Interview with Fideli Publishing’s Robin Surface

Originally appeared on Clancy Tucker's Blog

G'day folks,

I don't often interview a publisher, but today is one of those days. Robin Surface has an interesting story to tell in regard to her move to publishing.

Welcome, Robin ....

1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOK PUBLISHING JOURNEY.
We’ve been in business since 2007 and I’ve had previous experience with book publishing, magazine design and production, and newspaper design and reporting. My original partner and I worked for another publisher and weren’t happy with the way he did things (neither were his customers), so we decided to start our own company. We eventually parted ways because she wanted to retire, and one of our existing clients stepped up to be my new business partner. Having a partner who is also an author helps add new understanding to how we work with our clients. We are not a traditional publisher; instead we act more as book coaches and help authors make their books the best they can be. We are then as involved as the author wishes us to be.

2. WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?
I started reading when I was 4 years old, mainly because my mother wouldn’t read aloud to me 24 hours a day! When I was growing up, I used to get in trouble all the time for reading at the dinner table and spent most of my high school days buried in a book. The best thing ever was the invention of the Kindle. I read 300-500 books a year and love that I can carry a big selection of those titles with me wherever I go.

3. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A PUBLISHER?
As I said, my original partner and I decided we could do it better than our current employer. For me, book publishing was a dream job because I could do the two things I enjoy most: create interesting text and cover designs and be involved with “birthing” books and making them available to the public.

4. WHY A PUBLISHER?
I’ve been a news reporter, feature writer, editor, and owned my own direct-mailed newspaper. Publishing just seemed like a natural progression.

5. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A PUBLISHER?
I enjoy helping people make their dream, i.e. their book, a reality.

6. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The hardest thing is trying to tactfully tell people their book isn’t going to sell millions, they need an editor, they really shouldn’t use the drawing their grandchild made for their adult novel, etc.

7. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A PUBLISHER?
I’ve been a typographer, magazine production manager, florist, news reporter, feature writer, graphic artist, newspaper owner, and production manager for a publisher.

8. HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
We are at book 951. (This number includes multiple editions of the same title.)

9. WHAT ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?
I just finished Confessions of a Neighbor by H. Lenz. (I only read independently published and self-published books.)

10. WHAT INSPIRES YOU AS A PUBLISHER?
The enthusiasm authors have for what they’ve created.

11. DO YOU PREFER TO PUBLISH A PARTICULAR GENRE’? WHY?
We work with all genres.

12. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
First, create a business plan (if you plan to be successful, you must treat writing as a business) and a marketing plan. Be sure to include a budget with both. Next, research the genre you plan to work in to be sure that you’re providing what readers expect from this type of book. Then, create an internet presence (website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc.) and start “leaking” information about you and your upcoming book. You should also interview editors and find someone you feel comfortable working with. Editing your book is MANDATORY! Also, research the publishing industry. This research will help you avoid any unrealistic expectations and make for a better publishing experience for everyone involved. Publishing does not work the way most people think it does!

13. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE TO WORK?
I tend to get into a zone when I work. I could be working in the middle of a busy street and probably not notice!

14. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN PUBLISHING A MANUSCRIPT?
It’s nice to see how excited authors get with their first sales.

15. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ALL TIME AUTHOR. WHY?
Stephen King. I started reading his books when I was in 6th grade and was hooked from that point on. King is the master at creating complex, deep characters and weaving stories that are both realistic and fantastically out there. When I read his books, I’m sucked into that reality and the way he writes makes me feel like I’m right there. I could go on and on about this, but I'm sure you get the gist of it.

16. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A CLIENT?
You’re so easy to work with. You’ve made this whole process so much easier. I don’t think I could’ve finished this project without you.

17. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A CLIENT?
I had one client who, in five years, only sold three copies of her poetry book. One day, out of the blue, she called me and accused me of lying to her and keeping all the money from her book sales (even though we don’t take a percentage of sales from our authors). I told her I was sorry she felt that way, and took her book out of circulation. I also didn’t charge her for her second book, which was 90% through the production process. This past week she called me to see what she’d have to do to get her book back out there, and I told her she would have to talk to a new publisher. (My graciousness only goes so far!)

18. DO SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS FRUSTRATE YOU?
Yes! I have a few clients who insist in shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to their books. Since our clients pay for our expert advice and services, I cannot force them to abandon their less than stellar ideas. I caution them against whatever the idea is, but in the end if they insist, I will do as they wish. I just reserve the right to say, “I told you so” when things go the way I said they would.

19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU AS A PUBLISHER?
I think everyone is influenced by life experiences. We can’t help it, we’re human and that’s how we learn and grow as people.

20. OTHER THAN PUBLISHING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I have backyard chickens, and they usually end up acting as my therapy animals when I’m having a bad day. They each have their own personality and provide endless entertainment that sooths my nerves. I also like to garden on a small scale and home improvement projects.

21. DO YOU ALSO WRITE?
I have written in the past, but find that it’s difficult to find my “groove” with my own writing when I’m working on so many other people’s books.

22. ARE SOME MANUSCRIPTS DIFFICULT TO REVIEW? WHY?
Some manuscripts are difficult to deal with. If, after we’ve made recommendations to make them better, the author insists on going ahead with it as is, we will set them up as the publisher and let them handle everything with our guidance. We accept a wide variety of books, but there are some things we don’t work with. Handling things this way still allows the author to realize his or her dream, and it keeps us from compromising our standards.

23. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
My perfect day is sitting on my patio in the shade, reading a good book.

24. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
We plan to keep on much as we have been, but are always on the lookout for new, talented employees and more wonderful authors to add to our list.

25. DO YOU HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH OTHER PUBLISHERS?
Most publishers I’ve talked to aren’t all that friendly. I suppose it’s a competitive thing, though I don’t feel that way personally. We do deal with several printers and print brokers and help them with prepress for authors who need help with formatting their text and covers. Those have been great alliances.

26. HOW DO YOU SEE PUBLISHING IN GENERAL? POSITIVE?
Publishing kind of has a split personality at this point. There are those who cling to the old school model and way of doing things and then there are those who are going full bore into the future and embracing all new technology and business models associated with it. These two widely differing factions make for a volatile industry, but it’s certainly never boring.

27. WHAT’S YOUR VIEW ON E-BOOKS VERSUS TRADITIONAL BOOKS.
When the Kindle first came out, I thought I’d hate it. My current partner gave me one for Christmas that year, and I’ve never bought another traditional book! I love that it’s instant and portable. (I’m a chain book reader – I finish a book and immediately go out and find another one!) I also love the freedom ebooks give new authors. They’re easily published and easily changed (when necessary). They’re also a great way to test the waters and then adjust based on reviewer feedback.

28. IS THERE ANY ONE THING THAT ‘SMACKS YOU IN THE FACE’ AFTER READING A MANUSCRIPT, OR IS IT A COLLECTION OF THINGS?
Probably the main thing that’s evident after just the first page is lack of editing. Those first pages are the most important ones in any book. That’s what people see with the “see inside” feature on Amazon and also what they read with the ebook’s free preview option. I can’t stress this enough: Every book needs edited by a professional editor (someone who does it for a living). It’s expensive, but if you’re serious about a career as a writer, you must bite the bullet and hire the editor!

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