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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Small Press Option: Interview with Christina Tarabochia, Co-Founder of Ashberry Lane Press

I'm in a Christian Indie group with Christina Tarabochia, Co-Founder of Ashberry Lane Press, and I knew she'd be the perfect person to explain how small presses help their authors. These days, as many authors investigate options outside traditional publishing, small publishers are a very competitive option and bring unique benefits.

This interview was so informative and I hope you take time to ask Christina any questions below in the comments! ~Heather Day Gilbert


Christina Tarabochia and her mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, 
Co-Founders of Ashberry Lane Press



~Interview with Christina Tarabochia~

HG: Christina, tell me a little about how you decided to start your small press, Ashberry Lane. Also, what is the significance of that name?

CT: My debut novel, The Familiar Stranger, came out in 2009 from Moody Publishing under my then-name of Christina Berry. (The book took 2nd places in the 2008 Genesis.) I had one of the top agents in the business. I was up for a Christy and won the first Contemporary Carol Award in 2010. I had put in my years and years of learning, networking, pitching, honing and my career was going to skyrocket! Yeah!

But it didn’t.

Instead I spent a couple more years writing proposals, getting rejections with specific reasons that had nothing to do with my actual writing, and spinning my wheels. Meantime, I saw the indie movement growing and wanted to jump in right away. For better or worse, I didn’t actually take the plunge until 2013 when my mother, Sherrie Ashcraft, and I left our agent and started our press, Ashberry Lane—a combo of Ashcraft and Berry. (But doesn’t it sound like a nostalgic little road with sweet peas growing along the edges of a path that leads to a cozy cottage?) 


Ashberry Lane

We planned to release our own book, On the Threshold, that we’d been working on for FOURTEEN years and then keep writing more together as I finished up all the others I’d started over the years.


On the Threshold, Winner of the Oregon Cascade Award
Click to Find on Amazon

We released On the Threshold in May of 2013. Within a few weeks, Dianne Price contacted us. She was dying of a slow-moving cancer and would we be interested in publishing her six-book WWII series? We quickly worked up a legally solid contract and signed her with our house. Unfortunately, she passed away one week before Broken Wings released. 


Click to find Broken Wings on Amazon

Next, Bonnie Leon approached us about doing a 20th Anniversary Revised Edition of her debut novel, The Journey of Eleven Moons. (That’s my daughter—the little one on the cover!)


Click to Find The Journey of Eleven Moons on Amazon

Once we signed a known, well-respected author, we were off and running … to the printers.

Since then, we’ve worked with several agencies and signed unagented authors as well, have released eight books, and have contracted nine more. In the words of Ephesians 3:19-20, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (NASB)

HG: Do you have an editor on staff who screens proposals/manuscripts for possible production? What are some crucial elements you look for in books you choose to publish?

CT: Um … getting a little bit convicted here. ;) I know there will be a point when I need to pass the first-reader responsibility on to someone else within the company, but I just can’t give it up yet! It is so much fun to open an email and see the idea of a new story. Sometimes the synopsis sounds a little outlandish, and then I start reading and the writing can carry that plot. Or a story sounds great, strong hook and good market potential, and the writing can’t quite deliver.

When we do have to say no to a manuscript, we try to offer very specific reasons why and offer to look at the piece again if those changes are made.

Reading submissions is like eating a box of chocolates (Click to Tweet!)—you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get because there are labels clearly saying what each candy is! (Humor credit to my daughter, 15-year-old Andrea, who originally came up with that cliché twist.)

So, what are we looking for?

~Nice, tight, no-personal-space-bubble Point of View. Let me become the character and live the book, please.

~Word counts that fit our guidelines: http://ashberrylane.com/submissions-guidelines/

~A story that touches our heart and points the reader toward a better understanding of and closer relationship with the Lord. This can be in any genre, even Sci Fi or Humor. It just has to fit our Tagline: Heartfelt Tales of Faith (& Fun!).

Once I think I might want to flirt with a manuscript—you know, give a wink or a sly glance--I send it on to my mother, President of Ashberry. We both read fulls on our Kindles. If we forget we’re reading an unpublished book and can’t stop reading and fall in love with the writing, it’s pretty much guaranteed we’ll be offering a contract.

HG: You mentioned to me you are somewhat "indie in thought and traditional in practice." Could you elaborate on that?

CT: The foundation of our publishing house is grounded in indie ideas (Click to Tweet!)--things like quick production times, freedom from genre expectations, pricing according to fluctuating markets, instant feedback on promotional efforts, access to sales numbers if we have them, transparency about what works and what doesn’t for marketing at this time, planning permafree with #1 in a series, etc. We’ll try pretty much anything an author wants to try.

But we give the traditional stamp of approval that a publishing house has chosen that manuscript out of all the ones submitted (and we’ve been shocked at how many we’ve already had to turn down) and put money and resources behind getting that story into readers’ hands. We do most of the traditional things for authors. (SEE BELOW)

HG: Give me some examples of what Ashberry Lane does for authors, such as: cover art, formatting, uploading, marketing, etc.

CT: We’ve evolved into quite a complicated machine for being so young. I give a very detailed first edit—I ran an editing business for five years before we started Ashberry Lane so I love this part!—while the author discusses cover ideas with our designer, the amazing Nicole Miller, and starts working on cover copy, gathering endorsers, and building reach with Mom’s help. 

After the author and I go over the first edit together, the manuscript moves on to the second round of editing. We have three editors who provide macro/micro/line edits all put together. I compile those and return the results to the author. After those changes are made, the manuscript goes to three proofers—who all find different things, of course. They check for consistency, grammar, and clarity, but also point out if there are any “big picture” issues left. Compile, return to author, repeat.

No, wait, that’s shampoo.

Either way, the product gets cleaner and cleaner. Meanwhile, we’re all back-and-forthing about the cover and book blurb.

I do a final read-aloud edit to catch the typos we made while fixing typos and any “echo” words that slipped by us. Then I format the paperback version, Nicole finalizes the cover, and we order a proof. I make three different e-formats from the print version. (We have really pretty great distribution for both print and e-books.)

As we use paid advertising, we’re finding which opportunities are worth it and which just don’t give a good ROI. We’ve got some exciting new marketing plans in the works, but this is definitely the area in which we are trying to grow the most! Y’all can help us by signing up for our newsletter at www.ashberrylane.com J We have around 1200 subscribers but would love to have more. And come like us at www.facebook.com/ashberrylanebooks.

HG: What are the benefits to authors with going with a small press like Ashberry Lane? Who would you NOT recommend small presses for?

CT: There are authors who are amazing as indies, but there are also authors who want only the full-blown, huge trad route. In between is a breed of authors who want FREE cover design, several rounds of edits, formatting, distribution, want to have a name-stamp of approval, and mostly just want to write and not do all the business part of indie. Not all small press authors want all those things, but they are considerations.

Also, being part of our small press is being part of a family (Click to Tweet!). Everybody's books have links to everyone else's in the back, we share each other's memes, we share each other’s books in our newsletters, we have a secret page for our authors, we try to remember birthdays, etc.

AGAIN, this is not what everyone wants! If you love to control every aspect of your book, if you love to learn new things, if you see indie as a challenge that God will walk you through, then full indie is probably the best route. But I think it's great for the market place and for authors to have the full spectrum.

HG: (*Raising hand* I do like control--but sometimes it would be nice to have someone else take some of the load!) Could you give me some idea of the royalty breakdown for things like e-books/softcovers through your press--in other words, what do authors keep?

CT: Another area we try to be pro-author/indie-ish in thought is when it comes to royalties. We pay our authors 50% of net on BOTH e-book and paperbacks. We also don’t charge any markup for author copies. By giving the authors more money and taking all the financial risk, the first 1.5 years of the company have definitely been an investment, but as we release more and more great Heartfelt Tales of Faith (& Fun!), the company itself should become more and more profitable, which means more profit will then be passed on to authors. A pretty cool cycle.


HG: I feel like I was talking to you in person, not conducting an e-mail interview! What a wealth of information you have brought to authors today, Christina. All the best to you and your mother as you serve authors and readers with Ashberry Lane!

9 comments:

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thanks so much for answering all my questions, Christina. I really loved interviewing you! So much helpful info for authors.

Christina Tarabochia said...

Thanks so much for letting us share our vision here! I'll be popping in and out all day to answer questions. I'm both chatting and transparent, so take advantage!

Angela Ruth Strong said...

I love that you published Dianne's books when no other traditional publisher would touch such a project. That in itself is a heartfelt tale of faith. Love you guys!

Sherrie Ashcraft said...

Heather, thank you so much for featuring Ashberry Lane today! It was really fun to get to share with you and your readers the different possibilities available to authors that are part of our company. Getting to do this venture together with Christina has certainly enriched my life on so many levels. And to get to work with Angela and our other authors is such a blessing. God is good!

Bonnie Leon said...

Fabulous interview - great questions and fun succinct answers from Christina, as usual.

I am impressed with Ashberry Lane. The hard work, professionalism, and faith displayed is inspiring. But what I love most - honor. They walk the walk. I never doubt their word. They do what they say they will.

In addition, everyone on the team is fun to work with. We need more publishing houses like Ashberry Lane.

Go team!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

LOL on the "I'm both chatting and transparent," Christina! Thanks for hanging around to answer ?s!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thank you for letting me ask all kinds of questions about the small press process, Sherrie! I really appreciate your vision with Ashberry Lane and your determination to help authors.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Thank you for commenting, Bonnie, and I could tell that just from chatting with Christina. I've been so impressed w/her comments in our group. And that cover of yours is lovely!

samuelehall said...

Ashberry Lane has been a godsend to me. Sherrie and Christina have been great to work with; moreover, they do make you feel like you're part of the family.
BTW, Sherrie, are you serving pecan pie next Thursday?