Tommy Hancock is doing something almost no one else has had the courage to do: run a publishing company from the state of Arkansas. Though only “geographically undesirable” from the point of view of the lumbering old giant of traditional publishing, as partner in and editor-in-chief of Pro Se Productions, Tommy has put himself on the bleeding edge of the small press boom. Pro Se publishes fiction by authors like previous Fantasy Author’s Handbook interviewee Logan L. Masterson and yours truly across an amazing spread of genres beginning with a foot firmly in the American pulp tradition.
Philip Athans: Define “fantasy” in 25 words or less.
Tommy Hancock: In fantasy, anything can happen. Noble heroes and monsters usually abide, but fantasy can also live on urban streets and alien worlds.
Athans: Define “science fiction” in 25 words or less.
Hancock: When fact grows into speculative knowledge and is woven into a tale we are both familiar with and new to, that is science fiction.
Athans: Define “pulp” in . . . as many words as you like, and feel free to add a definition of “new pulp”!
Hancock: There was a group of modern pulp authors a few years back, myself included, that came up with a definition for pulp and I tend to use it as a general guideline:
Pulp is plot oriented fiction that usually focuses on some sort of conflict, normally runs at a fast clip, and often features over the top characters on both sides of whatever equation is in the story. It’s also a style that is not afraid of descriptive words, colorful, sharp dialogue, and even being a bit purple.
I think that definition fits New Pulp as well, although I think New Pulp tends to try to strike a balance between plot and characterization driving the stories. But put simply, pulp is a style of writing. Some try to call it a genre, some a “format,” and so on. But for me, it’s a style of writing.
Athans: I’m often asked by aspiring authors if they should bypass traditional publishing and just self-publish their work and I tend to advise against self publishing. I see the e-book and POD revolution ushering in not a new era of self-published successes but a new era of small presses, so-called “niche publishers”—is that a fair description of Pro Se Productions? And how have these changes in the production and distribution of books helped or hurt you?
Hancock: Pro Se Productions is probably best described as a niche publisher that has grown beyond where it started. Originally considered a company focused squarely on New Pulp, Pro Se has come to be regarded as a publisher of Genre Fiction, granted much of what we publish still being in the pulp style. Our books definitely run the genre gamut and some are definitely more “pulpy” than others.
Pro Se tends to paint “pulp” with a broad brush as far as the style goes and we’ve taken risks on ideas that other pulp outfits wouldn’t touch. Although not every one of those has taken, we’ve had enough success with some pretty out of the box concepts that I’m comfortable saying that Pro Se is more a genre publisher than a niche publisher, even if we’re just at the beginnings of that.
Athans: This is primarily a blog for aspiring authors. What is the most common mistake that inexperienced authors make in their writing?
Hancock: You’re probably looking for an answer from the technical side of things, the mechanics of writing. But my reply is confidence. Most inexperienced authors have confidence issues, and they’re not always the same. Some writers have absolutely no faith in their work or their ability to write and this leads them often to continually edit, rewrite, and never finish to their satisfaction. Other writers believe that every word they’ve written is a drop of gold from God’s mouth and no one can change a single word or question their choices in punctuation, plot, or anything else. I see both versions of the confidence problem often and unfortunately I’ve watched several promising creators either fade away in insecurity or burn up in their own hubris and just vanish.
Athans: Besides a decent dictionary, and The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction of course, is there one book you think every author should keep close at hand?
Hancock: No, but there are two. Every author should have his or her all time favorite book nearby. He or she should also have the worst book she/he has ever read just as close. Both of these will serve as reminders of what they like as readers and what they don’t like. And both of those thoughts should influence all of us as we write.
Athans: You and your team at Pro Se Productions have recently embarked on a new marketing push and you seem determined to get the word out on Pro Se itself, the books you’ve published, and the authors you work with. That’s always been the biggest challenge for a small publisher—for any publisher really—what can an author do to help market his/her book, and what should he/she expect from the publisher?
Hancock: Every prospective author I’ve ever met only wants to talk about one thing: their story/book/movie/comic idea. That should not change for authors just because their books are published. The way authors (and artists, for that matter) can help the most is to talk about their work. Share what they’ve done in any way they can—on social media, at the coffee shop down the street, on a radio station or TV show if they get the chance. And they should never stop. Even if they end up publishing ten books, they should talk about all of them when they get the chance with the same excitement they had before their words hit paper and someone’s bookshelf.
As for what an author should expect from a publisher, that depends on the publisher. Pro Se, I feel, has done more than many other small press publishers have in terms of promotion and marketing, but I will also tell you we’ve not been able to do nearly enough. Some of that can be blamed on lack of money, limited time (none of us do this full time), and lack of knowledge. We’re taking steps to correct all of those and in the next few weeks and months, we’ll be continuing what has worked for us, marketing-wise, and going several new directions as well.
Will all of them work? No. Will some seem strange and weird? Probably. But Pro Se will be taking steps to raise awareness of the company itself as well as individual authors and the titles that are the core of what we do.
Athans: Do you read reviews of novels you’ve published? Have you found any review to be particularly helpful or destructive? Do you encourage the authors you work with to read reviews?
Hancock: Yes, I read every review I can get my hands on. And every review is both helpful and destructive. The best reviews in the world always give me something to go back to that particular work and look for, to see if I see what the reader saw. The worst reviews usually are dead on about most of the issues the reader finds, but all reviews give us one important piece of data. We learn from every review how a book we’ve published has impacted a reader. And that’s extremely important. So yes, I read the reviews and I highly encourage authors to read reviews of their work.
Athans: The Pro Se Web site has a page titled WRITER’S WANTED! How open are you to new, as-yet-unpublished authors, and what advice can you give aspiring authors submitting work to Pro Se, and then for any other publisher?
Hancock: Pro Se has had a reputation since we started for welcoming unpublished authors and that won’t ever change. Several of our upcoming titles are by first time authors. And the best advice I can give any author submitting to any publisher, Pro Se or otherwise, is you need to know the work of the company you’re pitching to. Not just know who writes for them or like their Facebook page, but read what they put out. Pick up a few books, download a few digital titles, whatever you need to get a good feel for what the company you’re looking at puts out. Then submit.
Athans: Where can people go to find out more about you, Pro Se, and what’s coming up next for you?
Hancock: The easiest way to keep up with all things Pro Se can be found in two places. Our website is prose-press.com and you can like us on Facebook. The easiest way to keep up with me, even though most of what I’m doing lately is Pro Se, is to find me on Facebook. Although I wax philosophical occasionally, my personal Facebook page is mostly pulp/Pro Se/writing focused.
Thanks Tommy—and now everybody go buy a Pro Se book!