Zoe Harris

I’d like to introduce you to the co-founder of Grimbold Books, Zoe Harris.

Hi, Zoe! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. You are run an editing and book formatting service called Book Polishers, and are Editorial Director at Grimbold Books. You are also an author. Can you tell us more about your background and how you became an editor and entrepreneur?

Hi, Susan. Thanks for the opportunity to appear on your blog. I’ve been watching your interviews for a while, and think you’re doing a great job.

So, my background. I’ve actually just ended a fourteen year career in IT project management, so this is quite a change of pace for me. But a welcome one. I studied creative and professional writing back when I lived in Australia, but I never did much with it beyond writing for business. Then, when I returned to work after having my daughter in 2011, I needed to do something that was more flexible and gave a better work/life balance. For eighteen months or so, I worked four days a week as a technical writer and documentation specialist at the same software company where I’d been a project manager, while writing novels and short stories one day a week. But my heart wasn’t in it, and I really wanted to do something more connected with creative writing and the publishing industry.

When the opportunity presented itself to start my own business as an editor, as well as team up with Sammy Smith to open our own publishing house, I jumped at the chance. Now I work from my home office editing manuscripts and documents for private clients as well as reading, selecting, editing and formatting books for Grimbold.

Tenebris Books, an imprint of Grimbold Books, publishes fiction with a dark side. What do you look for when considering a submission?

I’m glad you asked, Susan. A lot of people seem to assume that by dark fiction we mean horror, but that’s really not what we’re after. I look for stories that explore the darker side of human nature and the mind. Sometimes the stories I consider have a supernatural or paranormal element to them, but not always. Think of films like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Sixth Sense or The Orphanage – they have the feel of fairy tales and ghost tales, but there’s something darker in them. Something disturbing. It’s that hint at something in the undertow that I look for – a sort of dark X-factor.

How long does it usually take for you to read a submitted manuscript and make a decision?

I know it’s a frustrating answer, but it’s a true one: it depends. Sometimes I know within a couple of lines that a book is not for me, and equally sometimes I know immediately that I’ll request the full. Other times it takes a read of the entire submission (usually about thirty pages) to get an idea of whether I want to read more. If I like the premise presented in the synopsis, I’m willing to read past a weak or overwritten opening to see what else is in store.

My decision to request a full is not necessarily about finding a killer opening line (no pun intended), but more a feeling I get from the first images that come to me. Do I care about this character? What are the stakes for him or her? The sooner I can answer these questions, the more likely I am to read on.

I’ve heard whispers about an announcement coming soon from Tenebris Books. Is there any truth to that?

Yes, we do hope to make several exciting announcements very soon. Things have stalled a little while we establish Grimbold Books as our new publishing house, but we have lots of exciting plans for both Tenebris Books and Kristell Ink over the rest of this year and for 2014.

You started your editing and book formatting company, Book Polishers, in March, 2013. Can you tell us about it? What kinds of services to do you offer?

Book Polishers is completely separate from Grimbold, and I’m very upfront about that. I will not take on a client who has any intention of submitting to one of our imprints, nor one who has already been rejected by us. It wouldn’t be ethical.

My clients are people who want to get their manuscripts ready for submission or publication and need someone to go through it and make sure it’s as strong as it can be. Some want content editing, others just a line edit or proofread, it varies a lot. I also edit academic papers, business documents, technical documentation and other forms of writing, as well as formatting and typesetting for print or electronic publication. Right now I’m about to start working on a thesis paper for a PhD student in educational psychology – so you get the idea of the amount of variation in what I do. It’s very interesting.

Although Book Polishers is located in Norway, your customers are international. Does being a global company present any challenges?

Time differences can be a challenge, but I was already used to that from my time running projects for several international software companies. It can also be a blessing in disguise, as I can work while my clients sleep, and their work is ready when they wake up.

Working in print means that everything is done in text anyway, so as long as my client and I have internet access, there really aren’t any barriers we can’t overcome. And it can be very useful being a native English-speaker in Europe, simply because there are many non-native English speakers who need their work checked by someone who knows English nuance and expression.

You are also an author of a dark fantasy book series, The Eidolon Cycle. Can you tell us more? What are the books about? What inspired you to write them? How many books are in the series?

Yes, I’ve just finished revisions for the second book in the series and am working on the third. It’s a dark fiction series for the New Adult market about creatures who were once human, but have become something like ghosts – eidolons. They are stuck on earth after death, unable to be seen by humans or even each other. The books are linked by one family over several generations and they are non-sequential, so each one can stand alone. My idea was for a series that could be read in any order, and depending on the order, the reader’s experience of the world and characters would be different. I aim for four books altogether in the series.

The idea came partly from a dream I had about a girl called Eva (the main character in the first book), and partly from a thought I had while walking home from work one day. I was looking around at people, noticing how they didn’t look at each other, or acknowledge each other, and I thought, any one of these people could be a ghost and we would never even realise. The idea developed into eidolons – they’re not invisible the way we think of ghosts, but people simply don’t notice them. It’s almost like hypnosis – our brains can’t understand what they’re seeing, so they just blot them out like they’re not there. Sort of like when something is in the blind spot of your peripheral vision.

You are working with a U.S. literary agent. What has your experience been like?

I originally wrote the books for a British market, though I tried to keep them as international as possible, because I planned to pitch to British agents first. But I had no luck there, and moved across the pond where I found Michelle at the Corvisiero Agency.

Michelle is fantastic; I couldn’t ask for a better agent. She’s recently started her own literary agency, Inklings Literary Agency, and I knew immediately that I’d go with her. She is so enthusiastic about the book, and the series, and always finds the right way to lessen the sting of those inevitable rejections. She’s very accessible, and that’s a rarity among agents in my experience, but she’s realistic and tells me when there is room for improvement in my work. The revisions I’ve just completed were on her advice, and I’m really happy with the results.

Several of your short stories have been published in Anthologies. What are your stories about and where can we find them?

Yes, the first book published by Kristell Ink was a steampunk anthology called Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults, a new genre for me, but it was a great challenge to write outside my comfort zone. I wrote the story of a man-hating female scientist who is working on an apparatus which she believes will render men redundant.

On the 17th of May, to coincide with Norway’s constitution day, my writers’ group (the Oslo International Writers’ Group) released their first anthology, North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway. I contributed two pieces, as well as taking on editorial responsibility for the book as a whole. I’m so proud of the result; the group is very talented and it’s great to have my work share space with theirs.

Both anthologies are available from Amazon in paperback, as well as all the major e-book vendors.

I have several short stories under consideration by journals around the world right now, so I have my fingers crossed one of those editors will like what I’ve submitted.

What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing or editing?

With writing, it’s definitely getting started. Not because of writer’s block, but more because the opening really has to pop, but I’m so impatient to get into the meat of the story I tend to get sort of clogged. I have several books floating around in my brain right now that I wish I could just download onto a disk, just to make some space in there to think!

With editing, strangely it’s the interesting stuff that frustrates me the most; it’s often easier to edit a boring manuscript than an interesting one. It’s too easy to get swept away by good writing, then realise after several pages that you’ve forgotten you’re supposed to be looking for errors. Did I mention that I love my job?

Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your company. Thanks!

My author website is: www.zoewrites.com
The editing site is: www.bookpolishers.com
My Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/zoesharris
And I’m on Twitter: @zoeselina

And you can find out all about Tenebris Books and Kristell Ink on the Grimbold website at www.grimboldbooks.com

Thanks so much, Susan. It was lovely talking to you. 🙂