Kim Maya Sutton, Director and Managing Editor, provides an overview of her world at Safkhet Publishing.
First let me thank you, Kim, for taking time out from your busy schedule to do an interview on my blog.
No problem. After all, that’s part of my job description. It’s lovely of you to have me.
Safkhet was founded in early 2010. You have moved onwards and upwards at a steady pace despite the current global financial slowdown. What are your aspirations for Safkhet and what might you have learned from small publishers who have moved into recent decline?
The one thing my grandmother taught me was to never buy anything if you haven’t got the money for it. To us, as a small independent business, that means we will never invest in anything we cannot afford. It also means we will never invest in print runs that nobody actually ordered. Never mind that it would not be good for the environment either, it would seriously dent our account. At best, we print 100 books when we are not sure if there is a market for them and then go on and promote until we dream of nothing else anymore.
I would like to ask what inspired you, over the last three years, to make a side-step in your career to move into publishing. What was it that helped you decide this was the way forward?
Publishing is not a side step for me. I always wanted to be a journalist. When I was a kid, I worked for the school magazine and tried to figure out how to become something for which there isn’t even protection in the term itself. Anybody can call themselves a journalist. I could not find a decent school back then, and for an unpaid internship for three years, I did not have the funds. So, I did the logical thing (at least what I thought was logical) and became a computer scientist. Believing that computers are everywhere and it would be only good if I knew how to handle them, I learnt all about desktop publishing, graphics, etc. During my studies of computer sciences, I already worked as a freelance designer for company logos, brochures, booklets, computer handbooks, etc.
When love pulled me to Texas, I decided to study the US culture, acquire an American accent, write academic texts, study photography with a professional, and work on my art. All still with the one big goal in mind: to have my own company that combines everything I know and love. Back in Germany, I felt I needed more of a stable economic background and hence studied international management (what with globalization and such, the international angle seems important). We already worked in publishing at the time, packaging, translating and editing for five major German publishers.
After my Bachelor, I applied at some very fine schools (Harvard, Cambridge, Napier, to name a few) for a Masters in Communication, Journalism, Publishing. I leaned back. convinced that nobody would have me, and ended up having to pick between all of them. I decided to go to Cambridge and get the MA in Publishing.Right after starting the program, we secured a small investment from a business angel and were hence able to open our own publishing house.
The Safkhet image is that of an Egyptian goddess of wisdom, books, and libraries. She is symbolised holding a palm stem, used to keep a record of the passage of time. In the next five years how you do see publishing as a whole, where do you feel the market is going with paperbacks versus digital? What is your own wisdom on the publishing industry?
I’d like to think of myself as wise, but alas, I am not. My grandfather was—he spoke Latin, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, German, Italian. He used to be a Jesuit monk, a POW, a paediatrician. I merely strive to see all I can in the time I have. Trying to see the future I do not. When something new happens, I just simply adjust and change. I am not scared of paper books vanishing. Should that happen, I’ll publish just digital books. Or maybe I’ll open a cookie restaurant. Or a dog-walking business. Or an art gallery. Maybe I’ll finally fulfil that other dream I always had and open a hotel with excellent food and an ocean view. Other people have wise things to say about where the publishing industry is going and I am boring my students to pieces regurgitating those thoughts—I better not do that to you and your readers.
I note you keep close contact with your authors and never fail to return an e-mail within a few hours. Perhaps you might share some of your daily routine. What is a typical day for you?
In the winter, the alarm goes off at 7 and we turn over and decide to go for a short nap. At around 8, we get up and do some gymnastics. The office manager at this point sits on one of the gym mats, staring at us trying to remind us that being in the office at 9 is a really helpful thing and that the beach walk takes an hour. We hurry out the door with an apple and go on said beach walk. This is where we hold our first editorial meeting, talking about what’s going on, discussing submissions, prioritizing what needs to be done, etc. Once back, we go to the office and carry out the plan. Being available to our authors and readers alike is on top of the list so my outlook, Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress are always open and I regularly check on them. In the meantime, I bounce back and forth between book production, lecture preparation and marketing/promotion work. We quite often work until midnight and in busy times do not really take a complete day off. Instead, we sleep in a bit longer, take a longer lunch break (in which we still talk strategy) and go home a bit earlier.
In the summer, the schedule just starts earlier. The alarm goes off at 5, we get up at 6 and we are in the office usually before 8.
On the subject of submissions, I know you are always keen to help new writers. What advice could you provide for the new writer who wishes to send a submission to Safkhet?
Follow our guidelines! It’s the most important thing to us.
Many new writers know very little about the role of a publisher and how the system works. What are the typical errors new writers make when submitting a manuscript to Safkhet? What advice do you have in this respect?
They don’t follow our guidelines. It’s easy though – so just do it.
As a publisher, what inspires you when you open a manuscript for the first time?
At first, I need a good synopsis. One that actually tells me what the manuscript is about rather than keeping me guessing. I am busy so I need this overview.As for the manuscript itself, I love it when they are simply formatted without frills. When the author has used the spellchecker at least. If the text on top of that is interesting, I am pretty likely to send a contract the author’s way.
I note on your website http://www.safkhetpublishing.com/index.htm Safkhet provides the author with the following services.
Marketing and publicity including media coverage, bookshop and library distribution, online promotion and global marketing where appropriate
Experienced editors with a track record in a broad range of topics
Thorough copy-editing and editorial guidance
Eye-catching jacket designs
Entry in our annual catalogue
Effective rights sales
Personal support after publication
As Safkhet Publishing grows in the coming months/years, do you plan to move from small to large publisher or are you content to remain ‘small independent publisher’ with a ‘family’ of authors?
We have absolutely no problem with growth, why should we? We are constantly looking for new authors, yet will always want them to integrate into the family of authors. One thing I would not really want is to be swallowed or merged or whatever by one of the big publishers. But to be perfectly honest, if the offer was good and all our authors wanted it, I’d probably do it anyway.
Your business partner is a lawyer, Will Sutton. What is Will’s role in Safkhet? I gather his knowledge of legal issues is very useful in the business. How does Will help you in the daily routine?
Will is an anthropologist and lawyer. He is the editor of the fantasy imprint and as such has the exact same responsibilities in the imprint that I do in Safkhet Soul. Additionally, he handles most legal issues and, believe it or not, he’s the website designer and webmaster. Because, although I studied computer sciences, I despise programming and leave my fingers off it when I can. I become cranky when I have to do it. The only exception is our company database, which I handle. Will knows nothing of databases. Anyway, otherwise, he’s the sales contact for bookstores and libraries while I am the promotion and marketing contact. That responsibility distribution is what works for us and our business partners so we went for it.
The Safkhet image is now moving forward at a steady pace. You have three main categories of genre. Safkhet Soul displays the stories that touch a place in the heart, Safkhet Fantasy, the choice for high quality fantasy titles, and Safkhet Select, the best of quality and innovatively different non-fiction. Are there any new genres planned for 2013?
No. If something strikes our fancy though, we have proven in the past that setting up an imprint can happen very fast.
Again, Kim thanks for sharing the inside secrets of the Safkhet Publishing success and I am sure our family of authors appreciate all the hard work you have done for them.
Thank you for having me!
Finally, my own book, Goodbye, Henrietta Street, is on the list of Safkhet Publishing authors. The book will be launched on 1st July 2013 and readers have the opportunity to support me and have their name inside the book if they order before 15 May 2013. If anyone is interested in doing this, check out http://www.safkhetpublishing.com/books/soul/9781908208149/Goodbye_Henrietta_Street.html