Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with Matt Sinclair

I met Matt at AgentQuery Connect; he is a moderator with the writers’ forum. A few years ago I was involved with a query writing session on AQC. If you are an aspiring writer, AQC is a great place to go for information and help on writing a query. I was assigned to critique Matt’s query. A daunting task for a new writer who has had more things shot down than I care to admit, and I am trying to give Matt a critique? Talk about intimidation. However, Matt was gracious, and I’d like to think I did give him something he could use in working on his own query.

Well I’ve learned more about Matt. He and several other moderators from AQC have been busy writing and publishing things. It is the publishing thing that fascinates me. So I asked Matt if he would agree to interview about what he’s been working on. I was surprised when he said yes.

(Side note to my regular readers, if you don’t ask, if you don’t try, you never will know if you will succeed. Or as the cliché goes, if you never ask, the answer is always no.)

Here is a little about Matt:

Journalist covering U.S. nonprofits, foundations, and life in general. President and Chief Elephant Officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, LLC, which in 2012 published Spring Fevers, which includes sixteen stories by ten AQC writers, and The Fall, a collection of tales from the apocalypse. Ironically, The Fall was delayed by the apocalyptic Hurricane Sandy.  In July 2013, EBP published summer’s Edge and Summer's Double Edge, a two-book collection of stories from twenty-five authors.

So Matt, here is our virtual microphone, hope you are comfortable. Let’s visit, shall we?
I’ve a few questions for you.

What gave you the idea to do the Spring Fevers anthology?
The first anthology was inspired by an online conversation I had with Cat Woods, a fellow moderator at AQC. At its heart, the discussion revolved around how we were at the epicenter of a wonderfully talented and diverse group of writers while the independent and self-publishing evolution was starting to take off. We both knew talented writers who were exploring this brave new world, and we thought it might be worth exploring ourselves, even though we both had our eyes set on traditional publishing. We decided to create a collection of short stories from a variety of genres, and I took the lead on it, going so far as to create an LLC. And since we didn’t know if we’d have enough to work with, we allowed those writers to submit up to three stories.

So, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press is a direct result of publishing Spring Fevers?
Well, they’re definitely related. My blog had the name Elephant’s Bookshelf before I’d ever discovered AQC or any of the writers there. When I put together the contract with the writers, I felt I needed them to have a contract with an entity rather than a person. From there, I decided I wanted to protect it and me as best I could, so I decided to invest in forming an LLC.

How did you decide what stories to put into the anthology?

As far as we were concerned, the first step was nailing down a theme, and this took a phone conversation and subsequent emails. We decided on a theme of relationships, which we felt was broad enough to attract the diversity we sought. Of course, we didn’t fully realize yet how difficult it is to market an anthology like we had in mind. Short stories are hard enough to sell to readers! From there, we sent out requests to more than a dozen writers we knew who we felt could produce quality fiction – or who might have unpublished stories at the ready. Initially, we were planning to publish electronically only. I had a small group of reviewers and we read and made recommendations on each of the submissions. I have to say, it’s not easy to reject stories from very talented writers, and we had to do that. I won’t embarrass anyone, but one of the stories submitted for what became Spring Fevers was later published in one of the summer anthologies. But it’s more focused now than it had been when first submitted. There was another that we sent back for a revision and resubmission, but the writer had too much going on at that time to turn it around fast enough. I hope we’ll see it resubmitted one day.

How well has Spring Fevers done?
Actually, quite well, and that’s quite a thrill. Keep in mind that it’s free, but we’ve had upwards of two thousand downloads and are still averaging more than fifty a month. For an anthology of essentially unknown or little known writers, I think that’s outstanding, especially when you realize it’s been out for about a year and a half now.
Where did the idea come from to publish The Fall? 
Actually, that came about somewhat by accident. Even as we were finalizing the stories for the first anthology, we didn’t have a title. In the end, Robb Grindstaff, who served as the copy editor of the anthology, came up with Spring Fevers. I shared that with the rest of my brain trust and I jokingly suggested that we could name the next anthology “The Fall,” target the fall of 2012, and try to capitalize on the whole Mayan calendar/end of the world hoopla that was sure to be zipping through social and traditional media. As a result, we decided we’d do a series of four anthologies in what we now call the Seasonal Series.

I love your comment on the irony of Sandy. 
Well, as someone who experienced Sandy – my wife and our then 3-year-old twins lived in a house without heat or electricity for nearly two weeks; a period that also included a freak snowstorm – the irony was all too real. But having the apocalyptic theme helped to get the anthology noticed.

This may seem like a silly question, but I am curious, how do you find the writers for a project like an anthology? 
After Spring Fevers, they found us. One of the requirements for each EBP author is to promote the anthology in their areas of influence. I include it in the contract. They can do it via their social media vehicles or their Web sites. They can let their local paper know about it. Media is media. All I ask is that they help get the word out.

So writer's need to submit to be put into the anthologies?
Absolutely. Moreover, we expect submissions to be high quality, not messy first drafts. And the days of allowing three stories per author and of worrying whether we’d have enough submissions appear to be long gone.

Is Elephant’s Bookshelf Press open to submissions, and how would an author submit something?
We are accepting short stories submissions for our winter anthology. This will be the last one in the Seasonal Series, obviously. The theme is regret, and stories can be sent to, which is what we’ve used since the beginning, or

Is the Press strictly for short story anthologies?
No, but I’ve not opened it up to submissions of novels and won’t for a while yet. I have entered agreements with novelists that will put us well into 2014 and possibly into 2015. Our first novel, Whispering Minds, is an intriguing young adult story by A.T. O’Connor, who’s had some wonderful stories in our anthologies. It’s a story of a girl who is trying to piece together her past and doesn’t know who she can trust. Next year, we’ll be launching a baseball related YA book – more details will be coming on that soon – a new, standalone anthology that’s very topical – we’ll have a lot to say about that later – and a middle grade mystery that’s a pure delight. And if the planets align correctly, I’ll be able to announce the acquisition of a middle grade science fiction novel. It’s very clever and could be a real hit. One of these days, maybe I’ll be able to publish one of my own novels, but the way things are looking that’ll be 2015 at the earliest -- and even that might be pushing things.

What was the inspiration for these latest anthologies, Summer’s Edge and Summer’s Double Edge?
In a sense, we combined the relationship theme of Spring Fevers with the apocalyptic theme of The Fall. The result: relationships at a turning point.

Why two books?
The two anthologies were the result of having so many submissions that we loved. We were assessing stories on a rolling basis and receiving roughly twice as many as we got for The Fall. Making it more challenging, a lot of the stories were much longer than 5,000 words. On Spring Fevers, I don’t think we had any that reached 4,000 words. I had stories that I liked out with reviewers and many that we’d approved. Pretty soon, the word count was surpassing The Fall with several weeks left before the deadline. I was nervous about trying to sell an inch-thick paperback version of short stories.

Honestly, I don’t want to do that for the winter anthology, so I think it’s going to be a tough job for our reviewers. We’ll need to keep a tighter rein on the number and length of stories. That’s part of the reason I reduced the word count to 5,500
– I almost went to 5,000. The deadline for submissions to the winter anthology is October 16, which I hope will give us enough time to both finalize the decisions on which stories will make it and also to edit the stories that are accepted. I’m aiming to publish in December, but I accept that it might end up being early January.

You said October 16th is the deadline for the Winter Anthology. What are your submission guidelines? 
Well, the nitty gritty comes down to this: Stories about regret in any genre except erotica. They can’t be longer than 5,500 words. And they can’t be previously published. I suggest readers check out our blog at for more details.

What is the premise of the winter anthology?
For the winter anthology, we’re looking for stories of regret.  To be human is to have regrets, to question our decisions, even to doubt our own abilities and capacities. We all have had moments of regret, whether it’s because of a path not taken or a decision made for selfish or –  perhaps worse – unselfish reasons. We might regret not recognizing an opportunity. Or we chastise ourselves for being too quick to grab a seemingly easy victory that left us unable to clutch the better opportunity behind it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but dammit, no one likes to be damned.

I find it interesting that each of your four seasons has a distinct flavor for that book. Which is your favorite and why?
Well, of course, I love them all. I’ve learned something from each one. I love how Spring Fevers provides some very different stories from the same writers. For example, there’s a big difference between Robb Grindstaff’s stories there. Heck, even the two of mine are quite distinct from each other. I also love the eclectic nature of the stories in The Fall. Who’d have thought you could have such a wide variety of tales from the apocalypse? I hadn’t expected the number of ghost stories that arrived for the summer anthologies, and that’s an area I hope we’ll explore further down the road.

Once you complete the Winter anthology, what is your next project?
Well, there’s the novels I mentioned already, and we’ve just begun discussing a different anthology that’ll be very topical. If things go as we’re planning, that one will have a different person running the project, too, which will be fun.

It is great to have you here. I've learned so much about this. Perhaps I can get my writing to a level where I can have one of my short stories appear in your anthology.
(Smiles) I hope you do. We can’t consider what hasn’t been submitted. The writer writes. The publishable writer takes the next step, whether that is submitting a story or learning from rejection.

I will have Matt back again to discuss more on self publishing and the challenges writers have to day with all the technology, and those who want to hold a book in their hands.

Thanks again Matt.

Thank you, Dean. I really appreciate it and I look forward to sharing again in the future.


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