The WRITING EQUATION

February 28, 2007

INTERVIEW with CHRISTINA BRASHEAR–Samhain Publishing, 2/28/2006

Filed under: INTERVIEWS with AGENTS, EDITORS & AUTHORS — plussignpro @ 9:39 am

Christina Brashear is the owner of Samhain Publishing: a fresh new voice in the publishing industry, bringing an ever-increasing number of compulsive readers together with some of today’s brightest and most creative authors. Genres include – but are not limited to – erotica, fantasy/sci-fi, horror, inspirational, mystery/suspense, paranormal, young adult, non-fiction, and all flavors of romance.

They are currently seeking submissions for release in 2008 and specific works for three projects. For more details please visit www.samhainpublishing.com/submission.

Q: YOU PUBLISH BOOKS IN BOTH TRADITIONAL BRICK & MORTAR BOOKSTORES AS WELL AS E-BOOKS OVER THE INTERNET. TELL ME ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES IN THE READERS OF E-BOOKS (DEMOGRAPHICS, GENRES, APPEAL OF CERTAIN STORY ELEMENTS, ETC.).

BRASHEAR: eBook readers are traditional print readers looking for quicker fixes and more in the off-beat genres New York isn’t publishing enough. I’ve found the age demographics to be just as broad in “e” as in print. Some have speculated that the ebook readers might be more of the younger set, open to new things and more comfortable with computers. Not so. The ages range from teens to people in their eighties. More and more traditional print readers are trying ebooks. As they become more familiar with the internet and read reviews on the popular sites, they become intrigued enough to try it. I’ve had a number of emails from customers asking how they read it now that they’ve bought it. I’m only too happy to explain!

I used to think erotic titles were more popular in ebook, but if that were true, the brick & mortar stores wouldn’t give them precious shelve space. There is a certain anonymity to reading racier books in digital format. I have found that romance is the more popular of the genres at this time, which surprised me. I would think the sci-fi fantasy readers would embrace the digital technologies more quickly, but it seems that the romance readers are quicker to assimilate new methods of getting their HEA (Happily-Ever-After) fixes.

Q: WHAT IS THE CURRENT PERCENTAGE OF BOOKS SOLD THAT ARE E-BOOKS? WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THIS PERCENTAGE TO BE 5 YEARS FROM NOW?

BRASHEAR: I honestly have no idea. I haven’t had time to join IDPF, International Digital Publishing Forum, and check on the statistics. I believe in the ebook industry and think that it is how we will be reading in the future as we phase out the printed book for the more environmentally sound methods of reading. You probably think I’m crazy to jump into an industry with both feet without having thoroughly researched the potential, but sometimes, you have to follow your instincts. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk.

If you’re asking about Samhain specifically, 100% of our titles are sold as digital books and will continue to be so as long as I’m breathing. eBooks are the future of reading. They are more environmentally sound than print. I began reading them as a way to pass the time during slow periods at work, since holding an actual book seemed too blatant and tended to irritate those who didn’t have the same downtime. Later, as my carpel tunnel worsened, I found it difficult to hold a print title for any length of time. As a compulsive reader, meaning I have to finish it in one sitting, having to put the book down because of pain or numbness in my hands was really getting on my nerves. As a reader, I can only hope that all the publishers will embrace the technology and offer the titles in digital at a reasonable price. I’ve noticed many offer them at the same price as the print title—and when the book comes out in hardback, that’s just an insane amount for digital! With the lower overhead, I’m hoping New York will begin to incorporate some of the business models of the e-publishing world.

Q: SELLING BOOKS IS A CHALLENGING BUSINESS, NOT TO MENTION WRITING THEM. WHAT DROVE YOU TO START A PUBLISHING COMPANY?

BRASHEAR: The shear pleasure this work brings. I love working with authors and bringing fresh new stories to the market. The thought of going back to the IT world or to a traditional corporate company gives me hives. When you find something you love and are good at, pursue it.

Q: WHAT ARE THE MAIN REASONS WHY YOUR COMPANY HAS DONE SO WELL?

BRASHEAR: From what I’m told and have read regarding Samhain, it’s the quality of the titles for the readers. For the authors, it’s the integrity of the company.

Our goal is to bring to the public a variety of stories and genres. We don’t expect everyone to love every title, but we do hope to provide a story for every taste. We are open to feedback from the customers and encourage it. We can’t grow or change unless we keep up on the wants and needs of the readers.

We try to be very open and honest with the authors and they appreciate knowing what’s what and why. Communication is key in this world. We don’t physically work together so you can’t read body language or see what’s going on. By nature of the medium we are very isolated unless we make the effort to communicate. Samhain is doing its best to make sure no one is out of the loop and that everyone is treated with equality and fairness.

Q: WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS FOR A WRITER TO FIND, AND THEN APPROACH, THE RIGHT PUBLISHER AND EDITOR?

BRASHEAR: I’ll assume you are asking about e-publishers for this question. Research. What is the genre of your book? Search for the houses that publish that genre. Study their website, is it professional looking and attractive? Easy to use? Do they have information about how they prefer to receive submissions? How does their cover art look? Does it catch the eye and make you want to at least read the blurb? Do the blurbs make you want to read an excerpt if not the whole book? All of these things are marketing and if what they have doesn’t capture your attention, how will it lure a reader into buying your book?

Go to review sites and read reviews on the books published by the houses you find attractive and professional-looking. Do they garner good reviews or do you see a consistent reference to poor editing? You want to work with a house that will edit your work and not just slap a cover on it and throw it out. Everyone needs an editor because we’re all human and make mistakes and will tend to overlook the same mistake over and over. It takes a fresh eye to catch that which we miss. Me, I’ll have my Executive Editor review this interview before I send it out. <g>

Check out a few author blogs, these are great places to read how an author likes their publisher. Join the various groups and read how the interaction is going between the authors. This is a gray area and should be taken with a grain of salt because it can be very subjective or emotional based on very recent experiences. So don’t go by one positive or negative opinion, read many.

How receptive is the house to answering questions prior to submitting your work? Though, please read their submission guidelines very thoroughly and don’t ask questions that are easily answered by reading the guidelines or reviewing the site. Writing to an e-publisher and asking if they also print the titles when there is a listing of the latest print releases on the home page isn’t going to impress the submissions editor, it’s going to make you look like you can’t research and will compromise your book’s review. If you’re suspected as not one to research and yet you’ve written a novel about a historical event…well, I’d say the reviewing editor is going to be expecting errors.

When you’re ready to submit, review the submission instructions again and follow it to the letter or you’ll just get an email asking you to send what was missing. Most houses will tell you how they want to receive your submission, what to send and how long to expect an answer. I know a synopsis can be a pain in the rear to write, but they really do help the reviewing editor in making his/her decision.

Q: WHAT IS THE TYPICAL TIMEFRAME BETWEEN WHEN A MANUSCRIPT IS ACCEPTED AND WHEN THE FINAL PRODUCT IS AVAILABLE TO BUY IN BOOKSTORES?

BRASHEAR: For Samhain, we’re working on almost a year now, for digital release. 2007 is nearly full and we’ve stated on the submissions page that works submitted now are going to be targeted for 2008. Print titles are published six or so months after the digital release, depending in what program the book will be placed.

Q: WHAT TYPES OF NOVELS IS THE INDUSTRY ACTIVELY SEEKING?

BRASHEAR: I can’t say what the “industry” is seeking, I don’t have a clue. I rarely think about what others are doing and go with my instincts regarding Samhain. Our focus first and foremost is the story. Our mission statement or motto is “it’s all about the story”. Regardless of the genre, if the story doesn’t work or have that spark, what’s the point? There’s a saying in IT/programming: garbage in/garbage out. That’s how we look at it. The hottest (pun intended) genre right now is erotic romances featuring ménage a trois. But what happens when readers lose interest and another theme captures their imagination? You don’t want to have only a supply of ménages and no one buying them anymore. When focusing on producing excellent stories, you’ll always have something to offer the buying public.

Q: WHEN YOU DECIDE TO PUBLISH A MANUSCRIPT, WHAT ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU LOOK FOR?

BRASHEAR: Plot, story flow, good characterization, the ability to texturize a story with those little things that make it real, and that indefinable “it” a good storyteller has. Acquiring a book can’t be based on personal taste, but on if there is a reader for the book. I don’t like every book I’ve ever read, but that didn’t make them bad books, just not suited to me. Our editors review books like this and, if the book isn’t to their taste, for a fair reading they will trade submissions with one another. So their personal preferences don’t taint the reviewing. Many times the new editor will buy the book.

Q: MARKETING HELP FROM PUBLISHERS IS ALMOST MANDATORY FOR A BOOK TO BECOME A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. AS A PUBLISHER, HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHICH BOOKS GET THE MOST MARKETING HELP?

BRASHEAR: As we are very small right now, our marketing is focused on making the buying public aware of the company. We do some specialized ads, like for special projects. We have a group of titles coming this summer under the Midsummer Night’s Steam theme and we’re advertising in RT (Romantic Times) for them. Last fall we advertised the Beginnings anthology. We’re looking forward to expanding our advertising on the web and in the print media as we grow.

All books appear on the home page for a week when they are released. Samhain has a newsletter group on Yahoo! where we publish a weekly newsletter announcing the new releases. I’m looking into some other methods of delivery outside of Yahoo! as it can be so hard to work with. We also have RSS feed from the website and we post a simple announcement listing the releases. Those who like this technology can have, for example, the information appear on their personalized Google page. That’s what I use as a home page and I get the scoop on Samhain’s new release, the latest posting to the Smart Bitches blog as well as Reuters and NPR news feeds. I also keep up with People magazine for fun. Those who use Mobipocket and are familiar with the news feeds feature can add Samhain’s announcements. That’s about all I know of news feeds, though I do understand it’s much more expansive than what I’ve said. It might be capable of being more fun and graphic, I haven’t learned all I can about it yet. Samhain has offered to place announcements on the news page for the authors, but no one has sent anything yet. I was thinking any book signings or events would be excellent items. http://www.samhainpublishing.com/news

Each author gets a bio page where they can post information with just about anything they want–the exception is listing their titles with other publishers or a list of other houses with whom they publish. <g> They can list their websites, blogs, Yahoo! groups and whatnot, making it easy for the readers to find their other works. We really encourage this, but ultimately it’s up to the author to provide the information. I believe to make this industry grow and thrive, the publishers need to be supportive of their authors and, ultimately, other publishers. The more epublishers that are successful, the more firmly established the industry becomes. I know this philosophy is kind of opposite of the policy to list other titles or houses, but being supportive doesn’t equate to free advertising.

Samhain has a blog where authors can participate. It’s about topics and not about advertising. Who wants to “see” a commercial all the time? The authors sign up for a specific day to post and they can post about anything that strikes their fancy. Readers don’t comment much, but they are reading the blog and that’s exposure. They seem to enjoy the interaction between the authors. It is increasing in popularity and Samhain gets a lot of traffic back into the website from the blog, so it must be working fairly well in a marketing way. We do encourage the authors who have a new release to post an excerpt or something on their release day. Tuesday, release day, and Sunday are the only days we allow blatant promotion. Sundays are a free-for-all, and the authors are welcome to post about their print releases, or anything else.

Samhain has a weekly drawing for a free ebook of the reader’s choice and a monthly drawing of a free print book being released that month. All the reader has to do is send an email, maybe sometimes answer a goofy question, and they’re entered into the drawing. Well, they do have to list the title they want, and the format for the ebook prize. But that’s it. It’s working out nicely.

Q: DO EDITORS PREFER DEPENDABLE MID-LIST AUTHORS, OR ONE-TRICK PONIES WHOSE ONE-TIME SALES ASSURE PRESS INTERVIEWS?

BRASHEAR: Our editors prefer good stories.

Q: HOW DO YOU DETERMINE ADVANCE PAYMENTS AND ROYALTY PERCENTAGES?

BRASHEAR: Advances and royalty amounts are standard. Low, mid-list or breakout authors all get the same at this time. I imagine as we grow this will change, at least the advance amounts. Those who prove to make a consistent amount might be offered more in advance, but honestly most of the authors are opting out of advances. They would rather get the whole first month’s earnings at once rather than see a deduction in red. Red = bad and no one likes to see it, even if it is recouping the advance.

Q: HOW MUCH INPUT DO YOU GIVE AUTHORS REGARDING BRAINSTORMING SALABLE STORY IDEAS, CAREER ADVICE, ETC.?

BRASHEAR: Not much. Though I have been known to make a wish or two in what I’d like to read, personally. For the most part my personal advice to the authors has always been don’t fight the muse. If you write in one style but your favorite author, whom you want to emulate, writes another, try it but don’t force it. It’ll show in the writing and won’t have the spark the stories that come naturally to you do. Readers always know.

My career advice is to just keep writing and follow your instincts.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR POLICY ON “DIFFICULT” AUTHORS (ONES WHO CALL YOU SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK, REFUSE TO MAKE RECOMMENDED EDITS, ETC.)? IF THE WRITER-EDITOR PERSONALITIES DO NOT CLICK, THEN WHAT?

BRASHEAR: Fortunately we haven’t had to deal with this, much. While we do not interfere with the author’s voice, the edits we request are to make the book tighter and flow; they improve, not change the work. We don’t expect every edit to be made, but the majority. If an author outright refuses to work with us, then we can come to an agreement to sever the relationship. If someone doesn’t want to be here then we won’t hold them. It’s non-productive and disruptive.

If an author and editor team just doesn’t click, then it is no problem to assign the author a new editor. It happens and it isn’t personal. It doesn’t mean the author or editor isn’t liked, just that they aren’t on the same page in working together, so we fix it.

Q: WHAT PERCENTAGE OF AUTHORS ARE SIGNED TO BOOK DEALS AS A RESULT OF THOSE 5-MINUTE WRITERS CONFERENCE PITCH SESSIONS?

BRASHEAR: I know of one for sure, but that was because the author followed through and submitted the work. It’s been a while since I checked but I know the pitches I’ve heard have rarely ended up with a submission of the manuscript. We don’t sign pitches. Anyone can pitch a book. I can pitch a book. I just can’t actually write it!!! We have to have a manuscript–partial or whole, to actually consider it for contract.

Q: ANY FUTURE PLANS, OR UPCOMING EVENTS?

BRASHEAR: Angie James-Executive Editor and I will be attending EPICON this March. Angie, Jessica Bimberg-Senior Editor, Marty Mathews-Author Liaison, Jennifer Martin-Events Director and I will be attending the Romantic Times Book Club convention in Houston. And I will be attending BEA in New York. We were invited to the NJRWA conference in October and Angie will be attending.

RT is the biggest event, we’ll be hosting a farewell brunch on Sunday as well as handing out a few goodies to the attendees. Saturday is the RT Book sale/signing and a number of Samhain authors will be there.

 * Christina M. Brashear is the owner of Samhain Publishing, Ltd. And can be reached at publisher@samhainpublishing.com, or at http://www.samhainpublishing.com

For submissions read www.samhainpublishing.com/submissions and send your work to editor@samhainpublishing.com.

If you’re interested in selling Samhain’s titles at your store, please contact books@samhainpublishing.com.


© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

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