We’re talking a lot about ePubs lately, so when I heard back from Angela James from Samhain Publishing with the answers to my interview questions, I thought – woo! I’d originally asked to pester her with questions following the RWA conference and the discussion as to publisher recognition, but even now, as Samhain’s name is still brought up as a legit and rather fabulous ePub, I welcome the chance to learn more about the ePub business and Samhain specifically.
Now, can I be honest with you, here? You know, just between you and me? I’ve heard so many conflicting stories about what goes on behind the scenes at various ePubs, big and small, that prior to going to RWA I was of a mind that on the whole they weren’t really professional organizations. Rumors of weird financial shenanigans and bizarre rules like joining author loops and requiring participation for continued publication? Hrm. I was a little wary of the entire concept, even as I read and enjoyed greatly more than a few eBooks, AND met some very intelligent and skilled writers of eBooks through discussions on this here site. I admit, I had a rather goofy prejudice.
However, meeting Angela at RWA spanked my prejudice, called it “Charles,” took charge and sent it elsewhere. I was totally wrong about my preconceptions that painted all ePubs with the same brush, as James is nothing but professional (and a lot of fun) and also, did I mention her eyes glow red when she’s angry? I have a picture of that somewhere in my RWA collection. But I won’t post it. You might get hurt.
Glowing red eyes aside, her answers gave me a good schooling on the inner workings of Samhain and ePubbing.
Your official response after the RWA redefinition of approved publishers and non-vanity, non-subsidy press was measured, and your attitude was nothing but positive. Now that some weeks have passed, has this decision affected your business at all, or is it, as you said, Business As Usual at Samhain?
Angela James: Still Business As Usual (am I going to go down in infamy for that one?). We’ve been planning our trip to San Francisco next year for the 2008 RWA convention. The good news is we don’t have to worry about publisher spotlights, editor appointments or the like. It will be like a vacation! Okay, maybe not, but when I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel any differently about our business than I did prior to July. I still think we pretty much kick ass.
And though we aren’t eligible for having our conference fees waived as part of that decision, there are still plenty of chapters and conferences who very much want us to attend, whose members are more than interested in meeting with us, and those conferences are helping with expenses so we can do so. I’ve been invited to do several conferences and retreats in the next year. Just a few I’ve committed to include the Chesapeake RWA chapter’s weekend conference in November, Desert Dreams (in Arizona) next spring and next summer….we’ll be going to RWAustralia! They’re totally pumped to have us and we can’t wait!
Tell us more about the utter awesomesauce of having your books picked up for print runs in a partnership with Kensington?
Angela James: Words cannot convey the awesomesauceness of it all. And it’s not because, as some people may believe, that we think this makes us legitimate in any way. The readers love of our books, my love of our books (and not to mention my paycheck each month) were already proving that to me. But it’s a killer opportunity to hit a new audience and maybe convert some new readers to ebooks. I mean, who wouldn’t read a Samhain book and immediately think “I have to go buy their entire catalog of books RIGHT NOW.â€ Surely only the crazies wouldn’t fall into the Samhain-rocks system of beliefs.
How is Samhain different as an ePub, and what makes it special?
Angela James: Well, I do see readers saying that Samhain is the one publisher they can consistently count on to provide good, quality material. I forget where I read it, but someone said they’re willing to take a chance on books in our catalog they wouldn’t normally, because they’re rarely disappointed. That’s quite a compliment. It doesn’t mean every reader loves every book or that they’ll never find flaws in our books. It just means that’s not the first thing they think of when we come to mind.
But we’ve worked hard to get to that point. I don’t know how other epubs work, so I’m not doing a comparison here, but when I hire editors and copy editors I have looked at hundreds of applications. We don’t take them based on what they say their qualifications are, we make them prove it on not one, but two separate test documents that consists of editing, writing revision letters and showing that they have good skills. Then we have a pretty intense probation period where I look at everything they do. Of course, if you think I suck, then none of this will impress you at all!
Another thing that makes us stand out is our marketing plan. Lisa Amrine was hired this past winter to really step up our marketing and she’s been incredibly motivated and energetic. And she’s pushed the authors to follow in suit. She’s exploring traditional and non-traditional avenues of promotion, she’s open to new ideas and she’s always looking for something that will grow Samhain.
Further, the top executives and owners of the company are not authors. That’s somewhat unusual in the ePublishing world.
I think it’s telling and what I believe makes us really special is that everyone who works at Samhain has a genuine love for both the company and their job. It’s not just work, it’s a passion and that’s come through in what we’re producing, in my opinion.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in your submissions, both erotica and not?
Angela James: Paranormal still seems to rule the world in both erotic and non-erotic submissions. But mÃ©nages are also a popular submission right now, as well.
One of the worst trends I’m seeing is books that have no business being erotic romance being pitched as erotic romance. Books that might really have a wonderful story but the author wants to cash in on the erotic part, that they have the characters engaging in funky sex acts as soon as they’ve exchanged hellos, to the detriment of the story. I rejected one recently that had an intriguing story idea and the potential for a solid plot but suddenly, after the first chapter and with no warning, the main characters were having sex. I was totally caught off-guard.
Other than that, we’re seeing more first person (which I personally love). I think that’s in answer to the growing popularity of urban fantasies. An increased number of young adult submissions, which we’re glad for, but a continued dearth of futuristics and really good science fiction and fantasy (we have had some fantasy but not as much as many of my editors would like).
One of my biggest frustrations as a reader is that there are not very many inexpensive but quality eBook readers, and there’s about sixty-five thousand ever-loving formats, one for every different reader and program. Did we not learn this lesson with VHS and BetaMax? Coke and New Coke? Why are eBook readers and products designed to get the text to the readers not nearly streamlined, or – is this a good thing for publishers? What is the publisher’s stand on this particularly frustrating issue. Note: I am fully aware I’m taking out my own purchasing frustrations on this question, so feel free to tell me how wrong I am.)
Angela James: Before I’m an editor, I’m a reader and I share your frustrations. I think most publishers would be delirious with the happy-happy-joy-joy if the entire publishing community could come to some sort of agreements about format. And if the ultimate cheap ebook reader—but one that has everything that everyone could ever want—was put into production tomorrow. An ebook reader that could read every format, have eInk capabilities, a backlight, long battery life and memory expandable and only limited by the size of the media card you buy.
But in truth, publishers are only the ones who produce the books. We’re not the technology geeks so we have to depend on others to invent, design and market the greatest ebook reader evah! We’re still waiting but hope springs eternal and maybe the unveiling of that elusive creature is just around the corner, coming this fall. One can dream!
As a reader, what are your favorite archtypes/cliches in romance? And what book did you love that you are embarrassed to tell anyone about?
Angela James: I still love an alpha hero. Domineering, tough, a little bossy and takes charge in the bedroom. I don’t care how un-PC of me that is, I adore an alpha. It has nothing to do with how he looks and everything to do with how he acts.
This is sad, but the accidental pregnancy, heroine getting wounded and thus making the hero realize how much he loves her, and crazy/jealous ex-wife/ex-girlfriends getting shown up at the end of the book, those are all things that secretly (not so secret any more, I guess) make me squee.
I’ve never really been embarrassed to admit my love for a book, but if I’m telling this on Smart Bitches, I’d probably say I have a deep love for Kill and Tell (as well as Dream Man) by Linda Howard. I know, people think putting on the condom early was skeazy. I adore that scene. I also have realized that, even though Harlequin Presents are utterly ridiculous and I usually want to slap the heroine around for being so inconsistent, I cannot get enough of them. Especially if they have Greek in the title. No, I don’t know what’s up with that. Probably goes back to that love of alpha males thing, again. There you have it, my dirty, shameful secrets. Can you still respect me in the morning?
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the effect of author conduct on the probability of them becoming published—or remaining published. How much of an effect does author conduct REALLY have on the business end of things, in your opinion? (Unspoken: how batshit does an author have to be before a publisher sits up and takes notice?)
Angela James: I guess it depends on what kind of author conduct we’re talking about. I hear authors say they don’t want to be labeled a “problem authorâ€ so they often don’t say anything about not being paid by a publisher, problems with broken promises, etc. I can sympathize with those concerns, but there is such a huge difference between letting other authors know that repeated attempts to contact your publisher regarding concerns with royalties versus an author going batshit crazy on their blog or a message forum and telling people that their editor sucks, the company sucks and then personally attacking other authors/company employees without having any proof or basis of fact for it.
That said, I think there’s also a line between author persona and the persona you show your friends. Some things don’t need to be said in public. Ever. Trashing another author, complaining about something minor about your agent or editor (like maybe they didn’t return your email or phone call within four hours). Those types of things should be kept behind the scenes. I think it goes back to something I preach on often in interviews, but think can’t be said enough. Writing is a business. Treat it like your business, act like a professional and it’s easier to gain the respect of your peers/agents/publishers than if you air all your dirty laundry on your blog or message boards daily. You can spot the real professionals both online and in submissions/edits. The ones who think of this as their career, rather than a hobby.
So to wrap up a really long answer, do I think an author can talk or misbehave themselves out of future contracts? Yes, I do. There are a lot of hungry authors out there eager to be the next Nora Roberts, who are willing to work hard and be professional while doing it, so why would an agent or editor want to deal with an author who makes their job 10x more difficult than it has to be? (well, unless that author is Nora Roberts, because, yeah. Nuff said. But I would bet any money that she’s not that author, anyway)
But I want to end by stressing there’s a world of difference between a difficult, demanding, diva author who is never happy and must have her needs met immediately and exactly as she wants them to be versus an author who is sharing information with other authors that’s legitimate and needs to be said. A world of difference.