Apex Magazine is doing mad good work. (You may have noticed one of their novelettes in the latest Hugo finalists, for a recent example). They are currently running their 2017 subscription drive, which you should check.
So, how does the magic happen? Who are these diligent humans who spin slush into gold?
One of them is Lesley Conner, who was kind enough to answer a few of my more pressing questions. What follows, Dear Reader, is a tale of horror, social reading, bees, Michigan, and the mind-bending term “goldendoodle”. You will not be the same at the end as you are now, at the blameless start.
Let us begin with Lesley’s bio, which I tore from the Apex site like Marty McFly with a phonebook.
Lesley Conner is a writer, social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications, and Managing Editor for Apex Magazine. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling slush, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. Her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, was recently published by Sinister Grin Press. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
Now that we have all been introduced, the interview:
Tell me about the release of your first novel in 2015. How did it go? What did you and the publisher do to get the word out? Did you have a launch party? Were there cupcakes?
Lesley – The release of my first novel The Weight of Chains … was odd. You’d think that I’d be use to novel releases—Apex releases several books a year and I’m involved with each and every one—but with my own novel I was a mess! I was simultaneously afraid people would read it AND afraid no one would ever read it. So weird! Or maybe that’s how every author feels and I’m just used to seeing things from the editor perspective.
As for what I did to get the word out, I treated The Weight of Chains much the same way I do every Apex release. I reached out to reviewers and bloggers that I would with for Apex’s releases and humbly asked if they’d be willing to look at my novel. Since I already had a working relationship with many of them, I was able to set up a good numbers of reviews—many of which said something to the effect of “Lesley seems so nice … Where the hell did this novel come from!?!”
It’s funny that you ask about cupcakes. Have you read The Weight of Chains? Cake plays a very nefarious role in the story. When I sign copies I typically write “Welcome to the castle of my imagination. Enjoy your stay, but don’t eat the cake!” I didn’t have a launch party, but I really wanted to … and serve cupcakes that I’m then warning people not to eat. Yeah, it’s possible I’m slightly evil. LOL!
Is your dog named after the character from Buffy?
Lesley – Haha! Yes, my mini goldendoodle puppy Oz is named after Seth Green’s character in Buffy. I recently introduced my 14 year old and 9 year old daughters to the series and they love it as much as I do. When we brought home the fuzzy-faced puppy, naming him after the werewolf seemed like a perfect fit.
Of course, shortly after that the girls started saying we needed a second dog so we could have a Willow. I am not ready to have another dog yet so they’re going to have to hold off on that for now.
What is your process for finding cover art?
Lesley – I rely heavily on sites such as DeviantArt. When we need to line up a couple of covers I will pour myself a cup of coffee and start plugging random search terms into the site. Science fiction, robot, bees … whatever I think may lead to some interesting images. Then I just browse. Some days I find nothing we can use; other days I find too much! I send links to pieces I think would work as cover art to Jason Sizemore and he narrows that down to the ones he likes. After that I approach the artists and see if they’d be interested in selling us nonexclusive rights—this is why you may see artwork that has been featured on Apex Magazine or one of our books elsewhere, we buy nonexclusive rights so the artist is free to sell those rights again. Luckily we haven’t had much trouble finding beautiful artwork by artists all over the world. Being able to work with so many talented artists and hopefully helping them find new fans is amazing!
Reading as a social activity — reading sentences to someone nearby, etc. A lost art?
Lesley – Not in my house! I’m constantly reading passages from whatever book I’m reading to my husband. Honestly, I’m not sure he always appreciates it—I probably shouldn’t interrupt the shows he’s watching—but I can’t help myself, especially when I’m reading a book that I know he isn’t interested in reading himself. I want to share funny lines or characters that I think are amazing. He’s a good sport and puts up with it.
It’s a habit that I’ve seemed to have passed on. My 14 year old daughter will come out of her room and sit next to me on the couch so she can read a passage she thinks is particularly clever. And both of my daughters want me to read books that they’re reading. They want to discuss them and have conversations, so I end up reading a LOT of YA fiction.
I’m also a Girl Scout leader, working with the middle school age girls. There are times when our meetings end up devolving more into a book club because they all want to talk about what they’re reading. I am not going to discourage that!
From my perspective, social reading is alive and well. You just have to know where to find it and how to foster it. Or read everything you’re reading aloud to your spouse whether they like it or not …
Have you seen changes to the industry from crowdfunding and subscription-based funding models like Patreon?
Lesley – Crowdfunding and subscription based funding models allow writers and publishers to take chances on projects they may have shied away from in the past. Those quirky book ideas—the ones authors are really passionate about but aren’t sure anyone else will be—are suddenly a possibility. You want to write a weird western about a fairy who wants to be a train conductor? Instead of trying to sell the idea to a publisher who isn’t sure there’s an audience for such a book, you can put together a Kickstarter. It allows you to feel out interest without fronting the money, and in the end this means a greater number of books about niche topics end up being published. This is definitely a good thing!
But there’s a downside as well. More and more often a lot of publications rely on crowdfunding, subscription drives, and Patreon to keep their doors open. These promotional pushes take up a huge amount of time and energy, and in many cases they can make or break a publication, or at least dictate what a publication is able to do between now and the next promotional push. I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say it’s stressful. But there’s also something exciting about doing a drive like the Revive the Drive event we’re running for Apex Magazine right now and it gives us the chance to put together amazing double issues like the one we’re setting up for January 2018.
Do you get to conventions at all? Which is your favorite?
Lesley – I don’t get to as many conventions as I would like to. There are a lot of reasons for this, with kids, money, and serious social anxiety being at the top of my list, but I really want to go to more.
This year I made it to ConFusion in Michigan. A lot of Apex people who I haven’t seen in a while were there and it was wonderful to get to catch up. Plus, it was an awesome con. If you’ve never been, I’d definitely recommend going. Great mix of writers and fans. The programming covered a wide range of topics. The consuite was amazing! And the con is very family friendly. I would definitely like to go back in the future.
Other than that, the only other con I’m planning on attending this year is Scares that Care. I’m not going in any official Apex capacity, but instead just to enjoy the event. I haven’t done that in a while, so it should be fun.
A big thanks to Lesley for her time, insight, and unflagging love of Californian vampire slayers*. Be sure to swing by Apex’s Revive the Drive site and bear witness to the fantastic goodies on offer.
*that being either “slayers of Californian vampires” or “people from California who slay vampires”.