The Champagne Books Group
BY JUDY GILL
When J. Ellen Smith, owner and publisher of The Champagne Books Group, started her operation in late 2004, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, no one expected the kind of expansion the company would experience almost from the day of its official launch on April 1, 2005. No April Fool, this lady; she may not have expected, but she certainly hoped when she began by publishing four romance titles every second month, that the company would take off as it has. It’s not been by accident, either. Ms. Smith works long, hard hours to keep things moving in the direction she wants. “Today,” she says, “I can't picture myself doing anything else. This is the first time in my life that I truly love what I do, and don't mind getting up in the morning to do it.” This dedication shows in the way the company has grown, and continues to grow.
In the beginning, she made books available (and still does) at the company’s website, www.champagnebooks.com; FictionWise; a now-defunct store called eBookAd; then, shortly afterward, on Mobipocket, followed by many, many more venues in the years since that first launch. Over the years, however, Champagne has picked and chosen where else to place its books. What began as a small press has turned into, in Ms. Smith’s words, “An independent press.” She goes on to say, “When we have books that outsell some New York Times bestselling authors, it's hard to think of us as a ‘small press’.”
One of Champagne Books’ titles, Highland Captive, recently went viral, selling many thousands of copies in only a few weeks and attracting attention in high places. Though proud of all the books she publishes (she wouldn’t publish them if she was not), some of her notables are the above-mentioned Highland Captive, Highland Promise, Celestial Dragon, Cover Me, The Best Man, all the BEAST books (The B*E*A*S*T* Within, B*E*A*S*T* Of Burden, Nature Of The B*E*A*S*T*, Mark Of The B*E*A*S*T*). The bestseller and notable list includes books from all of its imprints and the titles mentioned above are by no means the full list. Her readers love ongoing series. “The nice thing about the digital world,” Ms. Smith reminds us, “is that e-books don't have a shelf life of only a few weeks. Ours are available for a very long time.”
The birth of The Champagne Books Group
Champagne Books was the first imprint, and remains both the parent company and the imprint in which the company places its mainstream, thriller, mystery, women’s fiction, romantic suspense, and romance novels.
The company expanded in the summer of 2009 when it launched Carnal Passions, an erotica imprint, and again in 2011 with the launch of BURST Books, which is the science fiction, fantasy and paranormal imprint.
BURST came about as a result of people by-passing the Champagne booths at conferences—Ms. Smith attends many, always on the lookout for fresh, new talent—thinking the company “only published romance” novels. The advent of BURST successfully quashed that idea. Many of Carnal Passion’s and BURST’s titles are among those bestsellers mentioned above. Combined, the imprints now comprise the Champagne Books Group.
The CBG, like most e-publishers, does not pay an advance, but does pay royalties quarterly—on e-books, 30 to 45 percent depending on length and genre. (Erotica gets the highest rate and is in great demand.) The rates are negotiable, too, especially if an author has a wonderful book in which the editorial staff can see “legs” and a very good marketing plan. The company seldom offers multi-book contracts, but does ask for right of first refusal on any sequel or related book containing the same characters (on a 90-day response basis).
The term of contract is a renewable three years. Once an author is contracted by the CBG and assigned an editor, all her/his subsequent submissions can go to that editor, not the general acquisitions desk As a general rule, the company wants only original works, not backlist, though some exceptions have been made for a few self-published works if the material has not outlived its marketable period—