Zoe Zolbrod on publishing with a small press

Most of the authors I interview on this blog write nonfiction, either memoir or travel writing or a combination of both, travel memoir. But today we’ve got a guest who has used her travel experience to inform a different type of writing: fiction.

Author Zoe Zolbrod

Zoe Zolbrod‘s first novel, Currency, which is set in Thailand, was released this month. I’ve invited Zoe here not only to celebrate the release, but also to shed light on publishing with a small press. You can buy her book at Amazon.

Zoe lives outside Chicago and works as a writer and editor of literature and language arts textbooks. She blogs at The Next Youth Hostel.

Thanks for joining us, Zoe! To begin, tell us about your book.

Currency is a literary thriller set mostly in Thailand, where an American woman backpacker and a cute Thai guy get involved with each other and an endangered animal smuggling ring. It was just released by Other Voices Books as the first in their Morgan Street International Series, which celebrates novels set outside the United States by writers from any nation.

Where does your travel experience fit in?

In the mid-90s, I backpacked solo around Southeast Asia for about six months. That experience was my inspiration. While writing, I went back to Thailand on a shorter trip to do research for the book.

Why did you decide to go the novel route instead of non-fiction?

My solo travel experience affected me profoundly, but I didn’t think it was unique enough to warrant a full-length treatment. I wanted to tell an exciting story — my characters get in a lot more trouble than I ever did or, hopefully, will — and have the freedom to use literary elements to explore certain themes.

Currency was released May 16.

What challenges did you face in publishing the book?

I faced the challenge of not giving up in the face of industry indifference. And I’m not even sure I succeeded! It took me a long time to find an agent. Then, after the initial flurry yielded only rejections, she quit working for me. (She did try to talk me into co-writing a book with another client of hers, but I passed.) Then I found another agent, who eventually did the same thing. I also tried a couple smaller presses on my own, but by then the many years of rejection had weakened my spirit. It was bittersweet to be told by one of the editors that this was the best novel he’d ever turned down, and I didn’t pursue the small press angle very hard.

Eventually, I gave up and put the manuscript under the stairs in the basement. It wasn’t until a couple years later that Gina Frangello, an editor at OV Books who had read Currency in a writer’s group years ago, asked me if I would consider submitting it for consideration as a Morgan Street International title. That was in 2008, and I had just had my second baby. When they accepted the book for a 2010 release, I was almost disbelieving. There were a few more small ups and downs after it had been accepted, and it took a while to trust it was really going to happen. But it happened! I now have boxes of books in my foyer.

For those of us who don’t know much about small presses (like me), can you explain the basics? Are the standards as high as traditional publishers? Do they edit your book? Do you need an agent or can you approach them directly? Do authors make money?

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