Interview with Judith Pittman, Publisher of Books We Love
Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
I have the privilege of working with Jude Pittman and the team at Books We Love (BWL) Publishing. In getting to know Jude, I became intrigued and wanted to learn more about this interesting woman who has been there, done that when it comes to writing and publishing, and how BWL started. Getting the inside scoop and a few behind-the-scenes of an up-and-coming Canadian publisher is a real treat for any writer or wannabe writer. Read on to find out what it takes to be an author and publisher in today’s quicksand world of book publishing.
Q: How and why did you get started as a publisher?
A: Back in the late 1990s I published my first book with a small e-book publisher and discovered that authors were responsible for all of their own promotions. This seemed overwhelming in that with one book most opportunities for promotion were way too expensive for a single author. I had belonged to a large group on Compuserve, called the Time Warner Authors Forum, where both traditionally published and digitally published authors gathered. Time Warner was one of the first of those services to thrive online and as one of the section leaders there I became very active in providing research information and support for both indie and traditional authors. Through this service, I became acquainted with a lot of authors and learned about all aspects of publishing.
Eventually I joined another author chat list, where I met even more Indie authors, all of us struggling with the same issues; how to promote our books in the fledgling e-book industry, where costs of promotion far exceeded any of our book publishing incomes.
I grew weary of the chat list, and came up with the idea to leave that group and formed Books We Love Author Promotion Services, where each author paid a flat annual fee and I would create a website with a page for every author and the promotion information for each author’s books. Then we combined what funds we had, to go after some of the larger promotion opportunities. It worked quite well, was very popular, and ultimately I ended up with over 100 authors. With our pooled funds, we were able to join in and offer a lot of promotion options that individually we could not afford. We held contests, promoted on review sites and generally supported each other, even though we were all from different small press publishers.
Q: What makes BWL unique as a publisher? What does this mean for authors looking to publish with you?
A: We started with a lot of knowledge and experience in the industry. Most of us are long time published authors. Many came from the shrinking mid-lists of the traditional publishers, and when the time came in the 2000s when traditional publishers started merging and forming giant conglomerates that dumped their mid-lists, and Indie publishers started going out of business right and left. A lot of these exceptionally talented authors were left holding the bag—many not getting paid their royalties and most being ignored by their former publishers. This started discussions among the members of my author promotion group, and several of the authors encouraged me to start a publishing venture. I gave it a lot of thought, and what finally tipped the scale was when my own publisher went out of business and I was left with a series of books and no publisher.
I first started Books We Love as a sole proprietorship, then had a couple of partners join me, but after a couple of situations where I realized I needed professional support and backing, I approached my former boss, a retiring lawyer with many years of experience in business law. I asked if he’d like to have something to do when he retired, and help a very large number of people in the process. He agreed, the Corporation Books We Love Ltd. was formed in 2012. Thanks to Brian Roberts’ support and a group of the best authors in the publishing industry today, we have grown and thrived. It’s not always easy, the challenge is immense, and the costs are high, but the rewards, especially as a Canadian genre fiction publisher are huge. There’s never been one in Canada that survived. The literary publishers pretty much ignore all of our genre fiction authors, and submissions are rarely opened, and when they are, they’re politely refused.
Books We Love is a Canadian genre fiction publisher that works primarily with experienced, multi-published authors who have considerable skill and storytelling ability.
Q: Jude, you are also a well-seasoned, respected writer. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since beginning this journey of writing?
A: You have to love it to be a writer. Very few ever make a full-time living. Most of our authors either hold full-time jobs or are retired. Giant corporations like Amazon have flooded the markets with poorly written and poorly edited manuscripts – they don’t care about anything but the bottom $0.99 cents, and as a result it’s a huge challenge to get your voice heard in the midst of thousands of screaming petitioners. But, if you love writing, and you want to leave behind stories that can be enjoyed for generations, and you get a huge amount of satisfaction when that one person who purchases your story online is kind enough to leave you a review to tell you how much they loved your story, it’s worth it. So the biggest lesson is probably; if you get into publishing strictly for the money, I’d recommend another job.
Q: What do you see as the future for publishing, either traditionally or indie?
A: I believe we’ll have two distinct types of publishing. The major “celebrity, ghost written stories”, because when Hollywood celebrities aren’t getting enough attention or being offered roles, they write books. They say “the cream always rises to the top.” Ultimately all of those publishing as a lark (Because hey, anyone can publish a novel. Just get on Amazon and stick your story up there.) will discover that good writing is hard work, and surviving in publishing takes talent, dedication, and experience. You have to be a good storyteller, you have to be a master of your craft, and you have to put the effort in to write and rewrite and rewrite again until you have the best story you can write. Ultimately that “cream” will rise to the top, and the authors who strive for excellence will be known by the excellence of their work. That doesn’t mean that the “celebrity ghost written stories” won’t continue to get the most attention and make the most money, but it does mean that the really good writers will always have the satisfaction of knowing they told the best story they could tell, and that story will endure for generations to come. I love the idea of my fifth generation granddaughter reading my books and saying, “My great, great, great, great grandma wrote this story.”
Q: What does BWL look for in an author?
A: We look for quality writers with excellent stories to tell, the education and experience to tell the stories, the dedication to edit and re-edit those stories until they are as perfect as they can make them, and the willingness to stay the course. To believe in your stories, be willing to tell the world about your stories, and the conviction to continue writing more stories until you have completed a library of work that you can be proud of. Books We Love is not set up for the novice. Our authors need to have several books and years of publishing behind them, because it simply takes a long time and many books to gain the skills and knowledge of craft necessary to tell the kind of stories being told by our Books We Love authors.
In our latest venture, The Canadian Historical Brides novels, one novel is written a BWL author for every province and territory in Canada, and published by Books We Love to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday. #canada150.
Q: What would you say are three of the biggest mistakes new authors make, and how can they avoid those pitfalls?
A: Not putting in the time to learn their craft. Publishing is not an “instant career.” Don’t be one of those who flood the shelves with poorly written, poorly edited and obviously inferior quality work. Take classes, study with online groups, join critique groups, polish your manuscript, and then when you think it’s great, rewrite the entire manuscript. Then find a mentor to evaluate and tell you what you need to do to your novel so that it’ll be a piece of work you can be proud to publish. As in any other industry, pay your dues, learn to write before you learn to publish, and when you’re ready, find a publisher that recognizes and supports your talent. Good writers with good stories will always find a publisher.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge a publisher faces?
A: First, making sure that every book is edited so that it shines to its highest potential, then setting that book up so that it stands out in an over-crowded marketplace, and last but not least, promoting your author with everything you can muster. It is our job to make sure that an author’s books and voice is recognized, to the best of your ability. Of course that has to be done by the author as well, but the publisher can certainly go a long ways toward helping reach that goal. At Books We Love we have a dedicated “author written” blog, the Books We Love Insider Blog (www.bwlauthors.blogspot.ca). We have a Facebook page, a Facebook Online Fan Club page, and several Facebook pages for various groups, like our Canadian Historical Brides Facebook page. The challenge of gaining recognition for your authors and their books is the publisher’s biggest challenge.
Q: Writers often wonder whether they should write their narrative using the spelling of their own country, based on the country of the story’s setting, or based on the spelling of their target market. What’s your opinion?
A: We started out using US spelling, because initially the US was the biggest marketplace for digital publishing. Over the years that has changed, and as our international marketplaces expanded and more authors from international countries joined us, we’ve adopted a policy of having our authors write their stories in the language of the country, or location of the characters in the story. In other words, we favour telling your story in the “English” spoken by the characters in the story.
Q: BWL utilizes the talents of experienced, talented editors and cover-artist to help round out the professional look of a book. What advice would you give to new writers faced with making decisions regarding editing and cover art?
A: I’m probably the wrong person to answer that question, because in my opinion books without qualified editors should never be published and cover art should be a coordination between author, cover artist, and publisher. The publisher has the final say, since they will be making the final decision that the book is ready to publish.
Q: In your opinion, what is the future of print and e-books, and why?
A: I believe it’s already happening. Readers are growing weary of the “Amazon mass” that’s out there and they are looking for better quality. They are willing to pay higher prices to find better books to read, and they are equally willing to purchase both e-books and print. At first the e-book industry thrived, but having it flooded with thousands and thousands of barely readable manuscripts has seriously damaged the market. Many former e-book readers have gone back to print, just because they feel they have a better chance of getting a quality book if it’s available in print. As we all know, that is not always the case, but what’s exciting is that a lot of readers are looking to blogs like You Read It Here First and others for recommendations. They’re visiting publisher’s online storefronts, and they are doing their own due diligence before purchasing their books. Kobo, Overdrive, Apple, and others, are growing. In my opinion, Amazon, with their fixation on videos, drone merchandise deliveries, and the music industry has kind of “deserted” the publishing arm to a certain extent, leaving it to sink or swim on its own. Like I said, ultimately “the cream always rises to the top.”
Q: Looking forward into the future, what do you hope to see for BWL?
A: I’d like Books We Love to become the genre fiction voice of publishing in Canada. That’s my dream. When I started out I was shocked to discover that Canadians, for the most part, had to go to the United States to find a publisher. Unfortunately, unless the author wrote literary fiction, there were no Canadian publishers willing to even read their work. The times are changing and digital publishing has had a lot of impact on those changes. I’m looking for Books We Love to be a pioneer as one of the first truly successful Canadian genre fiction publishers.
Q: What’s next for you, Jude?
A: I guess I answered that one in the question above. I’ll be working on that dream until it materializes. This past year we received funding from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund—a huge step for a Canadian genre fiction publisher. It was a small grant, but a big step forward. We’re using it to promote our Canadian Historical Brides series of 12 books, all to be published in 2017 and 2018, covering every province and territory in Canada (with Northwest Territories and Inuvik combined in the same book). This is such an exciting series, and the books I’ve read so far are amazing. Talk about getting to know your own country through the lives of the people who really lived those times. You see, the stories are all fact-based. Every aspect of the stories are meticulously researched. The bride and groom are fictional characters, but they are set in factual locations at factual times, and they live their lives among real people who lived during the time of the story. These books are amazing. I’ve read Brides of Banff Springs (Alberta), His Brother’s Bride (Ontario) and Romancing the Klondike (Yukon), and I can say unequivocally that every book is one I’m proud to have in my library and I believe the Canadian public is going to feel the same way.
On the writing front, I’ll be working with my writing partner, romantic suspense author Jamie Hill, to complete Book 2 in our McWinter Confidential series. Look for To Catch a Ghost by Jayme Lynn Robb (our pseudonym) in September of 2017.
Find Jude and Books We Love Here:
Canadian Historical Brides Blog: https://www.facebook.com/Books.We.Love.Ltd/
Facebook: Books We Love Ltd: https://www.facebook.com/Books.We.Love.Ltd/
Facebook: Books We Love Online Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/153824114796417/
Insider Blog: http://bwlauthors.blogspot.ca/