The company and lady who gave my book its chance

My picture (2)
Since 2008 when she secured her own first book contract, Melissa Miller has become the head of one of the fastest growing mid-market publishers in the USA. This year (2014) she capped her achievements by  being announced an International Best Selling author and two of her books were optioned for film.
Now Melissa, as chief executive officer of Solstice Publishing based in Farmington, Missouri, is paving the way for other budding authors to bring their creations to e-readers and print. I have a personal reason to thank her. Solstice accepted my first book, Tread Carefully on the Sea, after I’d spent nearly a year trying to place it with a publisher.
I asked Melissa a few questions
1. How do you conclude that books are likely to sell? Is it pure instinct or do you have a formula?
There isn’t a formula to know what will sell and what won’t. We look for well written manuscripts with interesting plots.
 
2. Based on your experience in publishing, what’s one thing you would advise today’s budding authors?
One of the most important things new authors need to know is the importance of branding their name. The use of social media is going to be very helpful in their journey. The marketing and branding of their book is going to be a full time job. Writing the book is the fun part. After that the work begins.
 
3. Why do you think fiction is so powerful that almost everyone wants to read it – if not write it?
I think fiction is so powerful because it’s not real. After a long day at work, or taking care of the kids, or cleaning the house, readers like to escape into new worlds. It’s nice to get away from reality for a while.
4. What were your favorite childhood books and how did that affect your career?
As a child my favorites were Winnie The Pooh then as a teen I grew into loving Stephen King. Now as an adult I like a variety. I enjoy Stephanie Meyers, Cassandra Clare, Jeannette Oak, Nicholas Sparks and then of course all the great authors of Solstice Publishing.
 
Melissa’s company
With over 200 authors covering every category of fiction and rapidly expanding into non-fiction, Solstice is quickly gaining a reputation for fast paced suspense thrillers, sizzling romance, action adventure, science fiction, and a spooky collection of horror and paranormal reads. Critically acclaimed authors have achieved top spots on best seller lists, had their stories adapted to screenplays, and won movie deals with top Hollywood studios.

Melissa Miller is an Amazon International Best Selling Author under a pen name. She writes paranormal/ romance and woman’s fiction. She’s a wife and the mother of two boys.

I ALSO WANT TO GIVE MY SINCERE THANKS TO MEL MASSEY-MARONI AT SOLSTICE,  MY EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, AND I INTEND TO PERSUADE HER TO DO AN INTERVIEW IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

An interview with Melissa Miller, CEO of Solstice Publishing,www.solsticepublishing.com
Are you a founding member of SP?
Melissa – Yes. I started Solstice Publishing on my own in 2008 under another name and in 2010 I changed it to Solstice Publishing.
Could you please tell us how SP began?
Melissa – Solstice began because of my love of books. I started out as an author and then became a publisher the following year.
Do you work with agents?
Melissa – Yes we work with or without an agent.
During the publishing process, how many people at SP actually read an entire book besides the assigned editor?
Melissa – The EIC who decides to accept the book, then the editor, and the proofreader also read the entire book. So three people.
Is there any disadvantage being characterized as a “Midwestern Publisher?”
Melissa – I don’t believe so. We are an E Publisher. Everything we do is online so I don’t feel that your address in any way helps or hurts you in today’s epublishing industry.
Do you have a virtual staff with everyone in different locations communicating via email?
Melissa – Yes. We use Go To Meeting for face to face video meetings, Basecamp for project management, Facebook for chats and messages as well as emails and text messages for everything else. With all of the technology available to us today it’s not hard to have staff in different locations of the world.

An interview with Kate Collins COO of Solstice Publishing,www.solsticepublishing.com
Are you a founding member of SP?
Kate – No, but I’m thrilled to be part of it now. There’s something very exciting about working with people who have a clear vision of the future and an idea of how to get there. Melissa knows where she wants Solstice to go, and it’s a privilege to be able to help her get it to that level.
I see you are an author as well as the COO of Solstice. How and when did you make the transition from writing to publishing?
Kate – I was an author first, and then Melissa gave me the opportunity to work with her at Solstice. I think it’s given me a unique perspective on what happens on the business side that many authors don’t get.
Do you work with agents?
Kate – Yes, we have a few agents whose clients have signed with us. We have far more unagented authors, but that doesn’t matter to us. Having, or not having, an agent is a personal choice for each author.
How many people are working for SP today?
Kate – We’ve got about twenty or more people, counting all our editors and proofreaders. There’s a whole amazing crew that works on the books that the authors rarely interact with.
You’ve done some recent reorganization at SP. Can you describe the company’s current structure?
Kate – We’ve got an amazing staff now. Our Editors-in-Chief do a wonderful job in reading submissions, answering author questions, and the like. It makes it easier for me, as COO, to help Melissa grow the company. We can spend more time finding opportunities to promote the titles on a daily basis now.
How would you characterize SP publishing today?
Kate – Growing, expanding, and thriving! Melissa’s done a great job in the recent changes, making it easier for all of us to get things done and help out the authors even more. We’re all big on communication, and the new chain of command really keeps the flow moving towards getting the titles released.
How do you attract new authors?
Kate – The normal venues of social media, and referrals by our authors. They’re our greatest asset, and best referral network.
On average how many submissions do you receive each month?
Kate – That varies so much! We really can’t put a number on it. One month can see three, the next have 20.
How does your staff choose which to publish?
Kate – That depends on the EiC that reads it and what they feel makes a good book. We’ve got a general guideline to go by, but it’s up to the individual Editor in Chief to make the call.
Is there any disadvantage being characterized as a “Midwestern Publisher?”
Kate – I didn’t even know there was such a thing! LOL. We’re a publisher. Period. Sure, we’re not one of the big 5 out of New York City, but we’re growing. Given the nature of communication now, it’s just as easy to email someone or ask them a question on FaceBook over sit down at lunch in Central Park and make a deal over a couple of drinks.
Do you have a virtual staff with everyone in different locations communicating via email?
Kate – Yes. In some ways, it’s an advantage. Our staff is able to work at different times, making it so someone’s available to talk with authors outside of what many would think of as normal business hours.
How many authors have you contracted with?
Kate – Probably around 200 currently, but the number fluctuates from month to month as new authors are accepted.
How many books do you publish each year?
Kate – That varies so much! It’s impossible to give an accurate number.
How many active books do you currently have?
Kate – Best estimate is around 400 titles out right now. We release new books almost every month, though, so it’s pretty fluid!
Are your contracts for authors or for individual books?
Kate – We contract each title separately, instead of by author.
I noticed that you have a rather long list of books optioned for film. How do you work that, and what are the steps?
Kate – We’ve been approached by production companies who had interest in some of our titles. Due to confidentiality agreements, we can’t say more

Today’s blog entry will feature an interview with Melissa Miller, founder and owner of Solstice Publishing, one of the fastest growing independent publishing houses.

Hi Melissa, great to have you here! First, would you tell my readers a little bit about what prompted you to jump into the publishing business?

Thanks for having me here today John. The fast answer is my love of books. I’ve always enjoyed reading when I was a child and, as I grew older, I got interested in writing. One day I decided that I wanted to learn more about the behind the scenes part of the publishing world and I haven’t looked back since.

A little bit of background about Solstice:  I opened my publishing company in March 2008. In 2010 I teamed up with a marketing company who suggested that we change the name. So we changed our name to Solstice Publishing. Solstice has been growing strong for almost seven years now and we plan to have many, many more to come.

Many publishers have different divisions and banners they publish under by genre. Does Solstice have such a setup?

Yes we do. We have several actually. We accept almost all genres.

Solstice – Mystery, Fiction, Westerns

Summer Solstice – Romance, Young Adult, Suspense, Thriller

Solstice Shadows – Paranormal, Sci fi

Solstice At Night — Erotica

Let’s toss out a scenario: I’m a writer who just cooked up a short story but I’m not sure what I should do with it? Does Solstice accept shorts and, if so, what’s the minimum length?

Yes we do accept short stories. We don’t have a minimum length. We look for a well written story with an interesting plot.

What sort of preventative measures do you suggest for submitting writers to prevent piracy of their work by unscrupulous agents and publishers?

Like I said I’ve been doing this for almost 7 years now and I’ve never come across the issue of somebody’s work being stolen by an agent or publisher. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened. I’m just saying I have not heard of any cases. However if the author is worried about that they could have their work copyrighted before submitting it to anyone.

What would you say is the biggest difference between Solstice and a “legacy” publisher – Random House, for instance?

The biggest difference is that Solstice is primarily an e-publisher. We do print on demand for our print books but ebooks is our main focus. We put your book in print but they don’t go into stores. A bookstore can order them and stock them if they want and we have had authors get their books into local book stores in their town, but that is on a case by case basis. The majority of our print books can only be bought online.

Understanding that many literary success stories are often “right place, right time,” what can aspiring authors and writers do to level the playing field?

Marketing is the biggest thing. An author needs to brand their name. The more they get their name out there the better their success will be. Writing the book is the fun part. After the book is published is when the work starts. Social media is one of the most important assets to an author.

Who are some of Solstice’s rising stars?

There are too many to name. Some of our best sellers are: Lanny Poffo, Tell Cotton, Elle Marlow, Mysty McPartland.

What would you tell a young person in school who wants to pursue a dream of being published?

I would tell them to stay in school and work hard. Don’t expect everything to be handed to you. Being a published author is hard work. I don’t want to scare them off but a lot of people think that being an author is no big deal that you put a book up for sale and then you sit back and get the big check. That simply isn’t the way it really works. I would like to encourage a young person to pursue this dream and do it but just know going into it that they have to put the work into it. It can be an amazing thing to write your story and then see it published, but then they need to know that they also have to market and promote their book or they will be disappointed and not want to continue their dream.

Many Solstice authors are unofficial “foodies.” That being said, where’s your favorite place to get a good cup of coffee?

I know this will be viewed wrong by so many people LOL but I’m not a coffee drinker. Now Dr. Pepper, that is a different story. I have to have my Dr. Pepper.

Finally, if someone wants to become part of the Solstice family, either by landing a contract or working for you, what’s the first step?

If they would like to  submit their stories to us they can do that here:  http://solsticepublishing.com/submissions/

By the letter

What are the most oft-used letters in the alphabet? I searched and counted the appearances of each letter in my 100,000-word book Tread Carefully on the Sea. This was the result:

A = 36663
B = 7858 (surprisingly low)
C = 10815
D = 20542
E = 55097 (clear winner)
F = 8952
G = 9173
H = 29345
I = 28040
J = 1025
K = 4148
L = 17700
M = 9772
N = 30706
O = 33862
P = 7832
Q = 385
R = 23893
S = 27617
T = 41858
U = 11851
V = 3961
W = 12078
X = 517
Y = 7776
Z = 274 (loser)

A personal tale of the 20th Century

B

Written by my mother who died in 1978.  She had a sign in the hall of our house with the wood cut away to form the words: “Today is the Tomorrow We Worried About Yesterday – and all is well.” That epitomized her approach to life.

My mother’s journal, written in longhand and dated April 1974

Dedicated to my family, who I’ve loved, and hoping my grandchildren will understand a little of the life I’ve led.

THE EARLY DAYS

I was born on February 5th 1908 at Grassmere Road, Lightwater, Surrey (England) and christened Vera Kathleen.

My mother, Helen Susan Barns, was born in Wales. I don’t know the birthplace but they moved to Oxford where her mother owned a shop.

My father, Charles Henry White, was born at Woodley (Berkshire, England) into a large family of thirteen and he was one of twins.

I never saw my granny on my mother’s side but I have vivid memories of my father’s family as they all lived at Woodley, right near the aerodrome. As each one married, it was called “White’s Village”.

I was the youngest of five children. I had three sisters and one brother. My eldest sister was named Beatrice, the next one, my brother, was Charles, then my sister Winnie and the next Elsie.

My parents were very poor but honest hard-working people. My father left school at the age of eleven and was apprenticed to interior decorating, which he continued to do until he died.

My parents moved from Surrey to 49 Amity Road, Reading (Berkshire, England) when I was two years old. It was only a small terraced house with a small front room, dining room, a scullery which is now called a kitchen, an outside toilet and three bedrooms. We never had bathrooms.

I was three when I started at Newtown School where I stayed until I left at fourteen.

But first I must try to remember the outstanding parts of my life before leaving school. I’ll try to recall the things that interested me while I was young and may interest my grandchildren as a lot of old customs have died out.

My mother was very strict but very clean and worked hard, staying up till midnight making our clothes on a sewing machine, and washing our underclothes which were all white calico and made that very hard work. There were no washing machines, only two tin baths and a scrubbing board. No washing powder, only soda, a piece of soap, a knob of blue and starch. It took all day to do the washing and then everything had to be scrubbed. We had an old copper for boiling the clothes and we burned wood and coal underneath. So after washing you had to take all the ashes out and whiten the copper with a pummy stone.  There were no bright clothes and I stand in shops today and stare at all the beautiful colours of the underclothes.

I had to wear black stockings and button-up black boots. You had a little crotchet hook to do the buttons up.

Being the youngest, all my clothes were handed down to me from my sisters as money was very tight.

We never had gas or electric fires. We had a big black kitchen range. You cooked on top of it and had an oven for baking. Everything was home-made and tasted so much better than food does today. But it was hard work as we used black lead to clean and polish the grate. The brass pokers also had to be polished.

We started off with oil lamps on the table for lighting but later had gas. Even on the bikes you had what was called betascetylene – like a grey powder for a light. There were no batteries.

As I grew older, I had to help with jobs around the house. We each had our own tasks to do before and after school. I had to run errands before school and always seemed to be late. We had a big bell on top of the school which was rung at 8.50am and 1.50 in the afternoon. I had three school friends and I still write to two of them.

On a Saturday night my mother and father would go to the market to buy cheap fish, fruit and vegetables. The market had wooden stalls and lamps were used for light. That was where the car park is now, just past St Laurence’s Church. While my parents were at the market, my sister Beatrice had to bath us in the old tin bath in the scullery where there was a little fireplace, but we had fun and we were a happy, affectionate family. My brother would play all sorts of tricks on us to frighten us but we were all in bed when our parents came home.

On Sunday morning we were given a boiled sweet as we had no pocket money and a sweet was a treat. We had to put our best clothes on and go to church, come home for Sunday lunch and then go to Sunday School, back home for tea and then church again in the evening.

I never had any toys or birthday parties. We didn’t know what a birthday cake looked like. Even at Christmas we bought strips of coloured paper and glue to make our own paper chains. We also made paper dresses.  We never had a Christmas tree. We did have good food although Christmas Eve meant very hard work. Dad always kept chicken. He’d kill a cockerel and then Mum would pluck all the feathers and clean the bird. While she was doing that, Beatrice and Winnie would have to make all the stuffing, rubbing stale bread and chopping onions and sage that Dad grew. We all helped make the Christmas pudding, taking stones out of raisins and cleaning currants, making mincemeat and pastry. While all this was going on, a big piece of ham would be cooking because, although money was short, food was very cheap.

At bedtime we would hang up our Christmas stocking and the next morning we were delighted to open them and find an orange, apple, a few nuts and a sweet “mouse”.

START

We children were never allowed to read newspapers because they may tell us something we shouldn’t know. We were not told anything or allowed to overhear any conversations regarding marriage.

There were a lot of things that made life a bit more interesting, like going in a cart drawn by horses to a field for our Sunday School treat. We ran races and had a couple of buns and some lemonade. Another treat for us was a carriage ride some Bank Holidays to Maidenhead Thicket where we played hide and seek. Some Saturday evenings Mum and Dad would take us to the Palace of Variety, which was then by the side of the Odeon Theatre.

We never had television but did have an old gramophone you had to wind up with a handle. The records were only sixpence. Dad also had an accordion. He’d play and we’d sing. You just had to make your own fun. We were never allowed in the street to play. After tea we’d have to sit and sew and learn to knit.

There were very few cars about, although everyone had a bike.  The milkman brought the milk in big urns on a cart. You had to take a jug to the door for it to be poured.

There were push-along trucks painted bright colours from which ice cream was sold. You took a basin out and it was filled for two pennies (old pennies). A muffin man wearing a cap would come up the road, ringing a bell. They were a halfpenny each and you toasted them in front of a big fire for tea.

On May 1st, a big pole was fixed up in the school playground and had coloured ribbons hanging down. It was called the May Pole. We had to dance around this and sing.

Also Britain had an empire, which has now vanished, but on Empire Day, May 24th, girls wore white dresses as well as red, white and blue hair ribbons and carried a small Union Jack flag. After prayers in the assembly hall at school we sang Empire songs. One I liked was “Land of Hope and Glory”. Then we would have to march past a big flag and salute. There was a motto on the school hall wall which I have never forgotten: “What is worth doing is worth doing well.”

By the time I had reached the age of five, my mother had developed rheumatoid arthritis and had a job to get about.

I was only six years old when World War I started.

WORLD WAR I

My father was called up for the war and served in the Fourth Royal Berks Regiment. My brother Charlie joined the Royal Navy.

My father came home from barracks about three times but afterwards was sent to France. The poor soldiers were in trenches in thick mud and had to march everywhere.

My mother read in the newspaper how my father had a narrow escape. He was opening a can of corned beef and a shell came over and blew the can right out of his hands, but he wasn’t hurt.

While my father was in France, I was taken into the Royal Berkshire Hospital with pneumonia, a serious illness then, and I was very unwell for a couple of weeks. I had recovered from that and was back at school when my brother arrived home as his ship HMS Cockran had been blown up in the Battle of Jutland, so he too had a lucky escape.

My sisters Beatrice and Winnie were working at Huntley & Palmers (biscuit factory). At home we were rationed with potatoes, butter and most foods but one treat we had was that everyone working at Huntley & Palmers was given a bag of broken biscuits and we waited for my sisters to come home then really enjoyed sorting the biscuits over. Beatrice had met a young man and was courting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery of the mysteries

Most of us read fiction and that often means a crime story. We want to be presented with a dramatic situation and empathize with a victim. Very quickly we want to meet the good guy (official detective, private investigator, lawyer or roving wild anti-hero) who’s going to sort it out. Next we require a villain who we can hate. The basic framework has been the same throughout history – it’s only the technology that has moved on.

So we read a book but we’ve placed some expectations on what the author is going to dish up.  Is it the same in all media? Well, mostly yes in the case of movies although some, like Tarantino, have certainly broken the mold.

Television is awash with crime stories and very often the dramas pick at one of those most frightening subjects of all — the abduction of a child. One of these was a serial called “Amber” which had Ireland on the edge of its seats waiting to find out what had happened to the eponymous little girl. The answer didn’t come. The script never revealed Amber’s fate and the tv station was buried in complaints from frustrated viewers.

So there’s something in us that wants surprise from our stories but also demands reassurance — we’ll get all the answers. Are we reading, or viewing, for entertainment or do we need fiction to do for us what we can’t be sure the real world will do, i.e. come right in the end? I’d love your views.

THANKS to everyone who’s commented on this post (please see). I think it adds to up to two things: Readers or viewers enter an unwritten contract with an author/screenplay writer and have expectations of a good story with certain elements. But they do also expect to be taken by surprise. The surprise must be acceptable, however. And to end a story without a surprise – as arguably “Amber” did – is a breach of the contract.

The ocean wave

What’s your favourite sea story? You’d think from what I say elsewhere on this site that mine was Treasure Island. But you’d be wrong! TI comes second. Number One is The Odyssey. Nearly three thousand years old and still the best. I think it’s been an influence on every other tale of the sea that has since been written.

The future of books

There’s a lot of speculation at present about whether (or when) ebooks will become more commonplace than the printed versions. What then is the future of hardbacks? Will the most traditional of all forms of reading die out? Perhaps those already on our shelves will become novelty items in the not-too-distant future.

Author of fiction