Hope—and EMMA

- by Charlotte Hubbard

Emma_Blooms_At_LastSince 1983, when my first story was published in True Love magazine, I’ve penned about 70 similar confessions and sold 44 books plus so many novellas I’ve lost count. I’ve written historicals (racy and clean) and contemporaries, inspirational and New Age titles, hardcore erotica under three different names, and am currently on a roll writing inspirational Amish romances: EMMA BLOOMS AT LAST is about to hit the shelves. But my experience writing in these varied and diverse genres for Kensington, NAL, Black Lace, and Dorchester has finally hit the wall:

 

I cannot write for Harlequin.

 

Oh, I tried. Had a very nice three-book contract and a peach of an editor I really enjoyed. She was tutoring me in the Harlequin romance formula and I was trying to take it all in, both of us working with utmost sincere effort. Wrote the first book, turned it in before deadline, and two weeks later I got her revision letter. Before I even finished reading all the way down the list of how point A should not be happening until page 195 and how scene B had nothing to do with the hero and heroine, and how I surely couldn’t consider looking at a plot map to choose a new home site romantic

 

Well, the truth landed like a ton of bricks. My lush “inquiring minds want to know” storytelling style was never, ever going to fit Harlequin’s structure/formula. I had no trouble at all writing my story in a mere 60,000 words. It was the Harlequin rules about how a romance is supposed to go that I couldn’t seem to follow . . . or make any real sense of.

 

So, for the first time in my 30 years of being published, I backed out of a contract. Signed the termination papers and sent back the two advances I’d received. I knew in my gut it was the right thing to do, but that didn’t make me any happier about it, you know? I had entered into the contract with an Amish series proposal that was fresh and original, into which I’d poured my heart and soul and 30 years of writing experience, and I fell flat.

 

I sighed glumly for several days. My career was by no means toast, as I still have a very nice line-up of Amish books under contract with Kensington, but I had to allow myself time to wallow in my first real failure. While I’ve had contracts cancelled and had books that didn’t get published because lines folded (or publishers went belly-up), this was the first time I was the one who couldn’t fulfill the contract.

 

HOWEVER, my agent then suggested another home for this series, including the first completed manuscript, and the next day I sent him the dusted-off series proposal. I write this with my fingers crossed as we await word from the editor, who presented the idea at the staff meeting a couple of days later. As he pointed out, it would be a shame to allow the Naomi King pseudonym to languish—along with a completed book and a series proposal we both know should sell in this current Amish-friendly market.

 

So, as it is when EMMA BLOOMS AT LAST, hope springs eternal. In this crazy business of publishing, we’re in a time when no story is dead until its author hides it in the closet with other proposals that haven’t found a home. Stay tuned! This story may yet have a happy ending!

Interview with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo

- by Lina Gardiner

 

From part-time bookseller to Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo, we welcome Mark Leslie Lefebvre.

Hello Mark,

First a few questions about you:

-Who influenced your interest in books?

I’d have to say that my Mom was the first influence on getting me to read. Aren’t mothers always at the centre of that? It wasn’t just the bedtime reading, but she worked at the local Mini Mart and every week would bring home comic books for me to read. Reading those comic books led to my deep-rooted love of reading.

-Who is your all-time favourite author?

Do I really have to stick to one? Two of my favourite books are Different Seasons (Stephen King), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), but that’s just the tip of the dozens of amazing writers whose work I adore. Here, for example (apart from King and Irving) are authors whose books I buy on sight: Michael Connelly, Linwood Barclay, Robert J. Sawyer, Terry Fallis, Richard Laymon and Andrew Pyper. But again, that’s just the beginning. There are so many truly amazing writers that I like to read.

-Who gave you the best advice with regard to your career?

Can I blame my Mom again? She told me that if I wanted to be a writer, to make sure that I had a good day job or else I would most likely starve. Because of that advice, I did my best to ensure my day job was closely aligned with my passion for writing. And that’s how I ended up becoming a bookseller. The fact is, considering my passion, I am extremely fortunate to have the role that I do.

Now onto the Kobo questions from Ninc members:

-Are print-on-demand books a possibility at Kobo in the future?

Given that Kobo is an eBook company, and eReading is our main focus, I doubt we’d be offering that directly. That being said, Kobo is known for partnering with “best in class” partners who do other associated things. Consider our partnership with world-class retailers, and, in particular, in the US, the partnership we have with the independent bookstores through the American Booksellers Association – we do one thing really well. They do another thing really well, and our partnership and collaboration is complimentary. We are looking at POD options for authors, but, like our other business relationships, in a partnership with somebody who can do that exceptionally well. So, yes, there is a possibility.

 -With ACX being unavailable for Canadians, is there any chance Kobo might launch an audiobook platform similar to ACX?

I know that the business is very interested in assisting our customers, who are passionate readers, with various ways to enjoy accessing their books in a digital fashion. So the ability for us to serve up audiobooks to customers (and also allow authors a way to make their work available for sale through that channel) is definitely attractive.

-Will there eventually be keywords/tags for self-pubbed authors at Kobo?

That’s always a possibility, but past history and my own experience listening to the way that people use “tagging” in order to attract an audience has always bothered me. May I ask what is wrong with writing a solid synopsis that appeals to the proper target audience? I know that there are issues with the search engine at Kobo, but my team has been at the forefront of championing improvements. Authors have to remember that all of the improvements are always done in a way to put the customer/reader first – helping THEM find the best books for them. That will always come first.

- Many authors are having great success on other platforms by making one book in a series permafree, yet I have heard the strategy is not so effective at Kobo. Is there anything an author can do to get better traction with their permafree books?

I wonder if you’re hearing from the wrong authors, because I’ve heard the exact opposite. Authors who have been using first free in series at Kobo to significantly increase their sales at Kobo. We launched the FREE FIRST IN SERIES promo a while back and several authors have been amazed with how well the traction there has taken.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/Collection/free-first-in-series

Some authors have reported that by being included in Kobo’s FREE promo feature, their weekly unit sales at Kobo have come close to or surpassed their sales at Amazon (which, if you think about it, is a pretty significant achievement, considering just how GIGANTIC Amazon’s customer base is having been around for 20 years and the fact that Kobo is barely 5 years old – because this represents a significant conversion from free reads into buying customers…)

Another thing to remember is that Kobo Writing Life allows authors to make their book perma-free for as long as they want without any demands for exclusivity. Amazon will only do that if you’re locked into exclusivity with them in KDP Select. A lot of authors use the free option at Kobo to get the auto price-matching bots at Amazon to make their books free (when they don’t want to be locked into a single retailer for all their sales)

And along those lines, KWL has allowed authors to schedule price promos far in advance to assist with timed price features, as well as allowed self-published authors the ability to make their books available for pre-order at the same time that we allowed all publishers the ability to set up pre-orders.

-If your authors visit Toronto, can they visit the Kobo offices?

Definitely. We host regular open houses for authors to come in and hang out with the KWL team that is located in Toronto and I have never said no to an author who wanted to pop in to say hi or get a quick tour of our head office. (This past summer we hosted three different open houses where fans and fellow authors were invited to come in, have some food and drinks and hang out with authors such as Hugh Howey, Joanna Penn and Kevin J. Anderson.

We are open, social and collaborative and adore hanging out with authors – so I whole-heartedly invite any authors visiting Toronto to let us know via an email to writinglife@kobo.com.

-Is there any self-pubbing advice you’d like to give Ninc authors?

Oh, there are so many things to share. Where to start?

First, assuming your books are the best you can write, are edited and have a professional looking cover that appeals to your target audience, remember the three P’s of self-publishing success. Practice, Patience and Persistence. It takes time to build a following on a platform, and you can’t look at this as a “right now” thing, particularly with your sales dashboards. It’s a long-term gain, and sometimes it takes a while for things to build. Hugh Howey didn’t start really selling until almost his 10th book was published.

Another thing is remember to make your books available to the broadest audience possible by being available on all of the platforms. When you’re locked into exclusivity at a single retailer, there’s only one true consistent winner there – the retailer. Customers of other platforms are left out and you are possibly missing out on sales opportunities everywhere. For example, I had books on Amazon for half a dozen years before they started to sell somewhat consistently. If I had pulled them off because they didn’t sell after a year, I’d have lost out on a lot of additional sales.

Oh wow! Such great advice, Mark, we can’t thank you enough.

MARK LESLIE LEFEBVRE’S BIO:

Mark joined the Kobo team in October 2011 bringing over 20 years of experience in bookselling. He has worked in the book industry as it evolved from strictly brick-and-mortar operations to online venues. Mark has operated a successful self-publishing business using an Espresso Book Machine and is a member of the board of directors for BookNet Canada and a past president of Canadian Booksellers Association. As a writer, he has published work through both traditional and self-publishing channels including a non-fiction series of paranormal explorations for Dundurn (Haunted Hamilton, Spooky Sudbury and Tomes of Terror), One Hand Screaming, I, Death and Evasion and has edited the anthologies North of Infinity II, Campus Chills and Tesseracts Sixteen.

Mark and his team of self-publishing experts launched Kobo Writing Life in July, 2012. Kobo Writing Life is a unique tool that removes the barriers for self-published authors and small indie publishers alike to get their titles into Kobo’s global catalog. Mark’s mission is to use his expertise to bring Kobo into new digital landscapes all while carrying forth his lifelong passion for reading and books.

 

Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Interview with Lou Aronica

- by Lina Gardiner

A special welcome to Lou Aronica.  We’re so pleased to have you as our guest.

-Can you tell us about the Authors First, First Annual Novel Writing contest at The Story Plant?

We created Authors First because we realized that our roster of authors was particularly interested in sharing what they’d learned about the craft and business of being a writer and that this could be very helpful to a huge audience of aspiring writers. Once we decided to launch the site, adding a contest seemed like a natural thing to do as a way to both promote the site and give writers – especially new writers – a way to be heard.

The contest rules are all here, but we’re looking for book-length submissions of novels that have not been previously published. The first contest closes on September 30, and we’re going to announce the winner on December 1. The winner will receive $5,000, publication by The Story Plant and some other fun stuff.

We’re also running a short story contest where winners will be published in an annual anthology.

-How successful are virtual writers’ conferences and are they finally coming into their own in terms of successfully engaging authors?

I can’t speak for all virtual writers’ conferences, but I’m very happy with the traffic we’ve been getting our first couple of months. I think the key to successful engagement is constantly offering new and valuable material. We release a new session every week, which gives people reason to keep coming back to the site.

-Will you make virtual writers’ conferences an annual occurrence at the Story Plant?

To be clear, Authors First is an ongoing, permanent site. We didn’t create this as an event, but rather as a community center for writers, especially aspiring writers. We are definitely planning to run another contest for 2015.

-Let’s talk about your publishing company, The Story Plant. What prompted the decision to open your own publishing company?

I spent the first twenty years of my career in Big Five publishing (there were more than five back then). When I left to pursue my writing career, I thought I’d left that part of my life behind, but I found that it kept calling to me. I’ve always loved the process of publishing and I love developing writers, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d jump back to that side of the business even as I continue to write.

-How many books do you release a month?

 We do two or three books a month.

-How do you promote your author’s books?

 -In every way that makes sense. Our Marketing Manager Aaron Brown (a fellow Ninc member) and I have spent most of this year trying to parse out marketing tools that actually sell books as opposed to raising awareness. We focus heavily on bookseller promotions, because booksellers are far more effective at finding readers than publishers are. We do BookBub and other e-mail promotion, and we’re aggressively building our own e-mail list now. We spend a lot of time going after reviews, and we will on occasion hire publicists or embark on advertising campaigns. We have a good-sized social media presence that we’re always building, and we have a street team that we call the Spread the Word Initiative (always looking for new members, by the way). And then of course there’s Authors First, which is a great tool our writers can use to communicate with a community of readers.

-Do you have a foreign rights section?

Our foreign rights are sold by Trident Media Group.

-How are your royalties paid? eBook percentages, Trade book percentages?

Our trade royalties are industry standard and paid on cover price. Our e-book royalties are better than most traditional publishers and paid on net, which is the only realistic way to pay e-book royalties because pricing is so dynamic.

What would you love to see come across your desk?

 Anything with great characters and relationships. If a manuscript has those, I’m open to all kinds of plots and settings. Our first five titles this fall are about a tragic love affair, a young woman’s experiences in Israel in the early sixties, a “memoir of seduction,” a man campaigning for political office and for the future of his marriage, and a psych unit in a military hospital during the Vietnam War. All very different books, but all strongly character-centric.

 -Has the upsurge of independently published books changed the way you acquire authors, if at all?

Not really. Writers come to us because they like our publishing philosophy and the way we continue to work books years after publication (or because they don’t know any better). Indie is a great option, and as you know I’ve been a vocal supporter of indie publishing for years. We’re just another option.

-Given your vast knowledge of the publishing industry, is there any advice you’d like to share with fellow members of NINC?

Between the conference and my bimonthly columns in NINK, I think they get enough of me already.

 

lou-aronica

Lou Aronica is the President and Publisher of The Story Plant. He has thirty-five years of high-level experience in the book business. He was Publisher of two of the industry’s largest imprints, Avon Books and Berkley Books, and Deputy Publisher of a third, Bantam Books. As a writer, he is the author of twenty-four books, including the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers The Element and Finding Your Element (with Ken Robinson), and the nonfiction national bestseller The Culture Code (with Clotaire Rapaille), the USA Today bestselling novel The Forever Year, and the national bestselling novel Blue. Lou is also former president of Novelists Inc.

Writing Wild: 7 Questions with Tina Welling

- by Dara Girard

WildWriting.inddIn Writing Wild you discuss how writing changed your life, even caused disruption, can you tell us about that?

WRITING WILD is about awareness, about waking up through our senses and discovering our interconnection to all things. This realization changes a person. In my case, it affected my relationship with myself and that created a domino series of changes in my marriage, in my mothering, in my position with my original family. In the book, I discuss how exhilarating this was for me and perplexing for the others.

Who is this book not for?

WRITING WILD, Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature is a book about becoming more awake to ourselves and the natural world. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I have written the book in terms of creative writing and journal keeping, because that’s what I know. And it’s the path that has worked for me. Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive…” For anyone who wishes to enjoy a greater experience of being alive, creative energy and a relationship with the natural world are the paths outlined in WRITING WILD and they sure worked for me.

Most members of Novelists Inc are multi-published writers with plenty of ideas, what can they gain from nature?

Nature is the macrocosm; personal energy is the microcosm. What is true for the larger is true for the smaller. Nature provides patterns for us to use in managing our creative energy. For example, the natural world demonstrates that we cannot continuously produce creative material, nature has seasons and so must we as writers. We need to honor our winter time and attend to our inner lives, in other words, rest and grow our roots.

You talk about “lowering your standards” to open the flow of creative energy; how does that work?

When we hold high expectations of ourselves we put up an immediate obstacle to moving forward. We can so easily freeze up and do nothing. Lowering our standards is a phrase I borrowed from the poet William Stafford, who taught me that by lowering our expectations and the demands on ourselves we are free to move onward, to create wholly original work. We must drop our urge to compare our work to others or to our past work or to our expected work. We want to be surprised, so we need to be vulnerable and wide open to whatever occurs to us at each moment.

You say that nature triggers stories, does that really happen?
I have seen it happen over and over to students in my workshops and have experienced it myself. Although it feels mysterious with something of theTina Welling, author. CREDIT: David J Swift divine to it, science backs this process up. And it all begins with the senses. So simple. So enjoyable. I have found storylines for my novels and personal insights for my inner work. I lay it out in 3 easy steps in WRITING WILD.

Why is a book like this important now?

WRITING WILD offers reminders to go within and experience ourselves rather than react to the relentless distractions and demands of the outer world. And, of course, any way of being that points to the value of our earth may lead people to forego plastic bags, to turn off lights when leaving a room, bicycle or walk those couple miles to the store or work. The earth is required to feed and support an ever growing population without the population feeding and supporting it.

What do you mean by “there are no failures”?

Wonderful inventions have come to us through so-called mistakes – Velcro and chocolate chips cookies for example. Mistakes are openings that create a whole new set of choices for us. Failures – meaning a creative project that didn’t turn out the way we hoped – show us to let go of our expectations. They remind us that outcomes are none of our business.

Find out more  about WRITING WILD  and Tina’s other works at tinawelling.com