Staying afloat in the publishing industry is not an easy task. Publishers have to compete against a deluge of new titles, and they are pitted against incumbents with established brands and massive resources.
In the midst of such rigorous competition, several independent publishers are able to achieve international success. Media Context speaks to Sarena Ulibarri, Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press, a company that has made impressive strides in their industry.
Who is World Weaver Press’ target audience?
World Weaver Press publishes speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal.
While we have a few young adult titles, most of our books are aimed at a general adult audience, perhaps readers who never lost the wonder they found in the fantastical worlds they grew up reading about.
Our ideal readers are looking for fantasy in non-traditional settings or science fiction that makes them excited about the future, and aren’t afraid of a little romance.
Which range of genres does World Weaver Press focus on?
Many of our fantasy titles take traditional fairy tales and reimagine them in alternate settings.
For example, Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline is an anthology of fairy tale retellings set in the World Wars era, with a mash-up of Cinderella and The Great Gatsby, a version of “The Monkey King” set in the Dust Bowl, and a dark retelling of Hansel and Gretel with Eva Braun as the witch.
In Skull and Pestle, the stories are all about the Slavic witch Baba Yaga, but the authors transplant her story into an American trailer park, and World War II Poland, and the Antebellum American South.
In Dream Eater by K. Bird Lincoln, an American college student finds herself caught in a war between ancient figures from Japanese and Armenian folklore. Even in our epic fantasy titles, we eschew the pseudo-Medieval European aesthetic so common in that genre.
In Rebecca Roland’s Shards of History series, people who resemble the Native American Pueblo culture have to reawaken their dormant magic to fight against dragon-riding invaders.
In Vanity in Dust by Cheryl Low, the glamour of Regency-era fantasy is given a hyper-modern lift, with cars and nightclubs right alongside sword duels and royal intrigue.
Big publishers often shy away from these kinds of genre mashups, saying they’re difficult to market, but we adore these kinds of unique fantasy settings.
Science Fiction Titles
For science fiction, we love optimistic visions of the future that showcase human ingenuity and exciting technology.
The characters in Wendy Nikel’s novella The Continuum jump through time between the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic and a future utopian space station.
Jennifer Lee Rossman’s Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow follows a group of planet-hopping circus performers as they try to tear down an evil corporation.
The anthology Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers challenged writers to imagine futures in which we have mitigated or adapted to climate change without resorting to dystopian collapse.
How does World Weaver Press’ editorial team decide which manuscripts to publish?
Right now, we’re only open to submissions for our themed anthologies.
We look for quality as well as fit—sometimes a really good story can be heavily edited if the writing isn’t quite polished, and sometimes a beautifully written story just isn’t quite a match for the theme.
The editor in charge of the anthology reads all the submissions and creates a shortlist, then sends that to one of our other editors for a fresh perspective. Then we make hard choices to pare down the final table of contents.
In that final stage we weed out stories that are too similar to each other, or that don’t resonate with the others we’ve chosen. The editor ends up reading the stories numerous times, so we have to absolutely love them!
What would World Weaver Press like to see in its submissions?
Our current open call is for a cyberpunk anthology called Trenchcoats, Towers, and Trolls: Cyberpunk Fairy Tales. We’re looking for genre mashups of fairy tale retellings or fairy tale-like stories and cyberpunk-style science fiction. We usually get a lot of takes on the common Western fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, etc.), so we always want to see more of the lesser-known tales, as well as stories that draw from non-Western traditions.
When writing for a themed anthology, it’s often a good idea to go with your second or third idea, rather than your first. The first idea that occurs to you when you read the prompt will probably be the first thing that a lot of other writers also think of! Dig deeper to come up with something more original and interesting, and you’ll likely have a better shot at standing out in the slush pile.
Don’t overthink the cover letter. For short stories it’s just “here’s my story, it’s this many words long, this is where I’ve been published before, and thanks for your consideration.” Really, that’s all you need! If you’ve never been published before, you can just skip that part.
How does World Weaver Press market its products to its target audience?
Book marketing is a tricky game, and I’ve found that the best strategy is usually to get other people talking about the book. Rather than target readers directly, we start by sending early review copies to the reviewers, booktubers, bookstagrammers, bloggers, and such who read and promote the type of book we’re releasing. The most successful books are the ones that people get excited enough about that they want to share them with their friends and followers. When someone starts a new small press or a magazine, or just decides to Kickstart an anthology, they often expect the reviewers to come to them. Nope—you have to be willing to reach out first.
We’ve been on Twitter for a long time and have a fairly strong following there. Creating graphics that feature a quote from the book is often a good way to catch the attention of potential readers, and offers them a glimpse of what they can expect inside. Smart and selective use of hashtags can work well to expand the audience, but can alienate readers if overdone.
Facebook has grown more and more useless over the last couple of years, but Facebook “Groups” are still a great way to target the right audience. If you’re releasing a steampunk book, for example, join steampunk Facebook groups and be active in the groups before promoting your book there. This can be a great way to connect with people who are interested in your particular niche.
Does World Weaver Press consider submissions from international authors?
We work with authors from all over the world! Our name, World Weaver Press, came from the idea that speculative fiction “weaves” new worlds through the creation of a story, but to me it has also come to represent the act of weaving together stories from across the world.
Our short story anthologies frequently feature authors from outside of the United States, and these international writers bring unique perspectives to the anthology’s theme.
For example, in Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers, we included a story by an Italian collective of artists and writers about a fighting fascism with a guerilla art installation in Milan, as well as a story by a Malaysian-American writer about a controversial crocodile ranch.
Both of these stories are very different from the ones we received from American and Canadian authors, and expanded the scope of the anthology in wonderful ways.
We were also privileged to work with some Brazilian writers and editors to translate an anthology of science fiction stories about sustainable energy from Portuguese to English.
Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World features stories by Brazilian and Portuguese writers, and is the first work of Brazilian science fiction to be translated into English in several decades.
Our most recent anthology, Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures, was partially funded by a research institute in Japan, so the editors wanted to feature stories by Asian-Pacific authors. We ended up with stories by Japanese authors Taiyo Fujii and Natsumi Tanaka, Indian authors Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Rimi B. Chatterjee, and Shweta Taneja, Singaporean authors Joyce Chng and Timothy Yam, Filipin@ authors Eliza Victoria and Joseph F. Nacino, as well as lots of others from Australia/New Zealand, Europe, and North America. Working on this book really expanded my knowledge of the international science fiction community!
We’re planning a few more anthologies soon, and we always welcome submissions from non-American writers!
Does World Weaver Press accept submissions from debut authors or unsolicited manuscripts?
We often publish established, bestselling authors right alongside someone who is publishing for the first time.
We love to include first time authors in our anthologies. First-time authors are very fun to work with, because they’re excited to see their name in print for the first time, and are usually quite eager to learn about the publication process and help with the promotion. We always expect that it will be the first of many publications, so we encourage new authors to set up their Amazon profile, Goodreads author page, establish a social media presence, etc.
While we certainly do have authors who frequently appear in our anthologies, we don’t play favorites, and anyone can have a solid chance if they write an excellent story.
Overcoming the Challenges of the Publishing Process
What are the main challenges that World Weaver Press’ editorial team experiences?
Marketing is always the biggest challenge. We’re a small press, and don’t have the big budget some of the larger publishers do to help readers discover our books.
These days, just writing an excellent book isn’t enough. Many wonderful books get lost in the noise of so many new titles.
How does it overcome these challenges?
Traditional and Digital Marketing Strategies
We start publicity several months ahead of launch by sending review copies to both big and small reviewers, because it helps to get other people talking about the book.
We also try to make a big deal about cover reveals on our social media—for the author(s), this is often the moment the book starts to feel “real”, and cover art is a great way to get the attention of potential readers.
Market Research Strategies
We use a keyword software to help determine the most effective search terms to use on Amazon and other online booksellers. We also keep an eye on publication announcements and reviews for recent books from the bigger publishers, to get a sense of current trends and developments.
We don't chase trends, by any means, but it's useful to understand where other publishing companies are putting their emphasis. As a small press, sometimes it's actually a good idea to push against those trends.
For example, we put out a vampire paranormal romance (Bite Somebody by Sara Dobie Bauer) at a time when the bigger publishers were on a strictly no-vampire diet, and it became one of our best-selling titles.
Pricing right makes a big difference too: strategically using 99 cent eBook sales or keeping the first book in a series lower than the rest, for example.
Readers are more likely to take a chance on an unfamiliar author from a small press if the eBook price is only a few dollars. And often the author royalty ends up being the same for a cheap eBook as it does for an expensive paperback! That’s because there are fewer “middle-men” taking a cut in eBook publishing.
What challenges did World Weaver Press face during the COVID-19 outbreak, and how did it overcome them?
We were already a home-based business working remotely with editors and authors, so not a lot changed in our day-to-day operations. One change that happened with our printer is that paperback copies now take significantly longer to print and ship, so I’ve learned to build that additional time in to the promotional and release schedule.
We usually table at several science fiction conventions throughout the year, and not being able to attend those has been the biggest loss for the company. Not financially—it always costs more to travel to the conventions than we make from them, but we’ve missed the networking and exposure opportunities. Online conventions are an okay substitute, but the experience is really not the same.
What prominent opportunities can World Weaver Press observe in the publishing industry?
As a small press, we sort of bridge the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing.
We have access to certain opportunities that most self-publishers don’t (such as trade review publications like Publishers Weekly), but we also have to utilize some of the resources that self-publishers use, such as email newsletters, social media marketing, and keyword optimization.
We sell far more eBooks than paperbacks, and all the digital bookselling outlets make it possible for readers all over the world to access our books in an instant. That’s very exciting!
There’s also a major audiobook boom happening right now, and we’re working on putting out our first audiobook next year.
Does World Weaver Press intend to collaborate with international partners in the future?
Nothing is confirmed just yet, but we have been discussing the possibility of being involved with a university-led project out of Japan, which would involve more short fiction anthologies of solarpunk and climate change science fiction, perhaps focusing on Asian writers.
If that works out, it will be an excellent collaborative opportunity! We’ve been approached about a number of translation projects since finishing the Brazilian anthology, so there may be some news coming up soon!
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