Monday, September 30, 2013

Interview with Burnt Bridge editor Jason Stuart

Why did you set up a small press?

That has always been the goal since the inception of Burnt Bridge. We’ve dabbled in it a bit already with our first title almost two years ago called Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines by Mark Rapacz. It was a novella that came over the transom and I was so in love with it, I felt like it deserved to be its own book, so Mark and I collaborated on that project and created a really amazing product. It debuted at AWP in 2012 in Chicago. We were not set up to be a full press at that time, so a lot of it came down on Mark himself, which he seemed both eager and equipped to do. This is what led me to choosing him, in the end, as a partner for our going forward with the brand as a press.

How do you think you can add value in the current publishing climate?

I think where Burnt Bridge will really be able to offer value is to authors who may have been with a larger press already and were not valued there. Our royalty terms I think are going to be a sell. Plus, we don’t take rights in perpetuity. After two years, the rights revert to the author or they may renew for a larger percentage for another two years. Ebooks are more open to negotiation and will generally revert to the author much sooner.

Additionally, in browsing around the marketplace, we’ve been discussing it amongst ourselves, and it feels like the current indie crime/noir scene is largely a boys’ club, this is something we’d like to try to chip away at as much as we can. We are actively looking for female authors and protagonists to help define us as we go forward.

Why become a publisher?

Because we want to put out the best work we can find. We want it in actual bookstores (for as long as they continue to exist). We are in talks with various independent booksellers about doing business with each other, and we hope to build a relationship with at least one major distributor within our first year. But, for the most part, it’s about promoting the art we enjoy and believe deserves attention.

Who chose the name?

Well, I did. Sort of. There’s a place by that goes by Burnt Bridge where I grew up in rural South Mississippi. There’s four or five legends tied to it, everything from Civil War ghosts to WW2 deserters, to Dukes of Hazzardian bootlegging yarns, along with an old fire & brimstone church that still stands there. But, I also liked the implicit metaphor and from it I derived our little catchphrase: Stories that don’t apologize. I thought it worked more or less for what we wanted.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

Well, I buy nearly every Snubnose title that comes out. I’m a recent convert to the Frank Bill kool-aid, as well. I can’t read enough of that guy. Jed Ayres, and the Noir @ the Bar crowd. I like David Keaton, Stephen Graham Jones, and everything J. David Osborne is doing with Broken River. I like it a little weird. A little offbeat. And pretty dark, though by dark I might just mean a little closer to reality. I like things to get messy. Crooks who smoke too much of their own meth. They’ve done a little too much roids and now they’re brainbaked and go half-assed into their bank robbery and leave an idiot trail for the asleep-at-the-wheel system to follow. I like heroes, but maybe not in the conventional sense, and not all the time. There doesn’t need to be a hero. But, it’s great when there is and it works.

As a publisher, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Most of all, willing to give something different a chance. We won’t be publishing the stock procedurals, or the tried-and-true thriller/mystery formula. I mean, maybe, but probably not really. We’re indie. We’re way indie. We’re so indie, I don’t even have all the money for our first block of ISBN’s (BIG FAT YET!). So, we’re willing to take chances as publisher that many established presses won’t. I’m not even sure we’ll remain limited to crime/westerns. I like genre-benders. I want to publish a novella that smacks of Blade Runner and Dead Man put together. I don’t even know what that story would be but I want to read it.

Will you be publishing in print or E or both?

Both. Though, we’re talking about turning over the ebook rights back to the author after a very short period, maybe 6 months from publication. I think that’s a good idea, and may help forge our relationship with our authors. I want a steady stable of writers who will grow with us. I think of the author as a partner in this business. We don’t work without them on board, and they should reap as many benefits from the arrangement as possible (and that are within reason and our means as meager independents). I mean, they could do it without us, but we can’t do it without them. So, like, pay it forward and shit.

But, also I want to be reader-friendly. I want to offer promotions that add value and make good sense. I am wary of freebies these days. I’ve tried the Amazon free giveaways and I am not sure they work. Discounting maybe to a buck is one thing, but all the way free? No strings? Not sure. This new Kindle Matchbook sounds keen. I want to build brand recognition and trust in the reader. Had a prolific reader recently tell me they’ve never once looked at who published a book they read. Even the ones they like. Authors, sure. Of course. But publishers? Never. I think given the state of Big NY publishing, that’s fantastic. But, I think branding is more important at the near-bottom of the publishing ladder where we are. Our name should matter. We only put our name on a handful of books a year. It’s conceivable that we end up with brand followers/fans. Like I said, I’ve already become one myself with the Snubbie and will soon be one with Broken River. You guys are out there as pioneers, paving the way for new, independent publishers like Burnt Bridge. And, our wagon is packed and we’re headed to Oregon with you.

How will/has this venture affected your own writing?

Who knows? Who really knows? I know it already eats up a lot of time and we’re barely moving. But, it’s fun. And, I like the idea of having so much creative input. Cover concepts. Marketing strategies. Weekly teleconferencing with the partners. This stuff is fun even when it’s pure bone-chilling logistics. So, who knows? I have set goals for a chapter/story a month. So far, I’m behind.

Are you open for subs? If someone's reading this who has a project that might be a good fit for you, how would you prefer them to go about submitting it?

Head straight over to our website and send it through the wire. We’re ready to read that sucker. We’re specifically hoping to lock down some women under our brand, something we see is underrepresented in the genre it seems. We’re looking for female protagonists, too.

How has the submission response been so far?

Slow, but steady. We’ve put out feelers to some authors we know are shopping around, and we’ve gotten some interest. We are close to deals on two books already. Looking to fill out our first year list by October if we can.

Lastly, what is noir?

Noir is when it all goes wrong, and you don’t even have time to ask why. You don’t even pick up the pieces. You just leave them behind and walk away, if you’ve even got legs left to do so. Noir is black as it gets. No one wins.


David Cranmer said...

Best of luck. Plenty of room in the arena.

Bryon Quertermous said...

You say crime/noir fiction is a boy's club, which I agree with, and you say you want to publish more women, which I think is cool, but then when asked what your taste are in crime fiction you list nothing but men. How about some love for the ladies?