For you hungry, dying to get published, determined sorts out there I asked a friend of mine from High Hill Press a few questions. Her name is Louella Turner, and besides being the owner and editor-in-chief of a growing small press, she is also one pretty sharp cookie. High Hill and its imprints are not vanity presses, and Ms. Lou has several authors in her fleet who’ve seen their New York published books on the store shelves. She knows her stuff, and is great to work with. I promise you that her answers are worth reading, even if I didn’t have the sense to know what to ask her.
1) Tell me a bit about your independent publishing company, High Hill Press and its imprint, Cactus Country.
High Hill was actually started as a small business to give my husband something to do after he retired as a Ford Motor Company exec. Now he spends his days on the golf course, and I spend mine reading manuscripts. But I think I’m getting the better deal. I love the business. And it’s growing larger than I ever imagined it would. Cactus Country came about when a good friend of mine, Dusty Richards, said we needed to do Westerns. Dusty has sold 110 books in his 30 year writing career, published by New York presses. But there used to be 26 commercial publishing companies in New York buying Westerns, now there are 4. So that kind of tells the whole story. Authors needed a place to publish their work.
2) Were you always interested in books?
I started reading before I went to school because of my grandpa. I lived with my elderly grandparents between the age of 5 and 12. Grandpa said, “You can see the world in the pages of a good book.” He filled a bookcase in my room with books he bought at auctions or garage sales and we read most of them together on the front porch of their little house under the glare of a yellow bug light. The only new book he ever bought was To Kill a Mockingbird. We read it and discussed it and I read it to my neighbor, a black woman with the most wonderful name, Grace Wonder. Grace has ended up as a character in many of my own stories.
3) Name the two most important things that make you want to publish someone’s book.
I love a great voice and wonderful prose. A writer can make some grammar and punctuation mistakes if they’ve got a great voice and tell a great story in a visual way. The craft can be fixed, voice can’t be created.
4) Excluding historical romances, why aren’t there more female authors writing or selling Westerns to the NY publishing houses?
There aren’t as many female authors out there writing Westerns. I’ve not found that many anyway. It’s probably because most women just automatically think it’s a man’s genre and they don’t try. The ones I do find are wonderful writers with as much knowledge about the Old West as the men have. And don’t be fooled by the historical romance tag. I’ve read some of those historical romances, and those books are no different than what the men are writing. Jodi Thomas can write a western. But because she’s a woman, they have to put that romance tag on it. I tried to sell a western in New York and was told that I’d have to use a man’s name because I used a man as my main character (his point of view) and publishers didn’t want a woman writing a man’s story. I didn’t like my female characters and didn’t want them telling my story. It had to be told by a man.
5) What sets apart the Westerns that Cactus Country will bring to the bookshelves from what the New York publishing houses have offered for the last fifty years?
We’re just continuing what New York started and then began dropping. Good Western stories with great characters and beautiful language. We’ll also do some short shoot ‘em up books, but we’re always looking for good stories and great writing.
6) What’s your favorite Western movie?
The Searchers. And only because I love John Wayne and I studied it when I studied screen writing. The movie follows the screenplay so well, and it made me realize how deliberate each line of dialogue and each scene had to be. It’s amazing to sit and watch a movie with the screen play in front of you. And True Grit is another of my favorite because it was so outrageous and so full of eccentric characters.
7) Why don’t Western novels sell like they did twenty years ago? Is it simply a matter of a new generation’s tastes, or is there something the matter with what is being offered for the current crop of readers?
That’s a tough one. I think it’s a little of both. Most young people would rather read about vampires and comic book characters than about the old west. Even contemporary westerns are a tough sell to anyone under 40. But there are still a lot of baby boomers out there who want to read a good old-fashioned western. And there are still a lot of good western writers that can give them the book they want, but the heads in New York think that we all want vampires and comic book characters. Or books about politics. There are a zillion books about politics printed every year and I honestly don’t have one single friend who reads them. I have no idea how New York works anymore. And I don’t think they do either. Small press is trying hard to give readers the books they want, but most of us are understaffed and underfunded, so it’s a slow process. I truly believe that the western will come back in a big way, because after all, they’re adventure books, and everyone loves adventure.
8) A small press? What are you crazy?
I know. I tell everyone that if I’d known how hard this was going to be I’d have taken up ballet instead. It would have been a lot easier to fit my butt into a tutu and learn how to dance.
So, there you have it straight from the horse’s, or rather the editor’s mouth.