Books published by High Plains Press have won four Wrangler awards for poetry, a Spur Award for non-fiction, and several Willa awards. Curtis and High Plains Press have received the Wyoming Governor’s Arts Award and the Western Writers Lariat Award for support of authors and books.
We interviewed High Plains Press publisher Nancy Curtis to ask about getting published and about the changing publishing landscape.
We've found what we can sell best from where we are is Old West nonfiction connected to Wyoming. So cowboys, outlaws, lawmen, homesteading women, and history have become our bread and butter. We've also had some success with memoirs and poetry.
I heard an editor of a small press say once that they liked to publish the first book on a subject, the best book on a subject, or the most important book on the subject. That is what we'd like to do. The editor also said "they also did all those other quirky books the editors liked." Sometimes we too like to take a chance on a quirky book. I like to learn, so I like a book that teaches me things I didn't know about Wyoming history and culture.
What are the biggest or most common mistakes you see authors make?
I think it is a rare person who can put it all together. The more I know about books, the more I realize how hard it is to write one. Some writers have stories to tell, some are good at organization, some are research whizzes, some can write flawless sentences, some can spell, some like finding or taking photographs, some can put together a good narrative thread, some know all the footnote forms, etc. But it is a rare author who can do it all. Authors need to be aware of their weak areas and seek help and keep learning in those areas. There is a learning curve to writing a book and almost no one can just sit down and write one without study and pain.
I heard on TV once a good selling author say that he got a new word processing program. So to learn it, he went to the basement and wrote his first book. It made me mad. It devalues the work of writing and puts it in the category of typing.
I had an author tell me the other day I could put his chapters in whatever order I wanted. He said James Galvin didn't tell a story chronologically so he didn't think chapter order was important. I want an author to give thought to the person reading the story and to have a good reason for the book to be in the form it is.
To sell a book, I need to be able to say what the book is about. I can't get a bookseller to stock the book by saying "it is little stories about the author's life growing up in Wyoming." If I can say the book contains new and exciting information about Butch Cassidy or it is a photo-intensive history of the sheepwagon or it is a biography of a little known but important frontiersman, at least the bookseller knows what it is.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a publisher?
The changing marketplace. And I just don't mean just Amazon and ebooks. I'm all about relationships. So I am frustrated when I build a relationship with a book buyer at a gift shop or a travel stop or a wholesaler and then suddenly they are gone. We work hard to convince book buyers that our books will sell: that they are good stories, honestly told and professionally produced, that readers like, and that we ship the right titles on time with reasonable terms. Then that person is gone on to work in the coal mine, or that store closes, and we start over.
The publishing landscape seems to be changing with more self-publishing and electronic publishing options. Where do you see the future of traditional publishing going?
I think they are just alternate ways of delivering content. Radio didn't die when TV came along. Movie theaters haven't closed with the introduction of streaming. But I think certain kinds of books are likely to be kept on a shelf and other types are more disposable and are more likely to be read on a Kindle. I do give thought to whether a manuscript will make a book that is a keeper.
As far as self-publishing, we all know examples of successful self-publishers. But publishing in the broad definition is not easy. Getting a book in print is much easier, but there is much more to publishing than ink or toner on paper or converting a manuscript to an ebook format.
But publishing is fun because I get to learn new things and work with authors who are fascinating people.
Visit High Plains Press online at www.highplainspress.com.