Interview Transcripts

Kelly Christiansen aka CrystalWizard: The Publisher's Perspective 2/21/08



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, I want to welcome you all to what is surely going to be a very fun chat.

Kelly Christiansen, CrystalWizard, author, artist, and small press publisher, is editor of 'Flashing Swords' ezine, and publisher of 'The Return of the Sword' an anthology of stories from 'Flashing Swords'.

I met Crystal through a student of mine when he told me she would be publishing his book.

I immediately did a 'scam search' being the protective mother hen that I am....

and she came up quite clean and quite intriguing.

Kelly (Don't tell anybody, but that's her real name...) is not only an artist, and a writer, but a publisher.

Kelly Christiansen

*grins*

Mary Rosenblum

And she's quite the artist. I'll be putting up the rather lovely virtual office she created for me on my website and I'll put a link in the newsletter so you can all admire it.

So Crystal, let's start from the first page here...how did you get started in the world of arts and letters?

Kelly Christiansen

h boy. That's quite a loaded question

I started writing in high school.

No one was publishing the sort of books I liked to read, so I decided I'd have to write them myself!

Mary Rosenblum

 ( Which is how we all start )

Kelly Christiansen

That got side tracked while I had kids

then started back up when a friend of mine, out of the clear blue sky, asked if I'd written anything for a while,

which I hadn't. For more than 15 years.

But I had this image of a dark street, with a street lamp.... and fog drifting under it

Kelly Christiansen

so I sat down to describe it and fell back into the world of writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool! So...

how did this lead to Flashing Swords, your magazine?

Flashing Swords

Kelly Christiansen

That was a very long, convoluted route.

Part way through the 3rd book in the series I started with that foggy street, I decided I wanted to publish them but I didn't want to give up control

so I went down the self-publishing path. In the course of trying to find people to market to, I discovered SFReader.com

the largest spec-fiction site on the net

and the forums

which are full of writers and small press publishers. It's a great incubator.

I hung around there for a while, a couple of years actually,

and one day, the previous publisher of Flashing Swords posted a notice. He was going to give the magazine away and wanted people to pm him.

I did.

He gave it to me.

And I suddenly had a magazine on my hands

and no staff.

Fortunately we've got good people on SFReader and my assistant editor, Jason Waltz, was more than willing to become part of my team.

Mary Rosenblum

That's about three full time jobs right there.

Kelly Christiansen

Yes.

.

At least.

I would be very lost without both Jason and Mike Turner, the other editor on our team.

Jason's also the editor of Return of the Sword

the anthology that Flashing Swords press is releasing on March 15

so he's only slightly busy ;)

Mary Rosenblum

http://cyberwizardproductions.googlepages.com/returnofthesword

That's the link to the anthology.

So how long have you published Flashing Swords now?

Kelly Christiansen

I took it over last August and our first issue was November. That was FS #8. We just put out issue 9 on the first of Feb.

So around 6 months or so.

writeaway

Hi Kelly. As a small press publisher, what type stories do you publish? What are your pet peeves?

Kelly Christiansen

Flashing Swords has very specific guidelines. FS publishes Sword and Sorcery, Swashbuckling adventure, Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Planet and epic fantasy

Cyberwizard Productions, which is my publishing company, has several imprints

so I'm open to most types of writing. My biggest pet peeve is writers who talk negatively about themselves, and give up when it gets tough.

Mary Rosenblum

What are your imprints, Crystal? What do you enjoy publishing?

Kelly Christiansen

Ancient Tomes is the fantasy imprint.

Dimenundo Press is the poetry imprint.

Flashing Swords Press is the imprint for the books being put out in conjunction with the magazine.

Fireside Mysteries Press is the Cozy imprint.

What do I enjoy publishing....

that depends on my mood.

charie'

What do you mean by "imprint"?

Kelly Christiansen

Think of it like a folder on your computer :)

The main company, Cyberwizards Productions, funds all the books

but to organize stuff

there's a sub group for mysteries, one for poetry, one for fantasy.

Makes it easier for me to categorize things

and for the readers to do so as well.

Mary Rosenblum

How many books have you published, so far, Crystal? This is all pretty new, right?

Kelly Christiansen

It's fairly new. I have 4 books in print, the 5th coming out march 15, and several more that are contracts in authors hands but still being revised manuscripts.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you! Nice start.

Kelly Christiansen

Thanks :)

rae

Do all your book gets printed online only, or do you have hard copies of the books?

Kelly Christiansen

We put out both print and e versions of the books.

Mary Rosenblum

So how are you distributing? Through the website and amazon.com? Other ways? You have a VERY nice contract by the way. That's partly why I looked you up.

Kelly Christiansen

The printer I'm using is Lightningsource. By going through them I have an automatic relationship with Baker & Taylor, Gardner's books, Bertram's books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram.

Or people can buy them from me direct.

Thanks for the compliment on the contract :)

I can't compete with the large advances from people like Tor, so I figured I could offer better benefits to the authors.

Mary Rosenblum

Lightning Source seems to be the best option with the small press people I’ve talked to. And that's the big balancer between NY and small press.

Among other things.

Benefits, I mean.

Kelly Christiansen

LSI is an exceptional printer. They do both digital and offset printing.

They have excellent quality control and

they are actually cheaper than offset for smaller print runs.

writeaway

plus I don't have to warehouse unless I want to.

Kelly Christiansen

even the big houses are starting to use LSI

rae

Are the print books on demand only, or do you keep a stock for the authors?

Kelly Christiansen

I can do either. the bookstores can order as many copies as they want straight from any of the distributors

so there's no real reason to warehouse.

The only reason for that, really, is to get the price break

but then you have to deal with keeping the books safe as well as moving them.

Mary Rosenblum

And then you run into tax issues. Which is why the NY midlist is gone.

Kelly Christiansen

So mostly, we leave it to the bookstores to order the number that they want. that way, they don't wind up with more on their shelves than they feel they can sell

and you get far fewer returns

dianne

How long does it take from signed contract to book on the bookshelves?

Kelly Christiansen

A minimum of 6 months. and that's if you have everything polished and ready to go.

I've got one author who was looking at 2009, but is probably not going to have everything ready till 2010 at the rate she's moving.

rae

So your printer could make books in large type for low vision readers?

Kelly Christiansen

Any printer can do that. That's dealt with when the book is typeset.

You can do that with the printer attached to your computer at home.

Just use a large font.

sailor

Can you elaborate on the benefits you offer?

Kelly Christiansen

Mary, you've seen the contract

why don't you point out what you liked the most about it?

Mary Rosenblum

It's the standard SFWA contract. Decent royalty for the authors, percentage of cover price, not net price...

I don't recall your precise numbers, but they were neither unrealistic nor mercenary.

And it was fair.

rae

In reference to the large print books. I was referring to your books that are ordered. Not the ezine copies.

Kelly Christiansen

Something that I offer, that I don't believe anyone else does, is the ability for the author to buy copies of their book for just the cost of printing it and shipping it to them.

And it's spelled out in the contract that if they sell those copies, they keep 100% of the profits.

Mary Rosenblum

Have you thought about doing large print for the vision impaired readers.

Kelly Christiansen

I haven't had any requests for large print books, actually. I wouldn't be adverse to it, if there was a need.

If it was just one person that wanted a large print book, though, I'd probably set up a single job with someone other than LSI

and customize it for them.

Mary Rosenblum

Hard to say. I’ve had a number of fan requests from the blind community for either large type or audio books.

I'm not sure how large the market is.

Kelly Christiansen

In regard to rae's question:

I'd have to set up a different job with the printer specifically for large print. they couldn't take one job and print it several different ways.

cajunguy

How many books do you anticipate publishing in 2008?

Kelly Christiansen

4 to 6 if everything goes well. along with 3 more issues of the magazine.

Mary Rosenblum

You like a busy life do you? :-)

Kelly Christiansen

*grin* yeah. And that's in my spare time ;)

charie'

How do you determine the retail price for a book?

Kelly Christiansen

The author of the book and I discuss what sort of profit he/she would like to see and we set the retail price based partly on that and partly on the market.

If it's my personal book, then I try to set it pretty close to what others of it's type are selling for.

Mary Rosenblum

And there's the cost of production. :-)

Kelly Christiansen

Yes.

rae

What is a reasonable profit an author could make?

Kelly Christiansen

Define reasonable.

rae

Perhaps between 2-20 cents or 1-2 dollars? I don't know, as I haven't sold anything yet.

Kelly Christiansen

Okay, let me use Return of the Sword as an example then.

Jason and I wanted to make our money back from the cost of putting it together and also fund the next anthology out of it's sales.

It's going to cost about 7 dollars a book to print

so we set the retail price at 16.50

we give a 40% discount to bookstores and distributors

so 16.50 – 7 = 8.50

is the profit. then 60% of that is what we get if we don’t' sell the copies our selves (5.10)

then we divide that into three chunks

so that's going to give us less than 2 dollars a book each, and the rest to fund the next anthology

RotS is a thick book.

Kelly Christiansen

100K words

Mary Rosenblum

And that  is about all you'd get each on a NY royalty by the way.

Kelly Christiansen

And that is why

we could have set the retail price at 20.00

but then we're chasing away a lot of customers.

They might want the book... but they won't want to pay that much.

so better to sell a lot of copies for a small amount of profit each

than a few copies for a large amount each.

sailor

I assume we're talking paperback and not hardback?

Kelly Christiansen

Yes. Paperback. But the principal is the same. The production cost of a hardback is more expensive

so the base price is higher.

After that, though, your concern is market. you don't want to price too high, even on a hardback or your books will make nice decorations on the bookstore selves.

cajunguy

"Novice" question. What is the difference between digital and offset printing? Not the process, but the results.

Kelly Christiansen

There's very little.

The color might be just slightly different on the book cover.

Digital is less forgiving too.

johnw

What is the difference between a trade paperback and hardcover as far as marketability?

Kelly Christiansen

That depends heavily on your subject matter.

People that want pulp fiction want soft cover books that they can stuff in a bag

they aren't likely to be buying many hard cover books.

Mary Rosenblum

I can tell you that library sales account for a large share of hardcover sales.

Kelly Christiansen

Yes. Libraries want books that'll hold up well.

Paperback books don't hold up nearly as well as hardback.

charie'

What is your opinion of the new tall, thin paperbacks?

Kelly Christiansen

they fall off my bookshelf about as easily as the fat ones do.

I personally don't have any preference for sizes. But most people have bookshelves that are designed for certain sizes of books. you put your book in a size that doesn't fit on their shelves and they might not buy it.

Jason Waltz

My apologies, I guess I posted to the crowd and not directly to our host and guest: I commented back on the pricing and said "the printing cost is just that - printing. We also try to recover the cost of payouts to authors and artists, so there really isn't any profit on the first 250 books sold."

Kelly Christiansen

Mary, that would be Jason.

Mary Rosenblum

I sort of guessed. :-)

Hi, Jason.

Chip in whenever you wish.

dianne

What knocks your socks off in a story?

Kelly Christiansen

That really depends on the story. Something that'll get my emotions engaged,

make me laugh, or cry, pull me into the character.

gail

What are your basic criteria when choosing which books to publish?

Kelly Christiansen

First, it depends on the type of book. If it's poetry, it needs to touch me some how.

If it's fiction, it has to be a good story. It has to hold my attention all the way through.

If it's an article or essay, it has to be informative and factual.

The fastest way to get me to ask you for a revision of an article is to send me something you didn't research

with facts that aren't correct.

If you're going to write about the mating habits of a mongoose, you can expect me to check your facts

so you best check them first.

Mary Rosenblum

You're very forgiving honey...

Kelly Christiansen

I am?

Mary Rosenblum

That will get you a permanent rejection from most NF editors!

Kelly Christiansen

Not me. I see no reason to toss something out that needs work but is good

I just toss it back and say fix it.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you.

Kelly Christiansen

And I usually go into detail about what to fix too .

one of the jobs of Small Press is to train authors. And to give them a start becoming published.

Guaranteed, if I put you in print, you're going to work for it and earn it

and your writing is going to shine,

but I'm not going to write it for you. I do line edits.

I'll work with you

and when we’re done it'll be tight and well written.

It might take you two years (or more)

Kelly Christiansen

but if you don't give up, I won't give up.

Mary Rosenblum

Crystal, can I let you do the formal introduction?

Kelly Christiansen

sure

This is Jason Waltz. He's the assistant managing editor of Flashing Swords Magazine and Flashing Swords press

he's also the editor who has worked a real miracle putting together Return of the Sword

Kelly Christiansen

and my right hand.

Mary Rosenblum

Thanks for joining us, Jason!

writeaway

Hi Jason.

frightwrite07

Do you plan on giving the e-zine away when you're ready?

Mary Rosenblum

The ezine is ongoing of course.

How do you fund it?

Kelly Christiansen

Right now, the funding comes out of my pocket.

Flashing Swords isn't just an e-zine. We publish a print version, an electronic version and we make it available to read on our website.

We pay 1 cent a word to a cap of 60$.   This is Jason Waltz. He's the assistant managing editor of Flashing Swords Magazine and Flashing Swords press.

He's also the editor who has worked a real miracle putting together Return of the Sword

and my right hand.

Jason Waltz

As far as the magazine goes, theme came with it when Kelly took over - Flashing Swords was created to perpetuate heroic fiction, specifically sword and sorcery.

Jason Waltz

My task was to create an anthology that hopefully attains multiple goals - not only directs attention to Flashing Swords the ezine, but to Flashing Swords Press the publisher of heroic tales.

Mary Rosenblum

The cover is great, too. http://cyberwizardproductions.googlepages.com/returnofthesword

Kelly Christiansen

Johnny Perkins painted us that cover

charie'

As an artist, do you create book covers too?

Kelly Christiansen

I don't know how Jason found him, but he's an incredible artist

yes. I do book covers.

You can see the covers I’ve done by visiting my gallery on artwanted.com and clicking on the Covers for others album.

http://artwanted.com/crystalwizard

I assembled the cover for RotS but Jason designed it.

Jason Waltz

Kelly was very very cool to - I'll be honest here - a guy who'd never done an anthology before. She gave me free rein and I went after it with gusto, claiming stories that appealed to me but that I believe also summarize heroic fantasy - the one genre where readers can still feel free - free to be an underdog with a chance to win, not just survive, but actually win.

writeaway

Kelly's artwork is as good as her writing :)

Kelly Christiansen

*smile* thanks.

sailor

How much input does the author have on cover design?

Kelly Christiansen

the author has as much input, at least with my company, as they want.

I won't demand that an author work with the cover artist if they don’t' want to

but in my experience from both the author's side and the artist's side

if the author is involved, and is happy with the cover the entire book is much better.

bdurham

I can vouch for that.

Kelly Christiansen

Bruce?

Mary Rosenblum

One of your authors?

Kelly Christiansen

Yes.

Bruce Durham

Mary Rosenblum

Cool...which title and when is it out?

Kelly Christiansen

he's our featured author in the current issue of Flashing Swords

His story in FS #9 is Night of the Meld

Mary Rosenblum

Welcome, Bruce!.

Kelly Christiansen

Bruce, would you send Mary a list of your publication credits as a question, please.

bdurham

The Marsh God, The Catacombs of Dharwataqan, Homecoming

Mary Rosenblum

Nice, Bruce.

Kelly Christiansen

All of those are in past issues of FS and you can find them in our archives.

info

Do you do most all genres? Or are there some that you don't print?

Kelly Christiansen

I won't print erotic.

I don't print horror above a certain level.

I won't print slasher

there are plenty of other places that put out that stuff.

I don't want to read it and I have to read everything I edit

and I do line edits on every single story that comes across my desk.

Jason Waltz

Bruce is too modest - he won the Preditors&Editors award for best short 2005 for The Marsh God, and another one for a story I can't recall at the moment.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you, Bruce!

Kelly Christiansen

He's an exceptional author.

bdurham

The Marsh God began as a Longridge lesson a couple years ago.

Kelly Christiansen

Everyone really needs to visit the FS home page and read Night of the Meld.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, cool! Small world eh?

Kelly Christiansen

A lot of the people on SFReader are evidently former students of yours, Mary :)

and have nothing but high praise for your classes.

bdurham

I'll say. The other winning story was Homecoming

Mary Rosenblum

Very cool about the win!

Nice going, Bruce.

Kelly Christiansen

You can also find Bruce on the Official Robert Howard forums.

snow

I don't know if either of you have been ask this, But what is the goal of your magazine/ ezine

Kelly Christiansen

Also, anyone that is serious about writing genre fiction really should create an account and hang out on the SFReader forums. even if you just lurk http://forum.sfreader.com/

Flashing Swords main goal is to provide entertainment and

a secondary goal is to get people reading again.

Too many people are not reading these days.

And the third goal is to provide a place for new authors to hone their skills and build publication credits.

You won't get into the pages with a sloppy story.

Jason Waltz

And short form entertainment is a key market - both digitally and in print.

Kelly Christiansen

You'll get it back covered in red ink with a request for a revision.

You can ask Bruce about my line edits ;)

rae

There are many of us that must do our reading on tapes. Would you consider reading for those who are visually disabled? It is a great need.

Mary Rosenblum

What about podcasting, Kelly? Have you thought of that?

Kelly Christiansen

I'd love to. Audio books are something I would like to do. And podcasting. Would someone like to volunteer to teach me how?

I don't know what equipment to get or software or how to go about it.

Jason Waltz

And Kelly will definitely make you earn your way in - while she is actually a very demanding editor, she is one of the most accepting editors I know of

charie'

You only do revisions on stories with potential, not the slush, right?

Kelly Christiansen

All stories that come to my desk are slush.

That's just a term that means pile of stories I need to make a decision on

and

all stories have potential

as long as the plot is good.

Some might take more work to polish some than others

but they all have potential, just don't send me something that doesn't fit the theme of the magazine.

lavinia

What are your requirements for poetry publications?

frightwrite07

*What is your cut-off point for horror?* growls frightwrite.

Kelly Christiansen

Poetry in the magazine or poetry books?

Horror: I don’t want to see the blood dripping.

Scare me without grossing me out.

Mary Rosenblum

Lavinia just let me know she was wondering about books of poetry. What you look for in that....or do you publish single poet collections?

Kelly Christiansen

I've got one poetry book that I've just started working on at the moment. It's two poets, husband and wife, and a collection of poems that they wrote back and forth.

Single poet collection is fine.

I want the poems to touch me in some way.

If I read through a poem then have to ask you to explain it, it didn’t' touch me.

snow

How about Vampires and ghosts? So they have a little place?

Kelly Christiansen

Depends on if you are writing Masquerade or traditional vamps

and what you're doing with the ghosts.

There are lots and lots and lots of Vampires and gothic books on the market.

If you're going to send me something, make it unique

not yet one more of the 1000 clones that exist right now.

jitterbug

Do you do take any religious pieces?

Kelly Christiansen

Probably not. we're not an inspirational company but I guess it would depend on how intense the piece was.

lottiemae

How can you tell if your plot is good?

Kelly Christiansen

How can you tell if your plot is good...

Have other people read it and make comments. See if they got bored, understood what you wrote and see the same images when reading that you saw when writing.

If they hand it back to you and ask where the rest of it is... but you thought it was finished... you have a problem.

If they refuse to give it back, you've got a good story.

Jason Waltz

I beg to differ, Kelly Christiansen! We are too an inspirational company!

Kelly Christiansen

ROFL

Cute, Jason ;)

k c morlock

I cannot imagine 'not reading' why is this happening, or not happening, in your opinions?

Kelly Christiansen

First, people are busy. Second, TV is easy. Third, computers are addictive and there's a black hole in front of each one that sucks all the time away.

In order to sit down with a book you have to have time, be undistracted and undisturbed.

It's harder and harder for a lot of people to find that these days.

Mary Rosenblum

Or at least have time.

Kelly Christiansen

Yes.

rae

I am currently working on a suspense story, but am finding that I am adding more sex scenes. Does this turn off an editor/publisher?

Kelly Christiansen

It would me. Are they necessary? if they are necessary, is it also necessary to go into detail?

Think of old movies.

The couple would start to kiss and... fade to fireworks in the sky.

You KNEW what was happening

you didn't have to see it.

Same thing with a book.

You don’t HAVE to read the details

to know what they are doing.

Mary Rosenblum

Here's Jason's take on non-readers:

Jason Waltz

Short term attention spans inspired by/ initiated by/ created by flashing LIGHTS (not swords) entertainment - movies, tv, video games, music videos. and don't take me wrong either - I have nothing against those things, use them myself, but in moderation and never in place of reading

Kelly Christiansen

What Jason said. I agree completely.

We have a generation that has grown up on instant entertainment

and a book isn't instant.

You can't fast forward it.

k c morlock

So you don't recommend writing 'down' to readers, just make it captivating?

By 'down' I mean they aren't resisting reading because they can't read.

Kelly Christiansen

No.

I do not recommend writing 'down' to readers any more than I recommend talking 'down' to kids.

People will learn only by encountering things that stretch their abilities.

So they might not understand it when they read it

they can go look it up.

They will LEARN

and they'll enjoy it more.

Mary Rosenblum

And Jason had an addendum to the issue of non-readers and no time:

Jason Waltz

Which is why short form fiction should make a comeback -

if we can market it right, appeal to the right people, at the right moment - location, location, location can be replaced by timing, timing, target in publishing.

Mary Rosenblum

And short fiction IS making a comeback.

Kelly Christiansen

It is

Thankfully.

I want to plug a new book for the sci-fi people in the audience if I might?

Mary Rosenblum

Please do.

We're almost out of time.

Kelly Christiansen

Before I do, Mary, do you like Ray Bradbury?

Mary Rosenblum

I love him. :-)

Kelly Christiansen

Then you'll like this book. Colin P. Davies, who has been around for a very long time and published in Asimov’s and other places

has just released a book

Tall Tales on the Iron Horse

a collection of his short stories.

I got to do the cover for it.

It's excellent

and Colin writes very similar to Ray.

The publisher is Bewildering Press

Kelly Christiansen

It's available on Amazon

Mary Rosenblum

I haven't met Colin, I don't think. I do know his work. Who put the collection out? And congrats on the cover!

Kelly Christiansen

Bewildering Press put it out.

Thanks :) I had a blast with the cover

Mary Rosenblum

I like his stuff. I'll look for it.

Kelly Christiansen

Colin's a great guy, an exceptional author.

It's a wonderful book.

You can find more of his stuff in the Bewildering Stories archives at http://bewilderingstories.com

Mary Rosenblum

So, Kelly, we're almost out of time. You're more than welcome to join Jason in the auditorium after...you have a very active audience!

'I'm going to edit transcripts and get this posted.

Any closing words for folk here?

Kelly Christiansen

Sit down and write :)

Don't just talk about wanting to

Thanks for having us Mary.

writeaway

DO read Kelly's books. They are a mixture of sci-fi, sword and sorcery; fast paced and visual.

ginas

Thanks Kelly, I really enjoyed this and can't wait to check out your sites.

Kelly Christiansen

It's been a lot of fun. I'll be happy to log back in as me and go into the auditorium.

Jason Waltz

Thanks for letting me join in! this was fun! Thanks for the questions folks.

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you both for coming! Jason I'm sorry we ran into bugs with the stage.

I'll invite you both back next year and you can tell us how things are going, okay?

Thank you all for coming and join us Sunday night for our casual chat.

It's a lot of fun.

Good night Kelly and Jason, good night all!

 

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