Interview with publisher and author Frank Burton

Posted by Paul Samael on Friday, June 28, 2013 Under: Self-publishing



Here's an email interview with publisher and author Frank Burton, who's behind non-profit publisher
Philistine Press.  I recently reviewed Stephanie Newell's "The Third Person" which is published by Philistine Press.  This got me interested in non-profit publishers as a possible alternative route for authors who can't get taken on by a mainstream publisher but aren't overly keen on self-publishing either.  Frank also maintains an extensive list of non-profit publishers on his own personal website, which is well worth a look - not just for budding authors but also as a way for readers to get their hands on quality free fiction.

How easy was it to get started as a non-profit publisher?  

To begin with, all I needed was a website, which is easy to put together if you know how. I knew very little when I started, but I learnt how to build a basic site using an online service (http://streamline.net). This was the basis for Philistine Press. 

Then I learned how to publish through platforms such as Feedbooks, Google Books and Smashwords, who go on to distribute the ebooks to large companies such as iBooks and Barnes and Noble. Again, this was relatively straightforward. 

The difficult part is dedicating the time to put all these things together. It’s time-consuming but time well spent. 

Did you have to actively seek out authors to publish or did they find you?

We’re listed on a few directories – the biggest two being https://duotrope.com and http://pw.org. Writers either discover us through a directory or through word of mouth. So, basically, I don’t need to do much when it comes to seeking out writers. 

What are the most common reasons why authors choose to publish with you, rather than with a "conventional" publisher? (I'm assuming it's not the advance!).

I’d imagine every writer would come up with a slightly different response, but I think exposure is the big one. A lot of small presses, as high quality as their output may be, bring in very little money and very few readers. If you’re hardly going to make any money anyway, you might as well give your work away for free, and gain thousands of readers in the process. 

I’d like to think the other big reason is that we’re really good!   

What do you think Philistine Press (and other non-profit publishers) can offer writers as compared with the self-publishing route?

First of all, you get the opportunity to work with an editor. Some writers have the ability to edit their own work up to a publishable standard (there are a couple of Philistine Press authors whose work I didn’t need to touch) – but most authors need some kind of guiding hand, even if it’s just to clean up the typos. 

Secondly, promoting your own work takes a lot of effort, and even then doesn’t guarantee you a great deal of attention. There are plenty of self-published authors out there who are great writers but lousy promoters. A good publisher can draw the readers in for you, so that you can invest more time in writing. 

Conventional publishers usually try to have a range of books across a variety of different genres etc.  Is that something you've consciously tried to do with your list or has it evolved more randomly in response to submissions?

From the beginning, we’ve been open to all genres and styles. Luckily, we’ve received a wide variety. So far, we’ve published novels, short stories, poetry, humour, science fiction, horror, flash fiction, literary fiction and a manifesto. 

The decision to publish these particular books wasn’t necessarily done in the interests of eclecticism. It just so happened that the books we’ve chosen are the best submissions we’ve received. So, things seemed to have worked out as planned. 

What do you look for in a submission?

I’m interested in writing that leaps out and demands my attention – an irresistible narrative hook, a powerful poetic voice, or simply a big laugh. 

The writer also needs the ability to sustain that level of interest across a whole piece of work. There aren’t that many writers who can do that. 

You also publish audio/music. Is this something you are actively trying to develop, to complement the written material, or did it happen more by accident? 

The original idea was to have lots of audio stuff – performance poetry, audiobooks and a bit of music. Sadly, looking at the stats, very few people listen to the audio. For that reason, we won’t be publishing any music or spoken word any time soon. It’s a shame because what’s there is really good, but it’s best to stick to what we’re successful at. 

What's the best thing about being a non-profit publisher?  And the worst?

The best thing is the freedom. We’ll never need to say, “It’s great, but will it sell?” Instead, we say “It’s great – let’s publish it.” 

From a writer’s point of view, not making money gives you the freedom to take more risks, be more experimental and less crowd-pleasing. 

It’s not about being cutting-edge just for the sake of it. Quality is the bottom line. As we all know, profit-making publishers often sacrifice quality for the sake of sales. 

The worst thing is not having the budget to promote our writers’ work as much as I’d like. I can’t complain too much though – we’ve done pretty well without a budget. 

On your own personal website, there is an amazing list of sites offering free literature.  I've spent a moderate amount of time trawling the web for sources of free fiction but without turning up a great deal (other than obvious sources like Smashwords, Feedbooks etc).  Clearly I have not been looking hard enough!  How did you put this list together?

Painstakingly, I’m afraid! It would be inaccurate to define non-profit publishing as a movement or a community, because half of us aren’t even aware of the other half’s existence. My mission in putting together a dedicated list of non-profit publishers was to make people aware of how many free ebook publishers there are out there – and how good they are. 

I’m very pleased with it. There are plenty of directories of publishers out there, but I’m not aware of any that are dedicated to non-profit publishers. Correct me if I’m wrong – I’d be interested to know who else has had the same bright idea. 

As well as setting up Philistine Press, you've published a collection of short stories (A History of Sarcasm) and a novel (The Prodigals).  What advice would you give to first time authors based on your experience of publishing to date?

Consider your options carefully. Take the time to research the market. Find out who the good publishers are, and whether or not your work will suit them. 

Publishers’ guidelines often dissuade you from sending out multiple submissions but I keenly encourage it. Waiting for one publisher to reject you before submitting to another would end up being a long drawn-out process. 

Don’t be disheartened if you end up with a string of rejections. No matter how talented you are, it’s a virtual inevitability. Rejections aren’t necessarily a reflection on the quality of your work. Decisions are often based on the personal taste of the editor, or the publishers’ highly specific requirements. 

So, if you know your work is good, don’t give up on it. 

How do you see the future of publishing generally - are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Optimist, definitely – particularly when it comes to small presses. E-publishing may have revolutionised the industry, but arguably, it hasn’t changed the relationship between mainstream publishers and their consumers. The format may have been revolutionised, but on the whole, the same kind of books are being sold to the same kind of readership. 

Small publishers are experiencing a more significant revolution. Not so long ago, most independent publishers were limited to tiny print runs in a single geographical location. Now small publishers have been given the opportunity to distribute an unlimited number of books to a global audience.

I’ve got no idea what will happen as a result of this monumental stroke of good fortune, but I’m convinced that the future’s bright. 

Frank Burton's short story collection "A Short History of Sarcasm" is available from Amazon and his novel "The Prodigals" is available on Smashwords.   The Philistine Press blog is here.  I'm very grateful to him for taking the time to answer my questions.

In : Self-publishing 


Tags: "frank burton" "philistine press" interview "non-profit publishers" 
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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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