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Q&A: Gay Fiction Publisher Ken Harrison of Seventh Window

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With fewer of the big publishing houses making a concerted effort to produce new gay fiction, I'm happy to see Seventh Window Publications, founded by Ken Harrison, focusing on that market. Authors such as Drake Braxton, Eric Arvin, Jeffrey Ballam, Xavier Axelson and G.L. Roberts , among others, have found a home at Seventh Window, and the imprint has many titles in the pipeline. Ken Harrison graciously sat down with me recently to talk about the state of publishing, gay books, and some of Seventh Window's upcoming titles.

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Ken, I appreciate your taking the time to chat! First, how did Seventh Window Publications come to be?

I started out as a writer, and Seventh Window began when I realized that I didn't want to write. That's a strange realization, mostly because even as a child, I had always wanted to be a writer. But once I started to get published, I realized that I had to be out there, front and center, seen and heard. Which is was not what I wanted. But I could not leave the work that I love, so I began Seventh Window, which allows me to pursue my passion in a way which fits me personally.

How do you see Seventh Window fitting into the larger publishing landscape? What role do you see Seventh Window playing?

Some of the most exciting fiction comes from the small press. A small press will take chances, mostly because a small press is usually working for the sheer love of publishing. When a small press finds a book they like, it doesn't try to fit it into a mold, but embraces it for what it is.

What kind of work appeals to you?

Myself, I like dark romance. You know, stories about people falling in love that you wouldn't normally think of as typical romance. Because of this I've published authors such as Xavier Axelson, Drake Braxton, and GL Roberts. These authors created stories about people who have been hurt by life and somehow still find a reason to love, which I find inspiring. There's something about an author who is willing to show a character with very few--if any--positive influences in their lives, yet finding the positive, finding love.

Are you yourself a romantic?

No, I am not, so it's kind of odd that I would concentrate on romance. But I like genres. I'm also a huge horror fan, which actually shares a lot with romance: both horror and romance have a ton of bad--and I mean awful--stories, but when you find the one that is done well, you are full of awe. The thing with romance is that it leaves readers feeling good, even if it's not a "Happily Ever After" ending.

Which keeps them coming back for more!

Yep! That's the drug, that brings readers back. They want that great feeling, which not every author can deliver. To write a good romance, you have to know the craft; to write an amazing romance, you have to be an artist.

So Seventh Window offers romance, but in an unusual package.

Exactly.

With so many titles vying for attention, it often seems that the hardest part of publishing is promotion. When you have a new title, do you strategize about how to best promote it?

The short answer is, yes. One of the reasons an author goes with a press instead of self-publishing is for promotion. A press will have its own followers, people who will read and purchase from that press because they've grown to trust it.

Having readers who believe in you is great, but every title needs to bring in new readers. One of the things I do is ensured that the authors published by Seventh Window get reviewed, and supplement that with advertising on Goodreads and Facebook, for example, to get people interested in the titles I publish.

What's the number one thing which sells a book?

A good cover helps. One of the things I do is work closely with the author to make sure we design the best cover for their title. If the author likes the cover, they will work harder to promote their book, which is a win/win for everybody.

For an author at Seventh Window, what can he expect in terms of support, and what tasks fall on their shoulders?

I like to share some of the promotional part of the business, but I do expect the author to be pro-active in promoting him or herself. I always make suggestions to new authors on how to promote themselves. You know, start a blog, get a Facebook page, find out if you can do a few guest blogs. If the author needs help with any of these things, I'm willing to talk to authors I know who might be willing to give a new author a hand in promotion. Xavier Axelson, Sylvia Violet, Michele Montgomery and others have been very helpful in this regard. Other than promotions, I do the rest.

With the ease of online publishing and the introduction of print on demand books, many authors are bypassing publishing houses altogether, and instead doing it on their own. Are there certain types of writers who might be better served by going with a publisher? How does a writer know what path might be best for them?

Self publishing is great for an author who understands the business, is willing to hire a freelance editor and is willing to do all the work involved in getting a book to print and beyond.

A self-published author could go through a vanity publisher, but I always think it's best to start your own publishing company and go from there. This means you have to get your own ISBN, find out about copyright, book design and layout, become a DBA, etc... It's a lot of work, but you will have full control over your title. You'll also have a better understanding of the business.

But for those not wanting to do all of that...?

One of the main reasons an author might take the traditional route is to work with a publisher who has experience and the connections it takes to make their title a success. This does not mean the title will sell millions, but it will have a better chance of success. A good publisher will do help a new author through the process, educating and explaining how it all works.

For those going the traditional route, what advice do you have?

It's always a good idea to keep in contact with your editor or publisher. Ask questions. I love when an author asks me about promotion before I talk to them about it. This means they feel comfortable talking to me, which strengthens the bond between author and publisher. This is a relationship you're getting into and to make it work you need effective communication.

Given all of these changes in the marketplace, what advice would you give a writer who has finished a gay-themed manuscript? Does the old "find an agent" route still work?

Unless you're going to publish with Harper Collins or one of the big New York publishers, you don't need an agent. You do need to make sure you have a contract and read it. Read your contract and understand it. Ask questions before you sign. The contract will spell out what is expected of you, how you will be paid and how much.

When an author signs a book contract they aren't selling the book to the publisher, they're selling specific rights to the publisher. Authors need to understand which rights they're allowing the publisher to have. Seventh Window only negotiates print and eBook rights, leaving all other subsidiary rights to the author. If a publisher requests any other rights, like motion picture rights, or rights to characters, etc., they should question the publisher as to why they want such rights.

Having been on the writing side of this business, I understand what authors go through. Publishing has a dark history of taking advantage of authors who don't know what they're selling, or just want to get published and are too willing to sign a contract and trust the publisher. The best way to avoid being used is to read your contract.

I'm sure you get tons of submissions for Seventh Window. What are your pet peeves when it comes to submissions? Any do's and don'ts?

Authors need to look at the titles a publisher has and read some of them. Compare your title to the titles the publisher puts out. This is publishing 101, but so many authors do not do this very simple thing. Sometimes I feel like the authors querying me couldn't tell me a single title I've published if asked. Authors often seem to think that getting published is a crap shoot, so they submit to every publisher out there, which is as a waste of time. Instead, be thoughtful. Do your homework. Know what a publisher likes by reading some of their most recent titles. Or, even better, go to your bookshelf or eReader and find publishing houses that have put out books similar to your own.

I know you have a large stable of authors, but who are some of your favorites? What books or authors are you enjoying?

I would have to say all of them. I began Seventh Window with M.J. Pearson and N.L. Gassert, both of whom haven't had a new title in a while, and I would love to work with them again. N.L. Gassert is one of those authors whose friendship grew out of working on her book. Even if she doesn't write another book, I'll keep in touch with her--but I would love it if she did.

What titles does Seventh Window have coming that you're really excited about?

Aside from Missing by Drake Braxton, which is an innovative and emotional read, I would have to say the new G.L. Roberts novella, Light and Shadow, is going to be a treat, as is the new Ron Raddle, Degrees of Passion. Coming late September is a new author, Jeff Ballam, with When Love Calls Your Name.

2012-08-28-missing.gifI recently read Drake Braxton's Missing, which I really enjoyed. How did you discover him?

Drake's book was suggested to me by authors Arthur Wooten and Gregory G. Allen. I thought it had something going for it, so I took it on, but it wasn't until I started working on it that I realized the depth of it and how intricate it actually is. Missing reminds me of something by Jim Thompson, my favorite crime/noir author. What amazed me was how Drake Braxton keeps the noir setting and story while holding onto a romance feel. The only other author I know of who can do this successfully is Xavier Axelson.

The LGBT community has so many issues to deal with, from civil rights, to gender issues, to discrimination and classism... What role do books play in our community?

Gay romance has introduced LGBT issues to many straight women, and for some it was their introduction to gay culture. So many people read books to explore cultures and issues outside of their own. Books have a way of making people think about issues they may not be a part of and helps them get a better understanding of them. And it doesn't have to be some high end piece of snobbish literature. Romance has been doing it for years, as has popular women's fiction. Look at The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

How can we help push that understanding along?

One of the things we need to do is to get gay fiction out of that classification. Romance has already started doing this, although it still has its separate category distinction. But instead of being separatist, we need to get our romance, mystery, and thrillers on the same shelves as straight fiction. Having gay sections in bookstores gives the impression that our books aren't as good, when they can be as good and sometimes even better. We need to let people know that our stories are worthy of being told, that our stories have a right to be read by all, not just the LGBT community. We are deserving. We are worthy. And we need to let people know that.

For more on Seventh Window, please visit their website.

Cross-posted on Kergan Edwards-Stout and Bilerico Project .