Friday, September 3, 2021

Six Questions for JM Williams, Editor-in-Chief, Of Metal and Magic Publishing

Of Metal and Magic Publishing was founded in 2020 by a diverse team of fantasy authors. The OMAM team has been writing and publishing for years and felt that, with all of our combined experiences, we could create a publisher which could give opportunities to new and exciting voices in the world of fantasy, help and support writers with their careers, and above all, contribute to the world of writing in new and exciting ways.

The collaboration began many years prior when a handful of us came together to create a new fantasy world. Our international menagerie crafted stories which all took place in the same epic fantasy setting. We developed a unique method of storytelling that involves writing in the same shared fantasy universe, which we each populate with our characters, cultures and stories. Through hard work and heated debates, we developed a unified canon and history for our first world—SORIA.

It is this innovative and unique format of shared worlds that Of Metal and Magic Publishing wishes to build on. In addition to seeking out new voices and the best talent in the traditional fantasy genre, we also seek to craft new worlds for our authors and contributors to relish and share. Every single story published by OMAM has the potential to grow into something greater, a new epic world of shared narratives.

As a publisher, we are always looking for submissions from new authors. In addition to publishing novels in our signature flavor, we also publish short fiction on our website and in occasional anthologies. We are also not averse to fantasy verse. If you’re a fantasy author, whatever your chosen format, send us your work.

SQF: Why did you start Of Metal and Magic Publishing?

JM Williams: 

As the above description notes, OMAM was started by a group of us authors who were all collaborating on a unified project. At the time, the SORIA team were all signed under another indie publisher, and I was team leader. This publisher was the one who originally came up with the idea of expanded, multi-author universes. We were one of many such teams. But unfortunately, that publisher went out of business. They were kind enough to sign over the rights to SORIA, so that I could keep my promise to my team to get all of their books published. We’ve released two of the main Soria novels so far—my book Call of the Guardian, and Richie Billing’s novel Pariah’s Lament—with three more on the way. These are all initial novels and this number doesn’t account for potential sequels. We are hoping to eventually develop other shared fantasy worlds in the same way we have built Soria. 

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?


Professionalism, quality of writing, but most of all, creativity.

Everyone can learn to write well in a technical sense. It’s much harder to be able to come up with a compelling story idea, not only plot and character, but a theme or deeper meaning that sets your work apart from others. I struggle with this myself.

But the first thing I am going to see is your query letter, and that conveys a lot about both your professionalism and your experience in the industry. I strongly suggest you research how to write a query letter or a cover letter before you submit your work to a publisher. Also familiarize yourself with Shunn manuscript format.

If you present yourself well, I will ask for an initial read. For a longer work, this is typically 25 pages. When I read your work, I am checking the technical competency of your writing. If you haven’t spent much time learning grammar, formatting, structure—the professional aspects of the job—it will show. A few mistakes here or there are fine. But if you are consistently formatting your dialogue incorrectly, or misusing punctuation such as semi-colons, colons, hyphens, then I’m going to send it back. Ultimately, the more technical problems in the work, the more time I, or someone else, will have to spend editing it.

The technical quality of your writing also hints at your level of professionalism. I expect the people I work with to be dedicated to their craft and to be willing to put in the time and effort to get it right. 

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?


Fantasy as a genre has its own quirks. There are several common pitfalls. One is excessive info-dumping in the opening chapters. We did a podcast on world-building a while ago. Another is the use of crazy spelling for names, fantasy-ifying your spelling for no other reason than to look fantastic. We did a podcast on names as well. World-building needs to be subtle, especially in your opening pages. It is very easy to overwhelm your reader. When that happens, they might put the book down and never pick it back up again. 

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s) of a submission?

JMW: I know a lot of folks get fixated on opening lines and opening paragraphs. As far as novels are concerned, I am more focused on opening pages. I honestly don’t remember the opening lines of most books I like. What I do remember is the feeling of being pulled in and the end result of sticking with a book, rather than setting it down for good.

As I noted above, one of the biggest problems in fantasy is a slow start that is overburdened by world-building. Your opening pages should focus on your character rather than the world. Introduce the world details that are necessary to understanding the opening scene, but leave the complex descriptions for later chapters. 

With regard to short fiction, the opening lines become more important. The shorter your work, the faster it needs to start, and the greater the initial hook must be. 

SQF: When reading a novel/novella submission, what clues do you notice that tell you the author is a novice?

JMW: Cover letters, formatting, and grammar.

There’s an art to the cover letter, which you learn as you go. And the cover or query letter is usually different depending on whether you are submitting a short story or a novel. If your initial contact doesn’t describe your story well, doesn’t provide genre and wordcount or other essential elements, I’m going to guess you’re a novice. 

When I look at your manuscript, if it is not in standard manuscript format, I’m going to guess you’re a novice. Same goes if the work is riddled with grammatical errors. One thing about working in the industry, you get a lot of experience working with editors, and you pick up all the little grammar rules and guidelines that you previously didn’t know. You know how long it took me to learn definitively the rule that a comma must be used before a conjunction that separates two independent clauses? I actually learned that one from a grammar machine. 

All this being said, I have no problem working with novices. I actually enjoy mentoring new writers. Especially with short fiction, I am willing to help a new author learn the ropes and fix their work. With short stories, I might just bite the bullet and take the time to do a thorough edit, providing comments about the rules as I go. For a longer work, I might send it back with some feedback and an editing guide, asking the author to revise on their own and resubmit. 

Bottom line, just because you are new to the game, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?


It might be fitting for me to add a few comments on shared fantasy universes. How did we get hooked on this? And what are some of our influences?

When we started working on this project under our old publisher, we very much had the idea of trying to port over a television narrative structure to prose fiction. Accordingly, our books were broken into episodes, seasons, and series. You get a lot of crossover on TV. Of course, there are big shared universes like Marvel and DC. But you also have things like the crossover episodes of Hawaii Five-O and NCIS: LA, where the characters jump over to the settings of the other series. Or things like the Law and Order world, where all stories exist in the same universe, even if they don’t cross over much.

Actually, that publisher had a brilliant idea of putting out a reading app where you’d purchase by episode or season, rather than purchasing books. The serial content would come out on a regular basis, and you could subscribe to your favorites. That was like 3 years ago. Unfortunately, the little indie couldn’t get the app to work right. But, of course, Amazon did!

For me, personally, I loved shared universes. What’s better than being able to get more and more content from a story you enjoy because more than one person is working on it? The Star Wars expanded universe springs to mind, though I don’t recall there being a lot of overlap there. I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings, and I particularly enjoy the other mediums, such as video games, which color in the spots of that world that the original books did not fully address. LOTR: War in the North is one of the most underappreciated video games of the last decade, in large part because of the brilliant writing. That game took the visual style of the films, combined with the narrative complexity of The Silmarillion and Tolkien’s lesser known tales, to create a very compelling window into a then unexplored part of Middle Earth. The game also provides a very good explanation as to why the infamous “eagle plot hole” isn’t a thing. I keep my XBOX 360 around just for this game.

Thank you, JM. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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