I first became acquainted with Inkspokes when I started out on my indie journey. I’d like to think of it as fate, because I stumbled across them when tweeting with another author. At that time, Inkspokes was a start-up online literary magazine (e-zine) and held many the same beliefs as me: that the indie publishing world is made stronger when we help one another. It wasn’t long before I was a regular visitor on Inkspokes trying to learn everything possible from their author interviews and the publishing community. In an effort to share the wisdom imparted by their many guests, I wanted the opportunity to showcase Inkspokes today. One of the two editors, Nelson Suit, agreed to allow me to turn the tables and put him in the spotlight on the magazine’s behalf.
When was Inkspokes founded and what was the driving force behind the concept?
Inkspokes is about connections and that was largely the driving force behind it. The intention was to provide a space where authors, illustrators, and indie publishing creatives could make connections with each other and with readers interested in books that may be a little more diverse and independent in mindset. We had two principal interests: one being indie publishing and the other being children’s books. The magazine has ended up I think being a marriage of these two loves.
I’d say the beginning of Inkspokes as a literary magazine and indie publishing community probably goes back to 2014. I had already been working for a couple of years then on my own indie middle grade books and, like many indie authors, I came to that odd, though now seemingly obvious, epiphany: that while writing (especially fiction) can in many ways be a solitary pursuit, publishing is not. Publishing (not just getting a book printed but actually in the hands of readers) requires community. It requires a great deal of reaching out; it requires connections. And being an indie author is as much about the business of publishing as it is writing.
Many authors have some experience writing, but few I think really have the experience or knowledge about publishing – especially what it means to publish in a time when digital technologies are disrupting the very foundations of the publishing business. So we wanted to create a space where we can learn – from those who might be expert in certain areas or those who might be willing to share what worked and what didn’t.
We realized also, in the children’s book world, art and illustration, from cover art to the illustrations that grace the inside pages, are a large part of the reader experience. We wanted a place where authors might make connection with illustrators. More, I think there’s a lot in common between freelance illustrators and indie authors. We go through many similar trials and tribulations and I think there is a lot we can do to support one another. So Inkspokes creates that space – sometimes through interviews, sometimes through artist showcases – where illustrators, authors and publishing folk can talk about their work in a friendly, supportive environment.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough, for example, to have numerous publishing creatives share their thoughts with us. David Kudler of Stillpoint Digital Press talked about what it means to be an independent publisher. Author Michael Sullivan shared with us a little about hybrid publishing. Jill Cofsky introduced us to her work as a voiceover artist. We’ve had Renee from Mother, Daugther (& Son) Book Reviews talk with us about blog tours and book marketing, and we’ve interviewed the folks at StoryPanda and Pubslush about their publishing platforms. Jamie Stevens introduced us to the making of an eBook app using the InteractBuilder platform.
All that (which is just a sampling) and the one really distinguishing feature of our magazine which I think readers really appreciate: the inspiring Artist Showcases. Safe to say we are overwhelmed and so ever grateful for all these contributions from the indie and small press publishing community.
We are about community and so we are always open to new suggestions for events or projects that further this. Last December, for example, we hosted a virtual Holiday Fair where authors and artists sat in virtual fair booths and could share their books and artwork. This year, we began our new Inskpokes Select list of books, as a way to recognize excellence in indie published and small press children’s books, but also again to facilitate connections – connection between authors and new readers, connections between those sharing this indie publishing journey with us.
Connections are important for indie authors – connections provide us expertise in areas we are not expert at (e.g., we might connect with an illustrator or editor), we also can learn both tips and pitfalls from others on the path and connections with fellow authors and industry professionals help us reach a wider audience when we are marketing our works. Then, of course, there are all the intangibles – on bad days, it can be a lifesaver to have someone who understands the ups and downs of what you are going through (as an indie author) give you a pep talk and say, “Hey, hang in there. You’re doing good. What you do is important.”
Can you tell me a little more about the Editors at Inkspokes and their background?
The editors are principally myself and my wife Seri. But for the website, we principally direct traffic. Much of the wonder and bits of genuine brilliance that you see really come from the guests that appear there – the illustrators showcasing their art, authors, editors and publishing creatives taking the time, in an interview for example, to tell their stories and impart some of their wisdom.
As for the traffic control, Seri was previously a teacher in the Singapore school system (and she has a great eye for space and design and she knows a bit about websites but generally likes to be behind the scenes), and, me, I am just a reading buff. Other kids might have been interested in baseball, football, cars. I carried around books. I studied history and literature in College (at Yale) and then law at Harvard Law School. I am a practicing attorney. But, as much as I like the law and think it can be a tool for good, I suppose if you had to ask – my passion is really in writing and publishing.
I am the author of my own indie middle grade books, the Tilley Pond Mouse series. It’s about a mouse who, with his companions, travels the wilds beyond his village of Tilley Pond, discovering adventure, friendship, courage. Sometimes, I like to think of the books as a bit of The Wind in the Willows meets Tolkien.
Have you read the children’s book (not the film adaptation), Mr. Popper’s Penguins? It’s about a house painter in a small town who dreams of explorations in the Antarctic and other far-off places. He goes about the house painting work but the things that absorb his soul are the reports and books of these far-off journeys. In the evenings and in the winter season when the house painting business gives him respite, his mind pores over journals of Antarctic explorers and listens to news broadcasts from the South Pole. Sometimes I think I am Mr. Popper, and the things that absorb me in that true inner life is the dance of the written word. To be honest, lawyering is closer to writing and publishing than house painting is to Antarctic expeditions, but I suppose all I want to say is that some folks might know Mr. Popper as a house painter or myself as an attorney – but that might not be all of who we are, not exactly.
How do you go about selecting the illustrators and authors you highlight? What kind of criteria must they meet?
That is a good question. I suppose we are always looking for something a little different, something fresh. Technical brilliance is one thing. But also a unique perspective, a new angle on things. This is indie publishing – so why not make it your own?
For example, one of our earlier Artist Showcase was an interview with Akiko White. She illustrates with cake. Yes, cake! Now that was something new! More recently, we interviewed Elza Zijlstra (Trashworks) who introduced us to illustrations made out of cast-off beach trash and vintage magazines. In the world of picture books, artist and illustrator Corrina Holyoake recently published Animania, a fresh take on a children’s alphabet book that has one of the most imaginative cast of alphabetic characters we’ve come across in a long time.
We also look for authors and artists who care about their work. Authors like you or Cat Michaels who spend time to perfect their craft, who make us proud to be part of their writing and publishing endeavors.
Professionalism counts and so does courtesy. We receive a lot of emails – a number of them might simply ask us to review the author’s book and all that is included is a link to the book’s Amazon page. We are not a big institution. We are just fellow authors and bloggers. We like folks who introduce themselves and help us understand a little more about what is behind their book. Authors who include an excerpt or electronic version of the book with their request, of course, have more chance of being actually read. The submissions we follow up with are almost always ones that show that sense of courtesy. In the best of them, the author/contributor has actually researched our site to see what we have published in the past and they propose ideas on how they might contribute to what we do. Those are the submissions we love.
Finally, we like to support those who already have a social media presence and who interact with others in this space. We are in the pursuit of building community – so we are also inclined toward those who are willing to engage (at least a little) with us and others on a periodic basis.
If you were able to relay onto your readers one message, what would it be?
I think that message might be: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of reaching out and making a new connection (it might be just a Tweet away). Don’t be afraid of trying something new or being different. We are in a brave new world when it comes to indie publishing. I think we get to choose who we work with. We get to define the boundaries of our work. It’s a bit like being in kindergarten again. We might, if we let ourselves, make new friends. We might create something that is uniquely us in that sandbox that lies in front.
For more information on Inkspokes:
I’d like to thank Nelson Suit for joining me today and sharing with us his mission to connect not only authors and artists, but you the reader, together within the world of indie publishing. I appreciated this inside look behind the scenes and hope you did as well.
Wishing you all the best,