Well, at least submissions are open! And there’s a slogan contest as well. Don’t enter that. I want the iPod and the tshirt. Okay, go ahead.
Let’s see, how did this happen? I mean, how did I meet Kassia Krozser (aka longstanding writer of Booksquare)? Sure, Twitter. I asked a few questions, and twisted Kassia’s virtual arm for an interview.
I think the interview and website say it all, so I’ll get right to it!
Ciar: I have in my hot little hands the submission guidelines for Quartet Press. Summarizing for the less lucky out there–it’s familiar. Excellent books with good characters and plots, romances or stories with a strong romantic thread, a special interest in erotic romance and romantic suspense. Good guidelines for any romance publisher, of course. Is there a special unfilled niche you see Quartet filling?
Kassia: On the broadest level, I’d say mystery/suspense is the biggest unfilled genre fiction niche in digital publishing, which I why highlighted romantic suspense — I love the mix of heat and tension. When it comes to romance sub-genres, we’re seeing more variety, which makes me happy because I like to mix up my reading style. This week alone, I’ve bounced from traditional Regency to straight contemporary to a literary classic.
Your comment about the guidelines being familiar made me smile. Once upon a time I thought guidelines were written in code (one I couldn’t crack!), but the more time I’ve spent with publishers, the more I realize guidelines are just that. It really is about the story, the voice, the characters.
(And the guidelines are now live on our pre-launch site. Get ’em while they’re hot!)
Ciar: The big question on everyone’s mind (I think)–why now? I personally don’t believe the world will end in 2012, but plenty of people say publishing won’t last that long.
Kassia: Publishing is *changing*, not disappearing. Right now is the best time to start a new publishing house, especially a digital publisher. While traditional publishers are trimming lists and limiting risk, readers want great books and variety. Authors are writing terrific stories. We need to keep bringing those two parties together.
Add to that the rising awareness of ebooks. Forrester Research recently did a study that indicates we have shifted from the early adopter phase of ereaders to a mainstream market. While some of us have been playing in this market for a long time, we’re (finally!) seeing new readers coming online and looking for books. In the next few years, we’ll see an influx of ereaders, better browser-based experiences (there is some cool stuff out there), and increased adoption of smart mobile devices.
As readers change their habits, publishers will adapt as well. Which leads to the next question…
Ciar: I understand Quartet Press will offer product electronically? Exclusively? How does one prepare a business model that is so new? How do you prepare for existing and forthcoming platforms and distribution? It seems from the outside (I blithely just type stories) that it’s like herding cats these days. How about piracy?
Kassia: While print books will be available, our focus, particularly initially, will be on the digital marketplace. The great thing about starting a publishing business from scratch is that we can take advantage of emerging best practices and technologies in digital publishing. We’re lucky in that we know some of the smartest minds in this space…and we’re not shy about asking crazy questions.
And we’re fortunate that, over the past decade or so, we’ve seen the development of a true digital publishing marketplace. We have learned from the visionaries in digital publishing — all of us are huge believers in collaborating and talking, so we plan to follow the example our mentors and share what we learn with the community.
Unlike traditional publishers, who are (slowly because it’s not easy) changing their process to better manage a digital workflow, we’re starting from that point. It’s definitely a huge advantage, business-wise, and allows us to create clean manuscript files that can be released in a variety of formats now and in the future. It’s been a huge learning curve, but a fascinating one. So much so that we’ll be exploring what we’ve discovered and various issues on our blog during the lead-up to launch.
As for piracy. Sigh, pirates have been a blight since commerce began. It’s an ongoing struggle for many businesses. DRM is not the answer (DRM frustrates legitimate customers, not pirates), though Social DRM shows some potential. It’s a matter of vigilance and education. I’d love to have an open forum with readers to hear their thoughts about piracy — I suspect readers have as many thoughts and solutions as we do.
Ciar: Should ebooks be priced like their print counterparts? Why or why not?
Kassia: Ah, finally something I can answer definitively. Yes. And no.
Obviously, it is important to price a book at a point where money is made. There are costs associated with digital publishing and they have to be covered. Authors want to be paid for their work. So there are minimum prices that need to be charged to ensure everyone is happy.
That being said, the ebook reader — especially the romance ebook reader — is a savvy consumer. It’s important to listen to what they have to say about pricing, formats, everything. We may not always agree on all points, but
it’s critical to consider the value of the book to the reader, not just the publisher.
Ciar: What advantages does digital publishing offer to the publisher? The consumer? The writer?
Kassia: Oh wow, where to start? As I noted above, traditional publishers are minimizing risk. They’ll be considering surefire hits and passing on books that feel too edgy (edgy being in the eye of the beholder). And generally, lists will be cut, meaning even manuscripts that seemed like sure things six months ago may not make the final cut. They are still great, well-written books, but the economics may work against them. Digital publishers, who operate on a different business model, are well-positioned to take advantage of big house losses!
This, of course, is great news for readers as well. We’ve all heard the “too many [fill in current favorite sub-genre overload] books” groans. When big publishers play it safe, they go with tried-and-true. Readers may love vampires, for example, but they like to mix up the bloodsucking with something different.
As for publishers, I noted some of the benefits above: streamlined workflow, cost efficiencies (for digital-first and traditional houses), ability to take risks, and better position for future technological developments. Given how rapidly the world is changing, it’s critical that publisher be positioned to pivot. And pivot again!
Ciar: Have you thought about the day (it’s coming, it has to be), when there’s a multimedia component to books. Not just trailers. But art, games, interaction?
Kassia: I’ve thought about it, and there is tremendous opportunity. Already, there is so much we can do to extend story beyond the story, and it’s just going to get better (though, caution!, just because you can add lots of bells and whistles, they need to make sense in the context of the book). One of the things I’m most excited about is talking with authors about their ideas (in fact, rather than an art fact sheet, I think I’m creating a “let’s think beyond the book” fact sheet).
Side note: as a regular attendee of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (geek fest!), I’ve attended a lot of gaming panels, discovering how critical story is to good games. It was an eye-opener for me as I’d never really put those pieces together. Smart, creative authors really have an advantage here.
Ciar: What’s your personal favorite genre? Do you think certain genre distinctions (urban fantasy, fantasy romance, erotic romance, whatever…) are getting blurry? Want to put a dollar on the next hot thing? Do you see a future for scifi romance?
Kassia: My favorite genre, when it comes to fiction, is romance (I’m the girl who read “Johnny Tremaine” for the romance), but I’m a total omnivore when it comes to reading within the genre (though I will admit to a serious traditional Regency binge way back in the day). I like marketing buzzwords as guidelines — if I’m in the mood for erotic romance, I need to be guided to the right place — but I’m a blurb buyer. I always want to know more, more, more about the story. Oh, and I’m a sucker for smart and funny. In books. In men.
Maybe it’s because I personally have been reading more science fiction/fantasy lately, I do see possibility for it to grow in readership. And I’ve been waiting for the steampunk craze to hit romance since I read Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”. The possibilities boggle the mind. So okay, let’s put a dollar on steampunk.
Ciar: Any advice for the romance writer who has to create an online persona? Are you a fan of “be yourself” or “be a brand”?
Kassia: When you’re an author, you are the brand, and while I do believe total authenticity, it’s important that authors understand they only control the messages they send out themselves. How you present in various online forums impacts how readers perceive you. You don’t have to be Susie Sweetness, but I advocate thinking about your professional image when you’re engaging online.
(This is why I strongly, strongly!, urge authors to separate their personal and professional lives on Facebook. Create a personal profile to manage your real life; set up a fan Page to manage your writer life. Trust me on this.)
Ciar: How long have you considered becoming a publisher? What about it appeals to you? What terrifies you?
Kassia: In various ways, I’ve considered becoming a publisher for over a decade, but my professional life was headed in a different direction (though I’d argue that Booksquare is a fine example of me as publisher! ). When my partners and I had a meeting a few months ago, it came at the end of various (Twitter, go figure) conversations where we all circled around the idea. The face-to-face meeting was more along the lines of “Okay, are we gonna do it?”
Which lead to a lot of thinking and reading and plotting and researching.
I am so excited (giddy!) about Quartet Press. One of my favorite things in life is finding a book I love and telling the world about it. I love talking about books — and we want to make it easy for our readers and authors to talk about books, too. Reading may be a solitary activity, but talking about books is the most fun you can have.
Terrifies me? That I’ll be so deep in the Quartet Press world that Booksquare will feel neglected and find someone new to write her!
Ciar: You have partners in this venture. Do you want to discuss your various roles?
Kassia: I’ll be overseeing editorial (I got the fun job!). The brilliant Kat Meyer will be handling marketing and sales (we just keep piling on to her workload). Kirk Biglione is our technology guru (also head of the Acronym Department). And Partner X is an experienced, smart, wickedly funny publisher (he’s currently cracking the whip on the very late wine budget).
Ciar: Have you signed authors yet? What kind of book would you die to see in your inbox (my friends at Romance Divas would whip me if I didn’t ask that)? When can we expect to see the first release?
Kassia: First releases will be Fall 2009. We haven’t signed any authors yet, but I cannot wait to discover our first. I’m eagerly awaiting submissions. Guidelines are here.
What would I die to see in my inbox? Your basic “Lord of Scoundrels” meets “Cowboy Bebop” mashup . Yeah, I know it’s been done to death… Joking. Sort of. I love anime, I love Loretta Chase. I love smart.
Ciar: Cats or dogs? Mountains or beach? Who gets to play you in your life story?
Kassia: Cats (the demon kitten stretched across my legs made me say that). Mountains *and* beach. I grew up on the California coast. Love being near water (my mom is going to read this and say, “I told you so”). And I love going to Tahoe or other mountain areas — the silence, great air, getting away from the city. I’ve discovered that after a day or so, the Internet withdrawals are quite manageable.
Playing me in my life story? Obviously, someone tall and willowy to counter my short, not willowy self. I kind of like the idea of Drew Barrymore. She’s gorgeous, she’s funny, she’s, well, the opposite of me. I choose Drew. Let’s sign her up.
Ciar: Please add anything else you’d like about Quartet Press or romance publishing or publishing in general!
Kassia: What? You want more? In 1998, I wrote an article about the then two-year old Hard Shell Word Factory. It was both a revelation and an inspiration. I am beyond excited to be joining other terrific digital publishers, and cannot wait until Quartet releases its first book. Giddy, giddy, giddy!
As for publishing in general, your readers will be thankful to know that since I rant and rave regularly at Booksquare.com, I’ll spare them here!
Thank you so much, Ciar, for inviting me to do this interview. I appreciate you taking the time to put together such great questions (I had my thinking cap on the whole time). If there are other questions, thoughts, ideas, you can reach me via our website.
Slogan contest is here!