We have declined to offer that guarantee, explained our position, and they’ve either gone elsewhere or agreed to ride the wave with us and see what happens.
We are securely in our authors’ corner. We want them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. I don’t know whether or not they should pull back their expectations, or if they should look at the market clearly and figure out what they can do to make their book sell well enough that their publisher will want to ride the author’s wave instead. I do believe that every author has a responsibility to themselves and their work, so I’m happy for the ones who chose to look elsewhere for publication. I really want them to succeed.
Ciar: Deena, who are some of your personal favorite authors? What do you like to read?
Deena: My number one hero is Terri Windling. She’s an editor, she writes children’s stories, she wrote one of my favorite adult novels, and she’s so amazingly supportive of arts and community. Others, wow, I have a lot of them. Charles De Lint, Ellen Kushner, Caitlin Kiernan, Holly Black, Tanith Lee, Judith Tarr, Gail Dayton, Patricia Briggs, Jo Walton, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts, Deborah Grabien. I loved Andre Norton as a child, and still admire her immensely. Clive Barker, Scott Nicholson, Steven Brust, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, C. J. Cherryh, Pamela Dean, Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, Nicola Griffith, Mary Jo Putney, Oh, and I can’t leave out Laura Kinsale, Esther Friesner, Nicholas Bantock, Roger Zelazny… there are more but I’ve run out of breath. I have favorites in just about every genre, but if I’m browing, I’ll most likely pick up a dark fantasy with a compelling cover before anything else.
Ciar: Tell us about Amy Garvey, your Editor-in-Chief! She has an awesome background.
Deena: Amy is simply amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. She’s incredibly generous with her time, talent and experience, and keeps a level head on her shoulders when I look like I might go boom. This was my dream, but she’s made it her own and is working so hard to make it a success. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Ciar: Okay, my fellow authors would kill me if I don’t ask what you’re looking for. They read the submissions page, but they want the secret key to acceptance! Do you have any advice for them? Are there any kiss of death submission errors for you?
Deena: This one is hard! We’re looking for lyrical writing that’s as much about exploring emotional or spiritual growth, strength of will and overcoming for the character as it is about plot. The Big Kiss of Death is probably a story that doesn’t have that touch of magic we’re looking for. The story has to be based on a legend, myth or fairytale in some way. It doesn’t have to stay there, but it has to start there. We’ve gotten a lot of different stories that have magical elements, but they don’t have that thing, the undying mythic element that resonates with us and that we want to publish. We don’t want something that could be any sword and sorcery novel. We do want erotic writing, but it’s not required, and we want it to have emotional resonance. If the main character is bed hopping because it feels good, that’s not going to be our story. We want the characters to bed hop, if they do, because of something deeper than the wish to scratch an itch or try a little strange. On top of all that, the big thing that makes our hearts go pitter pat is a sophisticated, unobtrusive style of writing that puts the reader right there in the story.
This is feeling like a dating questionaire: our turn-offs are long boring synopses, purple prose, clear evidence in the query that you haven’t read the submission guidelines, a story that really, really doesn’t fit within the guidelines (because if it’s close and I like it, Amy and I will be talking), and hairy toes.
Ciar: Finally, please tell us anything you’d like to include that I haven’t asked!
Deena: One of the things that’s important to both Amy and me is to give back to our community. Not many of us get through life without the helping hand of a friend, and I know that I’ve been blessed to receive that hand more than once. As a part of that, we’ve pledged to give a percentage of profits to various charities that are important to us and to allow our authors the opportunity to choose a favorite charity as well. I think we were fortunate to start at this time because we were able to donate to Brenda Novak’s auction in support of Juvenile Diabetes Research and, though our donations were a drop in the bucket, they made a difference to us. That charity in particular is important to me because my older brother died of complications from juvenile diabetes in his thirties. I feel like we’ve gotten off to the right start.
I think that’s it, really, except that we always want to hear from authors or anyone else who wants to drop us a line. The submissions e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, Amy’s is email@example.com and mine is firstname.lastname@example.org.