What’s a day like for a lesbian fiction publisher? Headache-shaped! And also rewarding. Ylva’s CEO, Astrid Ohletz, reveals what she’s learned since she got into publishing.
Tell us five important, funny, or unusual things about yourself.
When I read for pleasure, I always first read the ending of a book because I want to know if there is a happy ending. And yes, I know that everyone will be totally aghast about this one.
I love fresh tomatoes but hate dried tomatoes with a passion. I also hate risotto but love rice.
I never watched the last season of Xena or Star Trek: Voyager. Why? Well, it’s obvious, right? As long as I don’t watch those damn seasons, Xena is still alive and Janeway and Seven are still in space and are about to get married.
I’m an extroverted introvert. I need solitude to recharge, I need time off to read and daydream and just “be” – but I can be really good and enjoy being in a crowd as well. I mix and mingle like a pro. But then I need my alone time again. If not – I feel like I lost myself and that hurts.
I hate lists where I need to give five answers to one question.
How did you come to be a publisher?
Totally by accident. I founded Ylva to publish my own books. Back then I had time to write and becoming an author was my aim. Becoming an author was my dream ever since my teenage years. There was, however, no plan to become the number one European publisher of lesbian fiction, nor the number three worldwide.
What happened is a cool thing. Totally. Just still surreal.
What is the lesbian fiction career achievement you are proudest of and why?
Why don’t you ask the hard questions… I really don’t think I’m proud of any lesfic career achievement. Sounds weird, right? But I don’t think like that – if I would, I’d probably be more in the limelight and have more money and fame and whatnot. But I’m not interested in stuff like that.
Maybe the closest thing to an answer is that I’m really, really proud to have discovered so many fanfic authors, who have become amazingly well-loved published authors. That makes me really, really happy and proud.
What is the one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out?
One? One? There are so many things. Most days I wish I could go back in time and tell my former self “don’t do that” and “stay away from this person” or “don’t believe this and that just because that person has a nice smile.” And, gosh, marketing… I wish I knew back then what I do know now about marketing.
But I can’t. So, nailing it down to one thing – build structures and processes from day one on. You can’t run a business and still have a life if you don’t have structures and processes installed ASAP. There is no time like now because you won’t have more time later on. Oh, and insist on everyone sticking to the processes from day one on as well.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Every week I have the feeling that something else was my biggest mistake. There were so many.
But, honestly, I think the biggest mistake was to forget that I needed time for myself. And for my wife. I was so focused on making everyone else happy that I drowned.
The wife and I are starting to change that. We try not to work ninety hours a week anymore, we want to discover hobbies again, and try to live a healthier life.
In regards to business mistakes – I don’t believe that making mistakes is a bad thing, really. Making the right mistakes – that is important. What do I mean by that? We tried out a lot of things. Some were a mega failure – others brought success. However, you don’t know beforehand what’s going to be successful and what’s not. So, the most important thing is to try out new things, make mistakes, and don’t repeat them again. And even more, learn from them.
What would you say to someone who thinks it must be relatively easy to run a publishing house? Like, don’t you just set it up with your writing friends, and make books?
Well, if someone told me that it was easy, I would probably laugh hysterically with tears running down my cheek, snorting a bit, turn around, and walk away. Still laughing hysterically. And then drink several gin and tonics (my new favorite drink).
Publishing is a business. A very, very hard business. I’ve worked as a personal assistant (aka secretary) for a partner in one of the biggest international law firms for over ten years. That was a hard job. A very demanding job. And yet it was a piece of cake compared to running a publishing house.
Most people don’t see publishing as a business and I even encountered people who think I do nothing except read cool manuscripts and press a button to publish them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What makes your job both stressful and rewarding?
If I accept a submission, the work just starts. And also, if I accept a submission, I have made a bet. Producing a book costs us an average of $US 5,000 to $US 7,000. For each book. If I accept a manuscript, I need to be fairly sure that this will at least cover the costs. Even more so, I need manuscripts that we’ll turn into books, which will bring us a lot of money.
I need to pay a lot of people – like editors and graphic designers upfront before the book is even published.
I also need to pay our authors, employees, my rent, my lawyer, my tax advisor, stalls at book fairs and pride events, ads in newspapers and magazines, and taxes… but really, the list is endless. And all that has to be paid from the little profit that we make with each book – and that is an average of $US 3.50 before taxes.
All of that is not for the faint hearted. Some books I really believed in bombed and we lost money. Yet, I still need to pay everyone. The risk is totally on me. I can’t tell an editor “Let’s see how the book sells and then I’ll pay you a percentage” or a cover artist “if the books doesn’t sell, I don’t need to pay you mate, right?” Or the tax authorities “but I don’t have the money to pay taxes – we published some books that didn’t sell so well.”
So, yeah. Publishing books is cool and I still just love to hold in my hands the finished product (ugh, how can I say a book is simply a product). But this is not an easy life and hardly as glamorous as some people want to believe.
What drives you most crazy as a publisher?
Ha, that is an easy one – deadlines! Or better said – people who don’t keep their deadlines. Every deadline not kept causes us serious problem. Like, really, really serious problems. And it causes the people next in line of work (like editors) serious problems as well.
Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in five years’ time?
Right now? In five years’ time I see myself standing on a beach with my camera, taking pictures of birds and the sea. I want to live at the sea and I want to have time for hobbies again. Hell, I want to have time to read more books again. Do I still want to be a publisher? Yes. But I’d love for the whole publishing thing to be a lot less stressful. Shall we talk about deadlines again? LOL.
Astrid Ohletz has an education as a library assistant but worked as a secretary for one of the partners of a large, international law firm for more than ten years before she became a publisher. Publishing combines her love of books with her understanding of legal and economic issues. Being able to publish books where subtext is maintext is a dream come true for her. In her free time, she writes stories under the pseudonym Emma Weimann.
Ylva’s “First Steps in Publishing” blog series introduces people from all walks of life in the publishing business. Check out our interviews with up-and-coming Australian author Cheyenne Blue and US author KD Williams, talking about what they’ve learned along their writing journeys. Best-selling German author Jae reveals her experience of working full-time as a writer and editor. Designer Glendon Haddix recalls how he got started, the tools he relies on, and the biggest mistakes cover artists can make.