Gabrielle Reid: Can you tell me a little bit about Ventura Press?
Zoe Hale: We were founded by Jane Curry who has over two decades of publishing experience both in Australia and the UK. Ventura has two imprints, Impact Press and Peter Bishop Books. Impact Press is for start-up authors who are willing to contribute to the costs of publishing, but are treated the same as any other author. Peter Bishop Books is our new literary fiction imprint which at the moment is by commission only.
GR: When you say "willing to contribute to the costs of publishing", is that a part-author funded part-publisher funded model, or does the author generally cover most of the initial financial outlay of things like printing and then rely on you guys for all the expertise they don't have (e.g. cover design, editing, marketing)?
ZH: The latter. We provide the experience and expertise, and the direct pathway to the market place, plus experience from our top designers and editors that would otherwise be hard to access. All our books for all imprints are distributed by Simon and Schuster, so that's how your book would reach your local bookstore.
GR: And "treated like any other" presumably means your job involves quite a bit of rejecting manuscripts that aren't up to scratch!
ZH: Yes unfortunately it does! Impact is not vanity publishing - if we take your manuscript on it is because we believe in it. We don't just publish anything that comes through our door. It has to meet our publishing standards and be suitable for our list. Self-publishing is expensive and also very hard to get distribution for, which is why so many people who self publish can end up with a stack of unwanted books in their garage. But Ventura does all that for all our authors.
GR: So it sounds like Ventura would fit into the "hybrid" definition?
ZH: Our imprint Impact Press is certainly Hybrid. We also do a short list every year of Ventura Press books, which are not part of the hybrid model. Those books are books we often commission and seek to sell high amounts of in order to cover costs. Our bestseller The Better Son and more recent release Neon Pilgrim are examples of this.
GR: What’s your role?
ZH: My role at Ventura Press is as Managing Editor, which means taking a manuscript from submission to publication and distribution in your local bookstore. This means I handle the edit, the design of the cover and internal pages, provide author support, and organise printing and distribution.
GR: Going back to rejections, when you decide to take a manuscript on, who is part of that decision? Is it just up to you, or do you meet with a team to discuss?
ZH: This is the benefit of a small publisher, as we all are part of the acquisitions meeting. It's not solely up to me, and I don't have the final word, our Publisher Jane Curry does. However, I can make a strong recommendation either way and the plus of being small is that often my recommendation is heard. So it's a team decision, with all areas/persons of experience weighing in. In larger publishing houses this process would be slightly different - each publisher (not editor) brings to a meeting a manuscript they'd like to publish and this is discussed with other publishers.
GR: Does that go both ways? i.e. if you don't think a book is good enough, do you still have to take it to the team before rejecting or are you trusted to make that decision yourself?
ZH: Yes, it goes both ways for us. Even if I don't like a book it still goes to the team for discussion.
GR: What happens if you disagree with a colleague about the value of a book?
ZH: It depends on the colleague and the book. If you truly believe in a book you can fight for it. If the colleague hasn't read the manuscript then I encourage them to read all of it first. Our publisher Jane has the final word though, and I have on occasion had to let go of manuscripts I liked, and you do at the end of the day just go on with your job. If you can get the person who is advocating for your book at that meeting to be passionate about you and your book, then you have a chance.
GR: What do you look for when choosing a book to publish
ZH: There are 3 main things I look for as an editor, and generally most editors and publishers will be similar...
1. Who is the author? Do we know them? Do they have a public profile? Is this their first book? Have they won awards for their writing? Or, if nonfiction, are they an expert in their field, do they have authority in what they are writing about?
2. The writing and the story - is the writing good quality in itself? Is it suitable for the target demographic?
3. Is the whole product something we can market and believe in and get behind? Does it suit our identity as a publishing house?
GR: How many of the books you take on come from agents vs author submissions (obviously this will be different from a big publishing house that rarely accepts unagented submissions)?
ZH: Our bestseller The Better Son came through an agent, but we also reject some books sent to us by agents because they don't align with our list. Most of our Impact books come to us through author submissions, but most of our Ventura list comes to us via agents or commission. That said, we always look at each serious submission carefully. The benefit of being independent that we can afford to be less commercial. So even if we receive a book for our Ventura list we don't think fits with Ventura, we can offer them Impact if we think the book still has merit to be published.
GR: Are all of your authors Australian?
ZH: Yes. We only publish Australian authors who live in Australia. This is so key for selling a book in the local market.
GR: Switching to you personally... how did you get involved in the industry?
ZH: I did a BA in Communications majoring in writing as an undergrad at University, then I went in to a Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing. I took an internship at Allen & Unwin and also worked on my university's creative writing anthology, which gave me my taste and love of helping authors see their dreams of getting published become reality. I was very lucky while I was studying my Grad Cert to be offered a part time role at a small online education business as the in-house editor, and I also did a lot of freelance editing to get more experience with books. After quite a number of years freelance editing books, I landed a job in-house with Ventura to manage their publications
GR: Do you still read non-work books for pleasure?
ZH: Yes!!! I love it!! Also, it is important to know what your competition is publishing and market trends. But mainly it's just because I love reading!
GR: What kinds of books do you like to read? Are they similar genres and styles to what you publish, or do you deliberately seek out things that wouldn't be suited to Ventura, or both?
ZH: Both. I am naturally drawn to literary fiction, but I also make more of an effort now to read the types of books on our list, such as memoir and nonfiction.
GR: Do you find it hard to switch off the mental "red pen" when reading?
ZH: Yes, I do find it hard. Unfortunately if a book is badly edited I find it hard to enjoy!
GR: Do you actively look for Australian writers when browsing a bookstore too? Or is it more of a happy bonus?
ZH: It's more of a happy bonus for me. I like to know about new Australian writers and what they're up to, but I like a lot of international authors as well.
GR: Do you browse for your books online, in a shop, or usually know what you're looking for in advance thanks to a recommendation/advertising/review?
ZH: I love browsing in an actual bookstore, nothing beats it. When I go online it's because I know what I'm looking for. But if I'm browsing I like to pick up the book and flip through its pages, and appreciate the work that's gone into making it. I sometimes know what I'm looking for, but often I like to go in and have a wander. Reviews and recommendations from friends also play a big role.
GR: I notice Ventura doesn't accept children's or YA submissions. What’s the reason for that, and is it likely to change at a future time depending on who joins your team?
ZH: We don't usually accept YA or childrens as its a specialised area in publishing and not a part of our identity that we've chosen to cultivate. It may indeed change in the future, so I certainly wouldn't rule it out for the years to come!
GR: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, I really appreciate you sharing your insights.
Zoe has a LinkedIn profile and can be contacted via Ventura Press, who are also on twitter.