Interview: Scotch Rutherford
SWITCHBLADE Magazine, the sharpest Noir anthology this side of the big five, just released its fourth issue, featuring such yarn spinners as A.B. Patterson, Lisa Douglass, Keith Rawson, Max Sheridan, Pearce Hansen, Henry Brock, Nick Manzolillo, as well as others. Oh, Sugar, yours truly is lucky enough to be included in that mix too. SB continues to push the envelope of crime/thriller/noir ficition with each issue. Managing Editor, Scotch Rutherford, was gracious enough to answer a few questions about publishing in the indie world and offers advice on avoiding the honey-traps. So buckle up as Scotch encourages everyone considering to DIY to "Go BIG or GO HOME!"
|Scotch Rutherford, Managing Editor, Switchblade Magazine|
Congratulations on the release of Switchblade Issue 4 and making it through your inaugural year. Do you feel that you met your goal as an editor/publisher? How did you adapt your approach to succeed?
Thanks. Sure. The goal was to make it through four issues. Also to innovate with each issue. Meeting the quarterly deadlines definitely became a lot easier, once I understood the formatting process and what the most common thing Createspace would reject the manuscript for. (bleed images) Another hurtle was defying the whole “internet magazine” moniker. I found just approaching independent bookstores in person was the best way to get them to carry your mag. ( SB is available in Battery Books and Skyline Books, here in LA) Some bookstores were snobby. I mean, I’m in LA, not SF or back east, so there isn’t as much snobbery, but you do get it. One store manager told her subordinates to tell me she was out of the country indefinitely—that’s how they tell you to fuck off in LA.
I’ve found that overall, the most successful game plan is progressive overload. It’s a fitness term—it’s how you put an inch on your biceps. You add more reps/weight/intensity with each workout. With each issue this past year, I would add. First it was interior images, then poetry, then a special issue, then live readings, then inclusion in indie bookstores. There are even more next level innovations coming: for one, we’ve got a tee shirt line in the works.
|Issue Four of Outlaw Fiction|
Well, the great thing about the New York five, is that they reach the readers. They’ve got books in Barnes & Noble, and Hudson News (airports) available to the masses, so they snag the casual reader. That’s my theory as to why David Baldacci and James Patterson are so popular. Indie anthologies are marketed towards authors. Specifically, up-and-coming authors. I think for indie mags, it’s important to find your niche within your niche. Pulp Modern flourished as a long standing crime fiction ‘zine, then changed gears to include other genres. They also continue to innovate with each issue. I think production-wise they’re the best overall. Down & Out has serials and short fiction featuring characters taken (from their very impressive stable of authors) from novel length works. The Crime Syndicate is best known for having a different indie crime heavyweights skipper the job of managing editor for each issue. As for Switchblade, we do flash and short fiction, and each issue opens with a noir poem.
My advice would be perseverance. Most indie anthology publishers drop off after the second issue. It’s important to stay visible and stay relevant (even if you’re not relevant yet). Keep cranking out issues on time. Also, it’s important to promote your authors in their other endeavors. Their small legion of readers are your readers. Aside from perseverance, integrity is paramount. In the indie game it’s all you’ve got. You have to pay writers on time, and create the very best product you can. Political correctness in indie publishing is irrelevant. Take chances, push boundaries—take the kind of risks NY would never have the balls to!
|The limited edition of Issue 3...sorry ladies and gentlemen...this one is no longer availible.|
What are some of the pitfalls and honey traps of indie publishing? What’s the biggest mistake you think you’ve made? What’s something you would’ve changed?
The first thing to consider when you work with Createspace, (the first time out especially) producing a POD, is how much time you’re going to need to fix your manuscript—especially if you do that thing Createspace hates: using ‘bleed images’. Before I started Switchblade, I looked over a lot of indie crime fiction mags. One thing I wanted to do differently, was bleed edges—interior images that go all the way to the edge of the page. I couldn’t stand the look of an interior image floating inside a big ugly white border. My biggest mistake in the launch was underestimating production/formatting time. I synched the launch of issue one up with a Noir at the Bar LA event. That’s when I told everyone it was going to be available. I didn’t get the manuscript approved until a month later, and still issue one was (rushed) plagued with editing errors. A few of the issue one authors certainly held that against me, and won’t likely be submitting to future issues. The other thing is, when the CS team rejects your manuscript, they don’t specify why. I kept getting “insufficient margins”. I had to call and inquire with customer service (a separate team) It turned out my margins (for text) were fine. It was my margins for interior images. You can’t have any numbers/letters within a quarter inch of the border of the image (even if it’s graffiti). So my change (and advice) would be: more production time.
|Issue 3 availible on Amazon.com|
Switchblade had a recent change in their business model. You recently increased contributor pay rates but you no longer include contributor’s copies. A famous alternative crime journal closed its doors two years ago, after years of paying contributors near professional rates with diminishing returns. What are your thoughts on the economics of indie publishing?
Contributor copies are such a pain in the ass. Every issue of Switchblade has featured international authors. Addressing contributor copies to say the Netherlands, or South Africa is complicated. The order of the state/city/province /region as provided by the author has to be re-interpreted for the US mail. I’ve had copies sent back, and had to re-address them. Then there’s the timeline. If a contributor copy is going to Australia, it may not get there for over a month. Paying authors via Paypal, is so much easier and immediate.
Professional rates in the indie anthology game aren’t necessary in my opinion. Sure, it helps with credibility, and you consistently get a higher status of non-NY published authors, but it is costly. (and you’re talking about a mag that either loses money or sometimes breaks even) Most authors/publishers define their hierarchy by sales and pay. Authors with NY deals aren’t going to be submitting to Switchblade. Just like the next crime fiction reader, I love Don Winslow, but don’t expect to see his name on the back of a SB issue. We publish up-and-coming authors in the noir/hardboiled genre. Occasionally we get a few indie heavyweights who are purists like Paul D. Brazill, Eric Beetner, Preston Lang, Keith Rawson. Those few delusional newbie authors who don’t have NY deals, but who feel they deserve $25, instead of a measly $15, aren’t missed. Any author whose train of thought regarding a Switchblade submission begins with: “But I deserve…” can gut all the sex and natural (profane) speech from their prose, and submit to Ellery Queen instead.
|Switchblade can bought in the real world ya'll|
Your story, Neon Anemone, closes out EconoClash Review #ONE. It’s a full throttled sequel (of sorts) to your novella, Neon Glare. How did you achieve the muscular yet effortless style that’s present in both?
I think if you ask the six or seven people who read Neon Glare, they’ll tell you it’s a straight-ahead hardboiled tale, with a casino insider spin on it. Neon Anemone, is a noir/science fiction hybrid. It’s also about the very same character, who’s in a very different phase of his life. Both are introspective, but Neon Anemone paints the casino lights of the Neon City (a privatized near-future Las Vegas) with themes of desolation and detachment. There are a few references made to characters/events from Neon Glare, (in Neon Anemone) but they are separate stories. The pacing/momentum in both tales tends to become more frenetic in parts, as tension builds. Fear is the gateway to adrenaline.
|Switchblade Issue Two|
Lots of authors have a period of struggle before their first publishing experience. The publishing world can be quite cliquish how long did it take you to get your foot in the door and have your work get published by other people?
Yeah, the whole publishing world can be pretty cryptic to the average reader/writer. Fiction publishing shrouded by the most snobbery (I’m an anti-snob. Can you tell?) would be Literary Fiction, which ironically makes the least money. The elitism actually comes out of the factor of being so exclusive, and in part because what is considered hip/avant-garde, is no longer the antithesis of the elite, but rather it’s successor. That said, if you think Thuglit was hard to get into, try submitting to Tin House! Genre fiction is the moneymaker (the reading public loves Stephenie Meyer) So the most successful genres that run closest to hardboiled/noir, would be cozies, and procedurals (never ever submit a procedural to Switchblade). Procedurals are increasingly popular because of long running TV shows like CSI, and Law & Order SVU. (If you’re looking for a TV equivalent close to what we do, try Ray Donovan, Sons of Anarchy or The Sopranos.) I think it’s important to remember that although you might find yourself engrossed in the latest Michael Connelly novel, it’s somewhat limited in its creative freedom. It’s a franchise like Coke or Pepsi. His most well-known protagonist has a TV show (sponsored by Coca-Cola) Independent crime fiction is just that—there are no limits via political correctness. Our authors use whatever words they want, (the f-word, the n-word, and especially the c-word) and feature politically incorrect, and irreverent characters. It’s what makes Switchblade so exciting to read. The great thing about the hardboiled/noir genre is that we are well represented by small and mid-size publishers. Writers in our community don’t need to self-publish.
My first publication was about 8 years ago, in a now dissolved webzine, Darkest Before the Dawn. No pay, just exposure. Since then I’ve been paid for certain projects, but routinely submit to publications that pay, and to publications that pay nothing. I have an MFA in nothing. I’m a low status individual and wear that title with pride. I know it sounds like sour grapes, but ultimately, all I’m seeking is for my creative freedom to someday overlap with financial freedom. I’ve heard it said the greatest thing about having money, is not worrying about it. I can honestly say I’m not driven by status or money.
|Switchblade Issue 0ne|
Independent fiction journals rise and fall every day. Where do you see Switchblade in five years?
I’ve always subscribed to the idea of go big, or go home. Five years from now, Switchblade will not only be a magazine and an apparel line, it’ll also be in development for a live action anthology on Showtime or HBO. Is it coincidence ambition and audacity have the same number of letters?
What’s a question you would like to answer but haven’t been asked yet?
What I think of Trump’s Wall. First off, although I hail from a very Liberal region, I don’t subscribe to either of the ‘party religions’. So I’m not a card-carrying member of the blue team, and definitely not part of the red team. And I usually don’t focus on politics (I find human sociology as a whole, far more fascinating) But this whole wall thing did pique my interest. Back in 122 AD, Brittannia (when England was part of the Roman Empire) commissioned the construction of “Hadrian’s Wall”, designed to cleanse the Empire from the Barbarians—the Picts, and the Celts: my ancestors. This was back when Scotland was known as Caledonia. Anyway, it didn’t work. They never quite conquered the Celts and the Picts, and so they remained a rogue element that could never be controlled or contained by the Empire. Ultimately, they were assimilated into what we now call the UK. Fast forward to modern times, you’ve got the Empire once again trying to keep their neighbors—this time it’s the Mexicans, out. Why not assimilate them? Mexico could be three more United States. We’d get all that coastline, and not to mention oil (although I’m far more a fan of clean energy) Did you know after Canada, (who’s #1) our second biggest supplier of oil is Mexico? The only Mexicans who’d be averse to becoming American citizens, would be Mexico’s uber rich—I think they’re like 1% of the population. And as for the Cartels, they’re organized crime: profit-driven. Not ideologicals. And, did you know? They import most of their cocaine from Colombia, and heroin from Afganistan. Our spec ops guys would convince them to re-locate quicker than you might think. And honestly, assimilating Mexico into the US would be more cost effective than building this fucking wall.
Scotch Rutherford and four other Switchblade authors will be doing LIVE READINGS this month February 23rd @ 7PM at Book Show L.A. Rick Risemberg, Lisa Douglass, Ashley Erwin and Renee Asher Pickup will all be in attendance.
|upcoming special edition issue for all you femme fatales out there|