Hmmmmm...small press? Large? Medium? There are many publishers to patronize with your money and time; some are good, and some are not so good. Then there are the online ventures, springing up like refugee camps on the disputed border between the past and the future. Among the detritus of the online publishing world, Peridot Books gleams like its namesake. More to the point, its gleamage has gone on for years. Long after most online publishers have grown tired of the game, Ty Dragoís relentless polishing keeps the shine on and the quality of work high.
Behold the world, and people, of one of the success stories of online publishing:
Dotar Sojat: Ty Drago. Thatís one heck of a name...is it some kind of Eastern European?
Ty Drago: My full, legal name is Anthony Charles Drago, Jr. "Ty" is a nickname that I got saddled with as a baby when my very Sicilian father named me after himself and my very English mother couldnít bear the thought of me being called "Little Tony" all my life. "Ty" is basically the o and the n out of "Tony." Itís as simple as that.
DS: Peridot Books has the distinction of having been around for a while—eight years, right?—tell us how it all started.
TD: The name is actually a leftover. About ten years ago, I got it into my head to try my hand at the rare books business. So I registered a domain name and set up a little online shop, and none of it went anywhere. Sometime later, mainly as a self-promotion tool, I decided to start a little e-zine. I already had a domain name—and so Peridot Books was born. Our first issue appeared on June 1, 1998.
DS: And the secret to your longevity?
TD: Sheer, dogged determination, at first. Then, as more people became involved, it sort of started happening all by itself. I read most of the submissions, and still put together the majority of the web site, but I now have a small staff. I rely HEAVILY on my assistant editor, Kim Bradford, without whom I think I might have given up long ago. She's been with me for going on five years now. Amanda Oestman has been helping out for quite a while as associate editor. And our proofreader, my dear friend Kelly Ferjutz, has been with me from the beginning. All of these folks, mind you, are strictly volunteers.
DS: You pay for the stories you publish, out of your own pocket, right? Tell us a little about the financial side.
TD: Peridot Books doesn't pay much: $.05/word, to a maximum of $25.00. But it's more than most e-zines. Back in '98, when I first put out feelers about the new e-zine to various writer's forums on the web, my intention was to pay "only with exposure." As it happens, I was horribly flamed for my troubles, and called all sorts of nasty names. So my wife and I talked about it and we decided on a pay scale that wouldn't break the budget. I've been kicking around the idea of making it a flat rate for years now—still haven't decided.
DS: How many submissions do you get in a reading period?
TD: We generally receive between 300 and 400 submissions per issue, depending on the time of year.
DS: Has that number always been around that level, or has it grown/shrunk over time?
TD: In the beginning, the pickings were slim. I barely got enough submissions to fill the first few issues. But, gradually, things have picked up. Over the last few years, there's been a leveling off. At its peak, it topped 500 submissions. But after 9/11 there was a significant dip, and things have never quite made it back up to where they were. Still, we hold our own.
DS: And you have a day job, right? Does all this take place around a forty-hour work week?
TD: Yup. Not to mention a somewhat successful writing career.
DS: What is your selection process like? Is it the kind of thing where you read the first page of everything and split it into "throw away" and "maybe" and so on?
TD: Kim, Amanda and I all have our individual styles. For myself, I like to read the first 200 words and then the last 200 words. If I like what I see, I'll go back and read the entire story. If I'm still happy, the story becomes a "Maybe." If not, then I handwrite a rejection e-mail. At the end of the submission period, Kim, Amanda and I swap "Maybes" and collectively pick the best eight for the issue. Peridot Books does NOT buy ahead.
DS: How many actual hours of work goes into the selection of stories? Both you and your staff?
TD: I don't really keep track. During the submission period, I usually spend a good six hours a week just reading stories. Then Kim and I negotiate the "Maybes," via email. Putting an issue together, after all this time, is something of a science.
Once all the stories have been proofread, all the articles edited, all the fillers collected, all the teasers put together, any new links confirmed, etc., THEN I can put the entire issue together in two hours.
DS: What about your own writing—do you ever write short stories?
TD: I've written more short stories than I care to remember.
DS: Had any luck moving them?
TD: Some. My stuff has appeared in a number of genre print mags: Haunts, After Hours, Pandora and Midnight Zoo. One such story "The Attendant," received an honorable mention in the 1994 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Lately, most of my short work has been appearing in Peridot Books—every issue includes one of my tales.
HOWEVER, just today I received word from my agent that an SF story of mine called "An Hour on the Marble" has been accepted by Amazon Shorts. It will so be available for download (forty-nine cents) at www.amazon.com/shorts.
DS: And the novel, tell us a little bit about Phobos.
TD: Phobos is actually my second published novel. The first was a small press historical mystery called The Franklin Affair. Only 500 copies were ever printed, and the book's out of print now. The publishing house, Regency Press, didn't survive the rigors of our current cut-throat publishing world, I'm afraid.
Phobos is a mystery as well, set on the largest of Mars' two moons. It's the story of Lieutenant Michael Brogue, the only native Martian ever to become an officer in the 23rd century military. He's sent to Phobos to discover the truth behind a mysterious life-form that has been terrorizing a research station there. What he finds is more about people than monsters. It's sort of an old-fashioned "whodunit" in space.
DS: I understand that you learned some hard lessons about cover art, what's that about?
TD: Ha! No comment!
DS: What's the next project—another novel?
TD: I have a LOT of irons in the fire. My agent is currently hawking five of my novels, including two young adult books that I hope will become series.
DS: What are the young adult books about?
TD: The first is a series for 4th-6th graders called "Dragon Derbies." It's a fantasy about a world where the hottest sport going is the raising, training and racing of prize dragons, and about one young racer who befriends the rarest thing going, a "dragon prime"—a dragon born with the memory and intelligence of its race.
The second series is called "The Runaways." It, too, is fantasy—though much darker. It deals with the invasion of modern day Earth by a race of "demons" that only certain children can see. Forced to run from their homes and families, these runaways have banded together to form a resistance movement, fighting a war that only they know about. I'm especially proud of this one.
DS: Keen! Now, you've recently proposed changing the name of your publication from Peridot to Allegory. Peridot has been shining online for eight years, man, why change?
TD: The name change is something that I've been thinking about for a long time. As I said, the name Peridot Books is something of a leftover—AND misleading, since I'm often approached by writers hawking full-length novels who think I'm a book publisher. I wanted a name that would make no bones about the nature of the site. Kim, my wife Helene, and I went around and around on the new name—and Allegory is what eventually came out of it. The first issue with the new name will appear on September 1, 2006, though the Peridot Books site will continue to point there for at least a year.
DS: Where would you like to see Peridot go? What would be your idea of the perfect e-zine?
TD: The perfect e-zine is one that showcases both new talent and old pros, without favoring one over the other. It should be about the writing, not the business. Authorship is one of the loneliest callings imaginable. Writers need to stick together. I've done my best to make sure that Peridot Books reflects that philosophy.
DS: And the perfect way to run it?
TD: With patience, diligence, respect for your authors—and as much help as you can get!
DS: Do you have any idea how many people come to the site?
TD: I have a counter, but I don't really pay much attention to it anymore. I get invited to conferences and asked to do interviews. In my opinion, that's a more accurate measure of the e-zine's success.
DS: How hard is it? Do you find yourself wondering if it's worth it? Or is it something that you are chomping at the bit to do every day/week?
TD: I started Peridot Books eight years ago to get my name known and, ultimately, to get published. And it worked in that regard. My writing career may not have "taken off" yet, but I've gotten further than many thousand of writers and I'm very grateful.
A lot of people ask me why I still do it. Here's why: A few times a year I get an e-mail from some writer that I've just agreed to publish. They tell me it's their first sale, and how thankful they are, and that I've just made their dream come true. That's why I do it—because, once upon a time, somebody did it for me.
DS: I heard you talk at the Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc. in 2005, and you were one of the only editors who didn't, well, degrade writers in general—especially the novices. You didn't make it sound like you were struggling through the slush pile for our sins. I don't really have a question, I just wanted to say that it certainly was refreshing to hear, classy, even.
TD: I'm a writer first and an editor second, always. I've been on both sides of that fence and can feel everybody's pain. But, for the editor, a submission is just one more chore—part of the job. For a writer, especially a struggling writer, it's a dream in black and white. A lot of editors forget that, I fear. So, when balanced on that metaphorical fence, I tend to lean the author's way.
DS: Okay, I do have a question. I know people who go to writing workshops and after about four or five of those, they are pretty jaded about reading other people's poor writing. That's only twenty or so stories! How do you deal with it? I'm sure that you see a lot of bad writing, a lot of tired plots, and how do you not let it drag you down and turn you mean like it seems to have affected so many other editors?
TD: By remembering that I've sent out a LOT of submissions myself. And, back when I was starting out, my plots were tired and my writing was bad. I try not to think of any writer as "bad," simply "untrained" or "inexperienced," and I try to tailor my rejects to reflect that philosophy. MOST of the time, I succeed!
DS: After speaking at a convention, what percentage of mss. that you ask for do you actually receive? I've heard editors say that they'll ask people for things, open the door for them to submit to the, and then they'll only half of the writers respond. Have you noticed that happening to you?
TD: It's odd. I still go to writer's conferences for networking purposes, and whenever an editor asks to see ANYTHING from me, they get it—and quick. Nevertheless, I do run into writers who make promises they don't keep. "Hi, I got a 'maybe' from you once." "You did? Well, then submit something else! Obviously I like your writing!" And they never do. I'm not sure if it's a lack of confidence or a lack of drive. Either way, it's a pity.