The following discussion comes courtesy of Mary Rosenblum, one of Fairwood Press' authors. When she learned our theme was Small Presses Create Buzz, without hesitation, she suggested that we contact Honna Swenson. We quickly learned that she was one-half of a matched set; and Patrick, oh gasp, a guy --her husband, was the other half . What were we to do? We couldn't pass Honna up and decided to turn this into a double treat. Enjoy and benefit from what she has to say right here; in a few weeks, you'll learn more about Patrick and what he has to say, on our blog.
While doing research we quickly learned Honna is part of a special family, with a unique dream, and a surprising first love since she was twelve. Check her Vital Stats for further information.
We're happy to raise awareness of small presses. You'll be excited to learn what they offer authors, as well as readers. Now, let's get acquainted with Honna.
WOW: You and your husband, Patrick, started Fairwood Press in 2000. What qualifications did you bring to the table?
HONNA: We were already editing and publishing a small-press magazine, Talebones, which debuted in 1995 with issue zero. We've published dark fiction, SF, poetry, articles and reviews from writers across the globe, and that has given us a lot of contacts for Fairwood Press projects. Both Patrick and I have sold short stories here and there and have taught writing classes together.
WOW: So, you had some idea what you were getting into, but surprises had to come up. What was the biggest problem you faced getting Fairwood Press up and running?
HONNA: Once Patrick O' Leary approached us with a wonderful pitch, it took a few things to get our first title, Other Voices, Other Doors in print. Namely, we needed the capital. We started an S-corporation and gained a few investors. We had to research printing and distribution models as well, deciding on a strategy that worked best for us, which lead us to print-on-demand technology.
WOW: Obviously, this entailed a great deal of work. You must have felt you would be able to offer something unique. What advantages does Fairwood offer over the big houses?
HONNA: We have a closer partnership with the author, a real one-on-one relationship. The author is given input on the cover art and design. Authors also don't have to wait nearly as long to see their work in print. We offer high royalty percentages to our authors.
One successful collection of short stories brought one of our authors more money in royalties than he would have made by selling it to a big publisher.
WOW: You know you just elevated many authors' heart rates. They will want to know, do authors need to have an agent to submit to you?
HONNA: No. Although most authors who we work with have agents, the authors tend to work directly with us without agent involvement.
WOW: What do you require for submissions, two or three chapters? Who does the reading of the submissions received?
HONNA: We currently are not open to submissions. So far, we have picked our own projects. We tend to gravitate toward writers we've met through Talebones, whose work we know and admire. These days Patrick reads the bulk of the projects we acquire.
WOW, grinning: Well, there's a nice hint for some authors to think about. You already had some direction, but just how did you and Patrick decide to limit the genres you would accept? Did you decide to go with your favorite genre or did you consider other factors?
HONNA: We're pretty open. We are drawn toward anything speculative. We started our imprint Darkwood Press specifically with the idea of publishing horror, but we haven't really started it yet. But, Fairwood has done SF, Fantasy, Horror, Poetry, Writing Reference, and even a few non-fiction books not related to writing or genre.
WOW: So, Fairwood Press is an option for a diversity of talented writers. I'm sure that will be encouraging to many of our readers.
Honna, after you accept a manuscript, what does it take to get it placed on the booksellers' shelves?
HONNA: Since many major bookstore chains will not carry print on demand books, we sell mostly to specialty bookstores that hold no such prejudices.
We have Ingram and Baker & Taylor as distributors, so any bookstore in the USA can get our books.
We sell many books through Amazon and our own website.
We rely on word of mouth, and because of that, we put out the best possible product we can.
For promoting a book, we attend many conventions, and authors will participate in reading and signing events at their local bookstores.
WOW: What does your editing process involve? Full content edit? Comprehensive line edits? ...
HONNA: Patrick reads and acquires most of the books. Because we pick our projects...we tend to find what we already like, and don't have too much in the way of content editing to do.
We've asked for an ending to be beefed up, or we've asked a writer to solidify a scene, but beyond that, we're mostly looking at line-by-line issues.
Patrick starts editing as he does the layout for the book (he's the book designer too), then does another quick pass to look for design issues before proofing.
WOW: What is his proofreading system like?
HONNA: He usually does this from a printed proof. Then, after corrections are made, new proofs go to the author. Sometimes this is done simultaneously, especially when we're crunched for time.
WOW: Speaking of crunched for time. You and Patrick both have full-time jobs, correct? And, you are the parents of a four-year-old son. Taking on establishing a publishing house, with these commitments certainly takes dedication to a new level. What gives you the energy and motivation to keep at it?
HONNA: I have gone from full-time employment (at an Optometric clinic) to working 2 days a week in order to stay home more with Orion. I'll likely return to full time once he's in Kindergarten.
Patrick has graciously let me step back from Fairwood Press duties to allow me time to work on my novels.
Orion Avery Swenson
joined their staff
April 29, 2002
WOW: Now, that's what I call marrying right! But it is that kind of teamwork that makes your goals attainable. This is even more admirable because he...
HONNA: ...teaches high school full-time and works from sun-up to the early hours in the morning.
For energy, we both get our caffeine: coffee for me, Diet Coke for Patrick. We also make sure to stay active. I play soccer; Patrick plays basketball.
WOW: Caffeine is good; I can do that. But you outdo me on the exercise part. I walk my dog because I can't resist those eyes, and the guilt gets to me.
WOW: And, for motivation...
HONNA: For motivation, we simply have a heartfelt wish to showcase and support talented writers.
WOW: That motivation will sustain you for a long time to come. Let me ask, are you progressing according to your original dream schedule? Are you happy with where you are today?
HONNA: We're definitely on track. We're busier this year than ever with six titles. We started slowly at first. One title the first year, two the next, three after that. We didn't expect to get much bigger than three a year-not with a two-person operation. Now, for all intents and purposes, Fairwood is a one-person operation. Patrick only has so many hours in the day to squeeze in his work, and it's not possible for us to hire staff.
WOW: What should an author do to catch your attention?
HONNA: Personally, I want to fall in love emotionally with a story. It's well known at the Talebones office that if you can get me to cry, you've sold that story. I'm not saying it has to have sad endings, of course, but there needs to be an element within the story I connect with. We often see so many well-crafted stories that lack soul. I love work that reveals what it means to be human, cradling that very soul. What makes us love and hate and be sad, or wish to dance in the rain, no matter how silly we might look. Whether the genre is SF, dark fantasy or horror, it's imperative I feel that sort of connection.
WOW: Talebones, a short story magazine featuring science fiction (also published by Patrick and Honna), and Fairwood Press is sponsoring a writers retreat, The Rainforest Writers Village, to be held on March 22-25th, 2007, at the Rain Forest Resort Village on Lake Quinault, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. This has to mean a great deal to you and Patrick. What would you like to share about it?
HONNA, breaking into her great smile: Ever since we began Talebones in 1995, we envisioned a weekend where a community of writers would gather to work, to socialize and participate in workshops or discussions.
The Rain Forest Resort on Lake Quinault is the perfect setting for a little writer's village. We plan to have writers take over the resort, hole up in quaint, lakeside cabins to work, come out to socialize with other writers or sit in on discussions/presentations from our guest writers.
WOW: That is so great! It's so easy to visualize how wonderful that's going to be.
HONNA, grinning under very happy eyes: We plan to host a dress-up cocktail hour, nature walks and readings. We'll keep a tally of writers' daily word counts, have spaces for groups who wish to write together, whether they're night owls or early birds.
WOW, trying to drool discretely: You've thought of everything. Do you have any room left? Any writer able to make it will definitely want to be there.
HONNA, modestly beams: We are filling up but still have room for anyone! We want to stress that any writer can attend-not just published authors, and not just speculative fiction writers. We hope for a healthy mix of newcomers as well as established writers. We're in the Rainforest, so I'm thinking the rain and gloom will be the atmospheric cherry on top.
WOW: Running Fairwood Press with your husband must add a new dimension to the excitement and satisfaction you've already experienced. But, does it also add drama?
HONNA: Deadlines get pretty dramatic, and then there's the printer problems. We once had a great relationship with a fairly local printer. Once that printer sold his business, things went quickly downhill and there were some billing disputes that were only recently resolved.
There are late nights spent with the sound of the packing tape and mid-morning rushes to the post office to fill orders across the globe.
WOW: We certainly can empathize with you on the stress levels reached at such times...an emotional concoction—stress, excitement, satisfaction etc.
That's a natural lead-in to my next question. My husband and I worked together over thirty years. I remember one 'discussion' that concluded with this dialogue, "If you weren't my wife, I'd fire you." I replied, "I understand your frustration, I can't go home at night and tell my husband what a jerk I work for." You know how it goes; it all means so much at the time. Now, all I can remember are these words, how I laughed at the shocked look on his face, and then he laughed.
It's a unique couple that can work together. Do you have a favorite memory of learning to work together, or a different kind of victory, or...well, it's your memory, you tell us.
HONNA, chuckling: Luckily, Patrick and I have such similar tastes in fiction that we've never really had a disagreement about any content. There have been stories one of us have championed while the other wasn't as sold but we always seem to agree on favorites.
Sometimes, while reading slush for Talebones, he'll pull out a story he likes and put it in my pile without telling me. Hours later, I will take that same story into him and tell him I pulled it out from my pile of slush.
WOW, nodding: All part of what makes it special to work with your mate. Honna, this has really been fun and educational. Hate to see it end, but before we do, do you have any thoughts you wanted to share that we hadn't touched on?
HONNA, expression goes somber: Lately, it's been brought to my attention that attitudes are slowly changing about small-press and print on demand titles.
There is certainly a nose-in-the-air regard for small-press, but I can assure you what we and other distinguished small press publishers offer are high quality works of fiction from extremely talented authors. Small-press publishers are able to veer away from the commercial model of the big publishers and offer up delightful and unusual speculative fiction that hooks us as very willing enablers.
WOW, agreeing: Once again, Honna, we have to tell you that this has been a joy. We know that some of our readers must be encouraged by the insight they've gained. Your contribution has made our goal for this issue a reality. Thank you very much. We will be looking forward to Patrick's words of wisdom in the near future, on our blog. So, everyone, keep checking.
Honna Swenson is also a writer. She's published short fiction here and there and is currently shopping around her first novel, while putting the finishing touches on her second. Lately, Patrick has graciously allowed her to spend more time on her writing than Fairwood Press projects, her writing schedule is to rise early every morning at 5:00 a.m. to write, and she's not a morning person!
Hobbies include raising her four-year-old son, Orion, who has already revealed an interest in the "dark side", same as his mother. Writing is Honna's second love. Her first is soccer. She's played since she was twelve. Honna has gone to Europe and Brazil for world-class tournaments, and has played with a premier team in Southern California, before moving to Washington state. She still plays-hasn't hung up her cleats yet!
Honna would love for you to visit each of the following links: