Interview with Angela James, Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing

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.” 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 ménages 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 author” 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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sonia says:

    >>Samhain is the one publisher they can consistently count on to provide good, quality material.

    Did you not proofread your ad on the inside cover of the RWA conference program?  It’s full of errors.  That alone would make me gunshy about Samhain.

  2. 2
    Angela James says:

    Thanks, Sarah!

    Did you not proofread your ad on the inside cover of the RWA conference program?  It’s full of errors.  That alone would make me gunshy about Samhain.

    You have absolutely no idea the cuss words that were said when I saw that ad. I was completely embarrassed and appalled and had the very same thought you did, Sonia. In fact, all of our editors who were at the conference shared similar feelings with me. It was the first thing we all noticed and the first time I prayed no one paid any attention to advertisement. There’s no excuse for it. And I think the fact is that epublishers need to not only do it well sometimes, but do it better. That ad was not a highlight for our company by any means.

    That said, I think our marketing department learned a valuable lesson in a very hard way, as we all do sometimes: you MUST proof the ads that anyone designs for you. Actually, every ad should have multiple people checking it over. Never trust that the ad copy you’re provided is error-free. In other words, treat it like we do our books. We’ve since added some measures to ensure that doesn’t happen again *fingers crossed* but it doesn’t take away the sting of it happening. 

    I can’t blame anyone who holds the opinion you do because, in the end, we are accountable for our mistakes. I only hope somewhere along the way we can redeem ourselves through some measure of consistency!

  3. 3

    Nice interview, very informative. Thanks for doing it, Angela and SBs!

  4. 4
    Teddy Pig says:

    Hey Angela,

    You have no idea how much I appreciate seeing someone being so professional despite everything that is going on currently in ePublishing.

    Honestly, I do see some of the inside workings between publishers and writers from friendships I have made and Samhain is a class act not just from the outside looks of things but also how they interact with their writers.

    Looking forward to meeting you and Sasha in San Francisco. My best buddy said she would introduce me to you.

    Teddypig, just another fanboy.

  5. 5
    Chryssa says:

    Nice interview.

    Angela, the errors in the ad might’ve made me gunshy, but your response to the situation as posted here has restored some faith.

    Chryssa

  6. 6
    Becky says:

    Sarah and Angela—thanks for the nice interview. I’m a veteran author who’s worked with several NY publishers over the years. I’ve also been working with Samhain for the past couple years, and I’ve found them to be as professional and concerned with quality as any of my previous publishers.

    As with any business, there are always some that give the profession a bad name, but then a few good ones rise to the top. Go Samhain!

    Becky Barker

  7. 7
    kis says:

    Back when I was a cook at a high end hotel, the chef entered us in a culinary competition. The pastry chef and his assistant baked a torte—it took the two of them about six hours from start to finish. They put the name of the hotel in bold, classic script in white chocolate over the dark ganache right on top.

    It wasn’t until about two hours into the competition that anyone noticed the name of the hotel—only five letters long, for godsake!—was misspelled.

    Oh, the horror!

    Cake tasted pretty good, though. :)

  8. 8
    Bev Stephans says:

    I agree with Teddypig.  Samhain is a class act and has been from the start.

    I do hope they keep their present format with the variety of genre’s. I believe that this has been a factor in their success. I have purchased in every genre except young adult. I’m no longer a “young adult” so I doubt that I will buy anything in that category.

    Keep up the good work and the good books.

  9. 9
    Keziah Hill says:

    We’re looking forward to seeing you in Australia! :-)

  10. 10
    Nora Roberts says:

    Angela, your comments, answers, way of dealing with issues in a public forum consistently put a strong, professional and human face on Samhain.

  11. 11

    I love to see positive representations of ePubs and this was definitely one. Fantastic interview. Informative, intelligent, witty and the best part? Learning I’m not the only person on the planet who loves Greek Baby Daddy books. :D

  12. 12

    I’m one of the ones who didn’t notice the ad, so no worries there.

    Very nicely said across the board Angela. I wish more took this approahch i.e. that it’s a business-first. Some do, some come close, and others… Don’t need to be mentioned. :)

    I’ve always enjoyed the way you phrase your answers and can tell that out of the consistency, that you mean it, and have no doubt that Samhain is a going to be long-lived.

  13. 13
    Deena says:

    Samhain is definitely one of the presses that is held up, rightly I believe, as a model of the e-book industry.

    I wanted to address the question of formats. There is a movement to move toward a common format, and there’s a lot of information about that on the teleread.org blog (disclaimer, I’ve recently become a contributor there, but haven’t yet posted anything but comments). It’s my understanding that Mobipocket, Adobe and Microsoft are actually using a very similar format built on XML. Non DRM protected Mobipocket stories can be read on the open source fbreader. Once the issue of DRM is settled to most people’s satisfaction, and once software and hardware companies recognize that they’re not going to be the next iTunes   and so better do something similar to an across the board format, like MP3s for books, it will get better. As I’ve read here and elsewhere, e-book publishing is a relatively new industry and the kinks have to be worked out all down the line, but I do believe they will be, and that, eventually, e-book sales will rival those of print.

  14. 14

    I’m lucky enough to be a very happy Samhain author and frequently hold them up as an example of how things SHOULD be done.  Kudos to the Bitchery for giving some of the good guys the spotlight they so deserve.

  15. 15

    Well, I love Angela.  I’m on the Romance Divas forum a lot and her answers and explanations during the changes at RWA were extremely helpful.
    I know several authors at Samhain and one of them is a close friend.  She has had a wonderful experience there. 
    Thank you Angela for a wonderful interview.

  16. 16
    Sonia says:

    Thanks for your very candid and forthright answer, Angela.  I appreciate that you made no excuses and pointed no fingers at anyone but Samhain for not double-checking the ad copy. 

    Right on!

  17. 17
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I noticed the Samhain ad in question, but gosh—what a classy reply, Angela. Bitches, I’m so glad we get a dose of good news about industry pros behaving with grace and smarts.

  18. 18
    Julie Leto says:

    Angela/Sarah—fabulous interview.  Angela, hope to run into you someday.  I like the way you think.  Except for the Greek Baby Daddy thing.  But then, we all have our foibles. ;-)

    Seriously, you are a credit to the industry.

  19. 19
    Angela says:

    I know I’m beating a dead horse, but what is the outlook for historical romance at Samhain? I’ve been looking into moving away from the NY market to the e-market after being fed up with a lot of tepid releases, but most e-publishers with great reputations focus on erotic romance. Any good historicals coming out soon?

  20. 20
    Eve Vaughn says:

    Great interview Angie, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my editor.
    :-D

    Angela, I know your question was directed to Angela James, but Samhain recently released a regency historical by Lucy Monroe. I thorougly enjoyed it, and I believe it hit their top ten bestseller list. I’ve actually read a lot of good historicals from Samhain, a handful of westerns, regencies and victorian novels.

  21. 21

    Great interview, ladies!!

    And I want to go to Australia! I pretty much started drooling when I read that.

    The Greek/Sheikh hero in a Presents book are so freaking popular and always will be. Though I’m not sure why…I think it is that alpha thing. I love alphas, too.

  22. 22
    Angela James says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the incredibly kind things you’ve said today. I think we’re doing something good at Samhain and I’m glad to be a positive representative for the company.

    Julie, maybe at an RWA conference one year we’ll meet up!

    Teddy, I’ll look forward to meeting you in San Francisco next year.

    Angela, your comments, answers, way of dealing with issues in a public forum consistently put a strong, professional and human face on Samhain. Thank you . It’s like my birthday week all over again, hearing that from you.

    Angela, I think we have some excellent non-erotic historicals both available and coming up in the next year. *whispers*Lucy Monroe just released one with us this week but I’m not sure I should mention that here.

    Lynne Connolly is a historical author whose Richard and Rose series I’ve long adored, so I was thrilled when she pitched her Triple Countess trilogy to me. The first book, Last Chance, My Love, released in July and the next will release in November.

    We have more than a few talented authors who’ve written westerns including Beth Williamson and Shannon Stacey.

    You can find our current selection of historical romances here

    I think we have a nice mix of editors at Samhain and pretty well have a love of all genres covered among us. I know a few of them are always on the lookout for a great historical (in the same way that I’m always on the lookout for great futuristics, cyberpunk, space opera and urban fantasy, if anyone is writing one of those!)

  23. 23

    Samhain is a class act. Great interview, Angie!

    Angela, Shelley Bradley’s The Lady and The Dragon has been reissued by Samhain recently. (Pirates, arrr!) And Sharon Long’s Her Majesty, My Love and Beyond the Night are fun historical adventures.

  24. 24
    veinglory says:

    Samhain has been good to work with and I see them regularly mentioned by readers, where the same 3-5 epresses come up over and over.  I particularly appreciate that they take books without sex (contrary to rumours I don’t want to write sex *all* the time) and without romance (ditto)

  25. 25
    Cara Carnes says:

    Excellent interview!  Thank you so much for all the valuable insight into Samhain and the publishing industry.

  26. 26

    I enjoyed the interview – though I would have loved to see the red-eye picture. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Samhain from the authors who publish there and it was nice to hear from Angela here.

  27. 27
    Shelley says:

    I have only been buying and reading ebooks for the last few months, and it has opened me up to a wonderful range of authors that I would never have read before. I recently bought books by Eve Vaughn, Shelly Laurenston and Dionne Galace and have absolutely loved the books they’ve written. Can’t wait to read more by them. Sahmain is definitely a class act and offers a great range of books.

    There is limited choice of ereaders available in New Zealand, so I bought myself a Palm. It’s a bit annoying not being able to buy all of the books I want in the same format, but the one advantage with the Palm is that I can have more than one format on the devise – Mobipocket (my favourite), Adobe and eReader (Palm format). The main reason for buying my Palm was a shortage of bookcase space and my reluctance to take 10+ books with me everytime I go away on holiday. Now I can take my 250+ books on one little devise! Will definitely be purchasing mainly ebooks from now on.

  28. 28
    Joanna S. says:

    To all those who may be feeling gunshy about a misspelled ad:

    Trust me when I say, while more proofreading should perhaps have been done, it’s largely the problem of the graphics designers.  The poor dears are in fact genetically predisposed to being horrific spellers.  My sister is one, and when she worked at a larger firm, I received regular phone calls from not only her, but also from her co-workers about how to spell this or that word, “jewelry” being at the top of the list for some reason.  And, of course, the ultimate irony is that NO design programs come equipped with spell check!  It is *sigh* le tragic.

    In fact, I remember my sister swearing profusely because, even after all of the proofreads, they released an ad campaign with the word “apple” having 3 “p’s” in several places.  The hooorror!  So, really, it does happen and shouldn’t make anyone too gunshy of an ePub like Samhain, especially with someone so obviously dedicated at the helm!

  29. 29
    Lauren Dane says:

    Samhain is an author centered, class act and I love writing for them. One of the major reasons is having Angie for an editor.

    As an author, it’s on me to make good choices with my publishers, to read my contract, to insist on being a vibrant part of my own career and to listen to criticism from my editor. It’s easy to do all these things when I deal with Samhain because they’re open to questions and I respect my editor enough to let her bully me (snort).

    Samhain is a great place to be and it continues to grow slowly and effectively. There’s no “cloud talk” but rather, marketing plans and a steady direction. I appreciate that so much as an author. I appreciate solid deadlines, solid publication dates and professionalism from the top down.

  30. 30

    You know the title of Angie’s blog, “Nice Mommy, Evil Editor”?
    Believe it. I’m sure she’s a wonderful Mommy and I know she’s an evil editor!
    Thank God.
    She tracked all my timelines, made me revise things I hadn’t noticed in 10 or more passes of “Last Chance, My Love.”
    It’s a pleasure to work with an editor who enjoys what you write, but doesn’t let you get away with a single thing.

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