E-books vs. Paper-books: are E-books the next step, is this where new/established authors should put their focus? Special Guest Sandra Hicks CEO/Owner of Aspen Mountain Press.
Mary: Thank you for agreeing to an interview on Mysteries and Margaritas. Sandra, before we get started though, would tell us a little bit about your background, and what led up to you putting on the CEO/Owner hat of Aspen Mountain Press (AMP).
Sandra: Thank you, Mary, for inviting me to answer your questions. To make a long story very short, I started Aspen Mountain Press because of some of the things that happened to me as an electronically published author. I was with a company that treated some authors preferentially, one that didn’t pay in a timely manner, another that didn’t pay at all or even send statements, one that blamed the authors for the company’s poor decision making, and one that bounced checks. I said to myself those infamous words – I can do better. Then I put my money and my time where my mouth was and Aspen Mountain Press was the end result.
Mary: Before we start on the debate about E-Books vs. Paper-books, let’s chat a bit about what you look for in a new author. Do all the queries come to you? If so what is the best hook?
Sandra: First, all the queries go to our submissions department. From there I get recommendations and either I, or my editorial director make a contract offer.
What we look for in a new author is not as complex as one would think. We look for someone that can tell a complete story, someone that has a solid grasp of grammar and spelling, someone who has put a unique twist on a story. Additionally, we look for someone who isn’t egotistical and who is capable of following directions.
About 90 percent of the time these characteristics will show up in the query letter. I know it is a fine line between presenting your writing resume and making your query spotlight you like you’re the next best writer to hit the market since Barbara Cartland, Sherrilyn Kenyon, or Nora Roberts. I’ve had query letters come across my desk where the author has said they know they can make us lots of money if only...(insert your named reason here, we’ve seen them all) or they blame the other publisher for their lack of success...My manuscript would have done better if only the publisher had...(insert your named reason here too).
Mary: As far as I know AMP is completely digital at this time, is this true? If so do you have plans to bring in a print program?
Sandra: Currently, we are completely digital, but we are moving forward with plans to go into print, having signed contracts with a couple different print companies.
Mary: If you haven’t already answered this, what made you decide to open AMP? I know that you are an author, and have been or are published with other publishers. Has it been a hard road?
Sandra: I knew I could do a better job for authors than that of several other companies I’d been published with. One of the things I think makes Aspen Mountain Press unique is the fact that I’ve been an editor, a publisher and an author. I try to keep that in mind for all aspects of the business. This is a business that doesn’t have to have a “them versus us” mentality, and when we work together we are far stronger. My teaching background has also helped. I believe part of my job as a publisher and an editor is to help authors hone their craft. All our editors want our authors to learn and grow as writers!
If anyone has ever operated their own business and done a good job at it, they know. Running your own company requires a lot of time. For the past three years my writing hasn’t been my main priority, although I still manage to get at least ten pages in a week (which, I know is absolutely nothing for a lot of your readers). Prior to making the decision to open, I wrote about fifteen to twenty pages a day. A business, any business, takes a tremendous amount of time as well as a financial toll.
Still, I did manage to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time ever last year, and I had a 25k novella included in a vampire anthology that came out in July.
Mary: Okay time to open the debate on E-books vs. Print Books. What are your thoughts on the industry focus?
Sandra: Currently I believe there is room for both print and electronic works. I think for the most part authors understand this. I do feel strongly that print authors are being ripped off by print publishers who don’t pay their authors a fair rate for the electronic version of their work.
I’d like everyone to remember this: IF you get paid by someone for the purchase of your book, in whatever format they buy it in, AND you haven’t had to pay to have it edited or produced other than your hard work in getting your story onto paper, THEN you are a published, professional author.
Yes, there are huge gaps in income (e verses print) for a lot of authors, but someone else PAID to read your story. Think about how totally awesome that is. Tell it to yourself again. Someone PAID to read MY story.
Mary: Do you think the publishing industry, or organizations like RWA will ever fully accept E-books?
Sandra: I don’t see it happening for a long time. The publishing industry has a lot of traditionalists. I can’t remember exactly when or who, but this summer Publisher’s Weekly had an article announcing the formation of an electronic publishing division at a major house (Harper Collins or Random House I believe) that was accepting NEW material as well as converting existing books for the purpose of an electronic line. Additionally, one of these houses also started a new line that was not going to be taking returns, a practice that is a dinosaur from the Great Depression.
Mary: Can an author make a career of writing E-books?
Sandra: Absolutely. It is not easy, but it can be done. Genre, quality, quantity and building the author’s name brand all go into making a successful career in the electronic market.
Additionally, there have been authors who’ve made the leap from electronic to print simply because they cut their teeth in the electronic market, honed their craft, learned about promoting and then got noticed by bigger houses. Electronic is an excellent stepping stone to the big boys although there are a number of authors who are no longer interested in print publication because of the delay in timely payments. A lot of electronic houses pay quarterly or more frequently. At Aspen Mountain Press we cut checks every month.
Mary: RWA has this theory that those who do not receive $1000 in an advance and/or royalties for one book they are not series writers. Anyway, that is what is required to reach PAN status. (Published Author Network) What is your take on this as a publisher?
Sandra: I think you mean ‘serious’? RWA couldn’t be more wrong. I’m sure your readers could come up with other, better definitions, but the RWA one is not only personally invasive, it just doesn’t work or take into consideration the large number of options individual authors have in getting their work recognized as “serious”.
What makes a serious writer? One who writes every day for the purpose of publication could be one definition. Or an author who has completed a number of works equaling X amount of words in Y amount of time. An author who submits to companies with the purpose of having their writing published in a non-vanity, non-subsidized way would be another definition.
If you think about what it takes to get into PAN, isn’t that what really sets a person apart as a serious author? That you had the courage to send out your work to a company for potential publication? Perhaps organizations like RWA would better serve itself and its members if they required annual updates from PAN to “prove” they are serious authors. Frankly, requiring information from an author regarding their income is not anyone else’s business anyway. Can you imagine requiring your doctor to disclose how much he makes in order to be considered qualified as a professional doctor?
RWA needs to be pro-active in the things they offer their members. Information on houses, sure. Who wants to be a part of a house that doesn’t pay its authors according to their contracts or in a timely manner? Continued education in the craft of writing…absolutely! Every author and publisher will reap heaps of rewards by learning more about various aspects of our craft. How about promoting the romance industry? RWA does a great job to librarians, but that is an area that could be expanded. How about making sure print authors are getting a minimum of 30 percent on their electronic download sales (the average electronic sale is 35-50% by the way) and an equal split from third party distributors such as Fictionwise or 1RomanceEbooks?
Lastly, RWA shouldn’t forget the power of networking that is provided in local chapters. It’s the local chapters that truly support authors via local meetings, guest lecturers, critique groups, and it’s the seasoned writers that can share wonderful encouragement to their chapter mates.
In the end, it’s not a dollar figure that distinguishes anyone as a professional. Commitment and dedication, willingness to learn and grown, conducting oneself in a manner that reflects professionalism are the true measures of one’s seriousness.
And in the words of Sean Connery in The Untouchables (make sure you do the accent now)...”Here endeth the lesson.”
Thank you again Mary for the opportunity to chat with your readers!
Thank you Sandra Hicks of Aspen Mountain Press for taking the time to give us your thoughts and opinions!