Friday, August 17, 2007

Epublishing: with Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora's Cave

1. Do you have any comment on RWA’s recent re-redefinition of “Vanity/Subsidy publisher”?

Now that they have corrected the wording so that it doesn’t include e-publishers, I don’t have any major problems with it. I do think they now need to quickly determine the details of “eligible publisher”. If we have to pay a fee to participate in the National conference, what is the fee and what is included? And are they going to fairly apply the standard, which may mean that publishers like St. Martin’s Press and Red Sage are not “eligible”.

I think it is good that RWA dropped the “RWA-recognized publisher” designation. The qualification for that was so pointless – a publisher could put a lot of money behind just one book to get its sales over the limit needed, but neglect all their other titles. That criterion had no real value in judging the publisher. Plus the whole problem that authors assumed being recognized meant a publisher had RWA’s approval and was automatically a good and “safe” publisher. Authors need to do their research on publishers.

2. What do you think a writer should look for from an epublisher, and how should they expect to be treated?

They should expect the same things from a epublisher as a print publisher. The format of “publication” shouldn’t change how a publisher deals with authors. The difference really is in size and experience of publisher – small versus large, new versus well-established. You might expect different contract terms from a small, new publishing house, and it has nothing to do with whether it’s an e-publisher or print publisher or both.

3. What are the most common mistakes made by authors submitting works for consideration?

They fail to read and follow the submission guidelines. These vary for every publisher. And don’t send inappropriate material to the “wrong” publisher – know which houses are looking for what, and target whom you approach. Stop sending me poetry!

4. Although conservative non-fiction has a large following, lately I have picked up on a resistance to conservative leaning fiction. Two well known agents even stated such on their Blogs. This is informative, and it means if you write from a conservative perspective, it would be best to seek representation elsewhere. My question is how pervasive is this attitude among publishers and agents? Do the political views or leanings, in either direction, of the author or characters in a book influence your decision? Would you ask an author to tone such views down to make the book more palatable to a larger readership?

Well, it’s not something we run into a lot in the submissions we see. But we do have a policy about staying away from controversial political or religious topics in our fiction. On a few occasions I’ve asked authors to “tone it down” when something had potential to be offensive to readers. We’re not trying to be “PC” or bland, but we are publishing romances and other genre fiction – the story needs to focus on that, not become a platform for the author’s personal political views or religious beliefs.

(Yes, I get the occasional hate mail telling me I’m going to burn in hell for putting out books that contain sex, that portray sex as pleasurable or for something besides procreation – and that even have sex between unmarried persons, gasp!)

5. With a primarily digital mode of publication, how do you decide how much to publish? Are all high quality manuscripts that meet the perceived needs of your customers published, or is there a goal for monthly or annual publications?

We have a set number of releases per week. At Ellora’s Cave, we recently increased that from six to eight a week, and at Cerridwen Press went from two to three (and will likely go to four in January). We balance the number of books we have contracted and in process and the perceived market size. Obviously we wouldn’t schedule more release slots than we can fill. And we don’t want to flood the market with more books than our readers will buy.

6. When would you advise an author to seek publication with a traditional print publisher and when is it in their best interests to publish in digital format? The pros and cons are often debated among authors, and I was wondering how the actual publishers saw these issues.

Hmm, I don’t know that I as an e-publisher have ever said to an author “No, I don’t think you should consider digital books, you should go to print.” Except in cases where the audience was not appropriate for e-books – like children’s picture books, art books (filled with illustrations or photos), and books (mainly nonfiction) that are very visual in nature. In that case, you have to consider whether they can be truly appreciated on a small e-book reading device.

At our new TLC (The Lotus Circle) imprint of metaphysical and psychic fiction and non-fiction, we have some non-fiction books that are print only, not digital. In studying the reader market for these books, we determined that they did not present well online, or just would not sell in that format.

7. Can you share any sorts of revenue targets you have in mind when purchasing a manuscript? I assume that you need to sell a certain number of copies before the time spent acquiring, editing, and publishing is worth it financially. What is that approximate point? What percentage of manuscripts make this cut-off?

We don’t accept manuscripts that we don’t think will sell enough to make a profit. Unfortunately, we don’t have an infallible crystal ball and some books don’t do as well as anticipated. We accept about 4% to 5% of unsolicited manuscripts. We accept a much higher percentage from authors already published with us – but just having books published with us doesn’t mean that we’ll accept anything you submit in future! We reject a lot from our existing authors, or send it back for major revisions.

Yes, there is a break-even point, enough sales to cover the cost of editing, cover art, formatting, etc, etc. But that’s not a number we give out.

8. By far the most famous epublishers currently are focused on erotic romance. I would guess that far more erotic romance is bought in ebook format than in print. First, is this guess accurate? Secondly, what prospects do you see in the short to mid term for other genres in eBook format? Will we soon see non-romance mysteries or fantasy or manga taking off? Will we see it with your company?

E-books have always been most popular for the “fringe” genres, things people couldn’t find in their bookstore – or were embarrassed to buy in person. So erotic romance was a perfect fit for e-publishing. Up until a year or so ago, I would agree that more erotic romance was sold as e-books than print books. But now that most of the big NY publishers have entered the erotic romance market, and in print format, I don’t know if that is true any longer.

Through our Cerridwen Press imprint, we publish all types of genre fiction: non-erotic romance, mystery/suspense, scifi/fantasy, historical fiction, etc. Growth has been slow, and as yet is nowhere near as high as erotic romances. Readers were originally driven to e-books for erotic romance because they couldn’t find them in print; that doesn’t apply with mainstream fiction. Regular fiction e-books are competing with every print book out there. The success of e-books in most genres is going to be dependent on our cultural shift toward online everything – our kids, who expect to be able to do almost anything on their computer or cell phone. So I think we’ve got years to go before e-books are a major part of the general book sales, but we are getting there.

9. Is there such a thing as a best seller list for e-books?

I track sales figures carefully, and I know which books and authors are top sellers. That information does get conveyed to our editors in general terms, so that they know what genres and themes are currently most popular, to help them in making acquisition decisions.

We don’t publish on our site a list of the top-selling books, although I know some sites do. It’s something we may consider in future. I’d like some proof that there is a point to doing that – that listing a book as a “best seller” actually encourages more people to buy it. So far, that’s not proven.

10. Since marketing and promotion are a shared venture with publishers and authors, what do you see as some of the best venues and tools to establish the name and work of a new writer?

Every author should have a website, and update it frequently! It should list all their releases, with blurbs and excerpts and Buy links. Don’t forget the Buy link! That, after all, is the point – to sell your books. The site should also have information about future books, and items that interest readers and entice them to come back.

Online chats seem to have died down in popularity and effectiveness. Blogs are the big thing now to reach readers, but I’m beginning to think they’ve been overdone, readers are overwhelmed with too many and especially too many bad ones.

Ads in print magazines are, in my opinion, only effective for print books, not for e-books. If you have e-books, consider online ads on some of the biggest review or e-magazine sites.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Raelene!


Bernita said...

Nice! Straight talk!
No fuzz, no fluff.
Thank you both.

N.J.Walters said...

Great interview. Very straightforward and informative!

Shelley Munro said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview. Very informative.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for this, it's quite informative. Also, glad to hear chats are passe. I never liked them, myself.

Scary Monster said...

Me liked reading this even iffin me ain't looking to be published.
The Questions intelligent and the answers conscise and straight to the point. Me wishes more folks could handle language this way... What is Me saying! LOL.


BernardL said...

Thanks for your honest answer to my question on conservative fiction.