Books We Love

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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.

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 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/

Website: http://bookswelove.net/

Twitter: @judebookswelove

A Chat with Stephanie McKibben

 

Stephanie McKibben

Stephanie McKibben is one of the most generous, open publishers I’ve ever met. Her genuine desire to help other writers obtain their desires of becoming published authors is clearly evident in the audio message she’s recorded on her website at Troll River Publications (http://www.trollriverpub.com), and she welcomes readers with open arms. Her engaging personality comes through clearly, but she’s a stickler for ensuring that she and her writers are held to high standards in terms of the quality of the product they produce. Not just a body behind a desk, like many small presses, Stephanie does it all; editing, publishing, career development, and hand-holding aplenty. She cares deeply about writers and readers, and brings them together with joy and purpose. Welcome, Stephanie!

Interviewed by
Debbie A. McClure

Q: Stephanie, you are both an author and the small, independent publisher of Troll River Publications. Can you tell us how and why you decided to take on both of these extremely challenging roles?
A: I was always going to be an author, but it was Patricia A. Knight who convinced me to publish for other authors. When I was thinking about publishing I decided to go the indie route and create a separate company—a publishing company. That much I knew I was going to do. My crit partner, Patricia, didn’t want to be a self-published author and queried publishers to no avail. When she said she was going to put her manuscript in a drawer and forget about it, I freaked out. I told her I would publish it. I told her I would do the things she didn’t want to do – like convert the word document to an .epub, or do the technical side of things. I would help her through the process. I convinced Patricia that her story was too awesome to hide in darkness, so she became my very first signed author to Troll River Publications. That book is now the first of our most profitable series.

Q: How did you come up with the name Troll River Publications for your company? Does it hold any significant meaning?
A: When I was deciding between becoming a self-published author or going with a publishing company, I always came across people saying the Big 6 (“The Big 5” now) were trolls. They were the gatekeepers. Sometimes they were vilified. When I took the mantel of being a small press I decided that if I was going to become a “troll” that I might as well embrace the stigma.
But I also had a strange dream one night while trying to decide which way to go. A troll on the bridge of “publication” stood there, mean, ugly and not letting anyone through until a little girl handed him a book. He sat down and read the book, allowing all the little authors to dance over the bridge of publication and get their stories past the gatekeeper’s iron fence. And the troll was happy.
So I thought, why not? Because the bridge was over the river of writer’s tears, I called it Troll River Publications.

Q: You are the author of eight erotic fiction novels. How did you get started writing erotica, and what is it about this genre that fascinates you?
A: I guess there’s no other explanation than, I like sex. I like erotic romance the best, and I try to bring a certain amount of romance and story to each book.

Q: How do you decide which writers to work with and which ones to pass on?
A: I don’t really take queries. I talk to authors. I get to know them. If they like, I look at their work in progress and become an editor/critique partner for them. If they work well with me as an editor, I know I’d probably work well with them as a publisher.
Editing requires a bit of a thick skin. I don’t pull punches, but I don’t try to be mean. I just tell them my thoughts and if their feelings are hurt, I know they won’t be back. Writing takes so much more than just dealing with constructive criticism. You have to be strong. You have to be a marathon runner—I see a lot of writers slowing down and saying, I need to pace myself, after two years or about three to four books.
I also take referrals from TRP authors that have worked with the writer. But I still talk to the referred writer, tell them what we’re all about, and try to help them the best I can.

Q: What is Troll River Publications looking for in a writer and in books to publish?
A: In writers I’m looking for enthusiasm, willingness to work with me, drive to make the best book they can, have a thick skin, and love their audience.
As to what I’m looking for in books, I mainly go for romance. We have a few odd books out there in different genres because I believe in the author and what they have to say.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on their publishing journey?
A: Finish the book. I understand you want to make that first one the best novel ever…but know this…the book you write today will never be the book you write tomorrow.
One day you’ll have twenty books out there (don’t balk—writers who complete the first one will go on to write more), you’ll pick up your first book and then proceed to rip apart your own work.
But you have to finish that first one. It’s also okay to spend more time on the first one. But if it’s taking so long that it’s been five years, set it aside and write the next. You don’t have to abandon the first, just make sure you finish something.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole traditional vs self-publishing options facing writers today?
A: There is no right or wrong. You must decide what you want to accomplish and whether you’re willing to split the work and the profit. Either way can leave you to die trying. Don’t think it’s better to go self-published or traditionally published. You can try one, then the other. In fact I think it works best if you do both.
(I’m sorry, I have to laugh for a moment. Originally “Traditional publishing” was self-publishing. There were no agents or publishers during the times of the first print press. An author purchased the time and materials for ink, a type-setter, parchment, renting the press —everything. So for me to say “traditional” publishing makes me roll my eyes. Personally, self-publishing is just bringing the industry back to what it was.)

Q: As a publisher who works closely with your writers to polish their work and get it ready for publication, what is the most common error you see new writers making?
A: Most of my writers hold onto their first manuscript so close to their chest and snarl at me that it’s “not ready” that I have to tell them to stop editing and rip the manuscript out of their hands. I wouldn’t say it’s an “error” but it’s the most common thing I see in first time authors. They want it “perfect” and they forget that “excellent” is not perfect. I have to tell them I only want the very best they can do at this time. After the second book, they realize they can have as many “babies” as they want and start getting excited again.
As for writing mistakes, each writer has been different. For some it’s too many occurrences of the same word in one paragraph. With others it’s writing in passive voice, or forgetting about the reader. But these things are pointed out as we work together.

Q: Writing is a craft, a personal journey, and a business venture. What have you learned about yourself since you began writing and publishing?
A: In writing I’ve learned that I have endless stories. I used to wonder if the first book was all I had, but the words kept coming. When I finished one, another would arise.
In publishing I’ve learned that spreadsheets are my friend. I’ve also learned that even smart marketing can’t be as good as an ultra-fan, and there are a lot of books out there. It has been a really fun road. The things I’ve learned before and after publishing have been too great to number. I’m still learning. I’m still drawing strength from those who believe in me.

Q: What has been your greatest life lesson so far?
A: That having a mentor to help me has made all the difference. No matter where you start out, always try to find a mentor and do what they tell you.

Q: What three things can you recommend writers do to move them closer to a “yes” from a publisher?
A: Well I don’t know about other publishers, but for me, if you’re dedicated, unemotional about edits and are willing to reach out to fans, then that moves you closer to being signed.

Q: What is more challenging for you, writing or publishing books for other writers?
A: I have to say writing books for other authors. I’m a ghostwriter as well. It can be hard to give them my best work and never receive recognition for it. Writing is fun. Publishing is fun. Neither are more challenging, only different.

Q: What do you feel Troll River Publications offers writers and readers that’s different from other publishers?
A: I tell every writer that they can do what I do. They don’t need me. You can do it! In fact, I’m an advocate for self-published writers. However, I get a lot of authors who don’t want to do this journey alone. They have questions. They’re unsure. They want or need someone to tell them to stop editing—and rip the manuscript out of their hands to publish the book. Some writers are so lost and don’t know where or how to start. I’m different in the way I help. I’ve encouraged several authors to do it themselves, and many have. Those that asked me for advice and responded to my help in a professional manner sometimes come on board with TRP. But Troll River is also different in the community. Our authors help each other. Even the ones that don’t run in the same sub-genre. I have were-wolves helping vampires. Cats helping dogs, and military guys holding out a hand to the geeks.

Q: What’s next for you, Stephanie?
A: In writing, I’ve got a stack of my own manuscripts to publish and clients who want my next story yesterday. (can you give me the name of your own latest release so I can link to it?)
In publishing, Troll River has two books coming out every month in 2016. Visit us at http://www.trollriverpub.com to see our new releases! We’ll be at the RT Conference (https://www.rtconvention.com/) in Las Vegas April 12-17, 2016, and are hoping to get all our writers to a personal retreat in June, 2016.

You can find out more about Stephanie and Troll River Publications here:
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Troll-River-Publications/553065864724059?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TrollRiver
Web page: https://www.trollriverpub.com
Blog: https://www.trollriverpub.com/blog
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqJflEmvzQVB4e9uYne98rA
Email: stephanie@trollriverpub.com