Spaceships to eBooks – Interview with a Publisher Engineer

I met Mike Macartney, publisher and engineer, in May this year when he added his 6 scientists to my journal blog post about 6 scientists who “rocked my world”.  He added  the fascinating applied scientists: Isaac Newton, John Von Neumann, Jonas Salk, Lewis Leakey and Nikola Tesla. Reading his comment, I thought this was someone I should try to get to know a little better.

Mike Macartney’s publishing company is Shoot Your Eye Out Publishing, set up in 2010. I read and loved his recent release The Flower Daughter by author K R Lobel, an epic battle between the sexes for independence and earthly power.

He has graciously agreed to an interview here, about how he’s come from engineering to publishing and what kind of authors he looks for, as a new publisher.

Publisher Interview

Q: Going from engineering spaceships and electric cars to publishing is quite a trip. How did you arrive at publishing from an engineering background?

A: I came to science as a career in 5th grade when my Mormon teacher had me bring my chemistry set to class. But that is another story.

In High school I was deciding between science and engineering, but also liked writing. College and grad school was all engineering with a switch from electrical engineering to mechanical, and a brief flirtation with changing to geology as a major. The history of the Earth is truly a mesmerizing tale, no novel can touch it.

I have written hundreds of proposals, which are stories each in their own, and have struggled to get the engineers who worked for me to write their reports and analyses in readable and persuasive prose.

Aerospace, Silicon Valley, electric vehicles – all are a vision, a story, a telling of how you get there, and the ladders of imagination you have to build on the way. Silicon Valley was started because of the technology story it promised, the greed, money, and arrogance are other, darker stories that came later.

Maybe all of that leads to publishing.

Q: Does being in publishing today compare with your experience with technology partnering in Silicon Valley during the 1990s?

A: In the mid 90s I took a group of Russian scientists to see the Silicon Graphics demo room. SGI was operating Silicon Studios and had a high speed data line to Industrial Light and Magic in Marin, George Lucas’ company, at the time. Much of the nascent Hollywood Computer Graphic Image technology was all built on purple SGI machines then. SGI was predicting that expensive live actors would be replaced with computer images and had visitors sit in a chair to have their face and head mapped with a laser for digital “actor” creation.

Today CGI is an overused mainstay of Hollywood and SGI is almost out of business. Its business has been replaced by an explosion of processing power in other hardware, ubiquitous high speed wireless networks everywhere, and much improved software.

Publishing is where SGI was in 1995. It is being disintermediated by the Internet, digital technology, and consumer driven computer-cloud based libraries and bookstores. What it becomes is still up for grabs. The risk is that the quality of books and writing will become diluted, like movies with too much CGI and worn out plot lines. People will move away from it then, like they are doing with Hollywood and TV today.

Q: How did you chose the name for your new publishing company, Shoot Your Eye Out Publishing?

A: Hahaha, that may go back to the place where I took my chemistry set. Jack Vermillion, “Shoot Your Eye Out Jack.” “The West,” the book that is always closing.

Q: Did you study writing or publishing prior to starting your own small publishing business?

A: I took a technical writing class at work once.

I wrote a book in 2005 about alternative Energy and went through the traditional publishing exercise. I learned all about “platforms” and editors, agents, book proposals, and what a small “who you know” world publishing was. It was an entertainment business that controlled both ends of its supply chain completely, very much like Hollywood in that regard.

That supply chain is broken at both ends now and the publishers that survive will have to change their delivery systems and content to match the world the way it is now.

Q: As a publisher, you’ve been very selective in choosing authors – from John Milton to Mark Jameson and KR Lobel. How do you chose a new author to publish?

A: I choose the story first and decide if the author has enough life experience and depth to tell it. The writing can always be fixed, but the story and what the author brings to it can’t be faked – and when it is it shows.

The engineer in me looks for content and information in writing, and who the author is. Getting a book from “The End” to edited, re-written, edited, re-written, formatted, changed, … is a very painful process and the author has to have the “grit” to get through all of that.

Q: You’ve written advice on book proposals for authors; when is sending in the proposal a good idea?

Every author should write a book proposal for their work and submit it to somebody, sometime. That is part of learning what your book is about and if somebody will sell it. It also teaches authors how much of their work they have to give away to others to get it sold.

An author might wish to write their own proposal first and then find an agent second, if that is what they want to do. The agent’s customer is the publisher not the author. The more the author knows about the work and its value the better the relationship with the agent and publishers will turn out, and the more control the author will have.

Q: Can you tell readers a little bit about how you designed your new book, Cassandra’s Roadhouse?

A: I wanted Cassandra’s Roadhouse to be a promotional book of short stories and writing by some of my authors and others that I knew.

The main requirement was good writing and good stories from different genres. Hopefully readers will think that it was successful at that.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My biggest challenge is finding interesting authors and building the business. 2012 will be a year to find good sales channels and marketers to balance the “engineer” side of the business.

Q: Where can readers find your new books, as eBooks and print editions?

A: They are available on IBooks, B&N, and Amazon. Print versions are available through Amazon. The books can also be seen at the publisher’s site here.

Q: How can prospective authors submit to Shoot Your Eye Out?

A: Please follow the “submissions” guidelines at the site or contact me directly through the contact form. Just write a note and see where it goes from there.

Thanks to Mike Macartney from Shoot Your Eye Out for the interview. He’s convinced me to think about a book proposal as an author.

Q: A question for readers, have you ever submitted your work to a publisher? Have you written a book proposal?

Please leave a comment in the open box below, to share your experiences with readers. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Related Links

Publisher website:http://www.syeopub.com/

Twitter: @ShootEyeOut

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shoot-Your-Eye-Out-Publishing/164919843554977

Cassandra’s Roadhouse, an eBook collection of short stories by published and unpublished authors, from 21 to 60. Told by scientists, radio announcers, college students, consultants, government agents, accountants and chemists. Like the stories told in a bar told over a drink with friends, the stories are about life, love, adventure, and dreams. Available free at: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/cassandras-roadhouse/id486877814?mt=11&ls=1

9 thoughts on “Spaceships to eBooks – Interview with a Publisher Engineer

  1. “Just wanting to write” is a bit of a cop-out in this day and age. It’s like wanting to cook, without the willingness to peel potatoes or scrub a chopping board or load a dishwasher or sharpen a knife. If you cook, you do all these things – they are grouped under the heading ‘kitchen skills’.

    Being an author requires ‘writers’ skills’ which include knowing as much about the industry as possible, understanding formats, the difference between marketing and promotions, the anatomy of a physical book, why pagination is important in formatting, a bit about typography and its importance in cover design, the different trim sizes for different books, how to understand uploading, what a casual contract with an online publisher such as KDP really means to an author… and more. One finds that the more one knows, the more one is likely to glimpse success.

    The less one knows, the more likely is cause for complaint. When an author feels badly done by, disempowered, or at a skill disadvantage, they need more kitchen skills – or need to know how to go about acquiring them, or farming them out. Even if you employ someone to sharpen your French knives, you do need to know how sharp, and that your precious expensive equipment might be ruined by inexpert handling.

    This is why authors are such special people – they are crafty artisans, who know a lot about the written word and how it can be brought to market, so that it can successfully reach the appreciative reader.

    1. I love that way of framing an author “crafty artisans”. But then some of my favorite storytellers never wrote a story – and so are creators but not authors. My father was one, a story every day. And my scientist mentor Barbara McClintock was another, a story every time we met up. Someone else has to tell their stories later. I have such respect for biographers and people who can capture folk stories, thinking of this. Thank you for coming by the journal blog here and sharing your ideas. You’ve started me thinking that storyteller, writer, author – these are different gifts we may have and develop.

  2. Yes, those all seem like very good things to have done. Do publishers do ANY of that now?

    Everything I read says a publisher won’t touch a manuscript that needs editing. They expect it to be a polished, finished work, before they will read it. It also seems that for all mid-list authors, 100% of the marketing is on the writer’s shoulders. Am I wrong?

    I could see where they (the publishers) might be willing to do the ebook formatting, and take 50% of the profits, but that only takes an hour. Or, at least, it only took me an hour. I suspect they are more efficient.

    I would gladly consider submitting my future novels to a publisher if they did help with these things.

  3. Interesting interview, Jennifer. Thank you for posting it.
    Interesting comments as well. I agree with your last statement: most of the writers I know just want to write, and are overwhelmed with the prospect of self publishing.
    “The risk is that the quality of books and writing will become diluted, like movies with too much CGI and worn out plot lines.” I agree, Mike. It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes.

    1. Cynthia it is true among my friends too. So many people I talk with, when it comes up that I wrote a book or two, say “I always wanted to write a book!” so happily. And then I smile, reflect, and I think, wow. From that feeling, wanting to do it, to the last bits is a long road. I love the trip, it was quite an adventure. Like, I always “wanted” to run a marathon. In my case, I never got past one mile running. The pain! But with writing, the pain was well buffered by pleasure and the companionship of others. For authors who see it through, I think writing can be a labor of love.

  4. One complaint – the reply about disintermediation and ‘where to from here’ did not go on long enough. I am after as many opinions I can get, and many visions and predictions, in order to formulate my own. I have been in this business long enough to agree with some of what Mike says here – but I would like much more. Stuff to disagree with, for example, makes for a good discussion.

  5. I really enjoyed the interview. The part I liked most was the suggestion that each author should write up a book proposal and submit it. I’ve been considering doing this or, at the very least, submitting one of my novels to agents. It would definitely be a learning experience.

    That being said, I can’t imagine actually letting an agent represent me. I think your point about the distribution system being broken is one of the reasons traditional publishing seems like such a losing proposition.

    I’m open to leaning the value of having a publisher, and I freely admit that I may be wrong, but it seems that they don’t do anything anymore, with the possible exception of handling the cover art (I’ve just hired an artist to handle my book, “Howler Monkey Angst: A Look At Guest Blahging”). The author is expected to get the manuscript polished before it gets to the editor, thus hire an editor (okay,I’ve done that.), then once the book comes out, the author will devote countless hours to marketing. (Built my Social Media platform, check) Other than taking a portion of the profits, is there a single service that publishers provide? Aren’t traditional publishers the “New Vanity Presses”?

    Again, I know that I sound a little snarky, but that is how it seems from where I sit, banging on my keyboard like a rabid lemur monkey.

    I’d love to be convinced that my skepticism is misplaced.

    1. The value of publishers to me even in the digital age seems to be doing that which many authors can’t or won’t. When I was young, I learned to be a great seamstress and craftsperson in my teens. I could make anything I needed from coats to shoes – but no one else I knew could. My friends bought those things in stores. It is kind of like that with the dozens of steps needed to format the different ebook types properly, get the ISBNs, copyrights, placement in online retail stores. Some people I know write beautifully and with inspiration, but have no aptitude or interest in the step by step grind of publication and marketing. They just want to write.

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