Jessica Tribble has been Publisher of Poisoned Pen Press (PPP) in Scottsdale, Ariz., since 2005, after enjoying the summer of 2004 as their intern.
She described PPP as “one of the largest publishers of hardcover mysteries in the country.” They specialize in debut authors who may not fit the current accepted model of larger publishers.
“We think high quality mysteries will get read regardless of whether or not they fit the model,” she said. “People who like mysteries are avid readers and want new books all the time.”
The Current Publishing Metamorphosis
Jessica described a metamorphosis in book publishing that is similar to what MP3-sharing Napster sparked in music in 1999. To restrict piracy, the music industry resisted the movement. Consumers continued to demand the kind of easy, inexpensive way to obtain digital tracks that Napster offered. iTunes and others created the legal model that won the battle for consumers.
That’s what eBooks are doing to book publishing. Libraries launched an eBook lending revolution around 2003.
“I hope the book industry has learned from the music industry that trying to limit access is not good,” Jessica said. “We want to make it easy for people to access books.” PPP simultaneously publishes in hard cover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback and eBook.
In case you’re new to the biz, trade paperbacks range is size – around seven inches by 10 inches – and cost about $13.99 to $16.99. Mass-market paperbacks are four inches by seven inches and priced at $6.99 to $7.99.
Digital Right Management (DRM) is the issue with eBooks. Some publishers DRM-protect their eBooks, requiring you to use their e-reader – thus restricting access.
“Our books are not DRM-protected,” Jessica said. “That causes more problems for the reader.” Since people tend to read what others recommend, she believes publishers need to do all they can to make books easy to get. “I’m hoping that the shift we’re seeing means we have better access to books and a way to talk about them and make them accessible to people in a variety of lifestyles.”
Writing a Publishable Novel
Jessica said she can tell by reading 30 pages of a manuscript if the book will sell. Here are some tips.
- Maintain a consistent and strong narrative voice – “We can fix plot; we can’t fix voice,” Jessica said. People read to be immersed into a different world than their own. “Characterization and voice are the two things that take us there.” PPP prefers to see stories written from one character’s perspective. Some authors can manage more than one, but even they should limit them to as few as possible.
- Find the gold zone for readability – Jessica recommends keeping the word count to between 60,000 to 90,000. Not only is that length the “gold zone” for cost to produce, it also keeps the reader engaged. “It moves quickly but not at breakneck speed,” she said, cautioning that historical sometimes requires more explanation and could go longer.
- Write believable dialogue – Pay attention to how people of various ages, genders and nationalities talk (requiring you to listen rather than talk) – in theory, you should be able to read a line of speech and identify who said it. Use dialogue to move the story along, or delete it. Combine dialogue with action to help the reader envision what’s happening. Don’t use dialogue to dump information. Test your dialogue by reading it aloud.
- Be picky when looking for an agent or publisher – Whether or not you’re working through an agent, the people with whom you choose to work need to love your work, and you need to love working with them. You need to read contracts carefully. Jessica has seen authors use the Author’s Guild to review their contracts. You may not get all the changes you want in a contract, but that’s called negotiation.
- Recognize your amazing accomplishment – You’ve written a whole manuscript! Present it with confidence and excitement when talking to agents and publishers. Smile. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake. Be yourself.
Joy in Laughter
“I was at a job once, and my boss told me I laughed too much,” Jessica said. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t stay here.’ That’s how I get through my day. I can’t pretend everything is serious.” She makes a point of finding the humor in things and experiences. “Life is too mundane otherwise.”
She also enjoys reading, watching TV and listening to music. She makes a point of finding creative aspects to the things she does, whether it’s helping someone put together a catalog, painting a wall, making curtains or helping a friend pick out baby clothes.
“And I like to eat out. I spend my time with people who like to find things joyful even if we don’t have the same things in common. There’s a silliness that makes day-to-day life better.”