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Exclusive Q&A with Stitched Smile Publications CEO Lisa Vasquez

February is Women in Horror Month, and I wanted to share something of a personal nature. Yes, I’m a “woman in horror,” but that’s not it. While most of the attention is paid to those in front of the camera (whether on screen or the back of a book jacket), those behind the curtain are often overlooked, especially in the literary world.

As an author I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Lisa Vasquez, CEO of Stitched Smile Publications, as she runs her business. Since her company picked my novel up for publication, I’ve had a chance to get to know her and her company. She’s an exceptional example of the many women who work endlessly to bring horror to the masses.

Stitched Smile Publications is a small press, with a focus on putting out quality horror fiction. It takes a keen interest in developing talent, with plans to take things to the next level, including Stitched Smile University (SSU), an in-house writers’ boot camp that helps authors of all skill levels. Lisa was happy to take the time to sit down for a Q&A with me.

Dread Central: I know from personal experience that SSP isn’t like other small press publishers. What do you think sets your company apart from the rest?

Lisa Vasquez: Personally, I feel my company attracts people who have the same goals and mindset. We are focused on the art of the craft more than making money because we believe it’s the quality of the story which will bring in the readers. We want to continue getting better with every story we write. All the authors are very encouraging. I sit back and watch them grabbing each other and locking wrists to keep the waves from knocking them over. They are a family and show each other love and respect, not just with their writing but with their health, their family, and mental well-being. With that much investment, we elevate not only ourselves but the company itself.

DC: You really take an interest in your authors, both professionally and personally. Why?

LV: My dad was a great businessman. He could make something from nothing. One of the things he taught is integrity. Integrity, for me, is not as simple as a definition from Webster’s Dictionary. It’s a lifestyle. I know that if I invest in my authors, they will invest in themselves. It’s important for me to build people up because when you do, they will always give back. If you care about your employees, they take greater pride in their work, they feel their voice matters, they become a part of the “House” rather than just visiting.

DC: What’s your vision for SSP?

LV: Funny that you ask that. Jeff Brown (SSP’s Executive Liason) asked me this in December. I’ll give you my exact answers:

VISION: TO BECOME THE HARVARD OF PUBLISHING 

PUBLISHER GOALS: 

  • Continue to improve the writing community and become recognized for our contribution by:  
    • Creating a collection of SSU lectures.   
    • Creating SSU workbooks.  
    • Teaching and encouraging VIP to participate and add to the collection (this helps them grow as well).  
    • Leading by example.  
  • Continue the standard of excellence by producing innovative ideas, books, appearance, and motivation … creating a spark and passion and maintaining it. 

DC: What about financing? Publishing is one of the harder rackets out there. How do you scrape together enough to support a company in its infancy and put food on the table?

LV: This is definitely the hardest part. In the beginning I had more disposable income. I was working a full time job, making great money. The issue came up of how much time I could devote to this “child” I had given life to. I decided the only way I could do it was to make Stitched Smile Publications my number one priority. Growing my business organically (word of mouth, starting from the inner circle) and then eventually gaining enough ground to start reinvesting the pennies to dollars. Doing this would give us a solid foundation while saving up for spreading outward. Here’s the balancing question I have to keep my eyes on: Do I want to get big right now – this very moment? And the answer surprisingly is no. If I get big quickly, what we have suffers. Authors suffer, readers suffer, staff suffers. I won’t have time to dedicate to them; in turn the standards and beliefs aren’t instilled well enough to be passed on to the newcomers. It degrades the fundamentals of our company. I’d rather stay small and maintain our compass on a steady path than to lose our way.

DC: In addition to being the CEO for Stitched Smile, you’re a book cover designer, and you’re also an author in your own right, with a newly released novel, The Unfleshed: Tale of the Autopsic Bride. You obviously don’t need to look for a publisher, but it must be daunting trying to promote your own work as well as the work of the rest of your authors. How do you balance everything?

LV: This part honestly scares me the most. I’ve been in companies where the CEO was a writer and publishing their own books, and I saw that person’s books take precedence over everyone else’s. It used the company’s resources (editors, marketing, time) and elevated the CEO. I never want to do that. In fact, I nearly submitted my book to another publisher until the other publisher and SSP people said no way, I need to publish my own work and show that I had confidence in my company. It sounds stupid, but I never thought of it that way. I was so jaded by the other publisher’s example I couldn’t see past my own nose with it. It took some quiet reflection on my part to convince myself to put my book in the Stitched Smile Catalog.

First of all, I do not write fast. I savor my writing like a wine. It’s “Me” time. Second, I’m too busy behind the scenes, helping my authors make their dreams come true. And finally, I give 60% of my book’s revenue back to Stitched Smile Publications and take the same contractual terms as my own writers. I get no special treatment. It keeps my head out of the clouds and my feet firmly planted on the ground. It also shows my authors I will do everything I expect them to do with promoting their own works and works of each other.

DC: What are you most proud of writing and why?

LV: The Unsaintly was my first book. It is a phenomenal story – if I say so myself. Which I just did. It’s retired at the moment so it can go through the SSP standard of quality editing and inspection. It was originally my first, self-published book. I’m proud of it because I wrote it. I started and finished writing this book that took me 10 years of research, 3 computer crashes/lost files, self-doubt, and loss of my father to get through it. I finished it. I repeat that because I went through a period of my life where nothing made me happy enough to follow through. And then came this book, and this “writing world.” I could do this … and I did it. No matter what happens with my life, there’s a legacy and marking of my existence that my children and their children, etc., will have to remember me by.

DC: Women are under-represented in many career fields; in literature that under-representation can be twofold, starting with the authors themselves, but also with the characters they write about. Do you feel pressure to write from a female perspective or to include more female characters in your writing to balance out this under-representation?

LV: Pressure? No way. Do I enjoy it? Hell, yes, I do. Women are strong creatures. We push watermelons out of pea-sized holes and keep going. We bleed for 7 days and don’t die. We give life, for crying out loud. Not only do we give life, we can sustain that life without anything more than our own bodies (breastfeeding). We’re walking miracles, and I’m proud to be a woman. Men are amazing, too. So let them write and elevate men… I can, and do, write both genres but never because I’m pressured to, or not to. As an author, my job is to present the fascinating variables of whatever gender, monster, species, or event I set in front of the reader.

DC: In addition to running a company, designing book covers, and writing your own books, you’re also one of the primary caregivers for your baby grandson. How do you manage so many irons in the fire?

LV: I give up sleep! Ha ha! Honestly, it can be very stressful. The real answer is love. Cheesy, right? But it’s true. Passion and love drive you when you think there’s nothing left. Also, having a good calendar and time management works, as well as supportive family. My hubs will work 12+ hours a day, come home, and take the Mogwai (grandson) off my hands so I can type with both of them instead of one. My mom is my biggest fan, my kids are scared of me when I’m working and they try to speak (just kidding…sorta), and my friends ask when my next book is coming out. So they obviously want me to succeed. I’m 43, you know? I want me to succeed. Because of that, I vowed I would only do what I love to do. No excuses.

DC: What do you wish readers knew about small press publishing that they don’t?

LV: How much we rely on the reader. Not only to purchase our work, but to speak up for us. Reviews will make or break us. It’s all we’ve got to make the big corporations listen. We rely on readers to cheer us on when we make $1.25 an hour on a book we spent roughly 5k-10k hours on. Talk about us to your bookstores, libraries, schools, and friends. Mention us whenever you can. We’re no different than any other small business; we need the support of our customers.

DC: Where do you see yourself and SSP in five years?

LV: In five years, I’d love to have Stitched Smile Publications, LLC., in bookstores, doing more personal appearances, and my authors on the best sellers lists.

Our thanks to Lisa for her time! For more info visit her on social media:

Twitter: @houseofstitched or @unsatintly
Facebook: facebook.com/stitchedsmilepublications

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MF Wahl