The following interview was written by Vivianne Crystal for the RIO newsletter (Reviewers International Organization)
 

 

NOT THE SAME 'OL POD - WRITERS DOING IT THEIR WAY You've finished crafting your final pages, edited and reedited the entire book, and sent your gem to every respectable publishing house you know! But you don't have an agent, or your agent tells you what you wrote is not what the publishers are looking for. You wait for weeks for feedback but receive nothing in the mail and your phone is agonizingly silent. Sound familiar? While this paragraph probably elicits some rather nasty feelings and thoughts, some writers are anxious to tell you there are alternatives to the previously described nightmarish scenario!

Three authors who have achieved notable sales and success through their selective choices of publishers are Maggie Davis (a.k.a. Katherine Deauxville), author of Stage Door Canteen, a historical romance novel about WWII entertainment in New York City; Nickie Fleming, author of Shadow of the Past, a 17th Century historical romance; and Rita Gerlach, author of Thorns in Eden. They volunteered to share their experiences here about the publication route that they believe best fits an author's marketing strategy. Their experience and advice concerns some publishers whom we will share here, while stressing that the information in this article is about and not advertising by the cited publishing sites.

One particular publishing house that is both very accessible to all writers and highly successful in marketing and sales is PublishingAmerica.Inc, a more traditional, royalty-paying publisher that offers publishing to authors who believe there are the "seeds of a market" out there for the present and future. People who have surmounted hardships and obstacles in life are the particular focus of this company. They allow the author to retain all rights outside of book publication, promise a "fresh" look at each book regardless of prior success or failure in publishing, require no agent intervention, provide free cover design, willingly accept author's suggestions, and publish in multiple formats. Finally, they are eager to assert that they are not a POD or print on demand (print only what is ordered) or vanity (authors pay for publication in this mode) press and charge no up front fees for publication. They provide POD technology, printing small quantities (up to 1,000) and then print as the demand carries it - print on demand indeed but a new type of production that is a step into the future.

Rita Gerlach eagerly describes her relationship with this company that has led to her well-known success:

" Writing my first novel was easy and a joy. But finding either an agent to represent me, or a publisher to publish my novel, was another thing entirely. It was difficult and challenging. Week after week, I sent out query letters and book proposals, only to be met with rejection letters and agents informing me that their client lists were full. The straw the almost broke the camels back was when an acquisitions editor at a leading publishing company loved my novel, suggested I write two additional chapters, and then send it back to the next editor in the chain of command. I did as he requested, only to get the manuscript back within two weeks with a curt rejection. I was frustrated. After searching for a publisher for several years for my first book, I came across Publish America. I liked their mission statement and decided to contact them. Within a week after receiving my manuscript, they accepted it for publication. The company was new and open to giving first time authors a chance at publication. Unlike other print on demand companies, I did not have to pay anything to be published. I would never pay a company to publish me. I decided to go this route in order to launch my writing career. I now have three novels published, and I am currently writing two more, as well as building a readership and name."

Another alternative to publishing are E-book publishers such as We-Publish.com and E-ReadsTM, companies dedicated to bringing out-of-print and new books by talented writers, including newcomers, to every reader. An E-book is a digital text document that can be read on a computer screen or any E-book software, is less expensive than traditional books, and offers the convenience of reading wherever one uses a PDA (personal digital assistant such as Palm Pilot, Microsoft ReaderTM, Adobe AcrobatTM, etc.). Authors should be aware that E-ReadsTM accepts submissions only from previously published authors and both E-ReadsTM and We-Publish.com charge a fee for publication. Both companies publish in E-book and POD traditional form. Maggie Davis has achieved phenomenal success in publish her novel through E-ReadsTM, generating superb sales and reviews.

Maggie Davis and Nickie Fleming have been gracious in their responses to some specific questions about publishing that probably pass frequently through the minds of both newer and experienced writers. Enjoy their input!

Question: To begin with, can you tell us your immediate thoughts about your experience with POD and E-book publication?

Maggie Davis: I think the opportunity to publish in electronic format - E-book (download) and POD (print-on-demand) is terrific. E-books have been slow to get started. The big print publishers certainly haven't encouraged it nor have retail stores. (What happened to all those POD machines that were going to be installed in chains like Barnes and Noble so you could get a book delivered to you in the store in about 30 minutes?) Plus E-book handheld hardware hasn't developed (still) into a very satisfactory product. But all in all, electronic books will prove to be the publishing of the future. I really believe that.

Nickie Fleming: I've had a very nasty experience with E-book publication. My first novel was accepted for publication by an E-book publisher in Arizona, which made me very happy; but soon I found out that these people did not live up to my expectations. For instance, they told me no copies of the book had been sold, while I knew for sure that a couple of my friends had downloaded the book. With my second book I went ahead with PublishAmerica, and up to now I have only had positive experiences. They live up to everything they promise, so far, at least!

Question: Why did you choose POD over the regular route to being a published author?

Maggie Davis: My agent (then my former agent), Richard Curtis, contacted me about six years ago to say that he wanted to publish all of my backlist, the Maggie Davis and a few Katherine Deauxville books, with his new e-publishing company called E-READS. He's been doing that ever since. Frankly, this was a break, as I have not had any luck getting print publishers to re-issue my old books. E-Reads now features most of my backlist in POD or download in places like www.Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and www.fictionwise.com. When virtually every big publisher in New York turned down Stage Door Canteen (I know, don't ask), my agent Richard Curtis shelved it. SDC just sat there, much to my despair, with no attempt to find a publisher for it until after about three years when I asked Richard if he would publish it as an ORIGINAL through E-Reads. Since he'd always thought highly of the book, he agreed. So you could say I chose electronic publishing for Stage Door Canteen because I believed in the book, and didn't want to see it completely lost. (This wasn't the first time I'd had a book turned down by big NY publishers; about 60% of my published books have had to be submitted and resubmitted before some editor finally bought one: Enraptured, Moonlight and Mistletoe, Blood Red Roses, Out of the Blue, The Last Male Virgin - and on and on - were rejected by more than one publisher.

Nickie Fleming: It was not so much a matter of choosing. When I decided I would like to have my books published, I looked for publishers. The mainstream ones were not very receptive or just told me they did not work with unagented authors. Then a friend in a chatroom told me how he had been able to sell some work to Publish America, and that they were very receptive to new authors. I sent them a query but was told that at that time they were not accepting work of foreign authors. I simply waited six months and tried again. I was then invited to send in the entire manuscript and some time later a contract was offered to me.

Question: What do you think is the difference in attitude and approach between publishing house editors and POD/E-book editors and marketers?

Maggie Davis: My answer is going to be a bit different from other writers who have written original books for electronic publication because I gather mine was the first original that Richard Curtis' E-Reads books had ever published. I was lucky to have Michael Gaudet, who is mainly technical director for the many backlisted books the company reprints. Between us, we functioned as "editors", doing most of the copy-editing and other work. Michael did the formatting and design, especially the cover (which he designed himself). Since I didn't have an editor to answer to, there were no rewrites.

Stage Door Canteen is getting rave reviews; it may be an example of how you can do without an "editor" when you have to. That may be the sign of a revolution, but I really don't want to have to be (shudder) a copy editor again. For some strange reason all the hard work put into copy editing in the proofs never took; Stage Door Canteen is full of the original typos. Since reviewers and readers haven't complained about it, I'm afraid to ask why there was a slip up. E-Reads is not set up like some electronic publishing houses, which take out ads in fan magazines and do other advertising and publicity. I was featured in an interview on the E-Reads web page. And that was about it.

Nickie Fleming: Publishing house editors expect a finished product that fits into their program. You have to write exactly that to even stand a chance. POD/E-book publishers are easier to work with. I suppose that they decide to publish when they like the book - even if it is not very "streamlined". So they offer you a chance, but they also expect that you will be co-operative in trying to sell the book...

Question: I've noted a thinner book section in my local Sunday newspaper; specifically far less fiction is being reviewed. Do you think a trend may be growing with POD and E-books or is that just wishful thinking on the part of new writers?

Maggie Davis: Some newspapers make a valiant effort to give more space to their book section, but the sad fact is since publishers buy little advertising outside the big papers, most newspaper book sections don't pay for themselves. Most are regarded as a public service. That's bad for writers, of course. Just twenty or thirty years ago, local writers could more or less count on getting reviewed in the hometown paper. Now it's the NY Times and Washington Post or forget it, especially in hardcover. With electronic books, download or POD, there's been a new development - online reviewing. Of course, it's for print books too, but RIO is an example of online reviewers organizing to make available a broad selection of books that includes - even features - E-books. Since E-books generally are not reviewed in local papers this is, I think, a wonderful sign that the whole book field may be changing and expanding into the hoped-for-new territory.

Nickie Fleming: I am also of a mind to think that a company like Publish America is just going to grow and grow. You must realize they only started four years ago and by now they have published some thousand or more books. They went into a new office block recently and hired more editors. I can only assume they are doing well, and that their sales are all right. POD publishing and printing is certainly a new way and with the growing importance of Internet and computers, it must grow as well.

Question: I find it fascinating that publishing houses are rejecting so many, many authors' submissions. What do you think they are looking for in best-selling fiction vs. what dictates choice for a POD or E-book publication center?

Maggie Davis: Someone commented recently that at the big print publishers a flow of young "assistant editors" or readers comes and goes, each staying about three years. I don't know how true this is, but it IS true that often a manuscript submitted to an editor never reaches her or him. Because an assistant - usually in their twenties - reads it and rejects it. Certainly some of the comments I've received in rejected books don't indicate a lot of intelligence or experienced editorial talent was working there. Frankly, I don't think editors in New York know WHAT to buy right now. They're still paying big money to former bestselling writers, issuing their books in large print numbers, and making just enough money to show a profit. But most readers complain they can't find anything new or exciting to read. I think the growth of the "erotic" market like Ellora's Cave is one indication, for instance, that readers certainly want more edgy, eyebrow-lifting material. Besides, editors in New York have rigid ideas about what readers want to read. They're not always right. With Stage Door Canteen, I felt editors had their own idea of what World War Two was like - mostly candy-box sentiment, like some of the movies we've seen, a sort of mix of Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel. Editors at electronic publishers don't seem to have these mindsets (maybe because they don't have a huge sales department and have to bow to). They seem to be looking for a good, well-crafted story for e-readers and are open to new writers with new ideas.

Nickie Fleming: It depends on the publishing house. Avon, for instance, looks for historical romance, the type of book where the hero and heroine are loving each other on every other page. They have their formats to consider, and as I said before, you have to fit in as an author. I know for myself that I can't write an Avon romance. My stories are quiet different and not the type that publishing houses are looking for at this time. On the other side, POD publishers look at the entire book. If they like it, they'll publish it as they know there will be a public for these stories too. That is something mainstream publisher tend to forget. Everyone who read my first book just loved it - so why not give it a chance? After my debacle with e-publishing I went for self-publication, and up to now it has paid off.

Question: Do you eventually foresee some kind of a relationship between POD publishers and mainstream publishing institutions? This might seem farfetched, but eventually the mainstream houses are going to seek a place in the action, maybe producing their own POD and E-book versions or giving POD and E-book publishers a financial cut for turning over a bestseller to them for bookstore sales. Have you ever thought about these possibilities?

Maggie Davis: I understand most of the big publishing houses are now putting this in their contracts. They want e-rights for any book they buy so they can bring it out later in that format.

Nickie Fleming: Yes, I think they will start working together at one time or other. Personally, I would not mind that a mainstream publisher bought secondary rights. That will only be beneficial to me!

Question: Do you think the success of POD and E-book printing will eventually cause the demise of publishers who ask payment for publishing or do you think the three modes of publication will continue to co-exist?

Maggie Davis: I think publishers who ask the writer to pay an overall fee for publishing or charge for the initial formatting (E-Reads charges for the cost of putting the book, usually a reprint into electronic format - about $250 and you have to earn this sum back before you get any royalties) will continue to exist, along with self-publishing. E-books are such a growing field that I think there will be room for all sorts of variations.

Nickie Fleming: Self-publication will have to fight for its existence, I think. Who is so foolish as to pay lots of dollars ($500 and even up to $1500) for the publication of a book? I have to confess I did it as well, but that was before Publish America offered me a contract for Diamonds for the Devil. Perhaps when you are desperate enough, you will consider self-publication. I did it because the E-book publisher was a fraud, and people were asking for the book. I had a pre-order list before I got the book self-published, so I broke even with the costs and have even start earning on it now.

Question: How important is it for a writer to believe in his or her story, no matter what avenue is chosen for publication? I know I've met several authors who fit into a broad range of "vision" about a novel, ranging from firm belief to deteriorating outlook based on publishers' responses. So how important is this and what would you say to the innumerable authors reading this article who hope to be successfully published?

Maggie Davis: President Harry Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Tough words, but all too true in publishing. I've written over thirty published novels, from hardcover "general list fiction" to screwball romantic comedy and historical novels. Over the years I have heard about writers who have had agents or editors as their dearest best friends and confidants who held their hands, helped them write, and stuck with them through thick and think. I've always envied them. Unfortunately, I have never had an editor-agent-mentor like that, and the majority of writers I know haven't either. Most of us have had to tough it out. Husbands and other relatives may be sympathetic and lend support but actually they don't really know what it is that has shot us into the depths of despair when a chapter doesn't work out. Or worse, a manuscript that you know is soooo good is rejected. The best people to lean on at times like that are other writers. But we all know that. In the final crunch it's the old saying that you have to believe in yourself and what you're doing, if not 100% of the time (nobody has that much confidence) then at least 80% of the time. It took me four years to get Stage Door Canteen published in e-format and it's getting raves. I sincerely hope it can pick up speed as an E-book and be a success. I WANT it to succeed and not just because it was roundly rejected by too many editors in New York. The business of the hard work of writing, surviving criticism when your books are published , or when a manuscript is rejected over and over again, really does damage to the ego. But we do have to keep the faith. And don't forget luck. In publishing very little is gained without a big fat helping of old-fashioned luck. Which I wish to all of us!

Nickie Fleming: Oh, I think as a writer you must keep believing in the worth of your story. If you know, deep in your heart, that you have written a fine story, then you should not be disappointed when some editor tells you it doesn't fit in with their style or program - that's the pity for them! I have always known that the books I write are well-loved with a certain public. I just had to wait for the right publishing house to see this as well, and I'm very glad I found PublishAmerica. And as a new author, you just have to keep on trying. I'm sending out queries to the same publishing house every six months. By then they don't remember you sent in another query before... And one time, some editor might think: "Hey, this is what I've been looking for!", so you have to stay optimistic, that's my motto. And never let anyone spoil your pleasure in writing. I like what I like and what I think is a good story, and I stay with my conviction. Nobody can tell me that it is bad or not worth their effort. Some time, some place, you'll get recognition. And I would certainly advise new authors to try with Publish America. Obviously they don't publish everything, but you stand a far better chance with them than with anyone else.

Well, thank you both so very much for sharing your experience with us. I want to congratulate you on your success in publishing and want you to know we at RIO are cheering you on for the future!!!

 

 
   
   

 
   
© 2005 Nickie Fleming/Jansan