During the AWP Conference, the Prolitfic team had the honor and joy of interviewing Madville Publishing, one of the best small presses for fiction. Madville is a small indie press with big dreams. Thanks to Director Kimberley Davis for taking the time to speak with us! We were amazed not only by her knowledge, but also by her obvious passion for the stories and authors she works with.
Tell us your story!
I had a great high school writing teacher and really loved writing, but didn’t do anything with that love. Then I sailed around the world for 15 years working on a yacht and wanted to write about the amazing stories from that experience, so I wrote a how-to book that began as self-published until it was eventually picked up by a traditional publishing press. Wasn’t financially viable, though.
After that, I decided to write fiction and joined an MFA program. I worked for Texas Review Press and replaced the director after he died, so that gave me first-hand experience in the business side of publishing, like paying royalties. Then I wanted to start up my own press, and here we are!
What do you look for in a manuscript? What are some deal-breakers?
Immediate deal-breakers: bad grammar/mechanics. Also, I won’t take unsolicited printed manuscripts-- I'd have to retype the print into a computer in order to properly edit and file, which wastes so much time!
There needs to be action. Something has to happen in first few pages; you can’t wander along describing things. The work also needs to have a strong voice. These mistakes are common with first-time authors, especially those not coming out of MFA programs, so fortunately Madville is lucky to receive submissions from English professors and writing students who have already reviewed and edited their work through beta readers.
Something unique to Madville Publishing is our fondness of works with regional connections. I personally love dialect written well, which isn’t very popular.
Talk to us about your organization. How do you talk to people who stop by your table?
Before we spoke, Madville Publishing was (and would continue to do so for the entire conference) trying to sell books. But the true value of AWP is a networking experience rather than selling. A lot of people stop by Madville Publishing’s table because their writers know one of our authors and want his or her book.
We would like to one day rival the big indie presses in Minneapolis like Greywolf and Milkweed. We have big dreams!
Who runs Madville Publishing? What does the house look like?
Madville Publishing has a small board of three, including me, my husband Bill Davis, and Clay Reynolds. Novelist and book critic Clay Reynolds was for many years the final judge for the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize conducted by Texas Review Press each year. He has authored ten novels, and his short fiction has won numerous awards. Reynolds’ critical evaluations have appeared in national magazines including Chronicles, American Way, and Texas Monthly.
For the in-house employees, Madville Publishing is mostly women. We worker bees are largely women handling layout, design, line-editing and proofing. We also work with several men who, at present, are especially good at writing thoughtful, insightful reader’s reviews for works we are considering for publication. All are independent contractors. We are color-blind, so ethnicity doesn’t come into our considerations at all.
Our team also offers editorial and promotion services. We meet many indie authors who are content to self-publish but want help polishing manuscripts or figuring out how to promote their work.
If you have dark fiction, send it our way. I'm thinking of going a new direction and creating a different imprint to encompass the really good dystopian manuscripts Madville is receiving.
One of the stand-out aspects of Madville is that you’re not as affected by literary fashion and strive to preserve the regionalism that a lot of people do away with. Can you tell us more about this?
Madville publishes a rich diversity of work while not discounting works from old white men, either.
We don’t believe they all deserve to be portrayed as bad guys. There are still a lot of great stories to share and lessons to learn from those guys.
For example, Long Gone & Lost is a non-fiction memoir by author Bobby Horecka that will be published by Madville next spring. Yes, the author, Bobby Horecka, is a white guy from Texas, and no, he is anything but stodgy or old-school. He tells stories that desperately need to be shared.
What’s the most misunderstood aspect of book publishing?
How difficult it is to actually make money in publishing. Authors need to write for the love of writing, because they have important stories to share. NOT to make a living. It’s very rare that happens. Publishers also don’t make much money.
“This is something we do because we believe good literature is worth sharing.”
What are some of your success and horror stories about working with authors?
Biggest horror story? Manuscripts that aren’t finished when they get to her. Also, authors who never stop wanting to make changes (something that a lot of first-time authors do).
But really, the authors are the best part. My former agent published with Madville Publishing (Johnnie Bernhard, with A Good Girl (Texas Review Press 2016) and How We Came To Be (Texas Review Press 2018))! She brought special knowledge and became family.
An important consideration regarding an author is their marketing plan. Is the author, indirectly or directly, going to help you sell the book? One of the stories I tell is about a non-fiction author who went to a Lion’s Club to present and promote his book. One of the members bought hundreds of copies right then and there to supply Houston schools!