Fewer magazines are publishing short stories these days. However, if you enjoy writing and reading these quick tales, something to check out is an anthology. One publisher who’s already got a host of successful anthology titles under its belt is UK based Bridge House Publishing. Here to tell us about past and future titles is chief editor Gill James. www.bridgehousepublishing.co.uk
Susan Palmquist (SP)-How did Bridge House get started and when?
Gill James (GJ)-Bridge House really started off when I used to own my own language school and we were not happy with the materials being produced. None of the normal publishers were producing resources suitable for our one-to-one individual tuition programmes. That was in 2005. I also had this habit of writing a short story every Christmas to share with family and friends. I then thought it would be fun to put them into a book which would work like an advent calendar with one story for every day from 1 December to 24 December. Then I realized at one year, this was going to take some time. So, I invited other people to join me… and our first anthology Making Changes came into being in November 2008. We had such fun with that book that it was obvious we had to do more. I worked on my own on the first book and then invited Debz Hobbs-Wyatt to join me. Before long we were joined by Nicola Rouch, who efficiently looks after the admin side of things. We also have Ollie Wright on board. He mainly looks after our imprint The Red Telephone but we all get stuck into whatever needs to be done.
SP-What type of books do you publish?
GJ-We mainly produce anthologies of slightly unusual short stories. We try to get a way a little form the women’s magazine story. Having said that, many of our writers do write for women’s magazines and write some very interesting and well-crafted material for us. The language books are still there and we have one cookery book. We’re also considering some other non-fiction but have no open call to submissions on that yet. The Red Telephone deals with Young Adult books and we have some very exciting news. We held a competition last year and our winner is a sixteen-year-old – who actually wrote the novel when she was fourteen. Calling for Angels comes out on 15 November. Both Debz and I work in schools with youngsters who produce anthologies of their writing. We take them though the whole book-producing process. Bridge House also produces these books. The children do the writing, editing, and the first stage of design and some of the marketing. We don’t advertise these a lot as they’re sold mainly through the school. I also run a programme like this for school children visiting the university where I work. We shall be publishing our first adult novel next year. We are currently making the final selections from our novel competition.
SP-You have some titles with charity tie ins. Would you like to us about them?
GJ-Well, we were very honoured to be asked publish 100 Stories for Haiti that Greg McQueen edited, though we did the final stages and the design. That happened by accident. Both Debz and I had submitted and we both actually have stories in the book. Greg had said that it was only going to be published as an e-book but then said it would be also published as a paperback but not sold in bookshops. I cheekily asked if the book would have an ISBN. He confirmed it would and I pointed out that in that case bookshops would be expecting to be able to buy it. A couple of weeks later he was frantically phoning us as the original publisher had dropped out. The book was out within six weeks of Greg having the idea. In this case, none of the writers or Bridge House partners take a profit share. All profits go to the Red Cross. The books make between £1.18 and £7.00 profit, depending on how they are sold. It was lucky that Greg contacted us on precisely the day that we were having a partners’ meeting. Our collection Gentle Footprints supports the Born Free Foundation. In this case, £1.00 form every book sold goes to Born Free and the authors and partners have the option of donating all or some of their profit share to Born Free. The book has sold reasonably well though we’d like to sell more. Importantly though it supports Born Free in its content. All the stories are from the point of view of an animal. And that book has had an amazing journey and has involved us in some gobsmacking moments – thanks to Debz’ hard work. It is endorsed by Virginia McKenna who has written the foreword, Richard Adams has a story in there, it was launched at the Hay Festival in the biggest stadium with over 1,000 people in attendance, it featured on the Book Show and Virginia McKenna talked about it again on Loose Women. She is a really lovely lady. The authors who could get to Hay met her just before the launch. And Bridge House staff pretty well spent the whole of the day with her. We’re currently working on a book which will support Children’s Hospices UK and we are including stories with an uplifting theme suitable for children of junior school age. £1 from the sale of every copy will be donated to the charity and we will also ask the authors if they would like to donate part or all of their profit share. This book will also include stories by children’s writers Alan Gibbons and Lauren St. John. Michael Morpurgo will write the foreword for this book, so again we’re getting some high profile people on board. And of course, the books we work on in schools usually support a charity. That motivates the children. Sometimes they just support their own school library – a worthy cause. Again, we usually set the price so that the books make £1.00 profit for the schools to pass on.
SP-What are some of the themes of your upcoming anthologies? And what type of stories are you looking for?
GJ-We have a call to submissions for crime stories, science fiction and angel stories. Full details are on our web site: http://http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/newsubmissions.aspx. We like stories that are a little bit different – maybe with an unusual twist, a distinctive voice or perhaps a mixture of text types.
SP-You also run competitions; any upcoming ones writers might be interested in hearing about?
GJ-Our short story competition is for stories about something else that happened on the day that we all remember – the day Kennedy was shot, the day Princess Diana died or 9/11 for instance. The prize is interesting. As well as the fifteen best being published, the winner will get six months mentoring by myself and the runner up will have ten stories or a novel critiqued. There is a £5.00 fee for this and £1.00 of that will go to Born Free. http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/2010ShortStoryCompetion.aspx
SP-What do you look for in a submission?
GJ-As I said an unusual twist, a distinctive voice or perhaps a mixture of text types. But we are looking for stories and some very good pieces we get sometimes don’t actually have a story. Then the writing should be good. We’re fortunate in usually having an abundance of submissions and we can choose the very best and ones which don’t need too much editing.
SP-Anything you’d especially like to see?
GJ-We’d like to see some stories with a really strong voice where we have a real sense that the writer is speaking to an individual reader they know intimately.
SP-What are some common mistakes you’re seeing?
GJ-The most common one is not getting a satisfying resolution in the story. Many are either too dramatic, not believable or damp squibs. The next most common one is a point of view that changes too often. Then there is our old enemy, too much telling and not enough showing. Some writers don’t know how to kill off their darlings. Forgive all the writing clichés. I see the same mistakes in my students’ work. There are irritations as well. Some writers just do not know how to set out dialogue. It’s easy enough to look up the rules and keep them. Some authors use non-standard formatting and when we turn their text into the industry standard publishing text it gets really screwed up. There is an industry standard way of submitting. It’s in all of the handbooks. We spell that out, as well as details about our house-style and how we want work submitted. Everything is there for a purpose. Not that we ever reject just because someone has used the wrong sort of quotation marks or made a slight punctuation mistake, but it just makes the job of turning a Word document into a book take that much longer. And when everything else is equally, if there are two equally good stories and we only have room for own, we’ll choose the one that is correctly presented. On a couple of occasions we’ve not been able to contact a writer whose work we wanted to use because they haven’t supplied contact details correctly. However, I’m pleased to say that all of the writers we’ve published have been very professional in their attitude to our editing and we’ve published over 100!
SP-What’s ahead for Bridge House?
GJ-We’ve done a lot in just under two years. Also, we’ve met our fair share of the recession so book sales are slowing. So we’re slowing down a little also. We’re now allowing a bigger gap between when the call for submission ends and we get the book out. The book will still be ready in about the same time interval but we will have more time to market. We’re also looking at using an international distributer and having our books printed in the States as well as here. We’re already signed up for the Espresso machine. 100 Stories for Haiti is already selling as an e-book in all forms. Calling for Angels is being published as both an e-book and a paperback. We may do some future titles just as e-books. Set-up costs are the same but we don’t have to pay for copies or for shipping. I personally think that within five years the industry will settle down and e-book readers will be popular. This will be a real bonus for small publishers like us. We’re also looking forward to doing more charity books and perhaps more competitions.