Co-founder of Book View Cafe Jennifer Stevenson

- by Dara Girard

Tell us a little about yourself.

I wrote fantasy, SF, and horror for about fifteen years, sold some short stories, couldn’t sell a novel.  Joined RWA, learned a ton about the business, fell in love with romance all over again, wrote four romance novels that didn’t sell, sold a fantasy novel to Small Beer Press: Trash Sex Magic.  Wrote ten more romance novels, didn’t sell ‘em, sold two books in a fantasy series to Del Rey which turned into a paranormal romance trilogy with Ballantine (The Brass Bed, The Velvet Chair, The Bearskin Rug, long story), series didn’t do so hot, and I’m now looking for a new publisher.  Agents aren’t taking midlist clients.  Publishers are floundering.  Epublishing is becoming a monster in all our lives.  Sound familiar?

Via Book View Press, I’ve released one original (unpublished elsewhere) novel, a stagehand romcom Fools Paradise, and will release the next, King of Hearts, in late October.  As part of the promotion for the books, I’m serializing each one, a scene per week, with a “buy the whole book now” prominent after each episode.  This is just one ebook sales strategy in use at BVC.  We’re trying all kinds.

What inspired the idea behind Book View Café?

We were all on a listserv for published women authors, bemoaning the usual, wondering what would become of us all, when about 25 of us said, “Hey, let’s start our own internet site for ebooks!  We’ve got out-of-print backlist, we’ve got new fiction (unpublished volumes of killed series, for example) and we’ve got a lot of skills amongst us.”  We figured we could get in on the ground floor of … whatever the heck this thing is, that publishing is morphing into.

What is the overall vision of BVC?

Grow our readership.  Sell books.  (Not necessarily by selling them on our site, but we’re open to that, too.)  We have the unspoken commitment to figuring out, if it is possible, what the hey is going on in publishing and cashing in on it.  One of our main strategies is positioning our site in the public mind as a source of high-quality e-reads, to distinguish our work from the mass of self-published work.

How did your relationship with Smashwords come about?

They contacted us to add our catalog to their system.  They wanted some high quality content and liked our lineup.

BVC is a very empowering concept for writers; do you think other similar models will follow?

I know at least one has followed—A Writers Work—who  presented with us at the Ninc Conference on the Beach this October.  Backlist Ebooks just launched September first.  I’m sure there are more we don’t know about.

Do you think ebooks will only supplement traditional print books or totally replace them in time?

No clue.

One goal of BVC is to take advantage of the possibilities the internet provides. Could you expand on this?

We’re using social networking very effectively to send out our publicity blasts.  Each of us has a “dowry” of websites, yahoogroups, googlegroups, blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter pages, etc. where we have the opportunity to post BVC-related news.  Once a week at least we send out a PR blast.  Each of us—I believe we’re up to 35 members or so by now—sends the blast to all the places on our dowry list.  Multiply even just the yahoogroups where you can post business-related pimpage by 35 and you can see why our news dominates certain chunks of the ether, every week.

This kind of saturation helped make us The Guardian’s Site of the Week when we launched.  It got us a workshop at the Library of Congress’s epublishing conference.  It got us invited into the first books-on-phone service from iPhone, into the Smashwords catalog, and other invitations of a similar nature.

We also run twitter fiction contests.  We give away stuff.  We have two free pieces of fresh fiction every single day—serialized novels, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, sometimes even cartoons.  We blog.  We send out a newsletter.  The site gets almost a million hits a month, as of early in our second year.

Anything you’d like to add?

One of our greatest strengths is the collective’s skill base.  We have a couple of cover art geniuses.  We have geeks who fearlessly tackle Smashwords and Kindle conversion issues.  We have saints and goddesses who wrestle with Joomla, our platform, and teach the rest of us how to manage the basic stuff to get our work out there.  We have PR professionals who work the internet, write PR blasts, talk to the press, and parlay opportunities into mega-opportunities.  We have graphic designers and website managers.  We have Luddite members with awesome copyediting and editing skills.  We’ve even added some highly talented Y-chromosomal authors.

In two years we’ve put out three fiction anthologies: one science fiction Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, one fantasy Dragon Lords & Warrior Women, and one original shared-world steampunk anthology The Shadow Conspiracy; two nonfiction collections Brewing Fine Fiction and How To Trash Your Writing Career; and we’re well on our way through sequel to The Shadow Conspiracy, a benefit anthology project working with contributors from another online writers’ group Breaking Waves, and a romance anthology Heartbreak Hotel, with at least two more anthologies in the development phase.

In the same two years we’ve published forty-three book-length ebooks by members, for sale on our site, both reprints of OOP work and original work.  Many of those ebooks are also in the Smashwords, Kindle, and Kobo catalogs.  We trade editing and copyediting on one another’s original fiction, to keep the quality up to published standards.  We send each other emails in the middle of the night, howling for help.  Everybody gets help.  Everybody gives help.

One thing we would like to add is more interactivity with our fan base.  That, aside from a major techno-shift to prune the daily chore list, is the next mountain to conquer.

Find out more about Jennifer and her books here: www.jenniferstevenson.com or www.facebook.com/JenniferStevesonAuthor

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